Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emma Orczy

The Scarlet Pimpernel
Baroness Emma Orczy
Published 1905

This is not a title I see on many TBR lists. Ok, I never see this on TBR lists. It was not on the top of mine, but I remembered that I had planned to read it to my kids when we came to the French Revolution in our history studies. 

The story of the Scarlet Pimpernel is no stranger to our family. Five years ago, we met Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney, the hero and heroine of The Scarlet Pimpernel. They were guests at our closing school year ball, back in 2013.

Sir Percy & Lady Blakeney

Our family w/ Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney

Sir Percy was a big hit with the ladies.

Sir Percy Blakeney, pretending to be asleep

But in all seriousness, I knew about the plot (though instead of reading the book, I watched the 1982 film, staring Jane Seymour and Anthony Andrews), and it is a very charming story. Since it took place during the Reign of Terror (and the Scarlet Pimpernel is rather like a super hero - and what kid doesn't like super heroes?), I had to read it to my kids.

Overall, it is more about the love story between the seemingly dull, but fashionable Englishman, Sir Percy, and his admirably intelligent French wife, Lady Blakeney, than it is about the historical details of the French Revolution. There are no gory reveals of the deadly guillotine and its murderous results. It is more about cunning characters, tricky adventures, and of course, a lot of misunderstanding.

The underlying focus is the courageous band of men, led by the elusive Scarlet Pimpernel who leaves his identifying mark behind when he has done his deed, which is to rescue French aristocrats from the grip of the bloodthirsty revolutionaries during the Reign of Terror.

There are some twists and turns in the plot, which keep you guessing and wondering, until the very end when the true identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel is revealed. And of course, there is a happy ending.

Frankly, as I have already said, the story is charming and sweet, but what I miss from the book is the strong emotion between Percy and his wife. There is a terrible misunderstanding that causes a rift between them for much of the story, and the film does a better job expressing and revealing those feelings. Or maybe I was just focusing too much time on trying to pronounce all the French words properly that I missed the emotion. Ah, well.

In addition, the film changed some of the details of the action, including the way the story ended (with a sword fight, because sword fights are cool), but without compromising the plot. The book ending was a little dubious, but maybe because I am partial to sword fights.

Jane Seymour and Anthony Andrews, 1982

Is this book for you?

Simply, if you love sweet love stories, with a bit of adventure and lightheartedness, this is a short, but sweet (haha) love story, with a happy ending. But do watch the 1982 film version (for free on Youtube) because the movie bridges some gaps in the story, and the emotion and chemistry between Seymour and Andrews is just perfect. 


Jean said...

Gosh, I read this so long ago that your description hardly rings any bells! I guess I'd better re-read it!

Fanda Classiclit said...

Seems to be a perfect book to read after some tedious reads.. :)

Fanda Classiclit said...

By the way, love your ball dress! ;)

Ruth said...

Definitely a light, fun read.

And thank you :D

Ruth said...

I hate when that happens.

Does, "They seek him here, they seek him there . . . " ring any bells?

Jean said...

Yes! That's what I remember, is the silly, foppish mask he wears.

Anonymous said...

This has been on my TBR list for years. I'll take your advice and watch the movie first. I just finished Villette by Charlotte Bronte and spent so much time trying to pronounce French words that I missed EVERYTHING about the book, which critics have said is her best. My thought is that it was pretty bad. Must have been all the French I missed. ;)

Ruth said...

Just keep in mind that the movie has some alterations, but it doesn't take away from the story.

Ruth said...

Actually, it wasn't so much a mask as much as it was the outlandish disguises he wears. :D

Sharon Wilfong said...

I read this years ago. I remember thinking some of it was cringingly corny, yet it captured my imagination. And I liked the 1982 film. Mainly because I liked Anthony Andrews. :)

Is that you in the long black gown? You're gorgeous!

Ruth said...

Aww, thanks for that very generous comment. That's me and my husband, and our five kids, taken about 2013.

I was just talking to my friend about the book and the film, and we agreed that we love the film ending version much better than the book. It was a little corny.

Paula Vince said...

Wow, I've seen the 1982 film, and followed it up by reading the classic, and I agree with you. Baroness Orczy's story seemed a bit disappointing when it came to fleshing out characters, and providing colour. I chalked it up as one of the those examples when the film surpasses the book in many ways. Someone with imagination latched onto something in it and made it even better. Your review makes me feel like hunting down the movie again, although I've found things from as far back as the early 80s often lack viewing quality now :(