Before reading this book, I had no idea what a Pimpernel was. I had heard of a pimpernel before in an old movie I watched with some old roommates, so I thought it was the Court Jester because it is about a band of outlaws who help a baby with a birthmark get placed on his rightful throne.
But no, that wasn’t it.
The Scarlet Pimpernel takes place in France and England during the Red Scare of the French Revolution. The common people, the plebeians, the citizens are supporting the new “Republican government” of France and sending numerous aristocrats to the guillotine. The Scarlet Pimpernel is a mysterious Englishman who helps to smuggle these aristocrats out of France and into England, since England doesn’t support the French Revolution.
The main character is the French Marguerite, the wife of Lord Percy, the richest man in England, who is also a bit of a slow man. Marguerite, however, is known for her fashion sense as well as her wit. She gets blackmailed into helping a French ambassador find out the Scarlet Pimpernel, so he can send the man to the guillotine. But, she finds out that her husband is the Scarlet Pimpernel, thus she races against the French ambassador to warn her husband of his impending doom.
It was a fun read–very easy. There were quite a few large words that didn’t necessarily need to be in the simple book. Descriptions were a little over the top in the use of language. But, if you had just barely learned English before you wrote a novel, like Baroness Orczy did, you’d want to show your command of the new language as well.
It has romance, intrigue, society, danger, adventure, fights (both verbal and physical, both marital and otherwise). It is captivating–I was supposed to be marking it up and taking notes to help me prepare to teach it, but half-way through the book, I stopped because I forget, I was so pulled in.
I do admit, the beginning is quite slow–it doesn’t really pick up until about page 100 (a 1/3 through the book). I also don’t think it fleshed out Lord Percy very well. It did a great job fleshing out Marguerite, her thought-processes and emotional turmoil. But, for all I heard from friends, “I love Percy” “Percy is my favorite!” “Oh Lord Percy!” I didn’t see why. Yes, he pretended to be an oaf and yes he was the prideful Scarlet Pimpernel, but it didn’t flesh him out as much I feel it should’ve to let us love him more. Right now, I’d rather love Darcy from Pride and Prejudice than Lord Percy because you at least get to know Darcy a bit intimately. (And we all remember I don’t like Darcy.)
Overall, it is a good plot, a fun and engaging tale, perfect for a movie, which they’ve already done! I can see my students enjoying it.
Thus, I give it a 4 out of 5.