After reading The Scarlet Pimpernel a few years ago I was pleased to find that Baroness Orczy had written a whole series of Pimpernel books. I slowly (very slowly – this is only the third one I’ve read in three years) began to work my way through them in chronological order, but as I haven’t been particularly impressed by either this one or Sir Percy Leads the Band, I’m now wondering if I really want to read all of the others.
The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel was published in 1919 and is a collection of short stories, unlike the first two books I read which were both full-length novels. I don’t often choose to read short stories but as I’m also in the middle of some longer, heavier books at the moment, I thought this collection would be ideal for dipping into when I needed something lighter.
There are eleven stories in this book – all set during the French Revolution – and each one involves a family or group of aristocrats whose lives are in danger. It falls to Sir Percy Blakeney and his friends (known as the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel) to rescue them from the guillotine, often with the help of some clever disguises, cunning deceptions and daring rescue plans. Although all eleven stories are entertaining, they do become very repetitive, and once you’re familiar with the way Sir Percy works they are also very predictable.
Most of the stories are too short to have much of a plot and their main purpose just seems to be to highlight Sir Percy’s various masquerades and tricks, but there are a few stories that are longer and more complex. My favourite was probably the first one, Sir Percy Explains, in which our hero agrees to help rescue a little boy who has been captured by the revolutionary Jean Paul Marat. Almost all of the stories are written in the third person, but there are one or two with a first person narrator, which I liked because it added some variety to the book. How Jean Pierre met the Scarlet Pimpernel, narrated by the loyal servant of an impoverished noblewoman, was one of these and another of my favourites from this collection.
I was a bit disappointed that, given the title of this book, none of the other League members apart from Percy have a big part to play in any of the adventures. Tony and Ffoulkes make a few brief appearances, and one story deals with the subject of a traitor in the League, but that’s all. There’s no Marguerite either – Percy’s wife only has a one-sentence mention in one of the stories – but we do see a lot of the Pimpernel’s enemy, Citizen Chauvelin.
From what I’ve heard about the Scarlet Pimpernel series, the quality varies quite a lot from book to book. This one is worth reading, especially if you like short story collections, but it certainly doesn’t compare to the original novel. If I do continue to read the series, the next book I come to chronologically will be I Will Repay, which I’m hoping I’ll enjoy more than this one.
11 thoughts on “The League Of The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy”
I’ve only read The Scarlet Pimpernel, I had no idea there was so many sequels! I have her book of stories about Lady Molly of Scotland Yard – maybe she preferred the short story? or was she writing them for magazines, I wonder.
I was surprised to see how many sequels there were too! I hadn’t heard of Lady Molly but maybe I should venture away from The Scarlet Pimpernel and try some of Orczy’s other work.
I didn’t realise there were so many Scarlet Pimpernel books. I am particularly interested in this as I enjoy short story collections. If you read on in the series I hope you enjoy them as much as the first.
As you like short story collections you would probably enjoy this more than I did. The stories were fun to read – it’s just that I prefer full length novels.
I loved ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’, and I was also excited to see there were so many titles in the series. I read ‘I Will Repay’; it wasn’t nearly as good as the first book, but it was still quite interesting.
I’m glad to hear I Will Repay was still an interesting book, even if it wasn’t as good as the first one. I’ll probably try that one at some point and then decide if I still want to continue with the others.
I had no idea there were so many Scarlet Pimpernel books either, I will definitely check those out. I love discovering rare classics.
I love finding rare classics too, though in the case of the Scarlet Pimpernel series I’m starting to think that there’s a good reason why most people are only aware of the original novel! I do think it’s worth checking out some of the sequels as the two I’ve read have both been fun to read, but I don’t think they come close to the quality of the first book.
If you are tempted to dip into the Pimpernel series again, I would recommend ‘The Elusive Pimpernel’ and ‘El Dorado’. Lack of Marguerite is a common lament among fans about some of the sequels (honestly, it has never bothered me, I actually enjoy the adventure-type stories more) but these two somewhat make up the balance.
‘Elusive’ is mostly about Marguerite’s dissatisfaction with how much time Percy spends in France instead of home with her, and him coming to her rescue when Chauvelin threatens them again. As for ‘El Dorado’ – it contains the most heartfelt, tear-jerking exchange between the couple that I have yet read in the series, you will know it if/when you read it. ‘Lord Tony’s Wife’ is also quite good.
Thank you – that’s very helpful. I do still intend to read more of the Pimpernel books and was planning to continue reading them in chronological order. The two books that you’ve recommended do sound appealing to me, though, as I would like to see more of Marguerite.