Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

"A surging, seething, murmuring crowd of beings that are human only in name, for to the eye and ear they seem naught but savage creatures, animated by vile passions and by the lust of vengeance and of hate." ~The Scarlet Pimpernel

The above quote isn't particularly inspiring or funny or even profound--it just amuses me because it is the first sentence of the book, and it does not contain a verb. No, seriously. Read it again and you'll see.

The Scarlet Pimpernel, written in the early 20th century by Baroness Emmuska Orczy, can rightfully be called one of the greatest adventure stories of all time.

In the mid-1790's, when the French Revolution was at its height, hundreds of aristocrats were dying under the guillotine. The new Republic advocated liberty, equality and fraternity, but in reality it was a reign of terror. During this horrible time, one man was risking his life and leading a band of his like-minded friends to save those in danger. French and English alike gratefully reverenced him, yet only those in his band of rescuers knew his name. To the rest of the world, he was known only as the Scarlet Pimpernel.

Marguerite St. Just Blakeney, "the cleverest woman in Europe", sympathized with the Scarlet Pimpernel's actions, yet she herself had once been responsible for sending an entire family of aristocrats to the guillotine. Marguerite, married to the foppish idiot Sir Percy Blakeney, now regretted her hasty action in denouncing the Marquis de St. Cyr and his family, yet now there was nothing she could do. So she lived in glamour and luxury in London and pretended to forget what had once happened in France.

That is, until Monsieur Chauvelin, a member of the Republic who bitterly hated the Scarlet Pimpernel, appeared with a threat for Marguerite. Tipped off by his spies, Chauvelin learned that Marguerite's brother Armand was in league with the Scarlet Pimpernel, and used this information to blackmail Marguerite into helping him find the Scarlet Pimpernel.

Threatened with the death of her brother if she did not comply, Marguerite agreed to help Chauvelin, but that was not the end of the story. Marguerite had no idea of the real Scarlet Pimpernel's identity. If she had, she never would have allowed herself to be roped into Chauvelin's devious plan...

I better stop there before I give away too much of the plot. This is an excellent book, worthy of nine and a half stars out of ten. There are only two things about the book which I do not like, and they are the only elements keeping it from receiving ten stars:

1) The author spends too much time praising Marguerite's beauty. It would only take a few lines to describe Marguerite for us, yet Baroness Orczy takes up almost a quarter of the book raving about Marguerite's fair skin, shining hair, luminous eyes, etc. We get the picture, Baroness. Please move on.

2) The language. Sir Percy frequently uses words that are not acceptable in polite company (although it's nothing obscene). For this reason, I wouldn't recommend the book to children under 12.

All in all, this is a great novel! You can read it online at Project Gutenberg, and also at The website I linked to is easier on the eyes than Project Gutenberg, so you might prefer that. Also, it's a classic, so it should be available at most libraries and bookstores.

I've read the book several times, but never seen a movie version of it. I've heard that the 1982 adaptation, starring Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour, is supposed to be outstanding, and I'd like to see it. Have you seen it? Do you recommend it?


Alexandra said...

This is my favorite book ever...sooo good!!! And the 1982 film version is absolutely fantastic, one of my very very favorite films. I can't recommend it highly enough!

I posted a review on my blog a while back...

Anyway! Great review...I love hearing from anyone else who loves this story!

Melody said...

You'll probably have my head on a platter if I don't read this one soon....