Saturday, February 7, 2015

Book Review: The Scarlet Pimpernel

I've heard this book title for what seems my entire life, and I at last read the novel at the encouragement of a friend who said it was the book that made her start loving to read. I was looking for the perfect book for my 9th/10th grade British Lit class, which is composed of 15 boys who shrivel at the name Jane Eyre and six girls. Pride and Prejudice was just not going to work for this particular class. Fortunately, The Scarlet Pimpernel turned out to be exactly what this class needs.

The story takes place in the midst of the French Revolution, when the guillotine seems to never stop its grisly job. The Scarlet Pimpernel is the English hero, a master of disguise who rescues French nobility from their fate right just at the last moment, much to the embarrassment and fury of the revolutionaries. Lady Blakeney is the brilliant but unhappy young wife of Sir Percy, a dunderheaded English aristocrat. In her zeal to save her brother from the guillotine, Lady Blakeney comes up against the Scarlet Pimpernel, and the story goes from there.

I'm starting my students off with a bit of French Revolution history before they begin the book, and I think we'll need a chart to keep all the characters straight at first; but I anticipate that once they are several chapters into the book, they will really love it. We'll plan to watch the movie together when we finish the book.

The Scarlet Pimpernel (by Baroness Orczy) is not on a single "classics" or "top 100" books to read list that I have ever run across, and I'm not sure why. This is a fabulous, entertaining story. True, it's a little slow at places and somewhat contrived, but what a great novel: it's full of adventure, romance, suspense, and history. It really is a perfect British lit book for reluctant readers especially. It's easy to read, although the first part moves slowly, and the twists and turns just don't stop. Highly recommended.

1 comment:

hopeinbrazil said...

Maybe it doesn't have classic status because it isn't huge on insights into human nature. But it is well-written, engaging, and so appealing that it keeps getting made into movies. It's one of my favorite books.