Has there been a film version?
Not of this specific story about the Scarlet Pimpernel, no. But others, yes.
Who are the important characters?
The Scarlet Pimpernel/Sir Percy Blakeney – an English gentleman who risks his life to rescue those who are in danger of the guillotine during the French Revolution
Chauvelin – a member of the Committee for Public Safety in France, the Scarlet Pimpernel’s archnemesis
Theresia Cabarrus – a beautiful woman who thirsts for power and will not stand to be mocked or tricked
Marguerite Blakeney – Percy’s wife and the love of his life, a Frenchwoman
Citizen Tallien – Cabarrus’ fiance
Bertrand Moncrief – an impulsive young man who is in love with Theresia, also a rebel against Robespierre and the Committee for Public Safety
Rateau – an asthmatic coalheaver
What’s it about?
When the Scarlet Pimpernel rescues Bertrand Moncrief from France straight under Theresia Cabarrus’s nose, he makes a new enemy. The beautiful Theresia hates having someone get the best of her, and with some guidance from Chauvelin and some other admirers, she manages to kidnap Marguerite Blakeney and hold her prisoner. The Scarlet Pimpernel has four days to rescue his beloved from the fracturing country of France before she is executed. But attempting to save her will be suicide.
Why is this book a classic/bestseller?
Because the Scarlet Pimpernel is one of the best examples of a hero in 20th century literature (although it wasn’t set in the 20th century).
Do you recommend I read this book?
If you liked the original Scarlet Pimpernel, then of course.
How did this book make your list?
I liked the miniseries, the movie, and the books.
Has it won any awards?
“‘I grant you that I am a puny rat and you the most magnificent of lions; but even if I lie mangled and breathless on this stone floor at your feet, Lady Blakeney will still be a prisoner in our hands.’
‘And you will still be wearing the worst-cut pair of breeches it has ever been my bad fortune to behold,’ Sir Percy retorted, quite unruffled. ‘Lud love you, man! Have you guillotined all the good tailors in Paris?'” – p 233
Once again, Sir Percy the Pimpernel manages to keep a reader frantically page turning in breathless agony as to how exactly he’s going to get out of whatever situation he’s found himself in. The addition of another beautiful woman besides Marguerite makes this doubly interesting – especially because Cabarrus is a historical figure. And a fallen Chauvelin is still creepy and slimy and even more so because he has nothing to lose with his blunders. Orczy even set all of this against a backdrop of the days before the downfall of Robespierre – and manages to work the Pimpernel in as the instigator of the Thermidorian Reaction.
One thing I especially appreciate about Orczy’s writing style is her unwillingness to let us as readers be omniscient. We only get to see the action as it unfolds around whomever we happen to be reading about – we rarely get to have a foretaste of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s plans and plots; and never into his thoughts. This is slightly different from the other characters – we know of Chauvelin’s plotting, Theresia’s ambition, and Marguerite’s despair. But we never hear what is passing through Percy’s mind. And it makes it all the more thrilling when his plans finally are revealed and executed.