Friday, January 31, 2014

French Revolution Book #2

The Scarlet Pimpernel
by Baroness Orczy

Do you know, I never realized until the other day that the Baroness wrote an entire series of novels and shorts about her Scarlet Pimpernel. I don't believe they were in print back when I first read this book, but they are back in print now.

I believe I first read this novel after watching the Anthony Andrews/Jane Seymour movie version of the story, and my high opinion of the novel was definitely flavored by the superb acting of Anthony Andrews. Interestingly enough, he patterned his Sir Percy after that of Leslie Howard--the similarity is striking!

The above movie features the marvelous Leslie Howard in the role, with Merle Oberon as Marguerite St. Just.

And this one features Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour in the same roles.

You can no-doubt guess that I am a long-time fan of this classic story line: The swash-buckling hero concealing his true identity behind that of a dull or foppish alter ego. It has popped up in various forms in novels, television, comic books, and movies. I grew up loving Tyrone Power in the movie version of The Mark of Zorro (although I have never read the novel). I am a fan of Batman, Superman, and other super-heroes in the Sir Percy mold. I wrote my own version of this story line more than ten years ago and won two major CBA awards with it!

Now, on to the Book Review:

I hope I don't step on any toes with this review, but I must be entirely honest. As I said at the beginning of this post, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel the first time I read it as a young woman with a taste for adventure and romance. I entirely understand its appeal!

However, time, maturity, and historical study have dimmed its glow in my eyes. The author writes cleverly, particularly when one takes into account that English was not her first language, yet she wrote all of her novels in English! (The author's life alone is a fascinating tale, by the way.) She wrote in a style popular around the turn of the twentieth century, which is to say, melodrama to the max! Her descriptions are colorful, her characters are extremes, and the Paris she depicts is thrilling.

However, her attention to historical detail is sadly lacking. The novel opens in September 1792 with aristocrats being guillotined by the hundreds every day. Years ago, when I researched for a novella set during the Revolution, I was surprised to learn that the Reign of Terror did not begin until a year later. Thousands of people were killed in September of 1792, but few were guillotined. The entire novel is set in the wrong year for the events depicted to have occurred.

Another problem for me involves Sir Percy Blakeney, Bart., himself. He is described as unusually tall and massively built, with broad shoulders. (Consider this: Would a man with that build easily pass himself off as a woman? as a shriveled old man? It works well enough in the above movie versions because neither actor fits the author's description of our hero!) He is also unusually good-looking or would have been had he not maintained an affected expression (his disguise). He is a man without flaw--gorgeous, brilliant, athletic, clever, etc. Yet he leaps to the conclusion that his wife, whom he adores, has committed an evil act. Does he seriously question her on the subject? Um.

And Marguerite, who is exquisitely beautiful beyond the lot of mortals (okay, I am exaggerating, but not by much), and is also brilliant and clever--does she penetrate her adored husband's flimsy disguise and confide in him when she gets herself into trouble? I won't give away spoilers, but you can imagine where this leads.

Therein lies the problem with this entire story line--including in my own novel, mind you. The plot rests almost exclusively on stupidity and poor communication. Yes, these mistakes are explained within the novel (in all its various versions), yet the author has to stretch a reader's credulity to make it work. (How dumb WAS Lois Lane?)

All these critiques notwithstanding, I still enjoy The Scarlet Pimpernel and recommend it for escape reading! Just don't base your understanding of history on it. Sir Percy Blakeney is an enduring character of modern popular fiction.

For a truly classic novel based on the French Revolution, check back for my review next week! You can probably guess which book is #3, but I will pretend to be mysterious because melodrama is fun!

The Scarlet Pimpernel movies are good fun too--several versions are available for viewing on YouTube and on Netflix, including the two I mentioned above.


Friday, January 24, 2014


Yes indeed, I have finished rewrites on the third draft of my story, but this triumph involved the overcoming of serious, even say momentous obstacles and distractions.

Such as this one:

Am I alone in hating the way my voice sounds on a video? Myles is usually willing to do all the talking, but never when a camera is involved. And yes, I was wearing my pajamas and robe while working--the costume is part of the genius.

And isn't he the cutest? I know the fangs are goofy, but I love them.

I do need to write my second book review, but it has been so long since I've read the second book that I need to, well, re-view it.

Have a great weekend, one and all!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

French Revolution Novel, #1

Hello, faithful believers who have held out hope that I might return someday to the blogging world! Your optimism has proven worthy, for here I am. I hope it also proves to be worth the wait!

I promise to explain my absence in greater detail one of these days, but here is the short version: a major rewrite undertaken during the holiday season and a slow recovery from illness. Bleah.

Enough of that and on to the fun stuff!

I have mentioned three of my favorite novels set during the French Revolution, all of which have inspired me as an author at some time or other. You have probably read or at least heard of all three of these books, but I will write my thoughts on them anyway!

The first ranks among my favorite novels, and I own the complete works of this author on my Nook (haven't yet read them all, but I fully intend to!). I introduce to you the amazing and marvelous . . .

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

Description, taken from Goodreads:

Once he was André-Louis Moreau, a lawyer raised by nobility, unconcerned with the growing discontent among France’s lower class—until his best friend is mercilessly struck down by a member of the aristocracy. Now, he is Scaramouche. Speaking out against the unjust French Government, he takes refuge with a nomadic band of acting improvisers where he assumes the role of Scaramouche the Clown—a comic figure with a very serious message...

Set during the French Revolution, this novel of swashbuckling romance is also a thought-provoking commentary on class, inequality, and the individual’s role in society—a story that has become Rafael Sabatini’s enduring legacy.

Jill's thoughts:

Have many of you read this story? If you enjoy adventurous historical fiction and a dashing hero, you will adore this book just like I do. André-Louis is in many ways the standard “unlikely hero” character. He is, in many ways, too good to be true, and yet Sabatini wrote him with such dash and style that I love him anyway.

When the story opens, André-Louis is a young man with very little ambition. A tragic encounter lights a fire beneath him, and he becomes a political activist, an ardent Republican, at a time when such views are dangerous. He discovers that he possesses the gift of oratory, but its rash use places his life in danger. Revenge is his driving motivation.

So he goes into hiding among a company of traveling actors. And he discovers that he possesses a gift for acting and for writing plays, adding into them a bit of political satire that again puts his life in danger. The book's title is taken from the character André plays on stage, the boastful Scaramouche. He falls madly in love with a fellow player and intends to marry her. Once again, his "nemesis" strikes, but when André-Louis seeks revenge, his enemy escapes.

His cover is blown, so he goes into hiding in a fencing academy, and (surprise!) after plenty of practice he becomes the greatest fencer alive. In order to pursue his goal of revenge, he becomes a deputy in the Assembly, but once again his attempt at revenge is thwarted.

All this brilliant achievement, yet he cannot seem to kill his enemy! Read the story to discover the layered reasons for André's frustration, jealousy, and failures--and fall more in love with him than ever!

This story ends in August of 1792, before the worst blood-baths in Paris begin, but the danger to our hero and other characters is very real. Plenty of heart-pounding action and suspense here!

Rating: Includes swearing, many violent deaths, and off-scene sexual implications. However, our hero is a moral and upstanding young man.

Try it! You won't be sorry.