Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Book Review: The Scarlet Pimpernel

Title: The Scarlet Pimpernel
Author: Baroness Emmuska Orczy
Published: between 1903-05 (that's a bit unclear)
Genre: action, adventure, romance, historical fiction, war, politics
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: Historical fiction (adult fiction)
Age Group: 14+ (for reading difficulty. It's probably appropriate, though not much appreciated, for 10+)

Horrible things are happening in France. All those who once had power are being tracked down and killed at the guillotine.
There is, however, a man in England who will not stand for this. He is known only as the Scarlet Pimpernel, and he will do whatever it takes to rescue French aristocrats before they lose their lives.
But Chauvlin, one of France's best, is going to track down that man, and he is going to bring him back to France, and that man will pay dearly.

"They seek him here,
They seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven or is he in hell?
That demmed elusive Pimpernel!"

Word of Warning
  •  The biggest challenge I see with this book is that it's considered a classic, and is written as such. This means as far as reading goes, it can get a bit long, it can get a bit confusing. It also has French words in it that are not translated.
  • One of the nobles tends to favor the word "demmed"
  • Blackmail.
  • Kidnapping.
  • Two men are hit on the head, knocking them unconscious. There is little to no drama in this scene and everyone is fine.
  • A young man was beaten for sending a love note (know this is before the French Revolution, so the note was probably appropriate for any eyes) to an aristocratic young woman. This all happens in the past, before the book begins.
  • Parents are reported as dead (in the past). One man's mother apparently went insane.
  • People are in danger of being killed quite often, but this is more of a theme and less of a dramatic reality (such as one would get if there a knife or gun in play).
  • A main character is beaten brutally by soldiers. This scene is narrated by a woman who can only hear the man's cries but cannot see the beating.

My Thoughts
The Scarlet Pimpernel and the Virginian--my two biggest literary crushes.
Both married.
But once upon a time, Stacy and I found the English language particularly constricting and redefined/clarified "crush" as an attraction to the God-given beauty and goodness in another human being, and a desire to partake in it (of course, that lead us to creating a whole bunch of "crush" subsets, but that's irrelevant).
Yes, I know neither of those characters is a real human, but they were created in the image of humanity and given beauty and goodness by an author who (whether knowing or not) was influenced by God.
My point? My point is that this is a fantastic book about fantastic adventures undertaken by a truly awesome character.

On a more literary note, it's interesting that the author chooses to tell the story from the perspective of a character who is not the Scarlet Pimpernel. It makes it especially tricky to really figure out who is and also pin down the personality of that character. But it's very well done and, honestly, a brilliant choice.

Fun Facts
This being a book my British Literature students read, I did more research on this book than I usually do. Might I add that this (and Prisoner of Zenda) were very popular among both the boys and the girls?
Interesting things about the author:
  • Hungarian immigrant to Britain.
  • Wrote short stories of a woman working for the Scotland Yard, similar to Sherlock Holmes. Unfortunately, these stories never took off.
  • Novelist, playwright, and artist
  • Her crime stories were based on real-life instances
  • Happily married woman with one known kid. This son (John Montague Oczy-Barstow) wrote  a book titled The Life and Exploits of the Scarlet Pimpernel (also known as "The Gay Adventurer") which is meant to be the biography and family history of the man who is the Scarlet Pimpernel. He published this under the name John Blakeney, and his mother wrote the forward.
Interesting things about the book:
  • Often seen as the inspiration for today's espionage heroes (think James Bond, Jack Ryan, etc), as well as our dual-identity superheroes (Arrow/Oliver Queen, Flash/Barry Allen, Batman/Bruce Wayne, Superman/Clark Kent--hopefully I didn't ruin any of these for you).
  • Originally written as a play. The Baroness's husband helped with the writing.
  • Sequels were not as popular.

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