Anyway, you all know that CAPTAIN BLOOD was turned into an instant classic of a movie starring Erroll Flynn back in the day when swashbuckling was taken seriously. But the book is just as good as the film. In fact, it adds a certain level of richness and zest to the familiar plot. Rafael Sabatini (1875 - 1950), writing in the romantic, florid style of the 19th century had a way with words that today, for some, might seem anachronistic or unintentionally humorous. Being aware of all this, I still like it. I suspend my disbelief and my 'sophisticated, modern' tastes and throw myself wholeheartedly into Sabatini's dashing world where men were men and women were expected to appreciate the difference.
I've read a bit about Sabatini's life and know that for all the success he achieved, he lived though two dreadfull occurrences which no human being should ever have to endure:
His beloved son died in an autombile crash on his way back to their home and Sabatini came upon his body in the road. The son of his second wife died in a plane crash right before their very eyes, as he piloted his own plane.
Incredible. (Tell me the universe makes any kind of rational sense.)
The first class adventure stories Sabatini concocted pale in comparison to this tragic set of real-life coincidences, but if he was able to lose himself in his writing, who can blame him?
Peter Blood, bachelor of medicine and several other things besides, smoked a pipe and tended the geraniums boxed on the sill of his window above Water Lane in the town of Bridgewater.
So (deceptively quiet) begins CAPTAIN BLOOD, a rip-roaring yarn of courtly gentlemen, beautiful women, adventure on the high seas, honor, pirate derring-do, battles to the death, sword play, flowery words, love, betrayal and all around good stuff. I loved it. But then, I've always been a sucker for a well-told pirate story.
A physician and gentleman living in 18th century England, Irishman Peter Blood is a good man bound to his duties. In the aftermath of a series of unfortunate events, he is arrested, brought to 'trial' and sentenced to be transported as a slave to the Caribbean island of Jamaica. Once there, the extreme hardships he and his fellow slaves must endure turn them into wounded, broken men willing to do anything to escape. Most heinous is the grievous treatment they endure at the hands of the odious Colonel Bishop, the land baron who 'owns' them. Peter Blood alone has the 'easier' time of it, since he is a doctor and the island's gout-ridden governor takes a liking to him.
Bishop's niece Arabella (who, in sympathy, had insisted her uncle buy Blood at the slave market) takes a liking to Blood's demeanor. Though he is nothing but a slave she comes to recognize his worth as a man and a gentleman. He, in turn, is taken with her beauty, kindness and high spirit.
By another series of occurrences - all splendidly written, I might add - Blood and his fellow slaves go on to survive a surprise attack on the island by a blood-thirsty band of Spanish pirates who take no quarter and commit horrendous acts of brutality upon the defenseless islanders. (So, in this instance, the English are bad enough, but the Spanish are worse.)
These thrilling exploits are written about by a master hand. I LOVED these pages as Blood and his band of ragged fellows not only survive but turn the tables on the rampaging Spanish AND the cruel Colonel Bishop.
Once Blood, through cleverness, strength, courage and intelligence is able to gather about him a fighting band of men and ships, he becomes the scourge of the Caribbean: Captain Peter Blood.
A man uneasy in his adopted 'trade' but aware of the necessity for he is, in truth, an outlaw - a man without a country. Yet this truth does not sit easy on Blood's shoulders. When he, by chance runs into Arabella Bishop again after three years of plying his trade in the Caribbean, he is stung when she calls him a 'thief and a pirate.'
Captain Blood...did not hear anything save the echo of those cruel words which had dubbed him thief and pirate.
Thief and pirate!
It is an odd fact of human nature that a man may for years possess the knowledge that a certain thing must be of a certain fashion, and yet be shocked to discover through his own senses that the fact is in perfect harmony with his beliefs. When first, three years ago, at Tortuga he had been urged upon the adventurer's course which he had followed ever since, he had known in what opinion Arabella Bishop must hold him if he succumbed. Only the conviction that already she was for ever lost to him, by introducing a certain desperate recklessness into his soul had supplied the final impulse to drive him upon his rover's course.
That he should ever meet her again had not entered his calculations, had found no place in his dreams.
I don't know about you, but to me, this is as brilliant a bit of self analysis as I've read in ages.
How Peter Blood's further daring (and fascinating) exploits serve to shape the man and the story and how it all contrives to make for a happy ending well, you will have to read to find out. If you're in the mood for a 'thumping good read', then this is the book for you. A very enjoyable read, especially on a cold winter's day.
Rafael Sabatini: too good to be forgotten.
Next up: SCARAMOUCHE. He was born with the gift of laughter and the sense that the world was mad.