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The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905)

by Baroness Orczy

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Scarlet Pimpernel chronological (1)

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    EECarter: Set during the French Revolution. A romance. A guest appearance by Sir Percy Blakeney.

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English (132)  Swedish (2)  French (2)  Italian (2)  Hungarian (1)  All languages (139)
Showing 1-5 of 132 (next | show all)
Defined at its most basic level, a superhero is a vigilante with a secret identity and a gimmick that sets them apart from ordinary vigilantes. Hungarian-born British playwright Baroness Emma Magdolna Rozália Mária Jozefa Borbála Orczy de Orci’s The Scarlet Pimpernel features as its titular main character a British aristocrat who uses disguises to conceal his identity as he aids nobles in their escape from the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, signing his notes to his accomplices and his taunts to the French authorities with a scarlet pimpernel flower (Anagallis arvensis). Baroness Orczy based this 1905 novel on her original 1903 play, with her superhero predating Johnston McCulley’s Zorro by 14 years and Walter B. Gibson’s The Shadow by at least 25 years (depending on if one begins with the play or novel and counts The Shadow’s first radio appearance or the first magazine story), though the first superheroes as most know them wouldn’t appear until 1938 and ’39 with Superman and the Batman, respectively. Baroness Orci published five further novels and one short story collection before the appearance of Zorro in 1919, an additional four novels and short story collection before the appearance of The Shadow, and three more novels before the first appearance of Superman, with her final Scarlet Pimpernel novel, Mam’zelle Guillotine, appearing in 1940. In total, Baroness Orczy’s superhero appears in eleven novels and two short story collections, with the series also including two novels about his ancestor and one about his descendant.

The basic plot revolves around Sir Percy Blakeney, a baronet who uses the guise of the Scarlet Pimpernel to rescue French aristocrats. Like the Batman years later, Sir Percy Blakeney acts “the lazy nincompoop, the effete fop, whose life seemed spent in card and supper rooms” so as to throw off those who would discover the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel (pg. 128). Madame Orczy describes Sir Blakeney’s mansion in terms that similarly recall Wayne Manor, all of it a further part of his disguise as a vain aristocrat (pg. 129). Citizen Chauvelin pursues the Pimpernel on behalf of the Committee of Public Safety, seeking to discover his identity and prevent him aiding aristocrats in their escape. Meanwhile, Marguerite Blakeney, the wife of Sir Percy, stumbles across and inadvertently reveals his identity after Chauvelin’s attempts to blackmail her by threatening her brother, Armand St. Just, who still resides in France and is threatened by the republican forces currently orchestrating the Reign of Terror. In many way, the various aristocrats’ discussion of the Scarlet Pimpernel coupled with the misunderstandings between Marguerite and others reflect some of the drawing room farces popular only a decade prior to the novel’s publication in the Victorian era. Like any proper superhero story, the Pimpernel’s adventures continued as Baroness Orczy published a sequel, I Will Repay, one year later in 1906. The third act does have some alarming ethnic stereotypes reflective of the period in which Baroness Orczy wrote, but the rest is entertaining and the work itself is worthy of study for its place in genre fiction. This edition, part of ImPress’s “The Best Mysteries of All Time” series, reprints the original 1905 text in its entirety with a red leather cover. It makes a lovely gift edition for fans of the original work or book collectors looking to add to their shelves. ( )
  DarthDeverell | Jun 5, 2019 |
I have no idea why some people classify this novel as a classic piece of literature. Just because it was written over a hundred years ago doesn't automatically make it a great novel. Orczy is not in the same league as Tolstoy or Dickens or Shakespeare. She did not write a number of brilliant works that hold up to the passage of time and remain relevant. She did, I think, write the first superhero novel. I read that the creators of Batman were influenced by The Scarlet Pimpernel and I totally see that. At times I felt like I was reading the pulpy novelization of an action movie. I'm sure at the time of the release of this book (and the accompanying play) the plot seemed fresh and daring. Now, of course, it's just one long cliche and common trope. The comparisons to a Scooby Doo episode are not far off the mark.

The plot is extremely far-fetched and the characters one dimensional. I kept waiting for a supernatural element to be introduced in order to explain the disguises the S.P. used. I couldn't suspend my disbelief enough - there is no way he could turn himself into a petite elderly woman. Just....no. He's supposed to be huge. How does he hide his height and girth? Hmmmm. And Marguerite -the cleverest woman in Europe! - spends hours with him while he is disguised and doesn't notice? Hmmm. The S.P.'s superhuman strength is also over the top. He is beaten so severely he loses consciousness yet he is still able to walk a mile and a half in the pitch dark through the rough countryside carrying Marguerite? Hmmmm.

Orczy is a mediocre writer. If I read the word "inane" one more time I was going to scream. Were thesauruses not invented when she wrote the book? She tells the reader, she doesn't show the reader. Don't tell me Marguerite is "the most clever woman in Europe" over & over & over. Show me! Instead, Marguerite is incredibly dense throughout the book. I couldn't get over how she kept forgetting people - forgetting her husband, forgetting her brother, forgetting that guy that helped her get to France. Where was the cleverness?

The romance between Marguerite and her husband befuddled me. They got secretly married after a whirlwind courtship because he was sexually attracted to her and she really enjoyed how much he desired her. She didn't love him but loved that he loved/wanted her so much. Then, after the marriage, they almost immediately have a falling out and never talk about it because both are too proud. Marguerite suddenly decides she passionately loves her husband because.....um, that wasn't totally clear to me. Because she found out he was secretly the S.P.? Or something like that.

Finally, that crazy antisemitic chapter of the book "The Jew" - what the hell!?!? That came out of no where. It was like talking to someone at a party, thinking they are cool, when suddenly they start talking about n*ggers and f*ggots. Whoa! Didn't realize how horrible you were! Thanks for sharing that tidbit about yourself! It wasn't just that Orczy was showing some of her characters to be bigoted towards Jewish people. She, the third person narrator, was writing these horrid descriptions.

"His red hair, which he wore after the fashion of the Polish Jews, with the corkscrew curls each side of his face, was plentifully sprinkled with grey- a general coating of grime, about his cheeks and chin, gave him a peculiarly dirty and loathsome appearance. He had the habitual stoop, those of his race affected in mock humility in past centuries, before the dawn of equality and freedom in matters of faith, and he walked behind Desgas with the peculiar shuffling gait which has remained the characteristic of the Jew trader in continental Europe to this day."

"She felt as if he held Percy's fate in his long, dirty hands."

"The eyes of the Jew shot a quick, keen glance at the gold in his interlocutor's hand."

"With a final, most abject and cringing bow, the old Jew shuffled out of the room."

Talk about a buzz kill. I was already having issues with the book and that chapter was like the final nail in the coffin.

I give the book 2 stars because it does have a historical interest in the sense that Orczy created a Batman/Superman sort of hero and that is intriguing. Also, I am a sucker for books set in that time period. Even mediocre books like this one. ( )
  JulieLogan | May 1, 2019 |
Great history, from both the classic sense of history and also in the sense of history of plotting in a mystery. The historical landscape is carefully described. It is also counterintuitive in terms of underdog/favorite dynamics. And the plotting itself is very clever, particularly so when you place it early on the development of mystery plotting. The chapters are short so it is also easy to pick up and set down. ( )
  danhammang | Apr 13, 2019 |
I really liked this book. I like historical fiction to begin with, but was still surprised by what an enjoyable read this was. ( )
  ErinMa | Feb 22, 2019 |
Best classic novel I've read since A Room With A View, which I finished back in early May. And I've read at least five or six other classics in between.

ANYWHO, this book was clever and intriguing, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! It reminded me a little of The Three Musketeers, which is still one of my favorite books of all times. French politics, revolution against the norm, and clever characters with an equally clever opponent they must outwit in order to survive.

Yeah, it's good.

One problem I had with it was that Marguerite is called the "most clever woman," over and over and over, and I saw no evidence of that at all. Yes, she is good at comebacks (at least we hear she is, it is written that during a meal she had "never been more adorable" and apparently that included her witty rejoinders), and she does have a few moments where I just sniggered and was like "TAKE THAT" to whomever she was facing off against. But for the most part, she is confused and unable to understand what is happening, and she fails to think logically about what to do next, relying on her feelings to take her the whole way. Not smart.

Besides Marguerite's obvious issues, and my guessing who the Scarlet Pimpernel was and where he was in multiple places in the book, I really enjoyed the book! Definitely plan on buying this book, and rereading it! Heck, I could see myself reading this to my future unborn children. ( )
  kat_the_bookcat | Feb 7, 2019 |
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» Add other authors (140 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Orczy, Baronessprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cosham, RalphNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Daly, NicholasEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lindström, SigfridTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mantel, HilaryIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mauro, WalterIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morin, Maria EugeniaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Musterd-de Haas, ElsEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Page, MichaelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weller, LucyIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wildschut, MarjoleinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zimmermann, WalterNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
A surging, seething, murmuring crowd of beings that are human only in name, for to the eye and ear they seem naught but savage creatures, animated by vile passions and by the lust of vengeance and of hate.
We seek him here,
we seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven? -
Is he in hell?
That damned, elusive Pimpernel!
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
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Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English


Book description
Haiku summary
An English noble
saves French aristocracy
from the guillotine.
In France terror reigns,
Yet an Englishman slips through,
And bests them again.

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0451527623, Mass Market Paperback)

This timeless novel of intrigue and romance is the adventure of one man's defiance in the face of authority. The rulers of the French Revolution are unable to discern the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel, a man whose exploits are an embarrassment to the new regime. Is he an exiled French nobleman or an English lord? The only thing for certain is his calling card--the blood-red flower known as the Scarlet Pimpernel...

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:02 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

The rulers of the French Revolution cannot discover who the maddeningly elusive figure is that threatens their power with his disguises, endless ruses and infinite daring.

» see all 34 descriptions

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