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/Other Literature: The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy Camilla Send a noteboard - 21/09/2009 04:00:12 PM
The Scarlet Pimpernel is one of those books I reread regularly. It takes me a couple of hours, comforts me when I am tired or sad, distracts me when I'm worried, entertains me when I'm bored. But the strange thing is that it really shouldn't.

I have a vague literary allergy that makes me break out in metaphorical hives when I read bad writing, badly researched books or romance too blatantly based on stereotypes. And The Scarlet Pimpernel does all those things. All at once.

It is not only the opening chapter which informs us that the brutal and monstrous revolutionaries of France executed a hundred aristocrats a day (!), or the perfect beauty of the female protagonist, who is repeatedly referred to as "the cleverest woman in Europe" in addition to her brilliant blue eyes, white shoulders and impressive figure.

It is a book of easy distinctions. One in which the bad guys are very bad, the beautiful women very beautiful and the heroes very heroic. Facts or high literature be hanged.

And yet. And yet I adore it. I mostly put this down to three reasons working together to undermine my credentials as a literary snob.

The first, Sir Percy Blakeney. I doubt there is need to say much more. If you haven't read the book, I couldn't explain without ruining it; if you have, you know. He was my first literary crush, and remains one of the more powerful. I think this is down to the fact that Baroness Orczy never really described him. Yes, she makes it very clear that he is tall, handsome, rich, beautifully attired, and really rather brilliant. But throughout most of the book, the man himself is mostly all suggestion. And I work well with suggestion.

The second, related, reason is the fact that I was very young when I first read it. I had never heard of Mills and Boon, never yet learnt that there was a genre (which this book in part helped start) of easy literature that is little more than clichéed soap. It was my first romance novel, and in retrospect I am very happy with this turn of events.

The third is precisely that it is an early example of the strong man caped crusader saving the damsel in distress. It gains some standing, as I see it, not only because I had not read (or heard of) a million books of the same type, but because no one had. It is an original where others are cheap knock-offs. Whether that is reflected in literary value is probably dependent on convention, but I do take that into account when I judge its merit for myself, at least.

I do scoff, occasionally, when reading this book. It is hard not to when the feminine distress of Lady Blakeney is emphasised, or her brilliant eyes swelling with tears. But mostly I do not read it with ironic detachment. And that is rare when I am confronted with genre literature.

I suspect this review is a little confused. That is because I am confused about my attitude to this book. I should not like it; but I do. And there it is.
*MySmiley*
structured procrastinator
This message last edited by Camilla on 22/09/2009 at 01:36:21 PM
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/Other Literature: The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy - 21/09/2009 04:00:12 PM 3117 Views
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