The Scarlet Pimpernel

Baroness Emmuska Orczy, 1905

Lovely!  Dashing and clever and heart-warming all in one small novel.

“Arguably the best adventure story ever published and certainly the most influential that appeared during the early decades of the twentieth century.”—Gary Hoppenstand

{ Summary adapted from Wikipedia:  During the bloodthirsty, early stages of the French Revolution, Marguerite St. Just, a beautiful Frenchwoman, is the wife of the wealthy English fop Sir Percy Blakeney. Before their marriage, Marguerite had carelessly made comments that had the unintended consequence of sending a French aristocrat and his sons to the guillotine. When Percy found out, he became estranged from his wife, and Marguerite became disillusioned with Percy’s dandyish ways.

Meanwhile, the “League of the Scarlet Pimpernel”, a secret society of English aristocrats, is engaged in rescuing their French counterparts from the executions. Their leader, the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel, takes his nickname from the small red flower with which he signs his messages. Despite being the talk of London society, only his followers and possibly the Prince of Wales know the Pimpernel’s true identity. Like many others, Marguerite is entranced by the Pimpernel’s daring exploits.

At a ball attended by the Blakeneys, Marguerite is blackmailed by the wily new French envoy to England, Citizen Chauvelin. His agents have stolen a letter incriminating her beloved brother Armand, proving that he is in league with the Pimpernel. Chauvelin offers to trade Armand’s life for her help against the Pimpernel. She passes along information that enables Chauvelin to learn the Pimpernel’s true identity.

Later that night, Marguerite finally tells her husband of the terrible danger threatening her brother and pleads for his assistance. Percy promises to save him. After he leaves for France, Marguerite discovers to her horror that he is the Pimpernel. He had hidden behind the persona of a dull, slow-witted fop in order to deceive the world. He had not told Marguerite because of his worry that she might betray him, as she had others in the past. Desperate to save her love, she pursues Percy to France to try to warn him.

Danger waits in France.  Chauvelin is close to capturing Percy on several occasions, but the Englishman manages to outwit him each time. Percy rescues Armand and the Comte de Tourney, and is finally reunited with his frantic wife when they are both taken prisoner by Chauvelin.  But, Percy is so well disguised as a despised Jew that the Frenchman does not recognize him. The couple manages to escape.

With Marguerite’s love and courage amply proved, the happily reconciled couple returns to England. }

We seek him here, we seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven?—Is he in hell?
That demmed, elusive Pimpernel.

—Sir Percy Blakeney (ch.12)

Quite a famous story, with many film and theatre adaptations, of course it even has its own website where you can find more info and get/read the eBook (there is also a version available through Bibliomania), and one about the Blakeney manor that’s interesting.

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One response to “The Scarlet Pimpernel

  1. Pingback: A Tale of Two Cities « Literary Livewire

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