Book Review: The Scarlet Pimpernel By Baroness Emmuska Orczy

July 14, 2011

“The Scarlet Pimpernel” By Baroness Emmuska Orczy is a fictional story taking place during the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution. This is the first, and most famous, in a series of novels about The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel.

  • 202 pages
  • ISBN: 1456506897

My rating for The Scarlet Pimpernel – 4

Buy & Save on “The Scarlet Pimpernel” through the ManOfLa­Book affil­i­ate account on:
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“The Scarlet Pimpernel” (Fan Website) By Baroness Orczy (Bio & Works) is a relatively short book, however it is packed with intrigue and action. While I never read the book, I do remember seeing a black and white version of it when I was a child.

Especially embedded in my memory is the catchy phrase:
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.

Two things struck me when I read the book – the main character and the author’s politics.
As I found out when I re-read “Treasure Island” (book review), another childhood favorites, the story is not about Sir Percy Blakeney or his alter ego The Scarlet Pimpernel. The story is about Blakeney’s wife, a beautiful, sultry and smart French actress named Marguerite St. Just or Lady Marguerite Blakeney. Most of the story is told through Lady Blakeney’s eyes, the efforts to save her brother and deal with her dandy husband.

The author’s politics are and sympathies are clearly with the upper class. Those who learned about the French Revolution usually learn it from the people’s point of view. However in this story “the people” are the bad guys, trying to kill off the honest and likeable upper class.

The mystery in the book, who is The Scarlet Pimpernel, is weak. Even if I didn’t know from the beginning I would have guessed who it was before I was a quarter done.

I would not classify this book as historical fiction, Baroness Orczy clearly erred to the side of a spinning a good yarn, instead of historical accuracy. The author peppers some historical figures in this fictional story, however it does not make up for the skewed timeline.

Anagallis arvensis, the Scarlet Pimpernel flower
Created by Jean-Jacques MILAN

It is 1792, the French Revolution has just begun and Madame Guillotine is working overtime to keep up with demand. Marguerite St. Just, a beautiful French woman is the wife of the dandy and wealthy Englishman Sir Percy Blakeney.
The “League of the Scarlet Pimpernel” is becoming famous for rescuing French nobleman from certain death in creative and daring ways. A large bounty is placed on the head of their mysterious leader.

Attending a party, Marguerite is blackmailed by Citizen Chauvelin, the crafty French envoy to England. Chauvelin offers to trade her brother’s life for that of the Scarlet Pimpernel. Later that night Marguerite confides in her husband about her dilemma and Percy promises to save her brother.

Buy & Save on “The Scarlet Pimpernel” through the ManOfLa­Book affil­i­ate account on:
Ama­zon |Book Depos­i­tory US | Book Depos­i­tory UK

Zohar – Man of la Book
Disclaimer – I got this book for free as it is out of copyright protection.

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  • Debbie July 14, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    I read this book as a pre-teen, and my mystery-solving skills (honed only on Trixie Belden) were not up to much, so I remember being shocked & delighted at the “reveal” at the end.

    And it did shape my view of the French Revolution-not so far as to take the side of the upper classes, but to balance a little what Victor Hugo and others portrayed as absolute wickedness on their part.

    Thanks for this review of a childhood favourite!

    • zohar July 14, 2011 at 2:38 pm

      Thanks Debbie. It is interesting to read a different view point of the French Revolution.

  • Ryan July 18, 2011 at 12:06 am

    My sympathies have always been with the upper class. I think the revolution was a good idea, but they let it get way out of hand and too bloody.

    I’ve always wanted to read this book, especially after I saw a movie in the 5th grade. Thanks for the reminder.

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