Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Scarlet Pimpernel: Review

Baroness Emma ("Emmuska") Magdolna Rozália Mária Jozefa Borbála Orczy de Orczi, a Hungarian by birth who lived in England by the time she was fifteen, gave us one of the iconic romantic figures of the French Revolution. Written at the turn of the Twentieth Century, Orczy's tale revolves around the well-known figure of the Scarlet Pimpernel--that daring British nobleman who risked his life over and over to rescue French aristocrats from the deadly blade of the guillotine. With each daring rescue, he leaves behind his calling card, a paper with the drawing of a delicate small flower. Men and women on both sides of the English Channel are enthralled by adventures of this brave hero and his band of followers. Little do they know that their hero hides behind the mask of a foppish nobleman--portraying himself as a wealthy dilettante with no head for business and no skills beyond setting the fashion among the ton.

The French authorities, represented by Citizen Chauvelin, are desperate to discover the Pimpernel's true identity and to put a stop to the steady flow aristocrats fleeing the clutches of the citizenry and Madame Guillotine. Chauvelin has a hold over Lady Blakeney, papers that would ensure her brothers death if they were revealed to the Citizens' Council and he promises her brother's freedom in exchange for help in tracking down that "elusive Pimpernel." She has no way of knowing that she may be buying the freedom of one beloved man with the life of another even more dear to her. The story ends in a final daring rescue attempt--will her brother arrive in England safely? And what of the Scarlet Pimpernel--will he escape from the trap Chauvelin has set for him?

This is melodramatic historical novelization at its best. Brave, manly hero with a sworn band of trusted followers. A woman who loves him and risks all herself when she realizes the danger she has put him in. Clever disguises, tricky escapes, and somewhat dim French soldiers all add to the fun. Lots of action and intrigue moves the story along and makes for an exciting, face-paced read. ★★

The story was so well known in the early- to mid-20th Century that several filmed adaptations were made--the most famous in 1934 with Leslie Howard as The Scarlet Pimpernel, although I would also be interested in seeing The Elusive Pimpernel (aka The Fighting Pimpernel (1950) with David Niven. The story was so popular that even Warner Brothers took a stab at it--featuring Daffy Duck as the Scarlet Pumpernickel, although his character seems to be a mixture of various romantic heroes from Robin Hood to Zorro and/or one of the Three Musketeers as well as the Scarlet Pimpernel.

*Note: While I do own this (and thus it counts for Mount TBR), I have somehow managed to bury my copy somewhere in storage--despite having never read it. So, I pulled it up online on Project Gutenberg.

Challenges Fulfilled: Mount TBR Challenge, Monthly Motif, Color Coded Challenge, Century of Books, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, 100 Plus Challenge, Back to the Classics, Women Challenge, European Reading Challenge [Hungarian author], R.I.P. Challenge, Dare You


fredamans said...

I was wondering how this was familiar to me, and then I got to the Daffy Duck part and realized why... lol...
Great review!

Anonymous said...

I LOVE The Scarlet Pimpernel! My first exposure to it was the 1980s movie version with Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour. It's so funny to me how every single movie version rejects the ending from the book!

Yvette said...

I loved The Scarlet Pimpernel too, Bev. Read it a couple of years ago for the first time and really enjoyed it.

Love the movie with Leslie Howard, of course. And the Anthony Andrews one wasn't bad either. No one can simper like Andrews. :)

P.S. I also LOVE Daffy Duck. My favorite of the Warner Bros. cartoon heroes - Sorry Bugs.