The Scarlet Pimpernel
By Baroness Emmuska Orczy
Many modern adventure stories owe a severe debt of gratitude to Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel. Blackadder has parodied the character. Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation novels function on the assumption that not only was the old Scarlet P a real person, he eventually retired and his flower-named pupils continued spying for England. I love both Blackadder and the Pink Carnation, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about.
To imitate the book’s language…
It’s 1792. The Reign of Terror has Paris in its grip, and the guillotine drinks deep of France’s noble blood. A league of young English gentlemen dash back and forth across the Channel, rescuing French aristocrats from a revolution that has lost its way. Their leader calls himself the Scarlet Pimpernel—he plots every move and slips like a wraith through the French authorities’ fingers.
Now the French government has their best agent on his tail. He intends to blackmail Lady Marguerite Blakeney into helping him unmask the Pimpernel. If she doesn’t, he’ll have her beloved brother killed. Marguerite moves in the highest English circles thanks to her fabulously wealthy, incomparably stupid husband, Sir Percy Blakeney, but even she doesn’t know the secret that makes her part in betraying the Scarlet Pimpernel so awful: she’s married to him.
Although I love the fact that Marguerite is a strong, active heroine who tells almost the entire story from her point of view, the overwrought palpitations of her heart will probably be off-putting for anyone with a low threshold for melodrama. That being said, the book is more than a century old and it gives me a happy ending, so I throw it a bone.
Percy, Percy, Percy . . . you care for nothing, yet you watch your wife with incredible longing. You make the world think you’re an impeccably dressed buffoon—all so you can save innocent people from the barbarism of the guillotine. You laugh like an idiot, plot like a genius, and love like a starving man. You are worthy of Marguerite’s love, and you make the novel. Bravo.