Thursday, 15 March 2012

'The Scarlet Pimpernel' by Baroness Orczy (1905)

Synopsis: the year is 1792 and France is under the Reign of Terror, with thousands of aristocrats being captured and guillotined. But then rumours begin to emerge of a league of young English gentlemen who are risking their lives by rescuing aristocrats and bringing them across the Channel. Their leader is said to be the mysterious and elusive masked vigilante "The Scarlet Pimpernel". The ruthless French ambassador Chauvelin is determined to stop the Pimpernel by any means necessary so he blackmails Marguerite - a retired French actress and the wife of the wealthy Sir Percy Blakeney - into assisting him. But little do Chauvelin and Marguerite suspect that there may be more to Percy than meets the eye...

As soon as I heard about this book I knew I had to read it! The idea of a man who pretends to be a lazy, foppish idiot but is actually a debonair, intelligent, brave, resourceful, cunning, dashing hero really appeals to me! And Sir Percy Blakeney/The Scarlet Pimpernel is a great character. He's a bit like Lord Peter Wimsey (another fop with badass qualities). In fact Percy is so cool that I almost forgot how spectacularly uncool the name "The Scarlet Pimpernel" is. The problem with this book is that it doesn't concentrate on Percy nearly as much as you might think. The book's title is actually quite misleading, The Scarlet Pimpernel's Wife would be the more accurate title since the character that the story is most focused on is Marguerite. This wouldn't necessarily be a problem if Marguerite was a great character but she isn't. She's really annoying! No matter how many times the Baroness keeps insisting that Marguerite is the "cleverest woman in Europe", she never displays any intelligence and comes across as pretty dopey. I swear, Percy could have walked around with a giant sign that said "I AM THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL!" and she still wouldn't have worked it out. The prime example of Marguerite's stupidity is when she goes exploring in Percy's study and finds maps of the French coastline and the Scarlet Pimpernel's ring. You'd think the penny would drop at this point but noooo. All Marguerite can think is "Ooh, what could this possibly mean?" Marguerite is also annoyingly passive. Yes, she does go across to France to try to save Percy - which is admirable I admit - but she doesn't actually DO anything.

I think it's a real shame that Baroness Orczy chose to keep Percy mostly in the background and that we never get to see him or his followers in action. Some fistfights, swordfights and gun battles would have definitely livened this book up. Also, Percy is easily the most interesting and likeable character in this book. I'd much rather read about him than his stupid, feeble, annoying wife any day. Although this book is by no means bad Orczy really should have made Percy the main focus of her story. I think I might actually prefer adaptations of this book because they apparently do focus on Percy more.

Rating: 3/5

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