The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel

no title has been provided for this book
A story with a lot of old world charm. A great tale of love, honour and chivalry going back to the French Revolution.

‘Everything about the (Scarlet Pimpernel) was weird and mysterious; his personality, which he so cunningly concealed,…,the passionate love and submission he had roused in his little trained band of nineteen English gentlemen, and, above all, his marvellous audacity, the boundless impudence which had caused him to beard his most implacable enemies, within the very walls of Paris.’

That’s essentially the book is all about. 

First published in 1905, this book is set at the backdrop of the gory turn the French Revolution took when the Commoners/Republicans, in the name of overthrowing the monarchy and the feudal system, became power-hungry and bloodthirsty maniacs chopping off every head with the tag of Upper Class or Aristocracy under the vicious guillotine, guilty or not. The then king and queen were imprisoned by then. The story follows the horrendous September Massacres of 1792 in Paris.

‘A surging, seething, murmuring crowd of beings that are human only in name, for to the eye and ear they seem naught but savage creatures, animated by vile passions and by the lust of vengeance and of hate.’ 

That’s how the story begins… that absolutely sets the tone and gives a precise picture of what kind of ‘Revolution’ happened in France then.

While that happens in France, the people on the other side of the English Channel almost kneel down and worship a hero, an English gentleman who anonymously and most daringly operates under the sobriquet of the Scarlet Pimpernel, named after a humble, star-shaped, red wayside flower in England. With every rescue mission that he so courageously accomplishes, he leaves a strangely scribbled note of who were saved, along with a stylish seal of the red flower at the bottom. 

Such men did indeed exist in that era. In real; all in blood and flesh… and this story had been inspired by the tales of so many such brave attempts by Englishmen to save the French Aristocrats from a gruesome punishment just for their societal status. In fact, the whole of Europe had made efforts to save many from France and tried to smuggle them to their country safely. The most interesting one that I read was about a Swiss gentleman who married 18 French women only to change their citizenship and transport them safely out of France (!!!)

So, having read this book in my early teens (as part of my English syllabus in school), I found all this spy adventure damn cool. I was wowed and awed beyond my imagination. Well…even now as I read it, I confess!

After all that ‘wow’ stuff, let me throw light over that part of the story which I found extremely irritating after a point. I’m purposely avoiding names here so as not to give any spoilers to any first-time readers out there. 

So, there is this female lead. Call her MJ. This MJ is brought about as the ‘most fashionable woman in Europe’ and the ‘cleverest woman in Europe’ which the author makes sure to remind the readers a thousand times before the story ends, but, so unfortunately doesn’t seem bothered to ‘show’ her so-called ‘wits and cleverness’ right until the last word. If that doesn’t make the reader go ‘yikes-I’ve-had-enough’, this MJ apparently turns out to be the traitor in a forced French operation to get to the identity of the revered Scarlet Pimpernel. That made me dislike her all the more. To top it all, MJ goes all the way to France in a very brave attempt to save the mysterious man (whose identity she finds out) only for the reader to get a perspective of the story through her head which is full of only mushy romance and red hearts flying in all possible directions except from that of how to save the man or even the remotest attempts to rescue him!

After that satisfying rant about MJ, I feel at ease now.

Pick this book if you love historical fiction, some adventure, some drama, a little of romance (the acceptable/reasonable stuff comes from the male lead) and to get a peek into the 18th century France and England. And of course, don’t expect duels or fights, which I think would have marred the flavour of mystery in the story, had they been placed anywhere in the story.


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