Saturday, October 26, 2013

31 Days of Books: The Scarlet Pimpernel

Title:  The Scarlet Pimpernel

Author:  Baroness Emmuska Orczy

Published:  1905

Year I read it:  2004

One sentence summary:  Dazzling, French, former-actress Marguerite St. Just seems to be enjoying her socialite life but is privately distant and bored with her aristocrat English husband, Percy Blakeney, until one day she is threatened by a French investigator and pulled into the hunt for the elusive "Scarlet Pimpernel" - an agent smuggling French aristocrats to safety during the reign of terror.

Interesting fact:  While the "Scarlet Pimpernel" seems to be inspired by the Sherlock Holmes-type of costume and out-witting people, his character in turn inspired the "secret identities" of many of our recognized heroes, like Bruce Wayne's alter-ego, Batman.

Three reasons to read it:
  • Mystery - Baroness Orczy does a good job of weaving and then unraveling the mystery of what's going on and who's who.
  • Action - with high stakes, both socially and personally, these characters cut some close calls, and it makes for some wonderful action.
  • Romance - at it's heart, this is really a beautiful romance story!

One reason you maybe shouldn't:
  • Being one herself,  it is very apparent that Orczy deeply sympathizes with the aristocracy.  Some authors do a better job of keeping a balanced approach, acknowledging the fact that there were gross injustices leading up to the French Revolution.
Great quotes:

“She said nothing, and Sir Andrew, too, was silent, yet those two young people understood one another, as young people have a way of doing all the world over, and have done since the world began.” 

"Her love for him had been paltry and weak, easily crushed by her own pride”  

“Had she but turned back then, and looked out once more on to the rose-lit garden, she would have seen that which would have made her own sufferings seem but light and easy to bear--a strong man, overwhelmed with his own passion and despair. Pride had given way at last, obstinacy was gone: the will was powerless. He was but a man madly, blindly, passionately in love and as soon as her light footstep had died away within the house, he knelt down upon the terrace steps, and in the very madness of his love he kissed one by one the places where her small foot had trodden, and the stone balustrade, where her tiny hand had rested last.”  [ah! one of the most romantic passages ever!!]


  1. I have to confess I was a wee bit disappointed with this book. I was really looking forward to it and in the end I thought it was only OK, mainly because Marguerite annoyed me. Orczy keeps going on and on about how she's the most intelligent woman in Europe but she seemed pretty dopey to me! It made me laugh when she goes snooping in Percy's study and finds maps of the French coastline and the Scarlet Pimpernel's ring and is then like "Ooh, what could this possibly mean?" Well, what you think it means you daft woman! Still, this is another really good review of yours :) Lots of people I know seem to love this book. They're obviously seeing something in it that I'm not.

    1. Hannah, thanks so much :)
      One of the things that may have made me fall for this book is that I read it as a 14-year old hopeless romantic - meaning, some of the holes in the book (as you mention) were lost on me. I remember being quite swept up into the love-story aspect of this one.