Classics Discussion: The Scarlet Pimpernel

DanceChica is holding a discussion on The Scarlet Pimpernel , this month’s Classics Book Club read, until Thursday 31 August.  So , if you’ve read the book and would like to hear from others who’d read it, do pop by her blog in the next couple of days.

Having re-read this last August, I was ecstatic that DC’s initiative is stirring up new interest in this series, one of my favourite of all time. Here are my responses to some of her questions, most of which I’ve posted in the comments to the discussion post.

Does the book work? If so, why?
Definitely!  This is the forerunner of all spy stories/ movies. I like the theatrical high drama and suspense. BTW, did you guy know that the SP’s heroics started off as a stage play in 1901 before it came out in print in 1905?
So I guess that’s why there were some scenes which I swore could have come straight off the stage for the drama factor and convoluted plotting, as well as comical effects.

Were the characters rendered fully? Were they real?

Again, another resounding yes. Orczy has created very impressionable and engaging characters. Sir Percy had me laughing my socks off with his playacting, and wrenching my heart at his painful longing to confess all to Marguerite and open her eyes to see the real him. Even spoiled Marguerite gets my sympathy for the misunderstanding which overshadowed and strained their love, but when all finally came through, you bet I was right there cheering along for her.  Then, there’s the villain Chauvelin, who though thwarted in the end, still never gave up.  You’ve got to give him points for his tenacity and cunning even if you don’t really like him.

I’m actually glad that Orcy has created a believable villain without over dramatizing his evilness.  Otherwise, he would have seemed like a cliché, and that would have made him a less than worthy opponent of Sir Percy.  I mean, sure, he’s ruthless and manipulative but can you blame him for trying since his neck is also on the chopping board?

Did Orczy create an atmosphere that you could visualize?
Oh, yes! She’s made the period come vividly alive for me.  I love this series for the message of hope, courage and steadfast love that it brings amidst a time of great terror and despair. This is such an optimistic book compared to other books set during the French Revolution — Les Miserables (Victor Hugo) and A  Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens) were bleak human dramas, although A Tale has an uplifting ending.

Another one that I like is Daughters of the Storm by Elizabeth Buchan. This book celebrates the bravery of three remarkable women who defied their fates to reach for love, liberty and life.  But I digressed.

Does Percy treat Marguerite unfairly? Is Marguerite ultimately a likable character?
I actually wished that he could have given Marguerite a chance to explain the misunderstanding, to risk his heart and trust in his judgment of character.  In my mind, I kept urging him to take her into his confidence, and I think he was almost on the verge of telling Marguerite before he set off. Marguerite lived up to her rep as an intelligent heroine until towards the end, but I tend to sympathise with her most of the times.

What is the significance of the flower that gives Percy his secret name?
The pimpernel is a common English wayside flower.  I thought it was chosen to flaunt the identity of the French aristocrats’ daring rescuer, and a clever symbol of the uncommon courage and chivalry of the English.

Are there other heroes in the story besides Percy, and if so, who are they and why are they heroes?
His band of followers was fiercely loyal and brave to the very end, and merry too. One also gets the impression that they enjoy thumbing their nose at the French.

Animal imagery?
Don’t have a deep impression of this.

If  I recall, some of the chapter titles employ imagery to clue the reader in on the hunt and chase. Great excuse to pick up the book again, I say!


3 thoughts on “Classics Discussion: The Scarlet Pimpernel

  1. PERCY!! I do so love Sir Percy!

    And Tony. I really think Tony, of all of the men of The League, is deserving of his very own spin-off series.

    Marguerite, though, I find to be annoying, but we can’t have *everything* we want, now can we? She’s better in the latter part of the series, but she can come off as weepy in the first two.

  2. ag says:

    Ahh … great for you. I’ll look for your review on that. I’m trying to get the backlist of a few authors this weekend. Hopefully, I’ll find some classics I like.

  3. I loved this book too! Good observations!

    (btw, I picked up The name of the Rose by Umberto Eco at the library today! hee!)

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