I watched the 1934 movie starring Leslie Howard close to twenty years ago, and the 1982 miniseries starring Anthony Andrews much more recently than that, so I knew the basic story (and the real identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel) already. But most of the plot had kind of faded from my memory, so that was fresh and exciting for me. By the last ten chapters or so, I was on tenterhooks to see how it would all get resolved. In fact, I did my housework extra-fast so I could finish it :-) And that's just what I want from an adventure novel!
I took a class in college on the French Revolution, so I know that Orczy doesn't particularly cling to facts in this -- hundreds of heads weren't actually getting chopped off every single day, and so on. But the atmosphere of fear and antagonism was very, very real, and I think she got the emotional truths just right.
After I finished the book, I read the introduction in my MacMillan Collector's Library edition, and it annoyed me so much. The intro was written by Hilary Mantel, and it is snide, holier-than-thou, and seems to entirely miss the point of this book being about people using their wits and talents in the service of others. Mantel's whole attitude grated on me so much, I've deleted her books from my to-read lists. I was especially vexed by her missing what I believe Orczy's point was in the part where she repeatedly describes a Jewish man as being despised, degraded, cringing away from other people, and so on -- Orczy constantly talks about how the French people are despising them, reviling them, and behaving very racistly toward this Jewish man. I think she's making a point here about the horribleness of her villains, NOT trying to say that Jewish people are despicable, degraded, or animal-like.
Anyway, I definitely recommend this book, just not that introduction ;-)
Particularly Good Bits:
The rest is silence! -- silence and joy for those who had endured so much suffering, yet found at last a great and lasting happiness (p. 315). (Awww, it's a Hamlet quotation!)
If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some scenes of peril and violence.
This is my 17th book read and reviewed for my 3rd Classics Club list and my 13th read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021