the book Club – The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

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.

Snuff’ll Getcha Every Time

by Jillian Taylor

Bonjour, Duchesse!

I, too, enjoyed Chapter XXV but that might have been more for the note that Sir Percy sang “lustily” as he entered The Eagle and The Fox. I would love for him to sing lustily to me, maybe peer at me from under his heavily-hooded eyes . . . but I digress.

As I cool myself off with my feathered fan, I would like to expand on my earlier note about feeling sympathy for Marguerite. Lud! but she is a dense woman and quite proud. If she was so gaga over Percy when they first met and a misunderstanding occurred to piss him off, why not just explain what happened instead of being pissed off that he doubted her for a hot minute? Granted he was a bit dense on that matter, jumping to conclusions and all that. But every good romance needs a central conflict and a misunderstanding regarding Marguerite’s role in a man’s death will do it.

So yes, she is a bit annoying at times because it takes her such a long time to figure everything out and actually do something about it. (Probably something like fifty-two hours, forty-six minutes and thirty seconds according to the Baroness. I really like the image of the Baroness writing with a stopwatch.) But once she knows the truth and throws herself into saving Percy, I’m behind Marguerite.

Chapter XXV is pivotal for so many reasons now that I think of it. Aside from introducing us to Percy’s lusty singing voice (where’s my fan?) and displaying Chauvelin’s manipulative spirit to its best, we get to sit behind a curtain with Marguerite, impotent and frustrated and completely in love with Percy.

Chauvelin is an excellent villain. He maintains such a fine balance between creepy and utterly polite and appropriate. He maneuvers through London’s society, secure in his backing by the French government. Nobody dares snub him. Not even Marguerite.

We first meet him outside The Fisherman’s Rest. He has a fox-like expression and deep, sunken yellow eyes. That’s not good. Through Orczy’s omniscient narration at times, we know he has a sarcastic little smile as she greets him happily, even if Marguerite does not. His downfall in Chapter XXV is also introduced.

“Chauvelin took another pinch of snuff: he seemed very much addicted to that pernicious habit, so prevalent in those days; perhaps, too, he found the taking of snuff a convenient veil for disguising the quick shrewd glances with which he strove to read the very souls of those with whom he came in contact.”
A master plan by Chauvelin becomes his folly!

Chauvelin is weasely; he finds a way to blackmail Marguerite into discovering the Scarlet Pimpernel for him. He keeps showing up, pressuring her, sniffing that snuff. Makes me shudder just thinking about him. Well done, Orczy!

I really do think the Baroness’ writing has had a very long reach. Modern rom-coms are based on her storytelling. Modern villains are like Chauvelin. (I’m thinking of the villain from the Daniel Craig Casino Royale; that creepy scar and asthma and general fox-ishness.) Mark of a great writer, even for a girl. Ha!

Be wary of snuff!
-Citoyenne Jillian

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