Some posts back, I had set out on a personal quest to reread Jane Austen classics, but as with all best laid plans, that idea flew out of the window the moment I stumbled upon an old copy of Baroness Orczy’s ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’. (I really like the cover art of the Dover publications edition so here’s an image of it.)
Having read this during my secondary school days, I was keen to reacquaint myself with one of my best loved heroes. I would have you know that his heroics started off as a stage play in 1901 as publishers in an England still mourning the death of Queen Victoria thought the public wasn’t ready for this new breed of escapist literature. It eventually made its debut in print in 1905. What’s amazing is that the Hungarian author, who’s the daughter of a Baron forced to flee his country, wrote this marvellous tale in English, her 3rd language.
The author builds up the background to the story using our elusive hero’s league of loyal men who has just completed a mission of mercy. I was waiting feverishly for his entrance, and when he did in a pompous manner befitting a fop, I couldn’t help laughing at how he toyed and fooled the unsuspecting society into dismissing him as nothing more than a nincompoop. Even his wife. The book is just simmering with pent-up passions — Sir Percy’s love for Marguerite hidden behind an indifferent facade, and her almost sorrowful yearning for his love, which she thought she lost through a misunderstanding. But all’s well in the end. Despite the villain, Chauvelin’s, machinations to get Marguerite to betray her love unknowingly.
One of my favourite quotes is this little poem below that Sir Percy composed, partly in jest, which is ironic when you discover much later that he is funning himself. Forget suave James Bond and dark brooding Batman, the SP’s audacious flirtation with danger is a lot more entertaining considering the odds he’s up against. It’s a miracle he eluded the best of France’s agents!
“They seek him here, they seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere!
Is he in Heaven? Or is he in Hell?
That demmed, elusive Pimpernel!”
P.S. Wait for me, Jane … I’ve not forgotten you.