A recent discussion on the always-interesting AAR message boards, got me to thinking about “The Scarlet Pimpernel”. Like “Pride and Prejudice” this story has been a favorite of mine since I was a child, and like “Pride and Prejudice” I first encountered the story when my parents took me to a revival of a movie version–in this case, the Leslie Howard/Merle Oberon movie from the thirties. “The Scarlet Pimpernel” is perhaps not the best choice for a blog the day after Bastille Day. Its take on the French Revolution has a decidedly aristocratic slant, which hardly mirrors my own thoughts on that complex era (or those of Charles and Mélanie). But the story has always intrigued me. From the movie I went to the Baroness Orczy’s book and then to subsequent film adaptations (when the Anthony Andrews/Jane Seymour version first aired, I had a rehearsal and we didn’t have a VCR yet, so my mother tape-recorded it for me; I knew the dialogue to that version long before I finally got to see it). In college I was entranced to find copies of the later books in the Pimpernel series in the stacks of the Stanford Library (the Andrews/Seymour version is partly based on one of the sequels, “Eldorado”).
I saw the Broadway musical in New York when I was starting to write the book that is now “Secrets of a Lady”. It wasn’t until then that I quite realized how much “The Scarlet Pimpernel” had influenced me in devising my own story. Because what has always fascinated me about “The Scarlet Pimpernel” is its examination of a marriage that begins with deception, of the toll that deception takes, of the fear that one doesn’t know the truth about the person one loves most in the world, of the risk of trusting. (Nancy, my agent, talks eloquently about the power of the scene–which isn’t in any of the film adaptations I’ve seen–in which Percy, having maintained his impassive façade in front of Marguerite, kisses the steps where she’s walked after she’s left). Charles and Mélanie are very different people from Percy and Marguerite, but my fascination with “The Scarlet Pimpernel”‘s portrait of a marriage definitely influenced me in creating their story. Not to mention the appeal of intrigue and adventure and heroes who outwit their enemies through their own cleverness.
Is “The Scarlet Pimpernel” a favorite of yours? Did you find the book first or a film version? Do you have a favorite film adaption of it? Have you read any of the sequels?
I just posted the latest entry in the Fraser Correspondence, Mélanie’s reply to Simon’s letter of last week about “Pride and Prejudice”. I’ll post a new video clip later this week, so be sure to check back.