Monday, 1 May 2000

Baroness Orczy: I Will Repay (1906)

Edition: Thames Publishing Co.
Review number: 485

In this melodramatic romance set during the French Revolution, the factor that has ensured it a measure of survival (the involvement of the Scarlet Pimpernel) is fairly incidental to the plot, as he is basically a supernatural element to bring a successful resolution in an impossible situation. It is the silliest and least realistic of the Scarlet Pimpernel novels, and it is also the one which has dated the most.

The plot is about revenge (hence the title, from Romans 12:19 paraphrasing Deuteronomy - "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord: I will repay"). Before the revolution, Paul Déroulède was wealthy enough to be accepted by aristocratic society despite his bourgeois oeigins until he is forced into a dued by the stupid Vicomte de Varny and kills his opponent. The Vicomte's father forces his devout daughter Juliette to make a solemn promise to avenge his death (even though this was honourable by the standards of the time). After the Revolution, Juliette is able to carry out this vow when she discovers that Déroulède is involved in a plot to rescue the imprisoned queen, even though she has herself fallen in love with the man supposed to be her enemy.

The ludicrous plot - almost bad enough for a third rate opera - is accompanied by a romantic style full of phrases which today seem extremely old fashioned. Sentences like "Man-like, he did not understand to the full that great and wonderful enigma which has puzzled the world since primeval times; a woman's heart" are hard to take seriously; they seem more like a deliberate parody of the worst of romantic fiction.

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