Sunday, June 4, 2017
The Scarlet Pimpernel Paperback by Baroness Orczy Emmuska Orczy (Simon & Schuster)
Call me a hopeless romantic, but, more decades ago than I care to admit, I was smitten with this book and the 1982 film adaptation of it. I home-school our daughter now, and she is the age I was (12) when first introduced to this book, so I decided to give it a re-read and let her enjoy it for her last week of school. As an adult, and a fairly no-nonsense one at that, I was happily surprised with how the story enchanted me once more, and my daughter could not put it down, either. Set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, the hero (a mysterious character known only as "The Scarlet Pimpernel") daringly uses various disguises and other strategies to rescue aristocrats otherwise destined for Madame Guillotine. The book is full of intrigues and wranglings with questions like whether or not one life would be more valuable than another if it comes down to a choice. It has inspired plenty of good discussions in our home about the French Revolution, what it means to behave in a noble manner, and "what would you do" if you were in the position of Marguerite, a woman who must choose between the life of her beloved brother and the life of The Scarlet Pimpernel.
The villain of the story, Chauvelin, tragically plays too close to the reality one can see around the world today...someone supposedly driven by ideals that seem noble in the abstract but show themselves to be nothing more than a sorry excuse to commit evil atrocities and violence in reality. Not only are we challenged to peek behind the mask to discover the identity of The Scarlet Pimpernel, but we are challenged to peek behind the mask of virtuous ideas used to cover the reality of extremism and hate. The story is old-fashioned in its sensibilities, so if you have no tolerance for that, you will not enjoy the adventure. Like any good story, it is very entertaining and goes down easily, but it has some treasured solid nuggets to ponder for those so inclined. It was a breath of fresh air for me to re-visit this fun but solid read, which promotes virtues like courage and self-control--the promotion of which I generally observe to be lacking in most popular entertainment today.