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Topic: The Scarlet Pimpernel - General Reading Question

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Subject: The Scarlet Pimpernel - General Reading Question
Date Posted: 1/12/2009 10:43 PM ET
Member Since: 4/16/2008
Posts: 576
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Hi Everyone -

Here are some general reading questions to keep in mind while reading this book. They might be better discussed at the end of the novel. However, you can respond to them either here or in any of the other posts if applicable.

1. What are the factors that have made this novel so popular for so long?

2. The motif of a hero whose everday life is ordinary, but whose secret self is heroic and masterful, is very common - consider Clark Kent and Superman.  Which other characters from pop culture are like the Scarlet Pimpernel in this way?  Do you think that this fantasy, this wish to be more than one is, is a basic human trait?  Is it healthy?

3. Do you think there is nostalgia for aristocracies - for their styles, manners, costumes, insolence - especially among people who have never met an aristocrat? Is there anything that you find attractive about aristocrats? Do you get the impression that Orczy is sympathetic to aristocrats?

4. How would you rate Orzy's treatment of character, setting, and history in terms of realism?  Are the characters and events in her novel plausable?  Does she make you feel you are there?  Does she make you feel what does happen could have happened in the real world?  Finally, is realism important in a novel like this?

Happy Reading! 

Date Posted: 1/14/2009 8:48 PM ET
Member Since: 8/30/2007
Posts: 3,237
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The professor who wrote the notes at the beginning of my copy observes that the dual identity of the character of the Scarlet Pimpernel had a profound impact on twentieth-century fiction. He mentions Zorro, Batman and Superman as examples. I also thought of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," which shows that the idea of dual-identity was firmly established enough by the 1940s for Thurber to spoof it. I don't know enough about literature in general to know whether Orczy invented this concept of the ordinary person with the extraordinary secret life in fiction...I can't think of any earlier books that have that type of scanario, can anybody else? It does seem like she tapped into something very appealing to human nature, though.

And about the nostalgia for aristocrats, I'm always interested in the way Americans, whose whole country and governmental system is a total repudiation of the aristocracy, still find royalty and aristocrats fascinating and alluring. And I include myself in that! But I can't say I know why.

Date Posted: 1/14/2009 11:30 PM ET
Member Since: 6/19/2007
Posts: 5,931
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I love SP for originating the secret identity motif, especially because I'm such a Batman fan, it seems that if she didn't invent it totally she certainly created the modern superhero pretending to be the mild-mannered or foppish guy.  I also thought it was interesting that Orczy herself fled from a peasant revolt in Hungary, which certainly would account for her sympathy with the French aristocracy.  She and her family moved to England and she wrote to help support herself.