The Scarlet Pimpernel
by Baroness Orczy
I don't know entirely what I was expecting when I picked this up. Something similar to Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, perhaps? Or a little Les Miserables? What did I know about the Reign of Terror except what I've read in novels, anyhow?
What I was not expecting was a swash-buckling romance. (I've never seen any of the numerous "Scarlet Pimpernel" movies, of course. If I had, I probably would have known what was coming.)
It is a story about a larger-than-life hero. Reminded me a great deal of James Bond, in fact, with one huge difference: Bond is the generic male's fantasy of what the coolest guy on earth would be like; the Scarlet Pimpernel is the generic woman's fantasy of the world's most desirable man. (Honestly, the richest man in Europe, devastatingly handsome, cares about what he wears, impeccably polite, and completely hides it all from the world so he can be secretly the bravest and most daring man in the world? Come on! Complete and total fantasy!)
There are other parallels, too: the Pimp's alter-ego is a complete buffoon (Hmm...Clark Kent took a page from his book); the Pimp has a secret room in his home where he conducts all his pimpy business that is accessible only to his valet (Bruce Wayne was paying attention to this, no doubt, and also to the fact that oodles of money can be very handy when you are in the business of rescuing people). And so I have seen the birthplace of many modern heroes in this book. (Unless, of course, there is a hero who leads a double life before Orczy's novel? Probably...)
It was a fun read: Orczy knows how to build the suspense and build an entertaining story. If the romance was a trifle...well, unrealistic, and if the main protagonist, Margurite (she is the protagonist more than the Pimpernel, of course: we see everything through her eyes) who is described repeatedly as the "cleverest woman in Europe" often behaves like an idiot with wool for brains, well, it's still very entertaining and fun to read.