Captain Tuttle’s #CBR4 Review #4 – The Scarlet Pimpernel by by Baroness Emmuska Orczy
“They seek him here, they seek him there, Those Frenchies seek him everywhere. Is he in heaven? – Is he in hell? That demmed, elusive Pimpernel.”
I’ve known that rhyme since I was a kid, when I saw the Leslie Howard movie based on this play/novel. And then in the 80s (I think) I saw the Anthony Andrews/Jane Seymour version. I had a picture of the Scarlet Pimpernel in my head: a wee, fey, clever dandy, who was pretty decent with a sword. My vision was a bit off.
It’s 1792, France, early days of the Revolution. In England, the lovely actress Marguerite St. Just is the darling of London society, and everyone wonders why such a brilliant woman is married to the fop Percy Blakeney (ok, he’s rich and titled – I’d be fine with that). In the book, Blakeney is repeatedly described as being large – so big, that it is continually remarked upon. He’s still a dandy, impeccably dressed, with Mechlin lace at his cuffs, a laconic demeanor, and a distinctive laugh. He’s not known as a bright shining light of intelligence. Marguerite had informed on an aristocrat back in France, who had gone to the guillotine. She had a good reason, but not everyone knows that. She had fallen in love with Blakeney, but was disillusioned with his frivolity. She was also very well-known for insulting her husband in public.
BUT – Percy’s seeming inanity masks the shrewd, calculating leader of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel: the savior of innocents from the Reign of Terror. THIS IS NOT A SPOILER – if anyone doesn’t already know this story, one still finds out within the first 50 or so pages. Percy is a bit disillusioned himself with Marguerite, because he only knows the bad side of the story of the denunciation of the Marquis de St. Cyr.
While the Blakeneys are living the grand life in London, Citizen Chauvelin appears (he’s real, although exaggerated) to blackmail Marguerite. Her brother is still in France, and apparently working with the Pimpernel. In order to save her brother, she helps Chauvelin to try to find the Pimpernel, not realizing that she’s married to him. Marguerite confides in Percy about her predicament, and he leaves quickly. She figures out who he is, and hauls ass to France to save everyone. She travels with a member of the league, and is in a race with Chauvelin to reach Percy first.
While the writing is a bit overblown (common for the time), it is very easy to get sucked into the story. I know I’ve been sucked in, because I have downloaded all the Pimpernel stories (I love my Kindle – sorry for the plug), and am working my way through the series. I have also started doing some research on the French Revolution. I learned a bit about it in school, but the stories give a lot more insight into what really happened.
Again, I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that the Pimpernel triumphs. That’s his job. The stories are good, old-fashioned, rip-roaring adventures, that I would recommend to anyone who wants fun story with no complications.