So this is the second Scarlet Pimpernel story that Baroness Orczy wrote, although I think she later wrote another novel that fits in the time between this and the first novel. This one follows the story of Paul Deroulede who, before the French Revolution, gets into a duel with a young Vicomte de Marny and ends up killing the Vicomte. It’s obvious that the Vicomte really only has himself to blame for his death. Nevertheless the Vicomte’s father demands revenge and makes his teenage daughter, Juliette, take an oath to spend her life finding a way to ruin Deroulede.
Oaths like that never end well and the rest of the novel follows Juliette as it takes her on various twists and turns trying to accomplish it. It’s predictable and melodramatic but a lot of fun. The Scarlet Pimpernel doesn’t feature as much, but he is of course there at the end to mop up the mess that Juliette and Deroulede get themselves into.
In fact as I’ve been reading through these novels the fun thing to do is work out what elaborate way the Scarlet Pimpernel will come up with to get his friends and himself out of danger. Because they are always dramatic and nearly always involve some elaborate disguise!
But as tense as the story gets there is a comfort in the predictability. You can enjoy the drama safe in the knowledge that the Scarlet Pimpernel is out there and will save the day.
As sequels go this is a good one. My only issue is that in the first novel you got to know the character of the Scarlet Pimpernel and Marguerite and their dynamic but in this you hardly see that at all. Which left me feeling a bit short changed because their characters had been so well developed. But on the other hand it gives the characters of Deroulede and Juliette space to be developed in their own right.
In these novels the issues of the French Revolution are not really touched on. The Republic is cast as a stereotypical tyrant to be defeated by a gallant hero. Dickens did much better at describing the plight of the French peasants before the revolution in A Tale of Two Cities. But unlike Dickens, Baroness Orczy’s purpose isn’t to comment on the social history of the time but to provide good fast moving drama. Which Dickens also achieves but in a different way. (A Tale of Two Cities is one of my favourite novels of all time and if you haven’t read it before you should make this the year that you do).
My advice if you need a bit of fun escapism this January is to pick this book up (and read it – just picking it up isn’t going to do much for you). Its eye-rolling predictableness embedded in good adventure might just be what you need on a dark winters night. It’s very visual – much better than a film and you can tell that she first wrote The Scarlet Pimpernel for the stage.