“The Scarlet Pimpernel” by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

Scarlet Pimpernel: 

First definition: A small, rather common, English wayside flower.

Second definition: An enigmatic figure which affects a dual personality for the purpose of robbing “Madame Guillotine” of her noble prey.

Sir Percy Blakeney, aka “The Scarlet Pimpernel”, is the leader of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, a company of twenty men, “One to lead, nineteen  to obey.”  Their mission is to save as many of their French counterparts “la noblesse” (the nobles) during the French revolution as possible.  Being in France at all during this time is dangerous especially for nobility; but the Scarlet Pimpernel shows ingenuity and courage as he thumbs his nose at the leaders of the revolution and steals away men, women, and children destined for the guillotine.  

A consummate actor and master of disguise, Sir Percy keeps his identity a secret even from his own wife by acting like a “dandy”: fashionably dressed and none too bright.  This is a big disappointment to his French wife, who is known to be very intelligent.  As it turns out Sir Percy is also disappointed in his wife (for reasons unknown to her) and they are estranged.  This is the setting for the precursor to all masked avenger legends.

The antagonist in this novel, one Chauvelin, is sent to discover the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel and trap him the next time he sets foot in France.  Knowing that the Pimpernel must be from the upper eschalons of English society, he gets his “friend” Lady Blakeney to sniff the man out.  It is while aiding with this endeavor that Lady Blakeney discovers who her husband really is–and realizes what danger she has put him in.

Truly this was a well-told tale.  The hero was very heroic (and watching him get out of every trap was exciting), the love story poignant (even for a couple already married!), and the villian was one you loved to hate (cruel, arrogant, yet intelligent).  As in all tales, people and situations were exaggerated…but that’s just hero stories for you.  I liked this book so much, that I bought it at the next opportunity.  It’s just the book to read if you need a bigger-than-life hero, full of adventure, true love and devotion.

“We seek him here, we seek him there,

Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.

Is he in heaven? –is he in hell?

That demmed, elusive Pimpernel!”

                                           -Sir Percy Blakeney


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