I Will Repay by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

I haven’t been very successful recently at finishing the books chosen for me by the Classics Club Spins, so I decided to make an early start on my current Spin book, I Will Repay by Baroness Orczy – and have finished it three weeks before the 22nd August deadline! It helped that it was a relatively short book, as well as a light and entertaining one that I found easy to read.

First published in 1906, this was the first sequel to The Scarlet Pimpernel to be published, but if you’re reading the series in chronological order, as I am, it’s the fourth. I have previously read Sir Percy Leads the Band and The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel and found them both disappointing in comparison to the original book, but I’m pleased to say that this one was more enjoyable. Not everyone will agree, as we do see very little of the Scarlet Pimpernel and nothing at all of his wife Marguerite, but I thought it was quite an exciting and gripping story in its own right.

The novel opens in 1783 with Paul Déroulède and the young Vicomte de Marny fighting a duel in a Paris tavern. When the Vicomte is accidentally killed, his father, devastated at losing his son and heir, forces his other child, fourteen-year-old Juliette, to swear an oath promising to avenge her brother’s death: “May my brother’s soul remain in torment until the final Judgment Day if I should break my oath, but may it rest in eternal peace the day on which his death is fitly avenged.”

Ten years later, the Revolution is underway and Paris has become a dangerous place for a young noblewoman like Juliette:

And the afternoons were very lively. There was always plenty to see: first and foremost, the long procession of tumbrils, winding its way from the prisons to the Place de la Révolution. The forty-four thousand sections of the Committee of Public Safety sent their quota, each in their turn, to the guillotine. At one time these tumbrils contained royal ladies and gentlemen, ci-devant dukes and princesses, aristocrats from every county in France, but now this stock was becoming exhausted…

Walking through the streets one day, Juliette’s expensive lace-trimmed clothes draw the attention of a mob and she escapes from them by hammering on the door of the nearest house, which happens to be the home of Paul Déroulède. Paul, who has made himself popular with the citizens of Paris despite his own royalist sympathies, protects her from the mob and takes her into his household. As Juliette gets to know her brother’s enemy, she finds herself falling in love – so when a chance comes to send Paul Déroulède to the guillotine, she faces a very difficult decision.

You’re probably wondering where Sir Percy Blakeney, the Scarlet Pimpernel himself, comes into the story; as I’ve said, we don’t see very much of him, but he does have an important role to play towards the end. However, the absence of Sir Percy for most of the novel probably explains why this book was not more popular on its publication as people who were expecting a Scarlet Pimpernel book would have been disappointed. Personally, this didn’t really bother me as I was so caught up in the story of Juliette and Déroulède, and all the detail of this period of the French Revolution. The novel is set shortly after the assassination of Jean-Paul Marat, during the ‘Reign of Terror’, and Orczy does a wonderful job of recreating the atmosphere on the streets of Paris where anyone with a drop of noble blood risks being denounced and sent to their death. Orczy makes no secret of the fact that she is clearly on the side of the aristocrats, while the ordinary citizens of Paris are portrayed as brutal and bloodthirsty, but I suppose you would expect bias from someone who was a baroness!

Having enjoyed this one, I’m planning to continue with the next book in the series, The Elusive Pimpernel, which I’ve been told is one of the best.

This is book 21/50 from my second Classics Club list.

Book 33/50 read for the 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

The League Of The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel 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.

Sir Percy Leads the Band by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

Sir Percy Leads the Band This is one of the many sequels to Baroness Orczy’s classic historical adventure novel, The Scarlet Pimpernel. The story is again set during the French Revolution and at the beginning of the novel, in January 1793, King Louis XVI of France – now known simply as Louis Capet – has been found guilty of ‘conspiring against liberty’.

With their former king sentenced to death it’s a dangerous time for the French aristocracy, and Sir Percy Blakeney and his men are in France to help the La Rodière family avoid the guillotine. Knowing that his old enemy Chauvelin will be determined to track him down, a disguise is necessary – so Sir Percy becomes the fiddle-playing leader of a disreputable band of musicians entertaining crowds of revolutionaries in a tavern near the Château de la Rodière. This means Percy and the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel are ideally placed to be able to protect the family when the mob decides to attack the Château…but could someone within the League be about to betray their plans?

After reading (and loving) The Scarlet Pimpernel last year, I wanted to try another book in the series. I wasn’t sure which one to choose as I’ve seen a few different recommended reading orders, but I decided on this one as it is set immediately after the events of The Scarlet Pimpernel. I enjoyed it but it wasn’t as good as the original book. With all the action taking place in France, this means we don’t see anything of Sir Percy’s wife, Marguerite, which I thought was a bit disappointing as their relationship had formed such a big part of the story in The Scarlet Pimpernel. Marguerite was not a particularly strong character but I connected with her more than I did with either of the two female characters in this book, Blanche Levet or Cécile de la Rodière.

We do spend a lot of time with the other men of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel. I remembered some of them from the previous book – Lord Anthony Dewhurst, Sir Andrew Ffoulkes and Lord Hastings – but there was also one who was new to me, St John Devinne. From the start it seems that Devinne is distrusted by everyone except Sir Percy and as Percy has previously proved to be so good at judging people and situations, the reader is made to wonder who is right and who is wrong. A lot of the novel’s tension and suspense comes from waiting to see whether he is going to betray Percy and the rest of the League.

Sir Percy Leads the Band was entertaining enough but I didn’t think it was anything very special and there’s really not a lot more I can say about it! Although I didn’t like it as much as The Scarlet Pimpernel it won’t deter me from trying some of the other books in the series at some point. Maybe those of you who are Scarlet Pimpernel fans can tell me whether it’s best to continue reading the series chronologically or if there’s another order you would recommend.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

“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.