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The story is good-natured, although so predictable that plot developments might as well be announced by fanfare. It opens on a dark night when a company of actors beg for shelter at the ruined old chateau of the young Baron de Sigognac. To date, this young man has lived quietly in his delipidated family home, too proud to beg for charity, accompanied only by a faithful old servant and his loyal cat, dog and pony, all equally aged.
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The arrival of the actors offers him a glimpse of a dazzling world beyond the estate, and he plucks up the courage to go with them on their journey to Paris, hoping that there frcaasse will find a way to approach the King and appeal to his munificence, reminding him of the noble history of the de Sigognacs.
A more immediate appeal is the presence of the beautiful actress Isabelle, the illegitimate daughter of a mysterious nobleman. De Sigognac immediately falls in love with her and of course she immediately adores him in return. However, this being a very polite kaiptan, no one gets round to saying anything about it until at least the middle of the book. Kaitan route to their next major stop in Poitiers, the company faces ambushes by bandits, snowstorms, bitter cold and the tragic death of one of the actors.
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He becomes a great success and, by the time the troupe arrives in Poitiers, they are playing to full houses. But it is in Poitiers that de Sigognac meets his nemesis, the Duke of Vallombreuse: So we have the kapktan leader Herode, who plays the tyrant, the pedant Blazius, the leading lady Serafina, the modest Isabellethe doughty chaperon Mme.
Leonarde, the cheeky soubrette Zerbine, the vain romantic lead, Leanderthe clever servant Scapinand the swaggering braggart Matamore. Everyone except the villain, most of the time is worthy, good-natured, warm-hearted and understanding, and there are several long conversations in which various people tell each other how fantastically noble and wonderful they are. Put your cynicism aside, read it tongue-in-cheek, and allow yourself to be carried along on its charming tide.
As far as I can see, this novel has only been translated into English once: In style it reminded me very much of Stradellain which all the heroes and heroines are unbelievably good, all the bravos are surprisingly honourable and there is much prose of the flowery and ornate variety.
That was translated by Helen Constantine for Penguin Classics and, although it kept its period flavour, it was a much more exciting and lively read. For those with more lukewarm feelings about this genre, it might be wise to steer clear until there is a more up-to-date and less sugary English translation. Has anyone read any other good fiction — or non-fiction — on the subject? Yet more disappointment, alas! You are commenting using your WordPress.
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Rafael Sabatini — The Idle Woman.
Captain Fracasse: Théophile Gautier
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