Reviews

‘A marvellous entry in this excellent series, one of those books that  you have to keep reading but hate to finish. Highly recommended.’ [Stage Fright]

- MYSTERY WOMEN

We seek him here . . .

Posted on Jan 24, 2020 in Baroness Orczy, Scarlet Pimpernel | 8 Comments

. . . We seek him there, Those Frenchies seek him everywhere . . .’

My blog friend, Moira at the excellent Clothes in Books, also now my friend in real life, has sent me a copy of a splendid book, Bestseller by Claud Cockburn, subtitled ‘The Books Everyone Read 1900-1939,’ which discusses novels like Beau Geste and The Sheik, once all the rage and now rarely read. One book which wasn’t included, but easily could have been, was The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy, published 1905. I vividly remember reading it as a child in the sixties. It was my mother’s copy, which dated from the 1930s, I guess.

I was curious to see what I would make of it all now. I have just read it and enjoyed it all over again – though in a rather different way. It is certainly a rattling good yarn and yet it is really as much about the Scarlet Pimpernel’s French wife, Marguerite, as about the man himself. The plot hinges on the rift between them and her gradual realisation that Sir Percy Blakeney, the foppish husband that she regards with affectionate contempt, is in fact the elusive and dashing hero who is saving aristocrats from the guillotine.

There was one scene that had stuck in my memory from my reading all those years ago. Meeting in the garden at night, the couple seem about to come to a better understanding, but pride comes between them and they part without reconciling. Marguerite turns back to the house and so fails to see Sir Percy ‘overwhelmed by his own passion and his own despair . . . He was but a man, madly, blindly, passionately in love, and as soon as her light footsteps had died away within the house, he knelt down upon the terrace steps, and in the very madness of his love he kissed one by one the places where her small foot had trodden, and the stone balustrade there, where her tiny hand had rested last.’ Blimey! Of course to my twelve or thirteen year old self, this seemed the very pinnacle of romance.

In spite of all this guff about tiny hands, Marguerite is a doughty heroine, full of energy and spirit. When she realises that she has inadvertently put her husband in terrible danger, she dashes off to France to warn him and she plays an active role in the denouement.

And perhaps, after all, The Scarlet Pimpernel is not in the same category as Beau Geste or The Sheik, because, though the book may not be much read, the Scarlet Pimpernel has gone on in many reincarnations in film, TV, and even in the 1990s a successful musical. He is one of those characters, like Frankenstein and Dracula, who have become far more famous than their creator.

 

8 Comments

  1. Margot Kinberg
    January 24, 2020

    Isn’t it lovely, Christine, when we enjoy a book as much the second time around as we did the first? I’m so glad you got the chance to do a re-visit, and that it was a pleasant one.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      January 24, 2020

      Margot, I think it’s more accurate to say that though I did enjoy it, it was in different way. There were attitudes that were, shall we say, of their time, so that I didn’t enjoy it as simply and artlessly as I did the first time round as a teenager.I think that would be the same with almost anything that I first read then.

      Reply
  2. Moira @ clothesinbooks
    January 24, 2020

    So glad to have inspired you! I have never read The Scarlet Pimpernel and really must. Do I remember a TV adaptation – maybe a Sunday teatime classic when I was very young?
    I also feel there is room for another book on the bestsellers of the past – you and I should write it. Or get contributions from our friends…

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      January 24, 2020

      Thanks, Moira, plenty of good clothes in it, if you need encouraging. I too have a vague memory of something on TV. There was a series about 20 years ago which I didn’t see with Richard E Grant as Sir Percy. Quite wrong. The Sir Percy of the book is tall, broad-shouldered, well built and fair-haired – quite a hunk, in fact. James Norton would be perfect!

      Reply
  3. Susan D
    January 28, 2020

    Oh golly yes. I gobbled it up as a romantic teenager. I think I haven’t read it since, and it’s probably something I should let rest in the mists of memory, rather than revisit it with my cynical latter-day self. (Like the Whiteoaks of Jalna series.)

    Even so, I recently watched the Leslie Howard – Merle Oberon – Raymond Massey film, and in one way just rolled my eyes at some of it, but at the same time was absolutely swept away by Leslie Howard’s excellent skill as an actor, or rather, how he IS Blakeney, in all his guises.
    On youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvtVrQb5DTY

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      January 29, 2020

      I think you might be wise not to revisit it – though it didn’t really spoil the memory of it for me. It was almost like a different book. I must see the Leslie Howard film!

      Reply
  4. Bill Selnes
    February 6, 2020

    I read the book so many years ago I can recall little of the plot. I do remember I liked the book. Coincidentally, at Christmas, I bought a copy of The Teahouse Detective – The Old Man in the Corner by the Baroness. I am enjoying the stories of “the original armchair detective”.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      February 6, 2020

      Good to hear from you, Bill. I suspect that the Baroness is better known now, at least among GA fans, for those stories than for The Scarlet Pimpernel. I’ve enjoyed them too.

      Reply

Leave a Reply