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Old 12-18-2018, 09:41 PM   #61
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I can remember a 1950s vintage TV series that I watched in the early 60s as a pre-teen; I read the book much later. It was very action-orientated, which I think is also the strength of the book; the suspense is kept up nicely. If the novel was initially conceived as a play, that fits with how well it has been adapted to film and into pop culture.

I believe there was another TV series done in the late 1990s, but I haven't seen that.
I hadn't realised there was a 1950s TV series - that was about the time TV arrived in Australia and my parents didn't get a set for quite some time. I think Richard E Grant was in the 1990s TV series, but I didn't see it. I can imagine he would do it well.

But it all goes to show that it's the story and its pace that is why it has survived so well.
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Old 12-18-2018, 10:30 PM   #62
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I hadn't realised there was a 1950s TV series - that was about the time TV arrived in Australia and my parents didn't get a set for quite some time. I think Richard E Grant was in the 1990s TV series.
As Chauvelin? I haven't seen it, but as soon as I read your comment, I thought he would fit the bill.
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Old 12-18-2018, 10:55 PM   #63
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As Chauvelin? I haven't seen it, but as soon as I read your comment, I thought he would fit the bill.
No, Richard E Grant played Sir Percy Blakeney. But I agree with your reaction, I think he would have fit Chauvelin quite well. As it was, in that series they put Elizabeth McGovern as Marguerite and Martin Shaw in as Chauvelin, which I must say seems an odd fit. But I haven't watched that 1999 series so I can't say how they went.

I'm a fan of the 1982 series with Anthony Andrews as Sir Percy, Jane Seymour as Marguerite, and Ian McKellen as Chauvelin. Good matches all around - or such is my memory of it, it's been many years.
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Old 12-18-2018, 10:56 PM   #64
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But it all goes to show that it's the story and its pace that is why it has survived so well.
It was quite ubiquitous in the 1950s-60s. I remember going to see a Carry-On Gang parody of The Scarlet Pimpernel in the late 60s - Don't Lose Your Head - the lead villain was Citizen Camembert.
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Old 12-19-2018, 07:12 AM   #65
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When we think of the League as noble, brave and disinterested, I think we overlook the extent to which the motives of the members of the League were self-serving, even if they weren't thieving and wenching. Orczy pays perfunctory attention to the causes of the revolution, but it's obvious her sympathies as with the League were with the dispossessed aristocrats. Sure you can argue to save the lives first, redistribute the wealth next, but it's also unarguable that the League in trying to prop up the Ancien Régime was also serving its own interest as the moneyed and powerful class in England. If they wanted to right wrongs, there surely was sufficient scope in late 18th century England, where even children could be hanged for theft.

Yeah, I know, no buckles to swash that way, but I felt like arguing that the nobility of the League was a pretty hollow construct.
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Old 12-19-2018, 07:17 AM   #66
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Ian McKellen as Chauvelin.
Too perfect! Comment dite-on en français "You shall not pass!"?
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Old 12-19-2018, 07:33 AM   #67
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When we think of the League as noble, brave and disinterested, I think we overlook the extent to which the motives of the members of the League were self-serving, even if they weren't thieving and wenching. Orczy pays perfunctory attention to the causes of the revolution, but it's obvious her sympathies as with the League were with the dispossessed aristocrats. Sure you can argue to save the lives first, redistribute the wealth next, but it's also unarguable that the League in trying to prop up the Ancien Régime was also serving its own interest as the moneyed and powerful class in England. If they wanted to right wrongs, there surely was sufficient scope in late 18th century England, where even children could be hanged for theft.

Yeah, I know, no buckles to swash that way, but I felt like arguing that the nobility of the League was a pretty hollow construct.
They could have helped William Wilberforce abolish the slave trade too. Oh, but possibly much of their wealth came from involvement in that trade, one way or another, so perhaps not.
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Old 12-19-2018, 10:00 AM   #68
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[...] Yeah, I know, no buckles to swash that way, but I felt like arguing that the nobility of the League was a pretty hollow construct.
It's a perfectly valid point. It's not like, if the republicans suddenly turned around around and said "sorry, we got a bit carried away, here's your throne back", that the aristocrats were going to be all "well, we can see why, we were pretty awful rulers, we're sorry too and we'll try to do better". That just wasn't going to happen - which it does make it tempting to question whether they were worth saving.

However, retention of the class distinctions, and gender roles, doesn't make this book stand out from the crowd. I see it pretty much the same as re-reading Tarzan books now: you have to be ready to cringe a bit, and be thankful that there are some things we have (at least partly) grown out of.
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Old 12-19-2018, 10:57 AM   #69
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However, retention of the class distinctions, and gender roles, doesn't make this book stand out from the crowd. I see it pretty much the same as re-reading Tarzan books now: you have to be ready to cringe a bit, and be thankful that there are some things we have (at least partly) grown out of.
Oh, I didn't really cringe, not even when Percy kissed the steps. Autres temps, autres mœurs. But it's fun to examine, especially since we're talking two realities; that of the book itself and also that of the time it was written, as is always the case with historical fiction. I said it before, but I'll repeat it; I think that's one thing Orczy got right, the sense of society a century before she was writing. She was much more on point than much of what passes as historical fiction today, which is all modern sensibilities dressed up in lace and brocade. That's what makes me cringe.
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Old 12-19-2018, 04:23 PM   #70
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much of what passes as historical fiction today, which is all modern sensibilities dressed up in lace and brocade. That's what makes me cringe.

Ugh! I can empathise with the authors and publishers though. It seems axiomatic now that every female character must have significant agency, which clearly clashes with the reality of far too much of History. Perhaps a combination of personal values and an eye to commercial realities informs the "C21 in lace" style of historical fiction. The inclusion of modern mores may even be said to increse the "fiction" component"

As for Orczy's avoiding this trend, I wonder if her very haute background helped. If her own family fled from a possible revolution less than 100 years after the one she wrote about, her aristocratic family may well have filled her childhood with stories that gave her the atmosphere of the times she later wrote about.
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Old 12-19-2018, 07:46 PM   #71
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Oh, I didn't really cringe, not even when Percy kissed the steps. Autres temps, autres mœurs. But it's fun to examine, especially since we're talking two realities; that of the book itself and also that of the time it was written, as is always the case with historical fiction. I said it before, but I'll repeat it; I think that's one thing Orczy got right, the sense of society a century before she was writing. She was much more on point than much of what passes as historical fiction today, which is all modern sensibilities dressed up in lace and brocade. That's what makes me cringe.
Nah, kissing the steps isn't even other times. I can imagine some YA romance having that scene. But some of the servant interactions in "The Fisherman's Rest" (eg: "pretty Sally") were enough to make me wince.

But how different was it really for the aristocracy, between the setting of The Scarlet Pimpernel and when Orczy wrote it? You noted earlier that the world changed more slowly between TTM and the setting of this book, and I would include up to the period when this novel/play was written. I'm also inclined to think that the world changed most slowly for the aristocracy - even after the plebeians started cutting their heads off. As stuartjmz notes...

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[...] As for Orczy's avoiding this trend, I wonder if her very haute background helped. If her own family fled from a possible revolution less than 100 years after the one she wrote about, her aristocratic family may well have filled her childhood with stories that gave her the atmosphere of the times she later wrote about.
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Old 12-20-2018, 07:02 AM   #72
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I'm also inclined to think that the world changed most slowly for the aristocracy - even after the plebeians started cutting their heads off.
I think it persisted through the Great War and only ended with the end of the Romanov, Hohenzollern and Hapsburg dynasties, and Orczy herself was born under the Hapsburg dynasty. An aside: surely it was poor form to continue to call herself "baroness" once she became British? That said, I'm sure it sold books.

I've also been thinking about the notion of leadership, as I thought the League had unpleasant undertones of a Fascist organization, or perhaps a religious cult, as I read it. In Dazrin's interesting link, the distinction is made between loyalty to a person and loyalty because of rank, with the implication that the first is better. I'm not so sure; we know where blind obedience to a charismatic leader can end up. As for military hierarchy, obeying orders is what soldiers do of necessity, but at least it doesn't involve giving over their minds. They can think what they like, so long as they do as they're told.
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Old 12-20-2018, 08:13 AM   #73
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That's an interesting point about Orczy's title. I googled and found this:

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1. George V took the view that the use in this country of foreign titles of nobility should in due course be discontinued and, in 1932, he revoked the Royal Warrants listed in the fourth column of the attached Annex which had allowed the use of the foreign dignitaries and titles set out in the second and third columns of the Annex. The current holder, his son and grandson where named could continue to use the title for his own lifetime.
2. Apart from these exceptions official recognition is not given to the use of foreign titles by British citizens and care should be taken not to address any British citizen (whether by naturalisation or otherwise) by such a title.
So presumably, at the time she was writing at least her earlier books, it was okay to use her foreign title.
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Old 12-20-2018, 08:24 AM   #74
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On the matter of leadership, the League clearly revolved around Percy. He was the head daredevil, and I thought it was more like a gang of schoolboys getting up to mischief and egging each other on. Writing notes to each other, secret signs, disguised handwriting ...

I wonder what sorts of hoops they had to go through to become a fully paid up member of the League?
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Old 12-20-2018, 08:32 AM   #75
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I think it persisted through the Great War and only ended with the end of the Romanov, Hohenzollern and Hapsburg dynasties, and Orczy herself was born under the Hapsburg dynasty. [...]
Yes, that's pretty much how the timing seems to me, too. The Great War marked the end of a lot of things.

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I've also been thinking about the notion of leadership, as I thought the League had unpleasant undertones of a Fascist organization, or perhaps a religious cult, as I read it. In Dazrin's interesting link, the distinction is made between loyalty to a person and loyalty because of rank, with the implication that the first is better. I'm not so sure; we know where blind obedience to a charismatic leader can end up. As for military hierarchy, obeying orders is what soldiers do of necessity, but at least it doesn't involve giving over their minds. They can think what they like, so long as they do as they're told.
Well, living in a country that rejected monarchy quite some time ago, you're almost obliged to look at it that way.

One of the big issues with having a charismatic leader is the inherent limit - quite literally, the lifespan of such leadership. Beyond that I think it's harder to be definite.

Even democracies very often end up being about the popularity of the leadership rather than any thoughtful assessment of the principles. The military, too, have their charismatic leaders. Of course, in most of these examples they are not absolute leaders, most can be overruled in one way or another. I'd also say that this one brief book doesn't give much evidence that the 19 had given over their minds (at least, no more than we readers did by accepting any of this as possible), only their trust.

And from the other side, we recently had a spate of quotes about patriotism on the quotes thread - most highlighting that this form of loyalty is often quite mindless. (Indeed, apparently "patriot" was one a derogatory or ironic term, so we may be on our way to coming full circle.) But the point being that it's just as possible to have mindless faith/loyalty in an abstract concept as in a personality.

Yes, I do think charismatic individuals can be dangerous, but we humans seem built to respond to them - even, or especially, in literature; we do like to have heroes.
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