Friday, February 3, 2012

Liberté, égalité, fraternité! (Part Three)

Last post was technically part two of my Liberté, égalité, fraternité! series.

Due to all the things I have to blog about, I'm combining Sir Percy Leads the Band and I Will Repay into one post, as promised. The previous criticisms I included in Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite! (Part One) and A Humble Wayside Flower apply to these books as well, but I give you links rather than repeating what I've already mentioned.


Second chronologically in the Scarlet Pimpernel series, this story takes place completely in France, and though Marguerite is mentioned once or twice, she is not an actor in this drama.

Synopsis
The Scarlet Pimpernel and his followers intervene when Baron de Batz sets up a maniacal scheme to free King Louis XVI before his execution. In the confusion following the monarch's demise, they spirit away the Abbe Edgeworth that de Batz involved in his rescue plans. This Abbe rode with the King in the parade to the guillotine and would surely be targeted by the people after their celebration over the king's dead body.
They take him to Choisy, where he finds temporary refuge with a peasant family, whose oldest daughter Blanche is in love with the local Doctuer Simon Pradel. The only problem, is, the doctor is indifferent to her charms, and prefers spending time with Madmoiselle Cecile up at the Chateau de Rodiere. The aristos at the chateau also shelter the Abbe for a night, before he starts on his journey to the coast and to freedom.
While this little rescue is definitely part of the story, the Scarlet Pimpernel really shines in the dangerous days that follow. The aristos at the chateau are in danger, with the local populace contemplating a raid on their home, and the Committe of Public Safety on their trail for sheltering the Abbe. And Simon Pradel, too, might just as well be gotten out of the way, in the Committee's opinion: he's a bit too popular with the people.

Enter: Complications.

One of Sir Percy's lieutenants decides to rebel and betray his chief, partnering with Blanche to get rid of the hated Simon Pradel. Chauvelin comes in to town, and sets the aristos' imminent arrest as bait for the hated English 'spy'. Simon Pradel is planning revenge against the son at the chateau for an insult, and the local Choisy population is getting uncontrollable.
The debonair hero lays his plan, instructs his men, and sets out to prove his mettle. His whole success hinges on his ability to learn the Marseillaise on the catgut in, at most, a couple of evenings.
The title of the book has two meanings in the story: can you find them?

My Thoughts:
This is the only book I recall in which Orczy crosses the lines and has the Scarlet Pimpernel rescue aristocracy and a 'friend of the people' in the same plot. Dr. Pradel certainly leans more towards the new government policies, and in this case the League looks past the politics and sees the true worth of the man.
If anything, this book represents the fineness of the Scarlet Pimpernel's character when one of his league members betrays him. When he sees St. John Devinne's hidden rebellion against his authority, he doesn't storm and use force to quell his League to obey him. He simply trusts them. And I think, that if you simply trust those around you to do the right thing, then in the end, only those who do the right thing will gather around you. He gently warns Devinne once, then twice; then he lets him go his own way, and picks up the pieces afterwards. And when the dishonored follower returns broken-hearted and penitent, he doesn't degrade him, but simply forgives. It was the grand kind of forgiveness, that doesn't force the wrongdoer to grovel and then grants pardon as a favor, but simply forgives and forgets. I was refreshed by that.

And on now to I Will Repay:
I Will Repay


Synopsis:
Juliette de Marny faces the dead body of her older brother beside the living body of her mad father, as he requests her to swear an oath of vengeance. Wandering between the border of childhood and womanhood, she shrinks from seeking out and destroying the man who killed her brother. But she is a good Roman Catholic, and pressured by the grief of her father, she swears vengeance to her God.
Ten years pass, her father is dead, and the Revolution is raging in the streets. She tried in vain to petition the Archbishop to free her from her oath, and when he did not, she resigns herself to carry out the will of God. She provokes a mob in front of the house of Citizen-Deputy Paul Deroulede and solicits his protection. Being a pure-hearted and chivalrous man, he agrees. For weeks she stays under his hospitality, and he worships her as his 'madonna'. Only his friend, the Scarlet Pimpernel, warns him against the worship of a human 'angel'. And against her will, Juliette sees how noble he is, hears his side of the duel against her brother, and begins to love him in return. But her oath will not let her rest. She drops an accusation against the Citizen Deputy in the notorious box, and the day after her nefarious deed, the gendarmes show up to search the door. She has good reason for her denunciation too, as she overheard Deroulede and Sir Percy discussing his plans to free Marie Antoinette-a charge of treason.
But as she hears the knock on the door, the answer from God she looked for so long came to her in a flash of thought.

"Vengeance is mine. I will repay!"

And in her despair, she sets about under the soldiers' noses to save the man she loves with her own life. A captivating story on the futility of human revenge.


My Thoughts:
Again, I would have to criticize Orczy for her use of the word "Fate" as I discussed in my previous post.
Also, Juliette is put on trial on an accusation of being Paul Deroulede's mistress; a false accusation, but a terrible indignity to be accused of. I would add as in the last post, that the themes are appropriately handled.
And, as formerly, if you prefer to avoid stories about the grande passion, then you won't want to pick up I Will Repay.
For those of you who liked the Count of Monte Cristo, this is a great read to illustrate the same themes of the futility of vengeance. It's a faster read, and a bit less draining. (I'm not promising a happy ending, but...well...)
I give I Will Repay a good 4 and 1/2 stars. The only character missing was Marguerite, but since I know she's coming later on in the series, I wait with patience!
This is Sir Percy at his best. :)

And, for now, the last look at the French Revolution and its leaders:

The Actors of the Play (Part Two):

The Robespierre Brothers:
Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre is the more famous of the two brothers, known as 'the sea-green incorruptible'. He was a great scholar, and obtained a scholarship at the Lycee Louis-le-Grand in Paris, where he studied until the age of twenty-three. During this time he received his training as a lawyer, and adopted many of the teachings of Rousseau. At seventeen years of age, Robespierre was chosen to deliver a speech to welcome King Louis XVI shortly after the monarch's coronation. The king and queen stayed in their carriage due to the rain, and left immediately after the ceremony. After his schooling, Robespierre was admitted to the Arras bar, but resigned, as he felt uncomfortable ruling the death penalty, a punishment he did not agree with. Throughout his career he tried to abolish this sentence, making his exception in the case of Louis XVI:

"As for myself, I abhor the death penalty administered by your laws, and for Louis I have neither love, nor hate; I hate only his crimes. I have demanded the abolition of the death penalty at you Constituent Assembly, and am not to blame if the first principles of reason appeared to you moral and political heresies...You ask an exception to the death penalty for he alone who could legitimize it? Yes, the death penalty is in general a crime, unjustifiable by the indestructible principles of nature, except in cases protecting the safety of individuals or the society altogether...But for a king dethroned in the bosom of a revolution, which is as yet cemented only by laws; a king whose name attracts the scourge of war upon a troubled nation; neither prison, nor exile can render his existence inconsequential to public happiness; this cruel exception to the ordinary laws avowed by justice can only be imputed to the nature of his crimes. With regret I pronounce this fatal truth: Louis must die so that the nation might live."

And yet, in spite of Robespierre's hesitancy in sentencing with the death penalty, he later considered the Reign of Terror necessary and virtuous. In May and June, 1794, the great leader began to defend himself against charges of tyranny before the Convention. The night of the 27th of June, troops under General Coffinhal marched against the Convention, and surrounded the leaders. Robespierre attempted suicide and shattered his lower jaw. As he waited for his execution on the following day, he was held in the same chamber where Marie Antionette had been kept before her execution. He was executed on July 28, 1794 and buried in a common grave.
Augustin Bon Joseph de Robespierre: was the younger brother of Maximiliam. He was a prosecutor-syndic of Arras, and was elected to the National Convention in 1792. He helped Napoleon Bonaparte advance his career, after Napoleon's support of the Jacobins. Augustin demanded to be arrested with his brother in the famous attack, but later took refuge in the Hotel de Ville, were he attempted to escape by jumping out of a window. He broke both his legs, and was guillotined the next day.
Philippe-François-Joseph Le Bas was the son of a notary, and special companion to Saint-Just. He was elected to the National Convention in 1792, and had no scruples in voting for the death of his sovereign. In 1793 he and Saint-Just reorganised the French army after some reverses, and arrested General Richardot and General O'Moran for inability. He was faithful to Robespierre on the night of the arrest, and demanded that he share the fate of his colleague, Saint-Just. He committed  suicide. Before his death, he married Elisabeth Duplay, daughter of Robespierre's landlord, and his son Phillipe later became president of the Institut de France.

Louis Antoine Léon de Saint-Just was known for a wild youth, who yet managed to graduate and stay out of trouble. Presumably broken-hearted after the marriage of a childhood sweetheart, he stole some of his mother's silver and a pair of pistols and departed for Paris. His mother had him arrested and sent to a reformatory where he stayed for six months. While there he wrote a poem that was published anonymously in 1789 called Organt, whose scandalous contents later became banned.  A young man with nothing to do, he quickly threw himself into revolutionary activities in 1789 and then followed a long career of ardent work for the National Convention. He was the one leader to remain unmoved and contemptuous of his arrest. He was executed with Robespierre the following day.

If anything, in looking at the lives of the leaders of the Revolution, it is easy to see that the horrific death rates and godless celebrations were engineered, not by a mindless mob, but by lawyers, writers, doctors, and other highly intelligent men. That's a scary thought. But the same God who gave man intelligence, which was so badly misused, gave him redemption, and thus hope.
And I think that when one looks at the heart-rending days of the Revolution, the stories of the Scarlet Pimpernel are so beloved because they portray one man bringing hope to a hopeless time.

Thus ends my series Liberté, égalité, fraternité! to mark the death of Louis XVI. But don't worry. Sometime in the near future, the Scarlet Pimpernel will return. :)

Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile

2 comments:

  1. The Scarlet Pimpernel books get better and better in plot ingenuity the farther along the series goes, IMO. I remember reading I Will Repay.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I really want to read I Will Repay.(:
    Sister

    ReplyDelete

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