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In the same way that reading Gone With the Wind brings to mind War and Peace, reading The Scarlet Pimpernel reminds the reader of A Tale of Two Cities. Margaret Mitchell may not have been another Leo Tolstoy, and Baroness Orczy may not be the equal of Charles Dickens, and yet the reader can still enjoy their novels as much as one did the bona fide classics (and perhaps even more, as the non-classics are admittedly easier to read than their classic counterparts.) The action of The Scarlet Pimpernel takes place in the same two cities as A Tale of Two Cities, (Paris and London) and reflects the same time frame--the Reign of Terror that followed the French Revolution. In both books, women knitted while they watched the Guillotine do its macabre work, and men assumed dual identities to save the lives of people who sometimes were guilty of no more than belonging to the class of French "Aristos".
In this first novel (but third in chronological order) of the Scarlet Pimpernel series, the question foremost in the reader's mind is "Who is the Scarlet Pimpernel?" We do know that he is a master of disguise, and that he signs his name with a likeness of the small red flower from which he derives his name. The plot involves an unintended betrayal by a loved one, a desperate flight into France to save more Aristos, and a daring charade to mislead an unscrupulous French henchman hot on the Pimpernel's trail. To tell more would be to give away some of the delights of this novel.
The Scarlet Pimpernel is a fast-paced and easy read, with an adequate, but not overwhelming, amount of suspense. Some have suggested that this novel is a precursor to the Superhero genre of Superman, Spiderman and Batman. There may be some similarities here, but significant dissimilarities exist. The three superheroes each have uniforms that define their alter-egos. The Scarlet Pimpernel is effective because no one recognizes his alter ego. He might perhaps show up as an old woman or a hunchback or an unsavory trader. He is effective because he can meet a French official face to face and get past without the official realizing who he is or what he is doing.
Finishing this book will motivate the reader to seek out further episodes, and to discover what mysteries will be uncovered now that the Scarlet Pimpernel's identity and methods have been revealed. Please check back here for more books to come in the Scarlet Pimpernel series.