Wednesday, April 20, 2011
The Scarlet Pimpernel - Baroness Emmuska Orczy
"The Scarlet Pimpernel, Mademoiselle," he said at last, "is the name of a humble English wayside flower; but it is also the name chosen to hide the identity of the best and bravest man in all the world, so that he may better succeed in accomplishing the noble task he has set himself to do."
A band of young British nobles risks their lives to save French nobles from the Reign of Terror and bring them across the channel. The leader of this band is only known as the Scarlet Pimpernel a man of disguise that circulates among the highest circles of British upper crustery. His symbol is the Pimpernel, a small red flower that he leaves as a calling card wherever he goes. He uses his smarts to outwit the french but is dogged by his nemesis Chauvelin, a french spy that is desperate to catch him.
Other characters include Sir Percy Blakeney and his french wife, Marguerite. They don't have the best relationship as he doesn't seem to care what she does while she's infatuated with the Pimpernel. He's dull and dim, she's supposedly the wittiest woman in Europe. But Blakeney can't escape his wife's would-be lover. In fact he's even made up a song about the man.
"We seek him here,
we seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven? -
Is he in hell?
That damned, elusive Pimpernel?"
Besides being on the slightly fluffy side of literature I found this book highly enjoyable. The story was intriguing and intelligent. I loved how the Pimpernel fooled the French guards and the comraderie between him and his men. Also, the book had a strangely modern feel. Almost like when I read "War of the Worlds" and was surprised to see how much it felt as if it was taking place during World War II despite being written decades earlier. In terms of diction and dialogue the book was an easy read and to top it off it was written by a real Baroness!
If you read the book and enjoyed it I suggest you check out the 1934 movie adaptation with Merle Oberon and Leslie Howard. It's a little grainy but Leslie does a great job playing off between the foppish Lord and the daring Pimpernel. His dialogue within the Gentleman's Club is hilarious. I've included a clip of Leslie being awesome and upsetting the upcrusties.