“They seek him here, they seek him there …”
Oh, what a glorious prelude to the 2018 Summer of Spies.
Maybe not a “spy” novel in a narrower sense, but writing in 1902 and leagues ahead of her time, Orczy created the first book of what would become a series of perfect swashbucklers, starring a power couple in which the heroine is every bit her partner’s equal and then some.
Indeed, cleverly Orczy even tells this book’s story chiefly from Marguerite’s point of view, which not only has the benefit of keeping the first-time reader (though … is there such a creature, in this day and age, when it comes to this particular novel?) unaware of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s identity as long as possible, but also gives Marguerite an added reason to hurtle all the way to France in Sir Percy’s pursuit once she has cottoned onto (1) his alias, and (2) the fact that Chauvelin has unmasked him as well and is now hunting for him in turn. After all, the narrative perspective would go to hell in a handbasket if Marguerite were to just stay at home and gnash her teeth, anxiously awaiting her husband’s safe return — whereas this way, Orczy is able to present her as a woman of action … even if, for the most part, it looks like the much-touted “cleverest woman in Europe” is stumbling blindly after her husband and Chauvelin in their respective tracks and comes darned close to ruining Sir Percy’s whole enterprise, not to mention imperiling the life of her beloved brother Armand, to whose assistance Sir Percy had rushed off to begin with (well, that and in order to finish the job of getting the de Tournay family safely across the Channel).
No wonder, in any event, that the reading public soon demanded a sequel — and Marguerite and Sir Percy would soon also find their way onto the silver screen. The rest, as they’ve never said more truly than here, is history …
My “Summer of Spies meets Women Writers Project” reading list:
Women of Intelligence