Sunday, February 22, 2009


For fellow members of the Rafael Sabatini Group who are about to begin regular discussions of each novel in turn, here is something drawn up a while ago for someone close (therefore having access to the same books), who was going to read the novels in order and give her unbiased opinion. It may be useful to others.

Points to consider when analysing & commenting on the novels
Narrative voice:
~ 3rd person – author as narrator
~ 1st person – protagonist as narrator
~ 1st person – a supporting character as narrator
~ 1st person – more than one supporting character as narrator [e.g. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins]
What are the difficulties inherent in the chosen voice?
Is there any outstanding achievement/tour de force in using the chosen voice, or in overcoming the particular limitations of the chosen voice? [Consider The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie]
In what period is the story set? Any disadvantages? Any advantage?
What is the time-span covered by the narrative? Can the narrative pace sustain the length, if it is a long period? Any gains? Any losses?
In what country/ location is the story set?
If it is a fantasy, are there any deliberately allusive details/teasing hints? [e.g. Morning Star by Rider Haggard is clearly set in Egypt, even if at no specific period in its ancient history, but The Blue Hawk by Peter Dickinson never gives any such indication of a locale yet the reader gets the clearest sense of its being set in ancient Egypt.]
Main characters
Are these types, or is each unique to its story?
Is there a noticeable tendency to repeat a certain type? What are the characteristics of the type in question? [Consider the number of protagonists in Sabatini’s fiction & non-fiction that are illegitimate sons.]
Supporting characters
What are the classes that are represented, and what is the treatment of each as a class?
Are all characters from a class given a fixed set of characteristics? [Consider the treatment of policemen in detective fiction, at a certain period of history.]
Are certain types repeated? [e.g. the faithful all-purpose man-servant attached to the protagonist; the long-suffering but loyal innkeeper, etc.]
Real-life characters
Are these used at all?
Do they take part actively in the story, or are they merely part of the local colour?
If they take active part how are they accommodated to a fictitious narrative? – successfully?
Are there any ‘trademarks’ in an author’s habitual treatment of such characters? [Consider Sabatini’s clever clues to the half-real-half-fictitious character of ‘St. Just’ in Scaramouche the Kingmaker; & the unnoticeable juggling of dates to do with the Comte de Puisaye in The Marquis of Carabas.]
Local colour:
Costume; modes of transport; houses with their furnishings & their grounds – this applies to ships also – all that in cinema would be covered by ‘production’. How are these treated?
Is the language of the narrative suited to the narrative voice used?
Is there much direct speech, & if there is, how convincing is it?
Does the author appear to have some favourite words/expressions/usages?
Could these be said to constitute a signature or trademark of the author’s writing?
Does it seem to you a weakness to be excused, an unbearable/scarcely bearable annoyance, or a special charm/endearing trait?
Is the tone of the narrative
serious – ‘high serious’
‘sentimental/romantic serious’
‘ironic [even ‘disenchanted’] serious?
light [even flippant] – as in a comedy of manners?
romantic-sentimental – the kind in which, typically, two very difficult/tiresome characters who are destined to be/already are in love, stupidly set obstacles in each other’s way, obstinately misunderstand each other, pass through numerous, mostly needless trials [each of which would capsize an ordinary human] & unnecessary fits of the dismals, & exasperate the reader before finally falling into an embrace?
Does the author appear to have mastered his/her material, especially in period fiction?
Is there an odour of candle-grease & dusty manuscripts about the narrative, or is the research worn lightly/used subtly? [Consider the admirably thorough research but oh so soporific effect of George Eliot’s Romola.]
What influences, if any, can be discerned in the work; and if there is an influence or more than one, is it to be found in the earlier books, does it wane as the writer develops his own individual style, or – and this would be rather strange – does the influence show quite late?
Finally, a work of art is more than the sum of all its parts. Does this work, really work? Is it a pleasure to read?
Would you want to read it again?
Would you want to own a copy so as to have it at hand whenever you feel like re-reading a part/the whole book?
Any other comment?

This is not a scholarly guide - heaven forbid! - but just one person's notion of how the novels might be read. Another 'template', of a kind, for the next.

Ruth Heredia is the originator and holds the copyright to all material on this blog unless credited to some source. Please do not use it or pass it off as your own work. That is theft. If you wish to link it, quote it, or reprint in whole or in part, please be courteous enough to seek my permission.

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