Monday, 7 October 2013

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

200th post! RMMR seems to be hitting a lot of milestones lately - let's hope it continues!

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905) (Modern Library Inc)
Baroness Orczy
Grade: A+
Genre: adventure / romance
Source: own
Sir Percy Blakeney: (1) The Scarlet Pimpernel

The year is 1792 and across the Channel in France, the French aristocracy are fast losing their heads in the name of ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.’ To their rescue is The Scarlet Pimpernel, a dashing English gentleman (so it is said) and his band of equally dashing men, who are saving aristocrats left, right and centre and getting them safe passage to England with the most ingenious of disguises and ruses.

Over in England is Lady Marguerite Blakeney, who holds the Town at her fingertips and is said to be the cleverest woman in Europe. Why she married that ‘demmed idiot’, Sir Percy Blakeney, ‘the sleepiest, dullest, most British Britisher that had ever set a pretty woman yawning’, no one knows. Before their marriage, Percy had been utterly devoted to Marguerite, but on the discovery that she had unwittingly sent a French noble to his untimely meeting with the guillotine, Percy was never quite the same. Together, they are the talk of society: Marguerite with her beauty, razor wit and clever tongue, and Percy with his wealth, boundless good humour and impeccable dress sense – too bad that they can barely exchange two civil words to one another.

When Marguerite gets word that her beloved brother Armand St. Just is in terrible danger in France, there’s nothing that she wouldn’t do to save him. When Chauvelin, representative of the French government in England and the aristocracy’s arch-enemy, presents Marguerite with a proposal that will save her brother, she’s in no position to refuse. Her acceptance puts Chauvelin one step closer to achieving his life’s goal: ensnaring and capturing the Scarlet Pimpernel once and for all …

The Scarlet Pimpernel is one of my favourite books in the world; as you can see, it appears on the list of ‘Favourite Books’ on the right-hand-side of this blog and has achieved that elusive ‘A+’ grade. I’m just a huge romantic and Marguerite and Percy’s story manages to yank at every heart-string.

I first read The Scarlet Pimpernel in April of 2011 and that started something of a Scarlet Pimpernel obsession that unfortunately never really went anywhere. Depending on how you count, there are something like a dozen books following the adventures of Sir Percy Blakeney and more than half a dozen television adaptations. Yet, in the space of two-and-a-half years, I have neither managed to read another book in the series, nor get my hands on one of the shows; that’s going to change. The University of Sussex’s Students’ Union holds a market every week and among the various stalls are people selling second-hand books. I don’t normally take the time to look, but for some reason a few weeks ago, I did and lo behold, there was a copy of The Scarlet Pimpernel! The other books aren’t very easy to get ahold of, but I’ve found the publisher of the newest (relatively speaking) re-editions and once I can justify it, I’ll be purchasing the series. Words cannot express my excitement.

Baroness Orczy’s writing is utterly brilliant. Her style is refreshing, fast-paced and just a joy to read – I’m surprised that I paced myself so well and didn’t just power through! To boot, the books are wonderfully funny, despite the mass executions taking place. Marguerite and Percy are oblivious at one another’s plights and it’s sweet to watch how their respective perceptions change about each other. I’m intrigued to find out where the rest of the books will take them.

Yes, The Scarlet Pimpernel might be predictable in some areas, but in the small things, it surprises and delights at every page. I could recall the majority of the major events in the book, but to read them all afresh was simply wonderful and in some respects, it felt like I was discovering the book for the first time. This is the oldest book that I’ve reviewed on this blog (1905!) and by far one of my top five recommendations, ever. It’s a timeless novel, despite being set over two centuries ago and a book that I am now able to revisit time and time again.

Image courtesy of Book Depository

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