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Carpe Librum

Bookish conversation with author Samantha Wilcoxson.


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Historical Novel Society

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

The Scarlet Pimpernel - Emmuska Orczy

The Scarlet Pimpernel is probably the most lighthearted adventure one can read covering events during France's Reign of Terror. The secret League of the Scarlet Pimpernel is tasked with rescuing French aristocrats from Paris before they can lose their heads to Madame Guillotine. Despite this rather serious sounding objective, this novel is more of a sappy love story that lacks any true suspense.

Though Marguerite Blakeney is, we are repeatedly told, "the cleverest woman in Europe," she takes interminably long to figure out what is going on under her nose and fails to consider the consequences of her actions to the extent that she inadvertently causes the death of an entire family.

No worries, though. She is beautiful, with tiny, white, delicate hands, as we are also repeatedly told, which absolves one of a multitude of sins. Her great beauty and intelligence is what led the handsome, rich Percy Blakeney to marry Marguerite, though he soon has reason to regret this decision. Quickly moving from disdain to worship of her husband, Marguerite inundates the reader with her adoration of the man we had been previously informed was dimwitted and vain.

This book has an odd pro-aristocrat tone to it that one does not usually find in novels of the French Revolution. Sure, Robespierre and his followers went a little over the top, but most writers still choose to feature the starving, oppressed people of France as the victims, rather than as murderers of innocent women and children (though, of course, sometimes they were). Each Frenchman lacking noble blood in this book is portrayed quite negatively: bloodthirsty, dirty, stupid. It is a light, quick read if you don't take these attitudes too seriously.