Sunday, November 23, 2008

Random Readings, Vol. 6

This installment of Random Readings is courtesy of one of my favorite writers, Rafael Sabatini, and features one of the great opening lines in literature, from his swashbuckling 1921 novel SCARAMOUCHE:

He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. And that was all his patrimony. His very paternity was obscure, although the village of Gavrillac had long since dispelled the cloud of mystery that hung about it. Those simple Brittany folk were not so simple as to be deceived by a pretended relationship which did not even possess the virtue of originality. When a nobleman, for no apparent reason, announces himself the godfather of an infant fetched no man knew whence, and therafter cares for the lad's rearing and education, the most unsophisticated of country folk perfectly understand the situation. And so the good people of Gavrillac permitted themselves no illusions on the score of the real relationship between Andre-Louis Moreau - as the lad had been named - and Quintin de Kercadio, Lord of Gavrillac, who dwelt in the big grey house that dominated from its eminence the village clustering below.


Despite the archaicness of its style, that paragraph is actually a model of succinctness. It provides backstory, tone, exposition and character information all in a single graph. (Sabatini was one of Norman Mailer's favorite authors as well. In 1963, Mailer told The Paris Review "I never enjoyed a novel more than CAPTAIN BLOOD.... Some years ago, I was asked by a magazine what were the ten most important books in my development. The book I listed first was CAPTAIN BLOOD. Then came DAS KAPITAL.")

SCARAMOUCHE was filmed twice, once in 1923 with Ramon Novarro and Lewis Stone, and again in 1952 with Stewart Granger and New Jersey native Mel Ferrer, who died earlier this year at age 89. The latter film included one the screen's great duels, with Granger and Ferrer athletically crossing swords in a crowded theater. Realistic? Ehhhh, not so. But brilliant all the same.


pattinase (abbott) said...

As lovely, skilled and succinct as it is, many editors today would say, "Now can you reveal this information instead through dialog and action."
We're allowed little narration now, which was often where the best writing took place. The passages I remember most are almost never dialogue.

JMags said...

And of course Scaramouche is mentioned in the Queen song "Bohemian Rhapsody".