If I had to do it all over again, I would….?
When you ask yourself that question casually, what is the answer? In some situations, we cannot change the past and the opportunity has passed. In others however, we may be able to set a new course. A few years ago I realized one of my many answers. That I would have loved to read far more classics over the years. Heaps of engineering textbooks, technical jargon and business buzzwords prepared and educated me well for my career but left me with a strong desire for voraciously consuming the classics, literature, poetry, art and history – hence my reading mania since 2006! There is usually a very good reason a book is considered a classic and besides, exploring the genre has hardly resulted in a regret for anyone that I have ever met.
The “Scarlet Pimpernel” was a truly satisfying thriller-romance with an excellent twist and a plot that drew me in despite my reservation. I read it in 2 days. It is not a book as rich in history as Michelle Moran’s “Cleopatra’s Daughter” nor as strong a thriller and action-packed story such as the novels of Dan Brown, Joseph Finder or Michael Crichton. But alas, it held its own quite well and in fact, so well that I am convinced it would have made a great movie. I specifically mention “would have” because the 1934 movie should have never been allowed to release, at least not under the same name as the book! The liberty taking in modifying and shortening the plot for the movie is one thing but to recreate the entire climax and to change the outcome of major events is quite simply irksome.
Reading is the best pastime for an active mind! If you like to see the other book reviews, check the index of In Print.
Every classic I have read has taught me at least a page or two from history. These pages contribute delicately to filling the vast gaps in my knowledge of the world’s history. They come wrapped inside memorable novels, thus making the learning unforgettable by shining a light on history a way that the readers will remember. With this novel, Baroness Emmuska Orczy takes us to the 1790s in France during pre-revolution years with the forming of the republic and rising against the King of France and all whose names or demeanors spelled “aristocracy“. It brings the reader face-to-face with the realities of brutality and the true horrors of a civilization which is sending its own population, men, women and children, to the guillotine, in masses. The quote from an Englishman who refuses to “intervene” in the French business is enough to describe this desolate world, “When a country goes mad, it has the right to commit every horror in its own walls.”
Orczy’s writing flows easily; perhaps this is a standard element in thriller-romance novels alike, classic or not. The heroic character of Scarlet Pimpernel, his brilliant cunning tricks on the French republic while smuggling out the innocent “aristocrats” to England, his secret identity, and his love for his own estranged wife comprise the main elements of our story. The author’s best talent comes through in brilliantly immersing the reader, in this case yours truly, in the character’s mindset, in this case, Madame Marguerite Blakeney, wife to Sir Percy, to the point that I became nearly as curious if not as narrow-sighted in pursuing and attempting to save the Scarlet Pimpernel, and most of all, as shocked to read the ultimate trick he played on the “Frenchies”.
If I had to admire one thing about this book, it would be the simple brilliance with which the Scarlet Pimpernel deceives his enemy. Not by hiding but being grossly masked in crystal clear view. Not by force and fury but by exploiting the weakness of his enemy to his own enormous gain. “We must match bravery with bravery and cunning with even more cunning”, he warns his men. To play a foppish, irresponsible high-society Englishman to secure an identity and to hide comfortably behind the ultimate fear and disgust of his ruthless pursuer, the French agent Chauvlin, makes for a comic and savory story with a very happy ending. With Orczy’s talented weave of thriller, romance and humorous dialogue, it is an excellent quick read which touches on love, heroism, betrayal, brilliance, strategy and most wonderful element of all, a touch of history.