Why The Scarlet Pimpernel?
Is it normal to have an obsession with this classic book?
Buried between layers of dusty classics is a slim volume, The Scarlet Pimpernel. When I first heard this book mentioned, I though it would be another dull tale, weighed down with a 19th century vocabulary. To my delight, The Scarlet Pimpernel is anything but boring or weighed down!
I think I’ve read all the books Baroness Emmuska Orczy penned detailing the exploits of Sir Percy Blakeney. While some of his adventures are a bit outlandish, Sir Percy is incredibly funny, romantic and hard to put down.
Scholars say Sir Percy is the original Zorro, the masked rich superhero, inspiration for countless renditions of Batman and comic books.
When listing my favorite books, the original story of Sir Percy as told in The Scarlet Pimpernel, ranks near the top. It’s one of my favorite’s beyond Sir Percy’s romance or the lessons in French/Anglo relations. Here’s just a few lessons this classic has in store.
Is Trust Worth the Trouble?
The Scarlet Pimpernel, while a dashing mystery, is also a study in relationships. The characters fight against their own honesty and battle their natural inclination to trust each other.
After all, this is a dangerous moment in time. One careless slip, and you just might get a free ticket to Madame La Guillotine.
But people are created to rely on each other. Especially when you’re married to each other! Percy and Marguerite’s relationship feels completely shallow, at first. A hurried courtship, fairy-tale wedding. But it’s what happens after the vows that impacts their lives most.
We all know happily ever after is a myth, and The Scarlet Pimpernel delves into that dynamic. How much can you know of a person before you marry them? Is it possible for trust to be shattered and restored?
Everyone Wears Masks
While the story revolves around a masked hero, it is clear most of the characters don’t reveal their true selves. Whether is it hidden motives, emotions or thoughts, each has a reason to not show their true face.
It’s easy to see this in a book, but ignore our own masks in real life. Wearing masks can be habitual, a precaution against emotional turmoil. But as The Scarlet Pimpernel shows, hiding behind a mask can be detrimental.
Is love protecting those you love? Is love risking your life for a foolish friend? I think yes! The love shown in the story exemplifies the pinnacle of love you can aspire to, “Love is patient, love is kind, seeks not his own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil.”
The Pimpernel shows love daily, rescuing countless lives from death. He doesn’t do this to gain fame, no-one even knows his identity. While claiming to do this simply for the sake of adventure, I think the Scarlet Pimpernel risks his life daily for a genuine love for his fellow mankind.
Marguerite is willing to risk everything to save, first her brother and then her husband. She is not fazed by threats to her own safety, instead the villain has to attack those she holds dearest.
And while at first Percy feels a bit selfish, we see his love for Marguerite. His lengths to protect her from his choices and save the lives she holds dear. Throughout the series, their relationship grows into a picture of true love.
And as Sir Percy says later in another book, he realizes love is not loving an image. He knows his wife and friends make mistakes, but he still loves them. It isn’t truly love, Percy insists, if you are holding the object of your affection to a standard. Love people unconditionally, in all their mistakes, not just those you imagine are perfect.
Can’t I just watch The Scarlet Pimpernel?
The Scarlet Pimpernel has been transformed throughout the years. Movies, plays and musicals all have added to the lore of the League of the Pimpernel. While sometimes additions can detract from a book, I think the 1982 movie and the 90’s musical blend the perfect mix of creative license with the original.
What’s great about both the movie and musical is the inclusion of plots from later books in the Scarlet Pimpernel series. The movie states that it is based on both The Scarlet Pimpernel and El Dorado. Rescuing the Dauphin, Armand’s love interest, the duel with Chauvelin are all plots Baroness Orczy wrote in later books. I love that the directors added this to their scripts, it helps round out all the characters!
I suppose you could just watch the movie or listen to the musical, but you would be missing out on reading a classic gem.
The Scarlet Pimpernel took me by surprise. A magazine reviewed the story, mentioning that it was required reading for some students. Since I hadn’t read it, I picked it up at the library. First, I was surprised by how thin the book was, then the story actually overwhelmed me. And the rest is history!