Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel
by Baroness Orczy
Recommended Ages: 12+

The year is 1792, and France is ruled by a revolutionary committee bent on sending anyone of noble blood, and anyone even suspected of sympathizing with them, to the guillotine. Enter a mysterious Englishman, known as the Scarlet Pimpernel after the star-shaped flower he draws on the taunting notes he leaves for the French authorities each time he daringly snatches a noble neck from under Mlle. Guillotine's bloodthirsty blade.

As you can imagine, the revolutionary committee is in a lather to catch him. Their envoy to England, one Citizen Chauvelin, ruthlessly lays a trap for him, playing on the feelings of the French-born Marguerite St. Just for her endangered brother Armand. Only after Marguerite has enabled Chauvelin to learn the identity of the elusive Scarlet Pimpernel does she herself realize he is her foppish, fashionable husband, Sir Percy Blakeney, whose disguise as a profoundly stupid and idle nobleman has fooled even her until now. With this new understanding comes the further realization that she loves him with all her heart. And now she must risk every kind of danger to save him from the clutches of a shrewd enemy who may already have Sir Percy trapped beyond saving.

It's a brisk, dramatically gripping historical romance-adventure that has earned a place among popular classics since it first appeared in 1905, two years after a play it was based on was written by Hungarian noblewoman Emma "Emmuska" Orczy and her artist husband Montagu Barstow. It was followed by more than a dozen sequels, prequels, and other connected books, including such titles as I Will Repay, The First Sir Percy and Mam'zelle Guillotine. I enjoyed my time in the colorful, perfumed atmosphere of this book so much that I intend to seek out copies of at least some of these sequels. Wish me luck!

A prolific author until her death in 1947, Emmuska Orczy (pronounced EM-moosh-ka OR-tsee) also penned mysteries, collections of folk tales, contemporary satires and other works of historical fiction set in various periods of European history, with titles such as Petticoat Government, The Laughing Cavalier, The Old Man in the Corner and Lady Molly of Scotland Yard. This book remains by far her best-known work. This review is based on a CD audibook read by Wanda McCaddon, borrowed from my local public library.

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