The Scarlet Pimpernel(Source)

If you’ve been avoiding The Scarlet Pimpernel because you thought it was some kind of sequel to The Scarlet Letter, hide no more.  The Scarlet Pimpernel is a silly, rowdy, wacky good time.

The time: 1792.

The place: Paris.

The outrage: Entire families of aristocrats, sentenced to the guillotine, are escaping the jaws of Paris, through the most crowded, frequently-used city gates, under the very nose of the French military.

The rescuer: The Scarlet Pimpernel, a mysterious, swashbuckling avenger who sweeps would-be victims practically from the mouth of the guillotine and spirits them to safety in England through a combination of cunning, dashing disguises, and “demned cheek.”

Who is the Scarlet Pimpernel?  He’s a figure of mystery who has captured the imaginations of the entire British people, the hopes of the French aristocracy, and the ire of the bloodthirsty Committee of Safety – who hate losing victims almost as much as they hate being embarrassed.  The French government hatches a brutal plan to capture their No. 1 enemy: they dispatch agent Chauvelin to England to blackmail a certain lady into helping him.  Marguerite St. Just, now Lady Blakeney, is widely known to be a revolutionary sympathizer.  Her brother, however, once a revolutionary himself, has had second thoughts and is now aiding the aristocrats.  Chauvelin gives Lady Blakeney a choice: help him unmask the “demned elusive Pimpernel” or her brother will suffer a traitor’s fate.  Marguerite experiences a momentary pang on behalf of the dashing stranger, but there’s no question: she’ll save her brother.

Until she makes a disturbing discovery: the Scarlet Pimpernel is none other than Sir Percy Blakeney, widely regarded as an indolent but amusing moron, and Marguerite’s husband.  Sir Percy’s mask is so opaque that even Marguerite bought into his disguise and is perhaps more shocked than anyone else to learn of her husband’s double life.  And she learns too late – Sir Percy is off to Calais to rescue an aristocrat whose family he has already led to England, and  in choosing to save her brother from the guillotine, Marguerite has unwittingly sent her husband into a trap.  Marguerite takes off in a panic, running pell-mell in the direction of France, determined to warn Sir Percy of his peril before it’s too late.  Chauvelin, meanwhile, gleefully lays the net he plans to cast around the Pimpernel… Sir Percy will need all of his wits and his “demned cheek” to accomplish his mission and slip from the grasp of the revolutionaries once again.

I don’t know what took me so long to get around to The Scarlet Pimpernel.  It was a riot from the first page to the last.  Laugh-out-loud funny and edge-of-seat exciting, I couldn’t put it down.  Highly recommended, with the caveat that the pivotal scene is a touch racist, so you need to keep in mind the times in which the book was written – but still a fun romp, well worth a read.

The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Emmuska Orczy, available here (not an affiliate link).


    • Oh no! I promise, it has nothing to do with acne. But the author did choose an unfortunate flower to make the emblem of her hero.

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