Not-So-Powerful Pages – The Scarlet Pimpernel

No Powerful Pages today because I haven’t finished reading the book yet. In fact, I’m only about a third of the way through Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel. Perhaps I’ll get some more reading time this next week.

In the meantime, a bit of historical background ¬†and a brief impression about what I’ve read so far. The historical background is not background on the character, but on my previous impressions of him.

I was never actually a Scarlet Pimpernel fan. I mean, I kept reading about how I should just love his adventures; after all, he had been the inspiration for Zorro and basically all the mild-mannered-secret-identity heroes to follow. And it seemed he was a swashbuckling adventurer in the mold of Zorro, Robin Hood, and the Three Musketeers, all of whom I loved.

But I could just never get worked up enough to seek him out. I think it was the name. The name just seemed kind of effeminate (of course, it was written by a woman, so this is a girly vision of a hero, like those Japanse shojo manga where the awesome romantic hero is always this slim, pretty, androgynous dude) . I pictured him wearing a costume and a mask, like Zorro, only he was wearing this frou-frou duelist’s outfit, with the tights and the bulgy short pants and a big floppy hat with a white feather, and of course, like Robin Hood/Green Arrow, his outfit would be all one simple color: red. It just wasn’t pushing my buttons.

Then one night, the movie happened to be playing on TV, and I had nothing else to watch, so I tuned in. And OMG, it was so boring. I tuned out of it, started paying attention during the climactic duel and wondered, “Did I miss the part where he wears the costume?”

Reading the book now, it seems apparent that there never was any costume, at least not a Zorro-style one. The book is over a hundred years old, and written in a quaint, prosaic style. It takes place shortly after the French Revolution, during the Reign of Terror. Hundreds of nobles are being sent to the guillotine each day.

But one heroic Englishman is leading an organization that spirits nobles out of France to asylum in England. His real identity is a secret, but he signs all of his written orders with a drawing of a red flower, and so is known as the Scarlet Pimpernel. And so far, the main character is Lady Marguerite Blakeney, a Frenchwoman married to the foppish Sir Percy Blakeney. Her brother has gone to France on a mission for the Scarlet Pimpernel, and now a French spy has appeared to threaten her brother with death unless Marguerite uses her high position and social standing to uncover the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel.

So this is looking more and more like another Ivanhoe, where everything’s kind of happening around this guy, and everyone’s talking about him, but he never really does anything until the big climax. And as you might know, I have problems with Ivanhoe.

With luck, I’ll have it finished by next week and talk more about it then.

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