“The Scarlet Pimpernel, Mademoiselle,” he said at last, “is the name of a humble English wayside flower; but it is also the name chosen to hide the identity of the best and bravest man in all the world, so that he may better succeed in accomplishing the noble task he has set himself to do.”
The Scarlet Pimpernel is set in 1792 during the French Revolution, when every day more and more of the French nobility are being sent to their deaths. A secret society of Englishmen led by the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel are rescuing the aristocrats from the guillotine and smuggling them to safety in England. Who is the Scarlet Pimpernel? The French agent Chauvelin is determined to find out, but with his variety of clever disguises and daring schemes the Pimpernel continues to elude him at every turn. Will Chauvelin ever discover his true identity?
Since I started blogging I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve started a review by wondering why I’ve waited so long to read a book and regretting the fact that I never thought about reading it years ago. This is yet another one! I finally read it last week when I was choosing what to read next for the Classics Club – and for anyone else who has this on their Classics Club list or tbr pile, I recommend reading it sooner rather than later. Compared to many classics it’s a quick read and lots of fun too: a combination of swashbuckling adventure story, historical fiction and romance. It’s one of those novels where you sit down planning to just read one or two chapters and before you know it you’re halfway through the book!
Whenever I write about a book I always try to be very careful not to say too much and spoil the story for any future readers, so I won’t tell you any more about the plot and I won’t reveal who the Scarlet Pimpernel really is. You’ll probably be able to guess after a few chapters but if you don’t then part of the fun will be in finding out. This book was published in 1905 and it’s obvious that it’s been the inspiration for so many other books that have been written since then and that the character of the Scarlet Pimpernel has been a model for countless heroes with hidden identities. I also remember reading somewhere that Baroness Orczy was one of Dorothy Dunnett’s influences and I can definitely see how The Game of Kings in particular might have been inspired by The Scarlet Pimpernel. I was reminded of Georgette Heyer’s novels too, especially with the slang the characters used.
I found Baroness Orczy’s writing style very easy to read and the historical background was not too detailed or difficult to follow. The author’s sympathies are obviously with the aristocracy, whereas most novels I’ve read about the French Revolution are told from the opposite perspective so it was interesting to see the other side of the story. This is not really a book you would choose to read for the historical accuracy though, and it does require you to suspend your disbelief at times! I know I would have loved this book when I was a teenager but I’m still glad I got round to reading it at last and am definitely interested in reading more of the Scarlet Pimpernel series now.