The Scarlet Pimpernel, A Historical Adventure Novel
If there was one book that occupied my childhood dreams of a masked hero, it was this one. This book by Baroness Orczy was actually part of English classics subject during my senior year at school. I really took the story to heart that I purchased a personal copy of the classic after that. Even today Percy Blakeney with his English good looks, charm and bravery is my favorite daredevil hero.
The novel is set during the early stages of the French revolution. For those who are not sure about it, here is a little background about the time frame. The French revolution took place between 1789 and 1793. Eighteenth century was the time when the French monarchy was flourishing. They had special privileges and paid lesser taxes. The middle and the lower class people suffered a great deal at the hands of the rulers. There were a lot of social disturbances due to the rule of the monarchs that people decided that they were not treated fairly. Their misery and unrest made them raise against the rulers as Republicans with the motto of 'Liberty, Equality and Fraternity'. The then ruler, Louis XVI and his family were all imprisoned and executed. When the revolution started there were many sincere men striving for a common goal. Later, the revolutionaries themselves were divided into the noble and the greedy. The greedy men wanted autonomous power and ruthlessly killed the royal aristocrats by sending them to the guillotines (a machine for beheading a person). Whether the aristocrats were actually good or bad or had anything to actually do with the social unrest did not mean anything to this corrupt revolutionaries. The neighboring countries like England and the rest of the Europe were appalled by the French behavior. This is when a young, handsome and reckless daredevil from England decides to save the innocent French aristocrats.
The story begins with the daring rescue of the Comtesse de Tournay, an aristocrat destined for the guillotine and her two children. England is full of rumors about a masked hero who is known for his valiant efforts of rescuing French royalty and smuggling them to England's safety. No one is sure about his identity. The only evidence the hero leaves behind is the drawing of an English wayside flower called the scarlet pimpernel. There is a band of followers for him known as the league of the scarlet pimpernel who take orders from him and help him with his endeavors. France sends spies to England in the hope of finding clues about this elusive intruder. The French authorities take the help of Marguerite St Just, a beautiful French lady who has married a rich and dull witted Englishman called Percy Blackeney to trace the identity of the scarlet pimpernel. But Marguerite does not actually know him and is not serious on co-operating with the French authorities till they threaten her with treachery evidence against her beloved brother. The authorities negotiate the life of her brother for the clue about the scarlet pimpernel. Marguerite is cornered and helps them by giving them a clue about the hero's future plans. But even with that clue, the authorities are unable to track him down. Meanwhile Marguerite has her own troubles with her dull witted husband. She does not understand how her husband who showed such passion during their courtship days could be such a hare-brained fool? That she had unwittingly played a part in the murder of another royal family does not go well down with her husband either. After a series of thrilling events, she finally realizes that her own husband is the scarlet pimpernel and his demeanor of a fool is actually a pretense to hide what he is really capable of. By then it is too late as Percy is already in France on another mission while the French authorities who finally identify him are actually on the lookout for him. Marguerite goes to France with one of her husband's aid to save him somehow.
The ending is a gripping mixture of trickery, wits and perseverance.
The narration is fast moving and there are many inspiring moments. The love between Percy and his wife, the love between Marguerite and her brother, the devotion of the league, the reckless bravery of Percy are all beautifully entwined to bring out the best in every character of the book. For those who love historical fiction, you will be able to envision the scenes as you read the book. The book is a great story of passion, pride and principles.
Here are some interesting facts:
The story was originally a play which did not open to positive reviews during its initial opening.
The book was published after the play became a success at its later stages.
This book inspired hero with secret identity creations like Zorro and Batman.
There are numerous sequels to the book none of which are famous.
The characters in the book were inspired by a lot of real life historical figures.
The most well-known movie adaptation of the book is the one released in 1934 starring Leslie Howard.
"They seek him here, they seek him there
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere
Is he in heaven or is he in hell?
That demmed elusive Pimpernel"