Welcome back to the virtual book club at Book Allowance! My partner in crime, Rebeca Barroso, is back and we’re going old-school. This time we’ll be discussing “The Scarlet Pimpernel” by Baroness Orzcy. Just remember there will be spoilers.
Third Time’s A Charm
I, too, gotteth the Dover Thrift Edition for this read and was equally tickled by the connection to Jack the Ripper (that was kinda cool), not to mention that a noblewoman (Zooks! A woman! Writing on a lark!) would excel at detective and mystery stories the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in that era…
I do have to confess to having watched the film and the Broadway musical many years ago, so, even though I had forgotten a few details by now I did know the gist of the story beforehand. I wanted to read the book not so much for the plot, but out of curiosity for the Baroness’ style in her narrative (Odd’s fish, m’dear! A woman writing in men’s territory!) and I wondered what that would be like. La, I definitely got a taste of it.
As much as I enjoyed the colloquial language and the character of Sir Percy (especially at his most “boring and dim-witted” which I found poignant, adorable and hilarious), I couldn’t help but despise Marguerite. How could “the sharpest wit in Europe” be so demmed stupid? It’s one after another gargantuan lack of judgement with this woman!
A pleasure to behold was the character of Chauvelin, the deliciously evil fox-like villain, whose encounter with Sir Percy in France I enjoyed like rich ice cream. The Eagle and the Fox (chapter XXV) was probably my favorite chapter of all. Also noteworthy was the social tension in the terse exchanges between Marguerite and the Comtesse du Tournay when they have the misfortune to come face to face in public, so, kudos, Baroness, for excellent dialogue.
There’s much to be said about how vivid the locations felt, from the inns in Dover to the English Palaces or Calais beaches, I felt absolutely transported. Having said that, the one thing that kept pulling me out of the story was the Baroness’ knack for telling us how much time passed between one event and the next. She narrates an event for about an entire page, and then she gives us the accurate time lapse, like we can’t realize this ourselves in our own head: “All this, from the moment that Marguerite had caught sight of Sir Andrew leaning against the doorway, until she followed him into the little boudoir beyond, had occurred in less than a minute.” Uhm… okay, did you have an exquisite turn-of-the-century stopwatch in hand Madame? Does it matter if I imagined it at one minute and thirty seconds instead? Sacre Aristo!
Lud, I must go! Until the next time…
Duchesse de Midwest