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The Elusive Pimpernell by the Barones Orczy is the third novel featuring the famous English fop and bane of the French.
As I'm waiting for the first Pimpernell novel to be approved by Dooyoo, review soon to come I hope on that one. I've not read the second but have just finished the third book in the series, the Elusive Pimpernell.
The Scarlett Pimpernell
TSP as I'm calling him from now is a English gent who goes over the France and rescues French aristocrats from the clutches of the rabid French revolutionaries in and around 1780-1790. In the first novel, his identity is unknown to the reader but here in this novel we all know who he is. TSP is married to a French gentlewoman called Margeuritte and is always being chased by Citizen Chauvelin (called Camembert by the Carry on team in Carry on off with his head).
The Elusive Pimpernell
In the original Pimpernell, the identity of the secret agent is unmasked and all readers now know who the secret agent is, however, that fact is only known to a select few. One is the now disgraced Citizen Chauvelin who has so cruelly deceived by TSP and now has revenge on his heart and TSP's wife Margeuritte. So given a mission to capture TSP he sets off to England, with the mission of luring the man to France where he can be captured. Engaging the beautiful actress Candielle, he forces the real TSP to be lured to France to face him in a duel.
Persuading Margeuritte to travel incognito to France, he tricks her into being captured and is taken prisoner in Boulogne. Margeuritte is then informed that if she tries to escape, her guard and his family will be executed. Margeuritte is now in a twist and when Chauvelin ups the anti by informing TSP that unless he signs a document claiming to be a French spy then he will have every able man in Boulogne guillotined.
That's the set up, the trap is set and how will the Scarlett Pimpernell escape both the plot and the dreadful outcomes if he doesn't do as Chauvelin says? Well not to spoil it, he of course does but how and with what machinations I couldn't possibly comment on here. However, you should know there are about 9 more TSP books after this one.
It's perhaps not a surprise that a novel written by a exiled Hungarian count should be heavily biased against the revolutionary French and for those aristo's along with the Scarlett Pimpernell. The real TSP is an English baronet and has all the foppish manners associated with a minor member of the English patronage system. He in his normal role, is impeccably dressed, mannered and schooled with a dissatisfied air and urbane almost bored indifference to the world around him. TSP on the other hand is the opposite, bold, dashing, upright and exciting he fights those nasty Frenchies with open fists and swords.
The writing does take the reader back to those days; the chapters are long on description and perhaps a bit short on action. Baroness Orczy never uses one word when twenty would do as well, and the novels tend to be centred on the wife of TSP rather than TSP. I suspect Margeuritte is the Baroness or how she would like to be seen, beautiful intelligent and resourceful with more than a hint of open desire for her dashing bold husband. The novel ends with him taking her in his arms and kissing her neck, one is left with the thought that the next few paragraphs would have to be blacked out for younger eyes if it continued.
There is a bit of in built snobbishness in the writing, anyone not well off, white, Christian or young tends to be rather dismissed in the novels. In this one, Margeuritte gives full rein to her feelings when she has to travel incognito with the peasants on the boat over the channel, she even has to drink one of their cups of tea! She finds this hilarious and the tea was surprisingly drinkable, brilliant to see that in-built class divides where all the rage in 1909 when this novel was written.
There are a few however, less savoury moments particularly when one of the prisoners turns out to be a Jew or as the book constantly describes a follower of Abraham, and how this cursed race deserves everything thrown at it.
Generally this is a decent novel, a bit like the novels by John Buchan they feel like they have been written in a different age and a different type of writer. Wealth and position obviously helps the writer with the descriptions of the higher echelons of the British peerage but perhaps doesn't aid putting the novels in perspective of the events happening on the wider European setting.
So this is a kind of adventure story with a big tall rich English aristocrat going over to save those poorly understood French aristocrats from those unthinking brutes of the new French government all written by a wealthy Hungarian Baroness a century or so later. Take that as you wish, either condemn or enjoy it all depends on your mood at the time probably.