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Saturday, 23 July 2016

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

Book cover: The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
I had obviously heard of this book but never felt any impetus to read it. The reason I picked up the book is that Jack Caldwell has written  a book where the worlds of Baroness Orczy and Jane Austen come together, with characters from ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ and ‘Northanger Abbey’ featuring in his new book, ‘The Last Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel’. I plan to read Jack’s book later this month so I wanted to have a fuller idea of ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’, and I am so glad I did, as it was a really compelling read! I read the book partly as an audio book, and partly as a kindle read, and followed it up with watching the DVD of the 1982 adaptation of the book, so here are my thoughts on all three of those!


“We seek him here, we seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven?—Is he in hell?
That demmed, elusive Pimpernel”
The story is set in the 1790s, during the time of the French Revolution. Thousands of people who were part of the French nobility; men, women and children were killed at the guillotine. Some of these people were undoubtedly guilty of selfish and uncaring behaviour towards the welfare of their fellow countrymen but others were guilty only by virtue of their birth.

English views on the Revolution differ to the French; although the British parliament are refusing to intervene the general feeling is sympathetic towards the French aristocrats. There is even a group of English gentlemen who have banded together to try and save some of the aristocratic French families from being beheaded. After people are saved, a note is delivered to the French authorities, claiming responsibility of the escape. The notes are always marked with a small, red flower – a scarlet pimpernel. The French authorities are desperate to catch this cunning man. The story open with an example of one of his daring rescues.

Across the channel, in England, we meet a group of friends which includes Sir Percy Blakeney and his French wife, Marguerite. From the earliest part of their marriage these two have been somewhat estranged due to Marguerite’s betrayal of a family of aristocrats which led to their deaths. Though they spend time together, their interactions are only surface level with both of them playing a part so that the other doesn’t see their hurt.
‘The face in the moonlight looked singularly earnest, and recalled to Marguerite’s aching heart those happy days of courtship, before he had become the lazy nincompoop, the effete fop, whose life seemed spent in card and supper rooms.’
To save the life of her brother in France, Lady Blakeney is forced to take some steps that help uncover the Scarlet Pimpernel’s identity to the French authorities – but will this lead to the daring adventurer’s demise? And will the Blakeney’s marriage survive the betrayal of another person to end up on the guillotine?

This book was such a compelling read, it’s really exciting. The Scarlet Pimpernel’s plans are so ingenious and the tenuous relationship between Percy and Marguerite really plucked at the heartstrings. This was partly due to her unhappiness at the state of her marriage, particularly the distance between herself and her husband as her betrayal of the French family was accidental.

I would have rated this as a 4½, maybe even a 5 star read, but I’m putting it as a 4 star read, because although it’s a really exciting read and I scarcely wanted to put it down I found the writing style repetitive at times. Something would happen from which the reader could infer a character’s feelings – we are then told about how they feel multiple times, which got a little annoying.

4 star read

Audio book cover: The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
I read a mix of the audio book, narrated by B J Harrison, and the kindle version. I thought this version of the audio was alright. The narrator has quite a drawl, and he has an American accent when doing the voices of English characters, particularly the gentlemen. However, the narrator did a variety of voices which I enjoyed, partly because it set the scene, and partly because it made it easy to tell who was talking at any one time. Chapter 10 had some continuity issues. As I said, I switched from the audio to kindle (not due to any dislike of the audio, but the story was very exciting, so I didn’t just want to wait until my next commute, I needed to know what was going to happen next!), so I can’t comment on the latter half of the audio as I didn’t listen to it.

If you want to buy the audio but don’t have an Audible subscription you can get the audio version cheaper if you buy the kindle book. Do this by buying the kindle version and ticking the box to add audible narration. The audio version is cheaper for lots of books if you already have the kindle version – this is even true for free kindle purchases!

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DVD Cover - The Scarlet Pimpernel, 1982
Having heard that the film adaptations of ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ were good and knowing that it was initially a visual story (it was a play before it became a book) I decided to treat myself to the DVD. The version I got was the 1982 version starring Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour, and with Ian McKellan as Chauvelin (the baddie). There are some changes made in the story, notably that the story in the DVD starts before the marriage of the Blakeneys and that Chauvelin and Marguerite have a prior romantic attachment, which doesn’t happen in the book. Also, the identities of some of the people saved by the Scarlet Pimpernel were changed and there were some changes made in the final part of the story, however, the spirit of the story was very much the same and the relationship arc between Sir Percy and Marguerite was also similar. It’s still rip-roaring fun and although some of the methods of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s rescues were different, they were just as ingenious as in the book. The identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel is not revealed at the beginning of the book, but in the DVD the viewer knows from the first. Anthony Andrew was excellent in his role, absolutely the star of the piece. I loved how his behaviour differed depending on his audience and the part he was playing. He had some wonderful lines too:
“My dear chap, I never would have dreamt of depriving you of your moment of triumph. Alas, a moment was all I could spare.”
Jane Seymour was wonderfully cast as Marguerite, although I was disappointed that the actors playing the French characters didn’t do accents as it meant you had to remember who was French and who was English. As for Sir Ian McKellan, I took to cursing him every time he appeared on screen so he must have been an effective villain!

I would certainly recommend this adaptation of ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ to anybody who was interested in finding out the story. Obviously if you want the fullest picture the book is your best bet but this is excellent. I’d rate this as a 5 star watch.

5 star watch

18 comments:

  1. I have read all three stories and I enjoyed them very much. The 1982 version is my favorite.

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    1. I haven't seen any other versions but this version was SO good, it'd be hard to better :)

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    2. There is an original 1934 version with Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon. I like it, though it's very much a 30ties movie. Leslie Howard is hilarious as Sir Percy (Andrews followed that style)

      A BBC 3 part version with Richard E. Grant, darker adaptation of all 3 Pimpernel novels.

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    3. Sir Percy made me laugh in the version that I watched, I will certainly try and catch these other versions if I can.

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  2. I need to do what you did and snag the original book because I've not read it and I'd like to have that foundation before reading Jack Caldwell's book, too. I've not seen that version of the movie and I like those actors.
    So glad it was an overall good experience. I'll keep in mind about the way she restates the emotions.

    Wonderful review, Ceri!

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    1. It's such an exciting story, I'd really recommend it, whether you read it, watch it or both!

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  3. Like Sophia, I can feel a reading of the original coming on and as I'm just coming to the end of an audiobook, maybe this will be my next one. I remember seeing Anthony Andrews playing Sir Percy Blakeney in this dramatisation, probably back in the 80s, but don't remember that much about the plot. I vaguely remember him using the phrase "Sink me!" as an exclamation once or twice.

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    1. Goodness, you have a good memory, Anji! He says "Sink me!" more than once in a really affected way. Anthony Andrews was really fantastic in the role, so different in each of Sir Percy's incarnations.

      If you get the audio I'd suggest you try checking out other versions, I wasn't blown away by this one, though it wasn't bad.

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  4. How ironic! I too, in anticipation of Jack's book bought and read The Scarlett Pimpernel and I bought the DVD pictured. I want to read the 2 sequels before picking up Jack's book. I loved that book and gave it 5 stars in my review.

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    1. I hope you enjoy the books and DVD, Sheila! I didn't have time for the sequels before reading Jack's book, but I'll be interested to see what you think of them. I hope you'll enjoy the DVD as much as I did!

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  5. I'll be reading Jack's book soon, too. I hope I have a chance to read this one first as well. You've made me more excited about giving it a try!

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    1. I will be honest, Anna, I'd never felt any desire to read The Scarlet Pimpernel before, but it was SUCH an exciting read, I'd really recommend it.

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  6. Carole in Canada26 July 2016 at 21:21

    I recently got this book on Kindle to read as well before Jack's 'The Three Colonels' and then his newest coming out. I am now very encouraged with your review that I shall enjoy it! Thank you!

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    1. I hope you enjoy it, Carole. I haven't read 'The Three Colonels' yet either, but I am intrigued to know more about Colonel Buford now, as he features in 'The Last Adventure of the Scarlet Pimpernel' too.

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  7. Lovely review, Ceri! I loved The Scarlet Pimpernel when I first read it, the relationship between Lady Blakeney and Sir Percy is so fraught with misunderstandings, yet the feelings simmering under the surface are such a compelling read!

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    1. I absolutely agree, Joana! They were separated by a real sea of misunderstandings and hurt feelings. That scene in the garden... sigh!

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  8. I have to agree that I had never had a desire to read The Scarlet Pimpernel until Jack announced his book. But it was a 5 star read for me.

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    1. I loved the storyline, the Scarlet Pimpernel's ingenious escapes, and the relationship between Sir Percy and Marguerite, but I found the author's style a little heavy handed at times. Such an exciting read, though!

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