The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A good read, especially if you’re looking to bump up your classics cred and get into the original Batman.
No, really. The Baroness Orczy is credited with creating the very first masked hero, the idle millionaire who spends his time and infinite resources fighting the forces of evil from behind a clever disguise. Or if you’re not turned on by Batman, think of Sir Percy Blakeney as the French Revolution’s answer to Schindler’s List — although Sir Percy got here first, rescuing other idle rich from the rapacious Madame La Guillotine during the Reign of Terror.
This particular hero first crossed my radar in movie form. I seem to remember being fairly young, early teens, which would make it the 1934 version, but I also remember color, which would make it the 1982 version, although I could be getting an impression of color from the word “scarlet.” (I was also young enough to pull the “pimp” out of “pimpernel” and snicker at it.) Anyway, a few years ago I downloaded the book free from Project Gutenberg, a noble operation indeed, making electronic versions of the classics free for anyone who wants them (although donations are much appreciated and deserved). The book holds two positions on my 2017 reading challenge, #2, a book that’s been on my TBR list for far too long and #9, an espionage thriller.
I have trouble with classics. I feel that in order to be a well-read, literate sort of person I should have read/be reading a fair number of classics, but so many of them are so stilted, so plodding, so booooooring that I never finish them. (Anna Karenina, I wanted to love you, I really and truly did.) The Scarlet Pimpernel is a good one, though. I can’t remember the last time I read such a pure romp, complete with romance and heartbreak, miscommunication and misunderstandings, intrigue and betrayal, silk gowns and courtly manners. The language is surprisingly fresh considering the book was published in 1905. Yes, it got a bit overdramatic, especially toward the end, and I was disappointed that there was no duel, but I still enjoyed it.
Also note that this was considered historical fiction when it was published, so now it’s like historical fiction inside of historical fiction. Or something.
Bookshelves: classic, spy-vs-spy, i-am-an-anglophile, brit-lit, merry-old-england, french-revolution, adventure, this-is-all-the-romance-i-can-take, thriller
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