Captain Blood: His Odyssey is an adventure novel by Rafael Sabatini, originally published in 1922
The protagonist is the sharp-witted Dr. Peter Blood, a fictional Irish physician who had had a wide-ranging career as a soldier and sailor (including a commission as a captain under the Dutch admiral De Ruyter) before settling down to practice medicine in the town of Bridgwater in Somerset.
The book opens with him attending to his geranium whilst the town prepares to fight for the Duke of Monmouth. He wants no part in the rebellion, but whilst attending to some of the rebels wounded at the Battle of Sedgemoor, Peter is arrested. During the Bloody Assizes, he is convicted by the infamous Judge Jeffreys of treason on the grounds that "if any person be in actual rebellion against the King, and another person—who really and actually was not in rebellion—does knowingly receive, harbour, comfort, or succour him, such a person is as much a traitor as he who indeed bore arms."
The sentence for treason is death by hanging, but King James II, for purely financial reasons has the sentence for Blood and other convicted rebels commuted to transportation to the Caribbean, where they are to be sold into slavery.
Upon arrival on the island of Barbados, he is bought by Colonel Bishop, initially for work in the Colonel's sugar plantations but later hired out by Bishop when Blood's skills as a physician prove superior to those of the local doctors.
When a Spanish force attacks and raids the town of Bridgetown, Blood escapes with a number of other convict-slaves (including former shipmaster Jeremy Pitt, the one-eyed giant Edward Wolverstone, former gentleman Nathaniel Hagthorpe, former Royal Navy petty officer Nicholas Dyke and former Royal Navy master gunner Ned Ogle), captures the Spaniards' ship and sails away to become one of the most successful pirates/buccaneers in the Caribbean, hated and feared by the Spanish.
After the Glorious Revolution, Blood is pardoned, and as a reward for saving the colony from the French, ends up as governor.
While Blood is a fictional character, much of the historical background of the novel is based on fact. The Monmouth rebels were sold into slavery as described in the book; and the shifting political alliances of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 are used in the novel as a plot device to allow Blood's return to respectability.
Captain Blood was an enormously popular work, and Sabatini wrote two additional novels featuring Peter Blood: Captain Blood Returns (1930) (retitled The Chronicles of Captain Blood in the British publication) and The Fortunes of Captain Blood (1936). Both of these books are episodic tales of Blood's pirate career rather than true sequels. All the episodes are contained within the timeframe of the original novel, although Sabatini mistakenly dated one story "1690" despite the fact that Blood's piratical career had been established as ending in 1689, and two stories in Captain Blood Returns: "The War Indemnity" and "Blood Money" may be viewed as continuations of events that took place in the original novel.
Peter Blood and his exploits are based on several individuals, Henry Morgan and Thomas Blood in particular, and Henry Pitman, a physician who was actually swept up in the Monmouth Rebellion, sold into slavery in Barbados, escaped and was captured by pirates. However, unlike the fictional Blood, Pitman didn't join them, and eventually made his way back to England where he wrote a popular account of his adventures.
The bitter aftermath of the Monmouth Rebellion also features prominently in Arthur Conan Doyle's "Micah Clarke".
Rafael Sabatini was born in Jesi, Italy, to an English mother and Italian father. His parents were opera singers who 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 seventeen, when he returned to England to live permanently, he was the master of 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, a historical romantic set during the French Revolution, became an international best-seller. It was followed by the equally successful Captain Blood in 1922. All of his earlier books were rushed into reprints, the most popular of which was The Sea Hawk from 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.
His only son, Rafael-Angelo (nicknamed Binkie), was killed in a car crash on April 1, 1927. In 1931, he and his wife Ruth divorced. Later that year he moved from London to Hay-on-Wye. In 1935 he married the sculptor Christine Goad, his former sister-in-law. They suffered further tragedy when Christine's son, Lancelot, was killed in a flying accident. On the day he received his RAF wings, he flew his aeroplane over their house, but the plane went out of control and crashed in flames before their eyes.
By the 1940s, illness forced the writer to slow his prolific method of composition. However, he did write several additional works even during that time. He died on February 13, 1950 in Switzerland. He is buried at 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.
He is best known for his worldwide bestsellers:
• The Sea Hawk (1915), a tale of the Spanish Armada and the pirates of the Barbary Coast;
• Scaramouche (1921), a tale of the French Revolution in which a fugitive hides out in a commedia dell'arte troupe and later becomes a fencing master (Sabatini wrote a sequel ten years later);
• Captain Blood (1922), in which the title character is admiral of a fleet of pirate ships (Sabatini also wrote two sequels comprising short stories); and
• Bellarion the Fortunate (1926), about a cunning young man who finds himself immersed in the politics of fifteenth-century Italy.
Several of his novels were adapted into films during the silent era, and the first three of these books were made into notable films in the sound era, in 1940, 1952, and 1935 respectively. His second novel was made into a famous "lost" film, Bardelys the Magnificent, directed in 1926 by King Vidor with John Gilbert in the lead, and long viewable only in a fragment excerpted in Vidor's silent comedy Show People. A few intact reels have recently been discovered in Europe. The fully restored version premiered on TCM on January 11, 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. This is actually a more faithful adaptation than the 1940 remake with Errol Flynn. A 1924 silent version of Captain Blood, starring J. Warren Kerrigan, is partly lost, surviving only in an incomplete copy in the Library of Congress. The Black Swan was filmed in 1942 starring Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara.
In all, Sabatini produced thirty-one novels, eight short story collections, six non-fiction books, numerous uncollected short stories, and a play.
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