Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Review - The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
Year: 1905
Pages: about 265 (Signet Paperback)
Genre: Classics, Historical Fiction
My Rating: 4.75/5
My Source: amazon.com

The short of it: An light and easy-to-read classic that is a combination of adventure, romance, historical fiction, and mystery. I heartily recommend this to readers of all tastes.

The long of it: The Scarlet Pimpernel is set during the French Revolution (around 1792), when French aristocrats were being put to the guillotine by the Republican government. At this difficult time, a mysterious man calling himself the Scarlet Pimpernel manages to save the lives of several aristocrats using daring maneuvers and ingenious disguises. He thus becomes the object of speculation in English genteel society to which belongs the heroine Marguerite Blakeney.

Marguerite is the beautiful and clever wife of Sir Percy Blakeney, a rich baronet and reputed fop. She was formerly a French actress, Marguerite St. Just, and along with her brother, Armand, a staunch Republican. Her marriage, the result of a passionate courtship on Sir Percy's part, is strained as a result of an incident in her past that Sir Percy learnt about soon after their wedding. Further, she is being threatened by the villain Chevalier, an agent of the French Republican government, who wants to use her position in society to find the true identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel in exchange for her brother 's life.

This book is a classic that is also a fast-paced page turner. Baroness Orczy has created very interesting characters who evoke the admiration of the reader. Sir Percy Blakeney is the stereotype English aristocrat with too much time and money to spare, while Lady Blakeney is the ideal woman - beautiful, fashionable, clever, and daring. The plot is well developed and all the loose ends tied up at the end. There is also some humor evident toward the end of the book, which makes it all the more endearing. There is something to cater to almost everyone's taste - romance for the romantic, adventure and mystery for the lovers of adventures and mysteries, and history for the fan of historical fiction. The baroness was herself a member of a displaced Hungarian aristocratic family, and it is clear that her sympathies lie with the aristocrats. Her version of the French revolution is no doubt one-sided, but the book is a very appealing read, particularly if you like books set in that era, but, like me, find Dickens a bit dry read.

The Scarlet Pimpernel was staged as a play in 1903 before being published as a novel in 1905 after the play was a grand success. Baroness Orczy also wrote a number of sequels including to The Scarlet Pimpernel, and I am planning to try reading one or two, though none achieved the success that TSP did.

Quote of Note:
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

Bonus: There have been numerous film/TV adaptations of The Scarlet Pimpernel, notable among them being a film in 1939 starring Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon, a TV adaptation in 1982 with Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour which seems to have good reviews, and another TV adaptation in 1999 with Richard E. Grant and Elizabeth McGovern. The last is the only one I have seen, and while Richard E. Grant did well, the storyline is very different from the book, and is rather disappointing to a true TSP fan.

This book counts toward two challenges - The Awesome Author Challenge hosted by At Home With Books, and the Classics Challenge 2010 hosted by Trish.

This book is also part of the Book Review Perty Wednesday for April 28 hosted by Cym Lowell.


  1. Nice review. I love this book. I've probably read it at least twice! However, every time I see the title, I think of the quotation you have posted here and about Leslie Howard in his aristocratic voice delivering it in the old black and white film with Merle Oberon.

  2. I have not read this one but you make it sound most enticing and I am currently living in France - so what more encouragement do I need?!

    Thanks indeed for posting an excellent review


  3. Nancy - I haven't seen the Leslie Howard version, but I can imagine him delivering these lines, I simply have to check it out now! How did you like it?

    Hannah - thanks for your comments. And you have an absolutely delightful blog - I love it!

  4. This looks like an exciting read. Thanks for sharing this! I just finished a great story about Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine called, "Power of a Woman." The author writes in Eleanor's voice as if she were speaking to one of her ladies. It's a fascinating and fresh insight into the life of this woman. You should check it out!

  5. I love reading classics, so I should check this one out! Thanks for a great review.

  6. Audrey - thanks for the link. I am very interested in medieval history and historical fiction from that time, and this sounds like a good read!

    Emidy - Thank you! This is a classic that is a light read as well, I certainly enjoyed it!

  7. I haven't read this but I remember my English teacher in HS was crazy about the movie adaptation (we watched parts of it in class). I think it was the 1982 version.

  8. This is one of those books I was passingly familiar with without actually knowing anything about it. Thank you for changing that, and for making me want to read it!

  9. I made a feeble attempt to read this once, but circumstances intervened. I think I'm going to have to try it again though after reading your review. Thanks!

  10. i've never read this one but did see it on broadway a bunch of years back. i think i would have enjoyed the show more if i'd read the book first. i had no clue what was happening at first--lots of singing and fighting!

    --nat @book, line, and sinker

  11. Nice review, this book seems like an excellent read.

  12. Katy - I have heard good reviews of the 1982 version too. I'm planning on getting over Netflix soon. The 1999 version was not true to the book at all.

    Nymeth - Thank you! Hope you get to read it sometime!

    TheBlackSheep - Thanks for the comment - hope you get to try it again!

    Natalie - I would love to see it on Broadway if it ever returns!

    bookswithcoffee - It is indeed an enjoyable read, hope you get to try it too!

  13. Where are you in North Carolina? I'm just outside of Raleigh...in Garner!

  14. I enjoyed your review of this book which is one of my favorite classics! I hope you don't mind that I linked your review to the end of mine: Thanks for sharing!