I was first exposed to The Scarlet Pimpernel by my ninth grade English teacher whose approach to teaching ninth grade English seems to have been getting literature down the throats of teenagers by any means necessary. More often than not, this meant showing us the movie version of novels rather than actually requiring us to read them. One spring day, we watched the 1982 version of The Scarlet Pimpernel with Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour. I was smitten.
Shortly thereafter, I found a used copy for sell at my local public library and for just $0.25 the world of Sir Percy Blakeney and Marguerite Blakeney was mine! I devoured it. Twice smitten.
The Scarlet Pimpernel is a cat and mouse tale of an English nobleman who is hell-bent on saving his French counterparts from the bloody blade of the guillotine during the French Revolution. He has the annoying habit of leaving the symbol of a red flower (a scarlet pimpernel) behind as a calling card and this has made everyone curious about his identity. The English have put him on a pedestal; the French have put a price on his head.
The book is filled with adventure, near-misses, secret identities, lies, espionage, shocking revelations, an arch-nemesis, and things that could/would never happen in real life, forcing you to suspend disbelief (just a tad). But that’s why we read fiction, isn’t it? I know there are a myriad of other reasons we read fiction, but sometimes it does come down to escapism, pure and simple.
However, despite all of the high drama, danger and excitement, there is a part of me that sees The Scarlet Pimpernel simply as a love story. Not as a simple love story; maybe, and perhaps more accurately, a love triangle along the lines of the Clark Kent-Lois Lane-Superman love triangle.
Marguerite is married to Sir Percy, but she is in love with the idea of another whose initials also are S.P. (hum…) Sir Percy seemed like a decent guy when she agreed to marry him but alas, now he seems doltish, and what’s even worse, he seems quite indifferent to her. Sir Percy and Marguerite’s marriage is in crisis. True, it’s not as big a crisis as the French Revolution, but Baroness Orczy has skillfully juxtaposed one against the other. As the drama of the revolution plays out in the background and the world (well, France) falls apart, we can quietly explore the anatomy of a failing marriage (and possibly contemplate such questions as: How well can you really know the person closest to you? Do you only know what he/she chooses to reveal to you? Could you forgive the ultimate betrayal? Could those glasses really fool Lois Lane? Really?!)
In the end, The Scarlet Pimpernel is a sweet and tender tale that proves you can never hide your true essence from the one who loves you best.
Plus, it’s about a hero. We can never have too many heroes. The Scarlet Pimpernel is one for the ages.