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Scarlet Pimpernel. The Scarlet Pimpernel was created by the Baroness Emmuska Orczy (Lady Molly, Man in Grey (II), Old Man in the Corner, Hector Ratichon, Skin O’My Tooth) and appeared in fourteen novels and short story collections from 1905 to 1940, beginning with The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905).

The Scarlet Pimpernel is Sir Percy Blakeney, one of the richest men in England during the years of the French Revolution. Blakeney is a silly, brainless fop, a “nincompoop,” an utter tit. He's languid, logorrheic, and a ninny. At least, that's his cover. In the guise of the Scarlet Pimpernel, Blakeney is a brave, dashing hero who specializes in rescuing the imperiled French aristocrats from their sentences of death-by-guillotine, often from Paris and under the noses and eyes of the French guards.

The Pimpernel is a master of disguise, a top-notch swordsman, and a cunning strategist. Repeatedly he foils the plans of the French and their “Satanic” agent Chauvelin. Blakeney is assisted by the League of the Pimpernel, a band of devoted English noblemen who reflexively follow the Pimpernel's orders. Blakeney is married to Marguerite, who is "one of the most clever women in Europe” and a devoted, loving and courageous wife, though devoted and loving only when she discovers that he is not a coward, but is the Pimpernel.

* I'm including the Scarlet Pimpernel stories and novels in the Best of the Encyclopedia list because they are archetypal, fun, historically important, and well-written. The Baroness Orczy had few equals, in her time or afterwards, at creating exciting adventure prose with a literate gloss. The Pimpernel became an iconic figure (the adventurer in Revolution-era France) and an archetypal one (influencing other writers into creating similar characters), and as time passed the oppressed peoples of the world saw the Pimpernel as a hero fighting against an oppressive government and adopted the Pimpernel (or imitated him for their own stories) as a pro-independence, pro-liberation, pro-freedom character. Historically, the Pimpernel narratives helped jumpstart the adventure fiction market in the United States, arguably featured the first major superhero of the 20th century, and--again, arguably--provided the conditions under which other proto-superheroes like Zorro could flourish. And the Pimpernel stories are well-written: characterization is strong, action is entertaining, and dialogue is sharp--in the scene where Blakeney and Marguerite have a no-holds-barred fight, the dialogue is all vicious daggers. Highly recommended. 

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