Sunday, October 18, 2009
The first and most successful in the Baroness’s series of books that feature Percy Blakeney, who leads a double life as an English fop and a swashbuckling rescuer of aristocrats, The Scarlet Pimpernel was the blueprint for what became known as the masked-avenger genre. As Anne Perry writes in her Introduction, the novel “has almost reached its first centenary, and it is as vivid and appealing as ever because the plotting is perfect. It is a classic example of how to construct, pace, and conclude a plot. . . . To rise on the crest of laughter without capsizing, to survive being written, rewritten, and reinterpreted by each generation, is the mark of a plot that is timeless and universal, even though it happens to be set in England and France of 1792.”
We seek him here, we seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven?—Is he in hell?
That demmed, elusive Pimpernel.
Yes, this is that classic adventure story of Sir Percy Blakeney, one of England's richest men, who dons the character of a British fop without a care in his head - except for his lace - He lives to be amusing to the likes of the Prince of Wales and anyone else he meets. But, secretly he is the elusive Scarlet Pimpernel who, over and over again, rescues scores of aristos fleeing France during the Reign of Terror of 1792. He disguises himself ingeniously, foiling the French authorities and manages to see the French aristrocats and their families to safety in England.
But, the real story behind the Scarlet Pimpernel is the woman he is married to. Marguerite Blakeney, a beautiful french woman that he married the year before. She is the toast of the town, considered one of the most beautiful, witty, and intelligent women in London. Many cannot understand what she saw in Percy, who comes across as such a vapid dimwit, although he is rich and popular. At first we wonder why she married him as well, and then we learn the truth. Percy married her because he fell head over heels in love with her. But, shortly after their marriage, she tells him about how she unwittingly sent an entire family of French aristocrats to the guillotine. After that, their marriage changed drastically - and so did Percy.
From that moment on, we are left to assume that Percy no longer loves Margot, and keeps his distance from her at their large estate in Richmond. In public, they are the perfect couple, but in private he is civil, yet no more passion, no more anything. She suffers silently, having no one to blame but herself. Meanwhile, she has no knowlege of who her husband really is! All has heard of the elusive Pimpernel, yet no one knows who he could be, except that he has a band of 19 loyal followers, made up of young English noblemen who would follow him anywhere and do his bidding. Margot begins to imagine that she could love a hero such as the Scarlet Pimpernel. Someone who is dashing and so clever and intellegent - a true hero. Yet, she still loved Percy in her own way and is sorry for how her marriage has turned out. She feels guilt over her involvement of the death of the Marquis de St. Cyr and his sons, yet is powerless to do anything to change things about it. It is too late, they are dead, and all French aristocrats hate her for what she did, though many English don't believe it, she is so worshipped and admired in London.
Soon, a sneaky and foxlike Frenchman, Chauvelin, working for the French Republic to track down the Pimpernel and bring him back to Paris for the guillotine, blackmails Margot. He uses her to be a spy for him to trap the Pimpernel. He tells her that if she does not cooperate, her brother Armand, will be revealed as a traitor to the Republic and sent to his death. Armand is her only relative, she loves him dearly and she is forced to help Chauvelin at a ball. Of course, she had no idea Percy is the Pimpernel!
And so, much adventure, subterfuge and hidden agendas take place, leaving the reader wondering what will happen next! It all becomes very exciting with the story going to Calais - will Percy escape? Will he go to the guillotine? Will Margot ever be able to tell him that she loves him dearly? Will Margot ever find out that Percy never stopped loving her?
I really enjoyed this story, and on audio it was very entertaining. I listened to the David Thorn version and he was great at all the French and English accents, and especially Percy Blakeney as the foppish half wit. I highly recommend it!
I can't wait to rent this DVD now! I can't believe I'd never seen any of the movie versions of it before, although I'd always had an idea of what this story was all about, but still, not having read it, it was all very new to me!