Book 17: THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL

Walking through the bargain section in Target last week, I came across a bunch of classics for $2.50. Among them were ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, and THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL. I picked them both up, thinking my daughter could read them over the summer, and she started on ANNE almost right away. Then I started paging through PIMPERNEL and realized that it was above her head. The old-literature language is something she would have had a difficult time with, and the style of writing, more tell than show, would be unfamiliar to her. I decided to read it myself. And despite the hundred year old style, I really enjoyed it. There’s a reason THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL is a classic.

According to the book’s notes, Baroness Emmuska Orczy wrote the book in 1900, after becoming intrigued by thrillers like the popular SHERLOCK HOMES. She submitted it to 12 London publishers, all of whom turned it down. In 1903, she rewrote it as a play for a popular pair of actors and it played the London stage to critical pans, but financial success. In 1905, she self-published it as a novel. The financial success of the book allowed her to maintain her lifestyle and to keep writing about her hero. there were 14 books in all. The last was published in 1936.

Since then, Orczy’s hero has been reimagined in movies, a television series, and even a children’s ballet in London (see image). The story has edge-of-your-seat suspense in addition to romance, intrigue and heart-rending emotional twists. It could have been a bodice-ripper should the author have chosen to go that route. There were all the base elements, but it never did quite wind down that road. It could also have been an action thriller. There were those elements too. But the action is limited. The story line relies mainly on the emotional intrigue suffered by the main character, Lady Blakeney, and the circumstances surrounding her involvement with the French Revolution and London society, and then the appearance of the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel, who dares to rescue French aristocracy from the cruel blade of the guillotine.

PIMPERNEL was a thoroughly enjoyable read, and may teach you a thing or two about pacing and suspense. It’s definitely a book I will read again.

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