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About Rafael Sabatini

Rafael Sabatini

Rafael Sabatini is one of my favourite authors, particularly of what I might call the romantic period of writing in Britain. I first met him when my brother gave me for Christmas (around 1965) a set of three of his works: "Captain Blood", "Scaramouche" and "The Sea Hawk". I read them all to tatters. Since then I have gradually added to my collection of his works, though it is by no means complete. I have tried to get hardbacks where possible, but paperworks will do if I haven't read the story. This site is by no means comprehensive in its details for Sabatini, you are advised to visit the Rafael Sabatini site for much more detail about the man and his works.


Rafael Sabatini (1875-1950) was an extraordinary man, born April 29, 1875 in Jesi, Italy, of an English mother and an Italian father. There is uncertainty as to whether his parents were actually married, and suggestions of illegitemacy amongst his heroes do occasionally appear in his books - Scaramouche himself is one such example. Both parents were excellent opera singers, and his mother an accomplished pianist. They travelled the world and Sabatini was exposed to many languages throughout his childhood, the learning of which was something he was able to embrace comfortably. Sabatini became quite fluent in English and Italian from exposure to his parents, and later by attending Catholic school in Portugal added a third language. As a young student in Switzerland, German and French soon followed. But he wrote primarily in English - "All the best stories are in English" he stated.

Captain Blood
The Chronicles of Captain Blood
Love At Arms
Captain Blood - His Odyssey
Some of my paperbacks. I think the front images are very well done in these issues, in many cases, much better than the hardback dust covers.

During his work as a Brazilian translator in Liverpool, England, he began to write historical romances, his first appearing in 1901 ('The Lovers of Yvonne') and his second in 1905, also the year he married Ruth Dixon. In 1909 they had a child, Rafael-Angelo, whom the family knew as "Binkie" for some undisclosed reason.

These early years of struggle changed in 1910 as Sabatini began to produce a book each year on average. Mostly romances, he also engaged in some excellent factual work, and issued books on "Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition" and "The Life of Cesare Borgia". This latter subject - or at least the "High Renaissance" period of the "Cinquecento Italiano" - would appear in many books, Sabatini having been born near the Borgia's lands and possibly seeing a kindred illegitimate spirit in Cesare.

The Historical Nights Entertainment
Anthony Wilding
The Shame of Motley
Fortune's Fool
The Banner of the Bull
These books are all soft leather, Uniform Edition. Apart from "The Historical Nights Entertainment", all are published by Hutchinson as the Uniform Edition of 1927. "The Historical Nights Entertainment" is published by Phoenix and undated, but also termed the Uniform Edition, and as you can clearly see, looks very similar to the Hutchinson editions.

In 1927, Sabatini's wife and son were involved in a car smash, it was Sabatini himself who found them laying by the side of the road whilst driving to their rented home near Tintern Abbey in Herefordshire. Although Ruth recovered, their beloved son was mortally injured and expired soon after reaching Brockweir House. The marriage did not survive the dreadful blow, and the couple finally divorced in 1931.

Columbus
Bardelys The Magnificent
Hounds Of God
The Tavern Knight
Casanova
Some of my hardbacks, with dust covers intact. I have a number of other hardbacks, but sadly, with no dustwrapper. "The Hounds of God" and "The Tavern Knight" are from the same series.

Sabatini continued to produce his annual book, writing excellent material, though the world-wide depression prevented sales reaching the same levels as the offerings of Scaramouche (1921), Captain Blood (1922) and "The Hounds of God" (1928). The links are to the Wiki pages concerning the later films of these books, and open in a new window. He was heavily penalised financially when he lost a tiresome argument in court with the American Inland Revenue Service regarding taxation of the American movie rights to 5 of his books in 1938, a situation in which P.G. Wodehouse would also later find himself, the Sabatini case providing even today American Law students with interesting precedent. It seems Sabatini, on receipt of the tax demand, employed an "expert" who faked a letter which stated that following his intervention, the demand was not required, pocketed the fee and disappeared, leaving Sabatini to pick up the pieces. The 1932 book The Black Swan was later filmed (in 1942) with Maureen O'Hara and Tyrone Power and won an Oscar for its technicolor cinematography (by Leon Shamroy).

Rafael and Christine

Directed by Michael Curtiz, it was the 1935 production of Captain Blood which provided a young Errol Flynn with his first ever Hollywood starring role, alongside the gorgeous Olivia de Havilland as Arabella Bishop and Basil Rathbone as the devilish Levasseur, in one of Hollywood's more faithful depictions of a Sabatini story - only let down by a cringe-inducing final scene. In that same year, aged 60, Sabatini married again, his former sister-in-law, Christine Dixon who had been married to Ruth's brother, herself a sculptor of considerable talent. Christine already had a son, Lancelot Steele Dixon, known as "Lanty". At the outbreak of the second world war, the popular Lanty joined the RAF. On the day he received his pilot's wings, he flew his Spitfire over the Sabatini's house, the Clock Mill at Hereford. Rafael and Lanty's mother watched from the garden as he flew around them, their pride suddenly turning to horror as the plane crashed in flames in the field beside the house. Christine would have nightmares for years, the image of her son burning to death in front of her something no woman should have to endure.

Sabatini wrote less after that, though what was produced was still excellent. But his health was failing and he had stomach cancer. Each year, the family spent time at Adelboden in Switzerland, skiing being - with fishing - one of Sabatini's most passionate pastimes. On the 1950 visit, made at his own insistence and against medical advice, he never left his room and died February 13th, being buried in the small cemetery in the town.

If you are interested in finding out more about Rafael Sabatini and his works, the site: www.rafaelsabatini.com is well worth a visit - the recently unearthed interview is especially interesting. Jesse Knight (who was the site web-master until his sad death in 2008) kindly gave me permission to include the link to it, and to use the images attributed to the site.


Sabatini E-Books on the Net

Visit the on-line Sabatini page at: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/books/. The link opens in a new window, and provides links to freely download the text from a large number of Sabatini's works.


Sabatini and the Movies

Quite a few years ago, I was able to record (on VHS tape cartridges) the films "Captain Blood", "The Black Swan" and the hated "Scaramouche". The VHS recordings are now defunct, so I have to regenerate them on my Sky hard disk. I presently only have "Prisoner of Corbal" (1936) available on it. I keep scanning the listings in hopes!

The table below shows those Sabatini novels that Britain/Hollywood made into films. Source IMDB, Wikipedia. Unless otherwise stated, all the images are grabbed from the IMDB; if they object, let me know by the "contact" form and I'll remove them.

The data for each film is being added to as and when I unearth some more about it. If anyone knows of a film I haven't listed, please tell me using the contact form. Searches of the internet have not so far revealed a definitive list of Sabatini works which have been filmed, either with the Sabatini novel name or a different name.

The Tavern Knight

The Tavern Knight

1920. Starred Cecil Humphries and Ellie Norwood. Silent copy. See Wikipedia and IMDB. The biography of the director, Maurice Elvey, is a little confusing as it states his first film was around 1929, but records the making of The Tavern Knight to be 1920. A British silent film, studios not known. No known copy exists. Intriguingly, the early twentieth century British cinema was based on Shoreham Beach, part of a small town (Shoreham-by-Sea) on the Sussex coast between Brighton and Worthing. A number of films were made there, in most cases, because of the excellent "natural" light. Why intriguing? Because I was born in the town and lived for many years on the Beach. It would be really great if this film had been made just a few yards from where I was born and raised 30 years later! Here is some history of the film-making activities. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely this particular film was made in my hometown.

When I was a kid, there was an old derelict, burned out mansion just behind the small row of shops on the Beach. We kids loved playing in it - against strict parental instructions, of course! One day (around 1966 I would think) my friend found a ten-foot length of celluloid film in the rubble - holding it up to the light, it showed a burning building! Was it film of the mansion burning? How did the strip of film get in the rubble, it would not have survived the flames if it had been filmed before? Was the mansion burning accidental, or was it done for a film? Who lived there? We both have often wondered about this. Today, the old mansion remains are long gone, and are under people's houses and gardens now.
Scaramouche

Scaramouche

1923. Starred Ramon Navarro. Silent copy. More details here: IMDB. See also Wikipedia.
The Sea Hawk

The Sea Hawk

1924. Starred Milton Sills, Enid Bennett. Director Frank Lloyd. Adapted for the screen by J.G. Hawks. More details here: IMDB. See also Wikipedia.
Captain Blood

Captain Blood

1924. Starred J. Warren Kerrigan. A silent copy, surviving as only a fragment in the US Library of Congress. More details here: IMDB. See also Wikipedia.
Bardeleys the Magnificent

Bardeleys the Magnificent

1926. Starred John Gilbert, Eleanor Boardman, and an uncredited nineteen-year-old John Wayne in his second ever appearance on film. Director King Vidor. Adapted by Dorothy Farnum. Lost for many years until a few intact reels were discovered in France (only reel three was missing), and a fully restored version of the remainder is now in existence, and possibly available on DVD. More details here: IMDB. See also Wikipedia.
Captain Blood

Captain Blood

1935. Starred Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone. More details here: IMDB. See also Wikipedia. One of Hollywood's better interpretations of a fine story, but the final scene where Arabella pretends to implore Peter Blood for her Uncle's life, in order to give the latter the heebie-jeebies, is cringe-inducing and utterly unnecessary.
Prisoner of Corbal

Prisoner of Corbal

1936. Also known by "Marriage of Corbal". Starred Hugh Sinclair and Hazel Terry. Restored version (by Renown Pictures in 2009) transmitted UK digital on 25th January, 2017 on the "Talking Pictures" Sky channel. Based on the Sabatini book "Nuptials of Corbal". The image is a photograph I took of my TV screen, so could be improved at some time! More details here: IMDB. See also Wikipedia.
The Black Swan

The Black Swan

1942. Starred Tyrone Power, Maureen O'Hara. Winner of the 1943 Oscar for "Technicolor Cinematography" (by Leon Shamroy). Although Sabatini is credited with authoring the novel, I seem to recall that the two stories are significantly different in content. More details here: IMDB. See also Wikipedia. There is a 2010 film of the same name that has no connection. There is a DVD release of the 1942 film.
Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus

1949. Starred Frederic March, Florence Eldridge. Co-writers of the screen play with Sabatini were my second cousins, Sydney and Muriel Box. More details here: IMDB. See also Wikipedia. I believe the content of the book and the film to be significantly different.
Scaramouche

Scaramouche

1952. Starred Stewart Granger, Janet Leigh. Whilst Hollywood follows the story well at times, overall it is, in my humble opinion, an appalling travesty of a wonderful book. More details here: IMDB. See also Wikipedia. My dear wife bought me an early, though not a first, UK edition of this book, what a darling!
Captain, Pirate

Captain, Pirate

1952. Also known by "Captain Blood, Fugitive" and "Fortunes of Captain Blood".Starred Louis Hayward, Patricia Medina. I have a strong suspicion the story was NOT by Rafael Sabatini, though IMDB do credit Sabatini as the author of the novel - probably the only connection with Sabatini's creation is the name and setting. More details here: IMDB. See also Wikipedia.
Son of Captain Blood

Son of Captain Blood

1962. Starred Sean Flynn (Errol Flynn's son), Alessandro Panaro. Story NOT by Sabatini, IMDB credits Sabatini with the "Characters". More details here: IMDB. See also Wikipedia.
Captain Blood Computer Game

Captain Blood Computer Game

2006. I really would love to know what Sabatini might have thought of this! A computer game where you take on the role of Captain Blood to hack and slash your way around the Caribbean. See Wikipedia. Also a web-site and also this site. I only recently found this on the web, I might have been tempted to buy it in 2006 when it was released!

Sabatini quotes (I personally like)

On fishing: "Only those become weary of angling who bring nothing to it but the idea of catching fish."

Of his own art: "The writer of historical fiction must inform himself as closely and accurately as possible of the realities of the life with which he deals. Before he can come to a book, he must have rendered himself by study and research so familiar with every phase and detail of the life of the period chosen that he can move with ease within it, and so produce his effects that his narrative, without being clogged by a parade of his knowledge, will yet be fully informed and enlivened by it. That, at least, is his ambitious aim." (On the 1974 edition Hounds of God dust jacket.)

And this majestic paragraph from the introduction to the 1912 edition of "The Life of Cesare Borgia": "You will not seek here a Chronicle of Saints. Nor shall you find a History of Devils. It is an attempt to present as they really were certain very human, strenuous men, the creatures - as all men are - of the age and environment in which they lived. And theirs was a lustful, flamboyant age; an age red with blood and pale with passion at white-heat, an age of steel and velvet, of vivid colour, dazzling light, and impenetrable shadow; an age of swift movement, pitiless violence, and high endeavour, of sharp antitheses and amazing contrasts."


Book Images

Nuptuals of Corbal Frontispiece

The book images shown above are from my own collection and show the pitifully few hardbacks I have with their dust-wrapper intact (and none are early editions). I have a beautiful British first edition (1927?) by Hutchinson of The Nuptials of Corbal (unfortunately without its dust jacket) which includes a number of fine colour plates (by the American illustrator Harold Brett) which I would scan in if it wasn't for the fact it would break the book's spine to do so. I have managed to scan in the frontispiece without causing damage, as shown here.

It used to be possible to pick up old, though rarely first, editions of Sabatini books at book fairs and book sales, or car boot sales, but I haven't seen one for ages now. I got all my Sabatini's that way, except for the leather bound ones which I found in an old book shop in Hitchin. They are still available on E-Bay, but the older ones can be of lower quality, though they are still reasonable for a collector, around 10 apiece. My dream was to own the 1924 complete autographed limited edition set (of, I believe, 34 books) of Sabatini's writings, but they are well into 4 digits and rarely complete, so it's going to be an unrealised dream, I think!


Dust Jackets

I have only a few hardbacks with their jackets intact, none very valuable. The earliest dust-jackets were introduced in the 1820s, the earliest currently known existing example dates from 1829. They only became really popular around the beginning of the twentieth century, when bindings became less decorative due to the expense and publishers used the cheaper to produce jacket as a colourful and attractive selling point for their books. The Wikipedia Article has a lot of interesting history, the link opens in a new window. The existence of a good quality, excellent condition dust jacket can raise the value of a particular edition dramatically. The Rafael Sabatini site did have links to a gallery of dust-jackets for his novels, but it appears to be broken as of 2017. But the site does have some of its own on the various book pages.


Thank you, Mr. Sabatini, for many hours of reading pleasure!