When I was an elementary student I had two ‘go to’ reading choices, a set of children’s biographies (more historical fiction than biography) and the Illustrated Classic series.
The children’s biographies gave me a pretty good sense of history and historical figures (although probably 80 percent of each book was fiction.) And the Illustrated Classics gave me the rough outline of a number of classic books.
But as I read many of those classics again as an adult I have a hard time remembering if I actually have read the full version or the children’s abridged versions prior to re-reading. (And there is often a pretty large difference.) Stories that I loved, I sometimes love even more reading the full original version. And sometimes my memory of the story is nothing like what the actual book is like.
The Scarlet Pimpernel was written originally as a play in 1905 and then novelized. It is a swashbuckling novel of heroes and light romance. But in many ways reading it again it feels more like a 1940s pulp fiction than a classic.
The hero (Sir Percy) is perceived as bumbling and slow (but very rich) by everyone, including his wife. In reality he is cunning and a great fighter. It feels like Zorro (but I looked it up and Zorro was written 14 years later.) That same secret identity idea really took off with the comic book superheroes.
Marguerite St Just (Sir Percy’s wife) was a great actress in France prior to their marriage and married Sir Percy because she thought she could love the dim witted rich man because he would be devoted to her. But right after they are married Sir Percy find out that Marguerite’s testimony condemned the Marquis de St Cyr to death. And so Sir Percy is often distracted or away and he stops letting the marriage be more than part of his disguise. (Marguerite did not intend to give testimony, but both was tricked and hated the Marquis because the Marquis had had her brother beaten because of her brother’s romantic interest in the Marquis’ daughter.)
From the beginning of the book the basic plot points are already set and the reader really knows what it going to happen. It is a fun little book and because the kindle edition is free and the audiobook was only $0.99 (and I used a coupon to make it free) it was worth the time to read and get the full version of the story.
This is certainly not what I would call a great classic. But rather a reminder that all ages have had their popular fiction. And I did enjoy it as a swashbuckling popular fiction book. In many ways it channeled the best of the Three Musketeers and Andre Dumas.