The Scarlet Pimpernel - novel [Spoilers possible]
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This being the first and eponymous novel, I have read it so many times that I no longer recognise the plot, only the wonderful characters! As part of my chronological re-reading of the series, I listened to the audiobook with Ralph Cosham reading, which is excellent.
I love 'Marguerite's story' - from when we first meet her in the Fisherman's Rest, to her beguiling of Sir Andrew and the chase across the Channel. The chapters on the cliffs on Calais are rather tedious, but she is ever determined and resilient. Marguerite is a different woman in this novel to the rest of the sequels, brittle and cynical, but I admire how the Baroness develops her character - much of her attitude and defiance in TSP is an act, and she settles and matures once she and Percy are reunited.
Between the book and the 1982 film, I fell for Marguerite and Percy, so I can't criticise, but I think I prefer Eldorado to TSP.
The book really is more Marguerite's story than any of the stage or screen adaptations are, isn't it? I often find myself wondering at what point the audience that got to know the story through the book realized that Percy was the Scarlet Pimpernel.
Sometimes I wonder if the original version let her off a little too easy for turning in St. Cyr. After versions where she was blackmailed into it and versions where she thought she was speaking to Chauvelin in confidence, an explanation that boils down to "Well, yes I turned him in but I didn't think they'd kill him" when people were supposedly getting guillotined right and left seems rather weak. Entirely in character, though - Marguerite's central flaw is that she does things without thinking about them quite a lot.
Ultimately I decided that we aren't suppose to excuse her so much because of her lack of intent (since when is not thinking about the consequences of your actions an excuse for causing someone's death?) as because of how much she is willing to put herself through to save Percy. I can't buy "But I didn't mean it!" as a defense, but I can accept her redemption through her courage under pressure.
This is one of the most interesting threads of the story for me - Marguerite and the St Cyrs. Readers who can't see past the political implications of the denunciation - the Republic vs. Royalist aristos - will say that Marguerite did nothing wrong as the Marquis was plotting with Austria against his country, which is treason, but I don't honestly think that she was being patriotic when she spoke out. Marguerite had waited a good four years to get back at the Marquis for what he did to Armand - and herself, through her brother's broken pride - and it was mere coincidence that she heard that he was plotting against the state.
What did she think would happen? Technically, the guillotine was introduced in 1792, so the Marquis would have faced beheading by axe, as a noble, a year earlier, but treason has always been punishable by death. Like you, I don't think Orczy's defence of 'But I didn't mean them to die' quite works - and yes, look at all the adaptations which provide her with greater extenuating circumstances than spite - but the important point is that Marguerite did speak out to avenge her family. This is such a crucial flaw in her character that it shouldn't be covered up or written out: she wanted the Marquis to suffer as she and Armand had, but she couldn't accept the consequences.
Percy does not blame her for what she did - he's primarily a humanitarian, not a noble or a royalist - but for not trusting him enough to confide in him. He asked her if the rumours were true, but her own guilt and pride silenced her - she felt he was accusing her, as she must have been blaming herself, and ran home to the only man who understood her motives, her brother. There after, he can not trust her either, as he realises he doesn't know who she is. I love this impasse between them, as it because they are both so similar - scared to trust, and afraid to reach out - that their reunion is so long in coming!
But I would never take the deaths of the St Cyrs from Marguerite - she needs this ambiguous stain on her character to save her from Mary-Suedom. In the later sequels, she is just as self-serving, begging Percy to leave others to their doom so that she and he may be happy together, but his stubborn will and sense of honour inspire her to join the League instead of fighting it. As you say, she is redeemed through her courage, and strives to 'deserve' her husband's love, but she is not as noble as he.
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