The Scarlet Pimpernel & The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

"We seek him here, We seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere!
Is he in heaven? Is he in hell?
That demmed elusive Pimpernel!"

So goes the rhyme written about the secretive Englishman who stealthily smuggles French royals into his country to escape their fates at the guillotine.  A master of wit and clever disguise, none know the identity of The Scarlet Pimpernel who takes his name from the flower with which he signs his letters.  Filled with love and adventure, this story is a charming tale and a delightful read for all ages and it is no wonder that Baroness Emmuska Orczy's tale has not only stood the test of time but has gained popularity with it's multiple adaptations for stage and film. 

I've only read the first few books in the Scarlet Pimpernel series, but the first one remains my favorite. I still plan to continue reading them more or less in order as a nice way to bring more "classic" literature into my reading repertoire.  And of course, as soon as I started reading The Scarlet Pimpernel books, a related modern series by Lauren Willig was recommended to me by multiple people.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation begins in present time with a graduate student named Eloise Kelly who is researching the (in this case true) history of The Scarlet Pimpernel and two other flower-named spies: The Purple Gentian and The Pink Carnation.  When Eloise discovers a collection of letters regarding The Purple Gentian, she is on the brink of uncovering the long hidden identity of The Pink Carnation.

At this point the narrative shifts into the past and the reader is introduced to young Amy Balcourt whose father was killed by the guillotine leaving his daughter with dreams of joining up with The Purple Gentian and saving the English monarchy.  I found the historical side of this novel much more engaging than the present-day plot and I almost felt as though Eloise's tale was an intrusion on the story she was uncovering.  Feisty, spirited Amy and her clever friend Jane were much more well-developed characters than Eloise, who came across as a rather typical self-doubting Chick Lit heroine. 

I really enjoyed the adventure side of the novel and would have preferred even less of the romantic story and more of the espionage.  Overall though, this was a strong enough novel to make me want to read the next book in Willig's series and discover more about these delightful characters.

I really like how Willig took Orczy's work and adapted it into the historical portion of her novel.  The blurring of history and literature was a nice twist.  Since this post turned out way longer than I intended, I'll leave you all with a question to discuss.  In Willig's books, Orczy's fiction becomes fact.  If you could pick a historical fiction work to be truth, what would you choose?  What historical character(s) do you wish were real people? Are there fictional events from the past that you wish had really happened?

4 Response to "The Scarlet Pimpernel & The Secret History of the Pink Carnation"

  1. Casey (The Bookish Type) says:
    August 17, 2010 at 11:38 PM

    I had heard of The Scarlet Pimpernel but I didn't really know much about it. It sounds like a really neat read! I love how you set it up alongside a modern-day re-imagining! I'll have to look into both of these!

  2. lisa :) says:
    August 19, 2010 at 2:46 PM

    They're both really fun books! I read somewhere that Orczy's Pimpernel is considered the original masked hero - a precursor to Zorro, Batman, and other dual-identity rescuers - which makes the tale interesting both for the stories she tells and the foundations she laid for pop culture icons to come!

  3. Song says:
    September 3, 2010 at 6:01 AM

    Wow!...this sounds like my cup o' tea! I've always loved The Scarlet Pimpernel series.:) I'll keep an eye out for this book...

    By the way...this is a very interesting blog.:)

  4. Chrystal says:
    September 22, 2010 at 6:49 PM

    I read this book about a year ago and keep meaning to pick up the sequels. It was a great read!

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