Friday, March 19, 2021

"The Scarlet Pimpernel" by Baroness Orczy

WHY did I wait this long to read this delightful book?  I absolutely loved this jolly story of derring-do.  It's escapist fiction at its finest -- no one in this story really takes their grave danger too seriously, and you never doubt for a minute that the Scarlet Pimpernel will triumph.  The fun is in finding out how.

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

19 comments:

  1. The ancestor of all superhero stories :D I only tried reading this once, and it wasn't really my thing, BUT I definitely appreciated the dude's whole caped-crusader vibe. Muchly fun.

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    1. Katie, yup! Here's where it all started, in a way :-) I can see how it might not be your thing, but good for you for giving it a whirl.

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  2. Agggghh I love this book so much! It's been awhile since I've read it. The Scarlet Pimpernel himself is just the best of fellows. <3

    (Introductions are important. I'm just getting over being miffed by the intro to my new copy of The Great Gatsby.)

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    1. Megan, he definitely is that!

      (I feel like there should be a warning if there's going to be negative or antagonistic attitudes toward the book that's being introduced.)

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  3. Great book. Also a huge fan of the Andrews/Seymour movie.

    Hilary Mantel is a pretentious snob. I couldn't make it halfway through Wolf Hall without loathing her, because that "I am so much better than everyone else" attitude bleeds through into her fiction as well. I could tell she was being pretentious just for the sake of HiGh LiTeRaTuRe. (In case I was being jealous, I asked a second party for their opinion and she had the exact same reaction. :P) So, yeah. I get that she won an award for her writing (in which she broke all the rules of writing, grammar, and it was long, convoluted, and confusing, ahem) but that doesn't make her an expert on other people's books. :P

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    1. Charity, it's extremely enjoyable. I think I knew you liked that movie, as it was Carissa's Anthony Andrews blog event that got me to watch it!

      Yeah, from this introduction, I got that exact same vibe from Mantel. "Look how smart I am because I don't like this book that other people like." She basically said this book is unsuitable for children, but it's a waste of time for adults to read, so it's entirely worthless. WHY would they have that for the introduction of a book? Are they trying to not sell copies? Ugh.

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    2. I knew you'd seen it, but wasn't sure on the details of whether you loved it or not. Me and details -- hah. ;)

      Yep, that's her in a nutshell. She takes on Philippa Gregory sometimes in the press and trash-talks her books... thing is, she's a giant flaming hypocrite because she does the EXACT SAME THING she accuses Gregory of doing, which is to vilify certain historical characters while blatantly ignoring the truth about her favorites, and then insist it's all historically accurate. XD That takes some nerve.

      Seriously??? that was her intro?!? Well... I bet that publisher gave themselves a good kicking, since I'm sure they didn't expect "bruh, this book is for no one" as their lead-in. :P

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    3. Charity, I didn't love it, but I did enjoy it :-D (My hubby, though, thought Percy was positively insufferable and says he would have chopped off his head just for being so annoying. So there's that.)

      Um, yes. That was the conclusion of her intro. This book is unworthy of being read. I was like, that is the weirdest intro to a book I have literally ever read. Much less a book I really enjoyed and am keeping on my shelf, and is beloved of many people I know. Yeeeeeeeeeah.

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    4. Which Percy is your husband talking about, though? The Real Percy, who was a romantic madly in love with his wife and who wanted to save aristocrats, or the fake fop Percy that was pretending to be as gay as a maypole to throw people off the scent? ;)

      *shoots She Who Must Not Be Named dirty looks*

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    5. Charity, it was fake Percy he found extremely grating, fear not.

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    6. That's understandable.

      I, however, found him absolutely hilarious. ;)

      EGADS. IT CAME WITHOUT A BUCKLE!

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    7. Oh, yes, I thought he played the role brilliantly. Like Tyrone Power as Don Diego. Really, really funny. Because he INTENDS to be so grating, you know?

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  4. So glad you loved it! It took me forever to read too, but it's so good.

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    1. Skye, yay! I think I was afraid I wouldn't like it as well as everyone else does, so I kept putting off reading it. But, happily, I did like it :-)

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  5. Yassss. One of my favorite books ever. (The others in the series are worth checking out as well! The Elusive Pimpernel is one of my absolute favorites.)

    Are you planning to re-watch the 1982 film now? That's one that Elisabeth and I watch ever so often because it's so fun and swoony (we we're both big fans of the TSP).

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    1. Ignore that extraneous 'we' in my last sentence. *eye-roll*

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    2. Eva, I can see why! I definitely will have my eye out for the others. Does it matter deeply what order you read them in?

      I gave away my copy of the 1982 because I didn't love it tons (except, oh my, how handsome Ian McKellen was!!!), but if it crossed my path again, I wouldn't mind watching it again. As long as Cowboy wasn't around -- he was VERY annoyed by Percy.

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    3. It's actually available for free on Dailymotion right now (https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x7y68ze)!

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    4. Oh, cool! Thanks for the link, Eva! I totally don't have time to watch it right now, but maybe in a few weeks...

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