Recently, I decided to re-read one of his most well-known novels, The Sea-Hawk.
Our story opens in Elizabethan Cornwall, where the young privateer Sir Oliver Tressilian is determined to marry his love Rosamund Godolphin despite her brother's objections - there has been bad blood between Tressilians and Godolphins for generations. When Rosamund's brother is discovered lying dead in the snow with a trail of blood leading to Sir Oliver's door, Rosamund becomes his enemy - but not half as deadly an enemy as Lionel, the younger brother Sir Oliver is trying to shield.
A rollicking tale of love, hate, and betrayal ensues, sweeping its characters from the cold coast of Cornwall to the blue sweep of the Mediterranean where the corsairs of Barbary ply their trade, led by the mysterious and inscrutable Sakr El-Bahr, the Hawk of the Sea...
I was captivated by this story the first time I read it, but this time I came away feeling that the whole was somewhat less than the sum of its parts. After all, The Sea-Hawk has everything...duels, pirates, treachery, kidnappings, galley-slaves, romance, palace intrigue, a gutsy heroine, moral dilemmas, and more. It's exciting. The hero and heroine both do terrible things to each other, only to repent of them later. There's a real sense of eucatastrophe when their hilariously tormented love-affair finally comes right, and I felt I could really cheer for Rosamund as a heroine in the final chapters, when she comes in to save the day rather like Portia in The Merchant of Venice.
Sometimes Sabatini clicks for me. I've reread both Captain Blood and Bardelys the Magnificent a number of times, and both of them are hugely enjoyable. The Sea-Hawk was awfully close, but never quite closed the deal. Partly it could be the odd pacing. The first third of the book occurs in Cornwall five years before the second two-thirds of the book in Algiers, which gives the story a slightly disjointed feeling. Much of the middle section is taken up by the villainous harem intrigues featuring the wife of the basha of Algiers, a character who didn't interest me in the least. And then there's the main character's rather flippant attitude toward religion, as he sees no problem with changing his allegiances at the drop of the hat for personal gain.
These are drawbacks, but I think the most unsettling thing, for me, was the centrepiece of the book, in which the heroine is sold to the hero in the slave market at Algiers. It makes for good melodrama as he takes her home and gloats over her, and the second half of the book goes a long way towards redeeming him as he starts to realise that a) he still loves her and b) his lust for revenge has put her in terrible danger. However, it's the old have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too trap so many authors fall into: Sabatini has obviously gone to such outrageous lengths, shifting his characters through many an implausible imbroglio to maneuver them into position, just so that this scene can happen. Although the characters spend much of the second half of the book regretting that the scene did happen, it did happen and we got our guilty frisson out of it.
So, much of this book was pure fantasy, and in retrospect, a rather unhealthy fantasy to boot; but all the same, it was a fun read, with an ending that satisfied. The Sea-Hawk falls on the guilty end of the guilty-pleasure scale, and I'm not convinced it justifies its existence. But, it still has some good elements...
How's that for a rousing recommendation?
You can find The Sea-Hawk on Amazon,the Book Depository, Project Gutenberg and Librivox.
Guess what? They made a film very loosely based on The Sea-Hawk, starring Errol Flynn as the titular pirate! Rather understandably, given the book's structural oddities, the film has nothing whatsoever to do with the book, except for being set during the reign of Elizabeth I and featuring a privateer as the main character. It's not a bad black-and-white swashbuckler though.
Rafael Sabatini (29 April 1875 – 13 February 1950) was an Italian-English writer of romance and adventure novels.
He is best known for his worldwide bestsellers: The Sea Hawk (1915), Scaramouche (1921), Captain Blood (a.k.a. The Odyssey of Captain Blood) (1922), and Bellarion the Fortunate (1926).
In all, Sabatini produced 31 novels, eight short story collections, six non-fiction books, numerous uncollected short stories, and several plays.
Rafael Sabatini was born in Iesi, Italy, to an English mother (Anna Trafford) and Italian father. His parents were opera singers who then became teachers.
At a young age, Rafael was exposed to many languages, living with his grandfather in England, attending school in Portugal, and, as a teenager, in Switzerland. By the time he was 17, when he returned to England to live permanently, he had become proficient in five languages. He quickly added a sixth language – English – to his linguistic collection. He consciously chose to write in his adopted language, because, he said, “all the best stories are written in English".
After a brief stint in the business world, Sabatini went to work as a writer. He wrote short stories in the 1890s, and his first novel came out in 1902. In 1905, he married Ruth Goad Dixon, the daughter of a Liverpool merchant. It took Sabatini roughly a quarter of a century of hard work before he attained success with Scaramouche in 1921. The novel, an historical romance set during the French Revolution, became an international bestseller. It was followed by the equally successful Captain Blood (1922). All of his earlier books were rushed into reprints, the most popular of which was The Sea Hawk (1915). Sabatini was a prolific writer; he produced a new book approximately every year and maintained a great deal of popularity with the reading public through the decades that followed.
Several of his novels were adapted into films during the silent era,[which?] and the first three of these books were made into notable films in the sound era, in 1940, 1952, and 1935 respectively.[which?] His third novel was made into a famous "lost" film, Bardelys the Magnificent (1926), directed by King Vidor, starring John Gilbert, and long viewable only in a fragment excerpted in Vidor's silent comedy Show People (1928). A few intact reels have recently been discovered in Europe. The fully restored version premièred on TCM on 11 January 2010.
Two silent adaptations of Sabatini novels which do survive intact are Rex Ingram's Scaramouche (1923) starring Ramón Novarro, and The Sea Hawk (1924) directed by Frank Lloyd and starring Milton Sills. The 1940 film The Sea Hawk, with Errol Flynn, is not a remake but a wholly new story which just used the title. A silent version of Captain Blood (1924), starring J. Warren Kerrigan, is partly lost, surviving only in an incomplete copy in the Library of Congress. The Black Swan (1942) was filmed starring Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara.
Sabatini's only son, Rafael-Angelo (nicknamed Binkie), was killed in a car crash on 1 April 1927. In 1931, Sabatini and his wife Ruth divorced. Later that year he moved from London to Clifford, Herefordshire, near Hay-on-Wye. In 1935, he married the sculptor Christine Dixon (née Wood), his former sister-in-law. They suffered further tragedy when Christine's son, Lancelot Dixon, was killed in a flying accident on the day he received his RAF wings; he flew his aeroplane over his family's house, but the plane went out of control and crashed in flames right before the observers' eyes.
By the 1940s, illness forced Sabatini to slow his prolific method of composition, though he did write several works during that time.
Sabatini died in Switzerland February 13, 1950. He was buried in Adelboden, Switzerland. On his headstone his wife had written, "He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad", the first line of Scaramouche.
- Tales of the Brethren of the Main (a series of short stories first published in Premier Magazine from 1920–1921)[a]
- Captain Blood (also known as Captain Blood: His Odyssey, 1922), in which the title character is admiral of a fleet of pirate ships.
- Captain Blood Returns (also known as The Chronicles of Captain Blood, 1931)[b][c]
- The Fortunes of Captain Blood (1936)[b]
- The Lovers of Yvonne (also known as The Suitors of Yvonne, 1902)
- The Tavern Knight (1904)
- Bardelys the Magnificent (1906)
- The Trampling of the Lilies (1906)
- Love-At-Arms: Being a narrative excerpted from the chronicles of Urbino during the dominion of the High and Mighty Messer Guidobaldo da Montefeltro (1907)
- The Shame of Motley (1908)
- St. Martin's Summer (also known as The Queen's Messenger, 1909)
- Mistress Wilding (also known as Anthony Wilding, 1910)
- The Lion's Skin (1911)
- The Strolling Saint (1913)
- The Gates of Doom (1914)
- The Sea Hawk (1915), a tale of an Elizabethan Englishman among the pirates of the Barbary Coast.
- The Snare (1917)
- Fortune's Fool (1923)
- The Carolinian (1924)
- Bellarion the Fortunate (1926), about a cunning young man who finds himself immersed in the politics of fifteenth-century Italy.
- The Nuptials of Corbal (1927)
- The Hounds of God (1928)
- The Romantic Prince (1929)
- The Reaping (1929)
- The King's Minion (also known as The Minion, 1930)
- The Black Swan (1932)
- The Stalking Horse (1933)
- Venetian Masque (1934)
- Chivalry (1935)
- The Lost King (1937)
- The Sword of Islam (1939)
- The Marquis of Carabas (also known as Master-At-Arms, 1940)
- Columbus (1941)
- King In Prussia (also known as The Birth of Mischief, 1944)
- The Gamester (1949)
- The Justice of the Duke (1912)
- The Banner of the Bull (1915)
- Turbulent Tales (1946)[d]
- Saga of the Sea (omnibus comprising The Sea Hawk, The Black Swan and Captain Blood, 1953)
- Sinner, Saint And Jester: A Trilogy in Romantic Adventure (omnibus comprising The Snare, The Strolling Saint and The Shame of Motley, 1954)
- In the Shadow of the Guillotine (omnibus comprising Scaramouche, The Marquis of Carabas and The Lost King, 1955)
- A Fair Head of Angling Stories (1989)
- The Fortunes of Casanova and Other Stories (1994, stories originally published 1907–1921 & 1934)
- The Outlaws of Falkensteig (2000, stories originally published 1900–1902)
- The Camisade: And Other Stories of the French Revolution (2001, stories originally published 1900–1916)
- The Evidence of the Sword and Other Mysteries, ed. Jesse Knight (Crippen & Landru, 2006, stories originally published 1898-1916)
- A Century of Sea Stories (1935)
- A Century of Historical Stories (1936)
- The Life of Cesare Borgia (1912)
- Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition: A History (1913)
- The Historical Nights' Entertainment (1917)[e]
- The Historical Nights' Entertainment – Series 2 (1919)[e]
- The Historical Nights' Entertainment – Series 3 (1938)[e]
- Heroic Lives (1934)
- ^Most of the stories were woven together by the author to form Captain Blood, and two that were not were included in Captain Blood Returns.
- ^ abN.B. Captain Blood Returns and The Fortunes of Captain Blood are not sequels, but collections of short stories set entirely within the timeframe of the original novel.
- ^One of the stories from this collection, "The Treasure Ship", was reprinted as a standalone paperback in 2004.
- ^Includes several stories about Alessandro Cagliostro, and one connected to Captain Blood.
- ^ abcThe Historical Nights' Entertainment stories are 'factions' – truth so far as anyone knows it, embellished with imagination. Some are actually apocryphal, not even history.