The Scarlet Pimpernel – Baroness Orczy

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Scarlet Pimpernel #1

The French revolution is in full flood, and French aristocrats are executed daily on the guillotine. But the elusive Scarlet Pimpernel carries out daring rescues, bringing threatened nobles to the safety of England. Lady Blakeney, originally French, becomes embroiled in the Pimpernel’s doings when she is recruited as a French spy.

I liked the Scarlet Pimpernel books when I was young. Dashing adventure, secrets, disguises, drama, they were fun (though not among my favorites). As with much else, however, they may be better in memory. My main interest this time around was in an aristocrat’s view of aristocracy.

The plot is thin and romantic – Lady Blakeney’s estrangement from her husband, her desire to help her threatened brother, still in France. The underlayment is a mixed bag of politics (nobility good, revolution bad) and stereotype (Jews bad, damsels distressed) that was a much better suited to an uncritical child’s mind than for an adult focusing less on adventure, more on people. There’s a lot of “if she provided the thought, and he the manly energy and pluck,” and it gets wearing, even giving Orczy credit for a woman who is intelligent and active (if ultimately dependent on men). The character’s motivations are inconsistent, and even the lead couple’s back story makes little sense (Percy Blakeney was apparently a devoted fop when they courted, but Lady Blakeney seems surprised by the fact that he’s still a (remote) fop now).

All in all, a mildly interesting trip down memory lane, but essentially a book that has passed its freshness date, and can safely pass into history.

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