In One Word

In One Word, The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy…

scarlet pimpernel

  • First published in 1905
  • Format: Paperback – Published by Penguin English Library in 2018
  • Reading time: 9 unexpectedly slow days


  • Undertaking this as my next book in the Foxes and Fairytales Classic Women Literature Challenge. I am going into this completely blind as I’ve never read this book or even watched an adaptation. The closest I’ve come to it is a parody in a Blackadder episode so I have no idea who the Scarlet Pimpernel is or how much swashbuckling there will be.
  • Not even twenty pages in and I’m already impressed with how daring the Scarlet Pimpernel is. He not only sneaks out French noblemen destined for a date with Madame Guillotine but sneaks mocking notes to the authorities and pulls off some very unlikely disguises and escapes indeed. My favourite by far involved a very inventive use of pepper!
  • Rather shocking twist not too far into the story but there was a fair amount of build up to get there. In fact, the pacing of the whole book is a bit sluggish and there are an awful lot of long pauses between action sequences.
  • Entertaining scenes showing the culture clashes between the English and the French characters. The jibe about repressed Englishmen being unable to express their feelings is certainly timeless.
  • Marvellous descriptions of all the locations with lots of vivid detail. A bit too much description is used at times but, mostly, it takes you right into the scene.
  • A bit of a surprise to find out who the Scarlet Pimpernel. If you’ve never read it before, you will be sufficiently misled but I did think the way it was revealed was a bit clumsy and there were several anvil-sized hints when one looks back on it.
  • Really disappointed with what the author did with Margarite’s character. She’s the only character in the book who got some real development. None of the others were fleshed out much at all. She’s a woman who made a terrible decision that she’s bitterly regretted every since and a marriage where all love has run dry. She was shown as someone forced to make hard decisions and whose loyalties were pulled in two different directions but she’s portrayed as someone who can be beaten down every time. Though she shows drive and determination to atone for her mistakes, her main contribution to the point was screaming. And that’s not an exaggeration. This is a big disappointment especially as she was built up as an extremely clever woman whom I expected to be driving the plot a lot more.
  • Kind of feel that the story is being told from a distance. Even when we’re right in the thick of the rescue, we’re only told what happened after the fact and the book chooses to focus on less interesting things like Margarite getting captured or hiding from her enemies. We never see the action close up or as it happens which made the book a lot less exciting than it could have been.
  • A credibly fiendish foe is found in Chauvelin, who a first time reader will genuinely loath for his merciless and fanaticism for catching the Scarlet Pimpernel. The longer the story goes on, however, the more ridiculous he seems. He goes full-on moustache-twirler in the closing scenes, in fact.
  • Barely able to read through the scenes with Benjamin. The antisemitic portrayal of a Jewish character is very difficult to read without squirming and skipping ahead. Not even the big revelation later can make me feel any less uncomfortable.
  • Lots of telling over showing is present here, especially around Margarite’s emotional turmoil over the consequences of her decisions. It slows down what should be a dramatic story to a snail’s pace. Some of the plotlines don’t even go anywhere and some characters that seemed so important in the first few chapters just drop away entirely.
  • Elected for a rather low key ending with only one big piece of action and with only a heavy hint of what happened to the bad guy. All in all, I can see the novel’s importance and influence on modern popular culture and it might have looked better on the stage than in text but I felt that this plot could easily fit into one episode of a classic superhero TV show, let alone a whole novel, as there was so little going on.

Goodreads Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Did you agree with my rating? Can you think of a better word to describe it? Please let me know with a like, share or comment.

2 thoughts on “In One Word, The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy…”

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