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Literature / Scaramouche

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"He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad."

So begins Rafael Sabatini's classic novel of revenge. First published in 1921, this is the story of Andre-Louis Moreau's life in The French Revolution. After his friend is killed by a powerful noble, the Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr, Andre-Louis' quest for vengeance leads him to become an orator inciting the people of France to rebel. Along the way, he becomes a renowned actor for his role as Scaramouche — the sly, roguish trickster.

This novel was adapted for film twice, in 1923 and 1952.

The book provides examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: The Marquis becomes this to Aline; twisted in that, although she had been quite receptive to the thought of marrying him before, discovering some unsavory facts about him destroys her interest.
  • The Ace: Andre-Louis starts out as a lawyer, then incites a riot to avenge his friend, which is at least similar. Then he becomes a playwright and actor, then a professional fencing instructor, then a republican statesmen. He excels in all of his jobs. One could argue that everything except the fencing somehow builds on practicing law and rhetoric, and many politicians are former lawyers.note 
  • Affably Evil: The Marquis is so polite during his conversation with Andre-Louis and Phillipe Vilmorin that you almost miss the insult.
  • Age-Gap Romance: It's not explicitly stated how old the Marquis is, but it's clearly established that he's old enough to be Aline's father. This doesn't stop him considering Aline a suitable romantic prospect (nor do Aline's guardians disagree, and although she herself is not as keen on him, his age is not one of the things she counts against him).
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: The Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr is the main example, although, since this is the The French Revolution, this trope comes up a lot.
  • Badass Boast: Andre-Louis to the Assembly, after a duel with M. de Chabrillaine:
    "I have been detained by an engagement of a pressing nature. I bring you also the excuses of M. de Chabrillane. He, unfortunately, will be permanently absent from this Assembly in future."
  • Badass Bookworm: Although Andre-Louis is a lawyer by trade, he is able to study fencing theory well enough to devise a method of fencing that destroys even the most skilled of opponents.
  • Based on a True Story: The novel takes place during The French Revolution, and closely follows the events of that time, while outlining an entirely fictional plot. This is Sabatini's standard format.
  • Beat Them at Their Own Game: Andre-Louis reverses the Marquis's plan of legally killing republican sympathizers by provoking them into duels, when he takes a position in the States General, and in turn provokes duellist members of the First Estate into challenging him.
  • Becoming the Mask: By the end of the story Andre-Louis believes the revolutionary ideals he initially professed in the sake of revenge.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Andre-Louis is shown starting The French Revolution.
  • Betty and Veronica: Andre-Louis' two love interests are Aline, a daughter of the nobility, and Climene, the daughter of the owner of the theater troupe he hides out in. Ironically, the former is more innocent and girl-next-door, and the later is more mercenary and sexy.
  • Blue Blood: The Marquis, Aline and M. de Kercadiou.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: M. Danton, a violent man described as having "herculean stature".
  • But I Read a Book About It: Andre-Louis reads fencing books his fencing-master and employer kept around for decoration, and becomes a fencing prodigy and invents a Finishing Move. He ends up good enough to beat his master. And just about anyone else he faces.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr is a skilled fencer, and knows it. He provokes Phillipe de Vilmorin into a duel with the deliberate intention of killing him, well aware that Vilmorin, who is studying for priesthood, has scarcely held a sword in his life.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Andre-Louis.
  • Distracted by the Luxury: Climene falls for the Marquis's money.
  • Dramatic Irony: We as readers know that Aline faints out of concern for Andre-Louis, not the Marquis. Andre-Louis, however...
  • Dramatic Unmask: Andre-Louis, in character as Scaramouche, whips off his mask and delivers a "The Reason You Suck" Speech to the Marquis, who is in the audience at the theater.
  • Duel to the Death: Andre-Louis and several members of the Privileged Party, most notably the Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr and M. de Chabrillane. The Marquis's killing of Andre's friend Philippe de Vilmorin starts off the conflict between them. (As was the custom of the time, most of the duels are not officially to the death but only until one party is too injured to continue. Andre-Louis only injures most of the members of the Privileged Party he duels, but makes a point of going for the kill with de Chabrillane because he was also involved in Philippe's death. Likewise, he goes for the kill with de La Tour d'Azyr himself, but the Marquis is just good enough to divert the intended killing stroke so that it injures him enough to end the duel but not enough to kill him.)
  • Fake–Real Turn: Andre-Louis comes to believe in the republican ideals he initially supported out of revenge.
  • Finishing Move: Andre-Louis' "triple-disengage".
  • First Girl Wins: The two love interests are Aline, introduced in the second chapter as Andre-Louis's childhood friend who is about to get engaged to someone else, and Climene, who he meets and immediately falls in love with nine chapters later. Andre-Louis nearly marries Climene, but it's Aline that he ends up with.
  • Funetik Aksent: Danton speaks this way.
  • Gold Digger: Climene briefly becomes engaged to Andre-Louis, but only because she believes he is of noble birth. Once she finds out he is only a fosterling, she breaks it off to become Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr's mistress. On his side, the Marquis dumps Climene due to personal issues, leaving her with nothing.
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: Andre-Louis manages to become a master swordsman in a very short time through reading, soon besting his teacher, who has been training all his life in the sword but never bothered to study his own fencing library. The message seems to be that you need both hard work and practice.
  • Heir to the Dojo: Andre-Louis inherits M. Bertrand de Amis's fencing school when he is killed in a noble-goaded street riot.
  • Heroic Bastard: Andre-Louis. Allegedly. And actually.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The First Estate's senators typically dispatch the rowdier, more liberal members of the Third Estate by goading them into an honor duel, then killing them, since the rich First Estate is well versed in fencing, while the commoner Third Estate mostly cannot afford such lessons. Near the end of the story, Andre-Louis uses this very same tactic against the First Estate's senators, having become a better fencer than any of them.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Near the end of the novel, Andre-Louis becomes convinced that Aline has fallen in love with the Marquis, and so starts avoiding both of them so that they can be together without being hampered by his jealousy or his hatred of the Marquis — just at the point where if he'd spoken to Aline one more time she'd have told him it was him she's fallen in love with. They do get it sorted out in the end.
  • Jerkass Has a Point/Villain Has a Point: In the ending, the Marquis claims that the bloody revolution sparked by master orators like Vilmorin and Moreau retroactively justifies his killing of Vilmorin, that the revolutionaries do not hesitate to kill their enemies any more than he did, and that a revolution brings nothing but bloodshed and chaos before the revolutionaries become the new aristocrats. And considering we know what happens next...
  • Long-Lost Relative: At the climax of the novel after four years of feuding, the Marquis and Andre-Louis learn that they are father and son — years ago the Marquis seduced Mme. la Comtesse de Plougastel, then abandoned her when she got pregnant. She told him the baby died, but actually entrusted baby Andre-Louis to her friend M. de Kercadiou to raise. Andre-Louis gets quite annoyed when the Marquis suggests that he gets his badassness from his father's side of the family.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: The Marquis is Andre-Louis's father. The twist remains surprising because until that moment, Andre's parentage had not been important.
  • Meaningful Name: Andre-Louis believes that his role in the theater, the witty, roguish Scaramouche, is the best description of who he is in real life.
  • Morality Pet: Aline, for M. de La Tour D'Azyr.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: For almost ever sentence Danton says.
  • New Job as the Plot Demands: Andre-Louis starts as a lawyer. Over the course of the story, he becomes an actor, a playwright, a manager, a janitor, a fencing assistant, a fencing master, and finally a senator.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Comtesse de Plougastel is nice to a common-born messenger, which saves her life.
  • Nobody Calls Me "Chicken"!: The Marquis and much of the First Estate exploits this for all its worth, using insults to goad M. Vilmorin, and members of the Third Estate into duels, which they feel obliged by honor to accept. This ends quite badly, as the art of sword-duelling is typically only learned by nobles, leading to many a Curb-Stomp Battle.
  • Not Blood Siblings: Andre-Louis and Aline were raised together and think of each other as "almost like sister and brother", at least at the start of the book. (Officially, Andre-Louis is the godson and foster son of Aline's uncle, who many believe is probably his actual father as well.) They hook up romantically at the end.
  • Not in This for Your Revolution: In the beginning, Andre-Louis doesn't believe in the ideals he's supporting, he just uses republican rhetoric to inflame crowds to attack his enemies.
  • Not So Stoic: Andre-Louis admits as much in a letter. Despite his best efforts at detachment and comforting himself with the words of Epictetus, he recoils at the idea that he might die of starvation.
  • Oblivious to Love: Over the course of the novel, it becomes increasingly apparent to the reader that Aline loves Andre-Louis romantically and not just familially. Andre-Louis spends the entire novel oblivious, either writing off her signs of affection as familial or misunderstanding who they're directed at. (He's not great at subtle social cues, and also he's convinced himself that their differing social levels mean that she would never go for him.) This carries on until the final chapter, where Aline gets enough information to figure out how Andre-Louis really feels, after which she quickly puts him straight.
  • Parental Substitute: M. De Kercadiou for Andre-Louis.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: M. Binet may be the original founder of his acting troupe, but his controlling nature and mismanagement of funds and effort is keeping his actors from greatness.
  • Powder Keg Crowd: Andre-Louis just keeps setting them off.
  • Real Name as an Alias: Andre-Louis Moreau splits his first name in half as an alias while he works at the fencing school, becoming just Andre Louis.
  • Revenge: Andre-Louis' reason for hunting the Marquis.
  • Royal Rapier: The rapier is the weapon of choice of the corrupt upper classes, and particularly the villainous Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr, who has a way of destroying his enemies by provoking them into duels and then curb-stomping them with his superior ability. Andre-Louis starts studying fencing about halfway through the novel, and ends up good enough to beat most of his opponents even after word gets around and they stop assuming that his lower birth means he'll be unskilled; but even he has to work for his victory when he faces off against the Marquis.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: The Marquis kills Phillipe with impunity because he, as a noble, will not be punished for it.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Danton is depicted as an unsophisticated man who swears several times a sentence. (The swearing is blanked out except when it's a French expression that doesn't have the same force in English.)
    “This ——— Chapelier has told me of you. He says that you are a patriotic ———.”
    More than by the tone was Andre-Louis startled by the obscenities with which the Colossus did not hesitate to interlard his first speech to a total stranger. He laughed outright. There was nothing else to do.
    “If he has told you that, he has told you more than the truth! I am a patriot. The rest my modesty compels me to disavow.”
  • Talking to the Dead: Andre-Louis to Phillipe Vilmorin before the duel with the Marquis.
  • The Trickster: Scaramouche.
  • Villainous Valor: Say what you will about the Marquis but he is NOT a coward, even when the odds are against him.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Interestingly, it happens about two-thirds of the way into the story- the acting troupe, M. Binet, and Climene do not appear again after Andre-Louis flees them after shooting Binet. We are informed that M. Binet and Climene, without the rest of the troupe, stay destitute for the rest of their lives, while the other actors step up to make their own plays and comedic routines, and end up thriving without them.
  • Wicked Cultured: The Marquis, an honorable, educated, well-read noble who is also a ruthless killer.
  • Your Mom: The insult which sets the whole plot off.