Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

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.


Anonymous said...

In my opinion...if you want to watch the BEST version of the movie, I vote for the Jane Seymour/Anthony Andrews version. I saw it in college and I thought I would die of romantic palpatations! It is so good! I just bought it from I actually paid $75 for a VHS copy "back in the day" because I wanted to own it. I loved it!

wynne said...

I'll keep that in mind, anon. Thanks.

wynne said...

(And next time I'll also check my comments on this blog more--I wasn't expecting anyone to READ this let alone COMMENT.)

Tempest said...

Just came across this blog whilst looking for book-club discussion points for SP. Of course, I had to introduce it, as I am completely obsessed with all things Scarlet Pimpernel (by the way, you may read the fantastic series--most of which is out of print--at
Your analysis is quite right, actually. Sir Percy's character, historically, is the forerunner of all our modern "double-life" heroes. So bravo to him, eh what!
Finally, in agreement with your other commentator, Anthony Andrews does the best as Sir Percy. I was even gifted with the chance to meet the man while in London (I ADORE him as Sebastian Flyte from Brideshead Revisited), and we had a fantastic conversation about the books and whotnot.
Cheers to great taste in literature!
Pax et Bonum

wynne said...

Really? So there isn't a hero before him that does the secret identity thing? Hmm.

And thanks for stopping by, tempest. I'd like to know what you think of Margurite...