March 24, 2009

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy: Review

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The mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel steals aristocrats from the blade of the guillotine and whisks them off to the safety of England. No one knows who he or his men are. It is rumoured that he is an Englishman and a aristocrat himself who enjoys baffling the French revolutionaries.

Beautiful Marguerite Blakeney is in a dilemma. Her brother Armand is in danger of sharing the fate of other French aristocrats and lose his head. Envoy Chauvelin offers her choice: help him find the Scarlet Pimpernel or her brother dies. As the wife of Sir Percy Blakeney, she rubs shoulders with the upper crust every day. She must use her reputation as 'the cleverest woman in Europe' to ferret the Pimpernel out. However, she is about to discover that he is closer than she could have imagined.

Baroness Orczy wrote The Scarlet Pimpernel in five weeks and it shows. The writing is abysmal. She uses 'fox-like', 'cat-like', 'woman-like' as her main adjectives and she uses them often. It's overly dramatic. None of the characters have two clues to rub together and are two dimensional. Is it possible to be one dimensional? Because if it is, they are. They're all a bit keystone cop. If Marguerite is the cleverest woman in Europe, I'd hate to see the dumb ones. Sir Percy is the only character I liked.

Orczy also throws all her prejudices into this book. The aristocrats are near perfect. The revolutionaries are evil. At one point, one of them cackles to himself. She also leans heavily on her anti-Semitic beliefs at the end of the novel. It's over the top. Consider yourself warned.

The Scarlet Pimpernel has been made into countless movies. Why? For all it's problems, the premise is pretty good! A man with everything to lose risks his life to save strangers and he does it with panache. It makes for great television but not a great book. In the hands of someone like Dumas it could have been so much more.

It's a quick read and doesn't require much thought. If you'd like to kill an afternoon with an easy read, you might like this light adventure story.

Read it free from Girl ebooks.


14 comments :

  1. I don't think I'll be reading this one. Your review cracked me up though!

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  2. Hmm, I saw a movie version and a mini-series before reading the book, so maybe I overlooked the bad writing. I just recall enjoying a lot of swashbuckling fun. It could be that the book was successful for the same reason Danielle Steel's books sell -- stuff happens. Sometimes adventure overrules poor writing.

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  3. See now I liked this book- but then it's what all the superhero comics/ books/movies are based on so how could I not- geek that I am!

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  4. Yes! I completely agree. Pretty poorly written. And yet, the movies are great, I think. Another case where the movies are better than the books!

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  5. i never read this one...but did see it on broadway a bunch of years back--maybe late 90s early '00s. there was too much singing. lol.

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  6. I remember reading these books years ago and absolutely loving them. I wouldn't have noticed such bad writing at that point, but I would have thought it would stand up to a reread, simply because it is such a fun premise.

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  7. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


    Kaylee

    http://www.clpostingguide.info

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  8. Someone gave me a 1904 edition of this book once and I let it get away unread...hmmm...

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  11. Wonderful review Chris. This is a classic I have thought about reading but nevetr have. I think I'll keep it that way.

    Loved your reference to Dumas, I think he could have spiced any story up.

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  12. The movie version with Leslie Howard (of GWTW fame) was on TCM Friday night. I tried to remember the history of the book--which, now that I've looked it up, I was clearly confusing with something else. I was sure The Scarlet Pimpernel had been written mid-19th century. I'm not in any hurry to read it, but it is on a lot of college-bound reading lists; at least, it was 15 years ago.

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  13. 5 weeks, huh? Ok, maybe it isn't the best written book, but it is fun! At least a little bit?? Plus in the hands of Dumas, the little novel of barely 200 pages would turn into 2000 pages! I'm being unfair--I'm too scared to read Dumas. :) Fun review, Chris.

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  14. Although, I happen to love this book yet I could relate to your witty review and see what you were saying. Now, that's talent! Since I enjoyed the way you wrote this review - I linked it to my
    review. Thanks!

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