Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Liberté, égalité, fraternité! (Part Four)

Sir Percy returns, with a review of Mam'zelle Guillotine. Technically, this book is number 11 in the series and takes place some time after Eldorado, but the source I took it from mis-informed me, and I decided to read it anyway.

In this story, instead of facing off with Chauvelin, the Scarlet Pimpernel matches wits with a woman--and I may say that this fact raised a little warning signal in my mind. As chivalrous and honorable as Sir Percy is, could this turn out well?

A mysterious band of benefactors rescue in the dead of night the Marquis de Saint-Luque, his son, and the family tutor, M. le Abbe Prud'hon who were being transported to the guillotine in Paris. The resulting twitter in London society, and the news that the Scarlet Pimpernel has promised to rescue the Marquis' missing wife and daughters, set the mysterious hero ever higher in public opinion--much to the delight of the Prince of Wales and Marguerite Blakeney. Though in spite of her pleas of danger, Sir Percy stands firm in his honor. He will not go back on his word, even though his tactics and disguises may be growing less and less effective.
Not only was his former imprisonment an added danger, but a bitter woman brings deep complications. Gabrielle Damiens spent her youth in a friendship with the Marquis de Saint-Lucque, and upon his refusing marriage to her, took some letters of her dead father's and used them to blackmail him into an alliance. These letters incriminated the young Marquis' father with a treasonous crime, that if revealed, would bring black shame upon the family name. The Marquis had her thrown into the Bastille for life and married elsewhere, but the mad populace stormed the Bastille and released her after more than a decade of imprisonment. Gabrielle will now do anything to exact her revenge, and works her way into the position of public executioner at the town of Mezieres. She almost has her wish at the Marquis' capture, but when the Scarlet Pimpernel spirits him away, she is left with the sole hope to execute his wife and daughters with her own two hands.
Thus sets the stage for the 11th adventure in the Scarlet Pimpernel drama. Will he prevail against the femme fatale of Gabrielle Damiens?

My Thoughts
In all my readings with the Scarlet Pimpernel, I enjoy the fact that his honor remains untarnished, whoever he decides to deal with. (As long as honor doesn't apply to Christian phraseology, in which case he would fail sadly.)

But in this book, I had to raise an eyebrow.

He loves Marguerite dearly, more than his own body and soul, as he adamantly asserts. So why should he be pretending love to another woman, however 'discreet' that love may be?  There's nothing terribly unchaste--merely rough terms of endearment, and it didn't last for long...but still, should he be kissing her when he has another wife--and not merely a kiss on the hand, lest any wish to combat the point?

I think that one principle comes into play here that many people (including myself) need a deeper understanding of. To explain this point, I have to bring a greater degree of reliance upon God than Orczy herself may have used, but bear with me for a moment.

"For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him." (2 Chronicles 16:9)

Too often, we settle for second best, because we cannot see in our human understanding how God could deliver us from a particular problem. It happens when you quit tithing, because you might not have enough money for tomorrow's breakfast. Or when you lie to protect the Jews from concentration camp. Or when you make love to another woman so that you can rescue a defenseless woman and her children from the guillotine.

These constitute second best, my friends.

But you might say "Surely God would excuse the lie, or the kiss--surely He doesn't want me to be so righteous that I have to bear the thought of someone's blood on my hands."

God doesn't need your sins to accomplish His will.

Orczy could have done it differently. She could have crafted a much better adventure here, and included the same woman with the same challenge. Sir Percy could have devised another strategy, and accomplished the exact same thing.

One of my favorite quotes is from the Mally family, with Tomorrow's Forefathers: "You can do things God's way, or you can do things man's way, but any way other than God's way is second best."

In Conclusion
Am I recommending that you do not read this book? It really depends on you. If you only read for entertainment without evaluating the books you read, then you probably shouldn't pick it up. But if you read with careful discernment, if you recognize right and wrong and take the time to annotate along with the book, then you might be able to. But it all comes down to which reading journey God has you on, and whether He wants you to edit or avoid. I would encourage you to ask Him, and check your family's commitments regarding media.
Sir Percy's tactic here makes up a very small part of the book, a few chapters in the middle. It certainly doesn't continue throughout the whole story. But it's worth making note of, and taking time to properly refute. He's a good literary friend of mine, but like all books, he was crafted by a human author. He's not a paragon of virtue, and neither is Orczy.

All this being said, can you still be a Scarlet Pimpernel fan? Of course. :) It's never wise to allow one questionable section to spoil a whole series. But that whole concept will have to be addressed in future.

Lady Bibliophile

Join me for Friday, and an Irish review in honor of St. Patrick's Day!

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