The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy, was first published in 1905.

In the midst of the French Revolution, a cunning masked hero rescues would-be victims of the guillotine, but his identity remains a mystery. His friends and foes known him only as the Scarlet Pimpernel. But government agent Paul Chauvelin is determined to find out who this man really is and to put an end to his defiance of the French government.

Rating: 5/5

When I finished reading The Scarlet Pimpernel, I had a huge smile on my face. Full of spies, intrigue, drama, tension, romance, and some fiendishly clever disguises, The Scarlet Pimpernel is a delight through and through. Baroness Orczy weaves a fantastic story taking place during the French Revolution and starring a mysterious hero who rescues French aristocrats right out from under the noses of the people looking to kill them.

The book does start out a little slowly, but starts picking almost immediately after the point of view switches to Marguerite Blakeney. I thought she was a great protagonist, filled with just the right amount of courage, fear, and cleverness. She doesn’t sit back helplessly, but she also isn’t out there wrestling men to the ground, either. She’s basically a normal woman, which is really quite refreshing after reading a lot of female protagonists who are unrelatable and/or male caricatures.

There’s a prominent romance plot tied in with the overall Scarlet Pimpernel plot, but it’s done very well and fairly realistically. It’s quite a sweet romance, and it lends itself well in both explaining Marguerite’s motives as well as making sure everything turns out happily. But the most interesting plot is, of course, the one involving the Scarlet Pimpernel. Orczy really does some fantastic work in it. The secret of the Scarlet Pimpernel may be a little obvious, but the true gem is the complex, fascinating “heist” that takes up the last third of the book. I call it a heist if only because I can’t think of another word to call it. “Mission” could work, I suppose. I figured everything out quite early on, but it was still a delight to watch everything unfold.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Scarlet Pimpernel and it has become one of my new favorite books. I had it read to me when I was little, so I went into the book knowing the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel, and guessed almost everything else correctly, but it was still engaging and a delightful read.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Classic, Historical Fiction

“The Scarlet Pimpernel works in the dark, and his identity is only known under the solemn oath of secrecy to his immediate followers.”

“The Scarlet Pimpernel!” said Suzanne, with a merry laugh. “Why! what a droll name! What is the Scarlet Pimpernel, Monsieur?”

… “The Scarlet Pimpernel, Mademoiselle,” [Sir Andrew] said at last “is the name of a humble English wayside flower; but it is also the name chosen to hide the identity of the best and bravest man in all the world, so that he may better succeed in accomplishing the noble task he has set himself to do.”

You can buy this book here:

Heidi: The Origin Of My Love For Swiss Mountains

Heidi is written by Johanna Spyri. It was first published in 1880. The copy I read is the 2000 Aladdin Classics edition.


“Orphaned Heidi lives with her gruff but caring grandfather on the side of a Swiss mountain, where she befriends young Peter the goatherd. She leads an idyllic life, until she is forced to leave the mountain she has always known to go and live with a sickly girl in the city. Will Heidi ever see her grandfather again?”

What I Liked:

Just like Elizabeth Enright’s books, Heidi is one of the books I read over and over and loved when I was younger. I remember watching the Shirley Temple film, too. This is one of the classic children’s books that must be read since, you know, it’s classic. Having traveled to Switzerland, I perfectly understand Heidi’s longing for the mountains. Switzerland is gorgeous. And, just like Heidi, I much prefer the country over the city.

I LOVE this cover!

I loved the completely PC-free setting, dialogue, themes, etc. It does get a little bit preachy, but in a way that makes me like the book more because of the complete naturalness that flows from the preachiness, as if it was common for a book to include it (and it was, back then). It’s very straight-forward, and it’s not bad preaching, either.

Honestly, I think the Frankfurt part of the book is my favorite part. It’s much different than the first and last part of the book (which can get a little monotonous) and is also more humorous, at least in my opinion.

What I Didn’t Like:

There is virtually no characterization. Heidi is perfect. Rottenmeier is the conveniently nasty housekeeper. The rest of the characters just revolve around Heidi and are changed by her. Heidi actually annoyed me at times. It’s an old book, so I can’t really fault it as much as I would fault a contemporary book that has characters like the ones in Heidi (because some tropes were still fairly new back then as opposed to now). And I think Spyri is trying to teach children something through this book and the characters and not just necessarily trying to entertain them. But it’s something I thought I would mention, since character is something I normally pay attention to and comment on.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Children’s, Classic




“Let me be, child. I can’t see any better even in the light of the snow. I’m always in the dark.”

“Even in summer, Grannie?” Heidi persisted anxiously. ‘Surely you can see the sunshine and watch it say goodnight to the mountains and make them all red like fire. Can’t you?”

“No, child, nor that either. I shall never see them again.”

Heidi burst into tears. “Can’t anyone make you see?” she sobbed. “Isn’t there anyone who can?”

~Spyri 45

“I dream every night that I’m back with Grandfather and can hear the wind whistling through the fir trees. I know in my dream the stars must be shining brightly outside, and I get up quickly and open the door of the hut—and it’s so beautiful. But when I wake up I’m always still here in Frankfurt.” A lump came in her throat and she tried to swallow it.

“Have you a pain anywhere?” asked the doctor. “In your head or your back?”

“No, but I feel as though there’s a great stone in my throat.”

“As though you’d taken a large bit of something and can’t swallow it?”

Heidi shook her head. “No, as if I wanted to cry.”

~Spyri 137-138

Overall Review:

Heidi, as a classic children’s book, should be read if you haven’t, but on this read-through I actually found the characters a bit tedious and annoying, Heidi especially. The parts of the book that get a little preachy are really quite refreshing to read, simply because it’s not something you find in books like this one nowadays. I gave it a 3 because I can’t reconcile the classic-ness of it with the complete boredom that I sometimes felt reading it, but I still love this book and hold it in a high position among children’s lit.

You can buy this book here: Heidi (Dover Children’s Evergreen Classics)

Return to Gone-Away: It’s Just A Bit Of A Fixer-Upper…With Hidden Jewels

Return to Gone-Away is written by Elizabeth Enright. It was first published in 1961. It is the sequel to Gone-Away Lake. More information about Enright can be found here.


“A wish come true. That’s what Portia thinks when her parents buy Villa Caprice, a tumbledown Victorian house along the swampy edge of Gone-Away Lake. A new house is always full of surprises, but Portia is completely unprepared for the extraordinary things that happen when her family moves into a new old house.

Empty for half a century, ugly as a horned toad, Villa Caprice is a mildewy, cobwebby, boarded-up, junk-cluttered museum to a way of life long forgotten. But it is also a wonderland, filled to the rafters with fifty years’ worth of treasures and secrets—small mysteries that Portia and Julian must solve to uncover the greatest secret of all….”

~Back Cover

What I Liked:

I think I like this one even more than Gone-Away. If I had to credit my love for old houses and exploring them to any one thing, it would probably be this book. This book fulfills my itch to go to an old house and explore it, redecorate it, go to the attic and explore the chests, search for secret passages and drawers, find lost and forgotten relics of the past…

Both Gone-Away and Return to Gone-Away have that great exploration and adventure feel to them. Enright has a way of writing that makes everything, every action, word, and thought, seem so natural and accurate. The date of Return’s writing means that it’s free of the oftentimes boring/obvious/sickening plot devices that are commonly used today, making for a refreshing and relaxing read.

Opening the trunks in the attic and discovering the safe are probably my favorite parts of the book. Again, I love exploration and discovery, old houses, and the general adventure-y feel in books, and this book hits all of those points.

What I Didn’t Like:


Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Children’s, Classic


Walking briskly, they came to a turn in the drive, the tress thinned out, and there before them stood the Villa Caprice.

There it stood among its dead and brambled lawns, with all its windows boarded up and a big, tough, tangled vine, leafless now, tied round and round the battlements, the turrets, and the gables like a giant’s wrapping twine. Beyond the house the ragged hedges looked black, and the queer tree that was called a monkey-puzzle tree looked black, too, and bristling. The whole scene was shabby and forbidding.

“Oh, dear!” wailed Mrs. Blake. “I didn’t remember it as being quite so—quite so—”

“Bleak,” Mr. Blake supplied. “And this is what we called a bargain! We must have been out of our minds!”

~Enright 33

Among the large trunks there was a very small one, a box really, covered with cowhide and bearing on its curved lid the initial D, made of brass nailheads. She lifted the lid cautiously (she had been very cautious since opening the fur trunk) and saw that the little chest was filled to the brim with yellowed paper bundles.

“Jule, come here; let’s see what these are.”

The paper was so old that it crumbled and powdered when she opened the first bundle; and what it had contained was a seashell, curved and dappled as a little quail.

“Why, how pretty!”

“Look, it’s got a label on it, too.”

And so it had; a tiny glued-on label with the Latin name of the shell written on it in meticulous old-fashion handwriting.

Cypraea zebra,” Julian read, pronouncing the zebra part correctly.

Portia had opened another bundle and held out a brown shell, fancy as a fern.

Murex palmarosae,” read Julian, stabbing wildly at pronunciation.

~Enright 115-116

Overall Review:

Return to Gone-Away is a worthy, and oftentimes better, successor to Gone-Away. The stories of Tarrigo return, and coupled with the exploration of a decades-old house and the discovery of treasures from the past make this book a treasure itself. I’d forgotten how much I love Enright, and these books reminded me.

You can buy this book here: Return to Gone-Away

Gone-Away Lake: Summer Exploring Is The Best Exploring

Gone-Away Lake is written by Elizabeth Enright. It was first published in 1957. You can find more information about Enright here.


“When Portia sets out for a visit with her cousin Julian, she expects fun and adventure, but of the usual kind: exploring in the woods near Julian’s house, collecting stones and bugs, playing games throughout the long, lazy days.

But this summer is different.

On their first day exploring, Portia and Julian discover an enormous boulder with a mysterious message, a swamp choked with reeds and quicksand, and on the far side of the swamp…a ghost town.

Once upon a time the swamp was a splendid lake, and the fallen houses along its shore an elegant resort community. But though the lake is long gone and the resort faded away, the houses still hold a secret life: two people who have never left Gone-away…and who can tell the story of what happened there.”

~Back Cover

What I Liked:

If you want to read classic children’s literature, Elizabeth Enright is one of the authors to read. Gone-Away Lake is one of my favorites by her, mostly because the images of idyllic summer, exploration and history are so wonderful to read. This book makes me want to explore the countryside and discover a ghost town. This is something that classic children’s lit does so much better than modern, because in this day and age children don’t really explore by themselves anymore as they did in Enright’s day and earlier. There’s no technology and very little traffic or business in Gone-Away Lake, which means that the book is completely devoted to nature and exploration. And it is wonderful because of it.

This book is also quite funny; Portia and Julian have some amusing dialogue and Enright has some humorous descriptions. The stories Aunt Minniehaha and Uncle Pin tell are wonderful, and the discoveries Portia and Julian make are perfectly described as well as quite stimulating to at least my imagination. That’s one thing to call this book: stimulating.

Again, I just love the explore/discovery aspect of the book. The discovery of the Villa Caprice at the end hints at a sequel, which I probably like even better than this one. But more on that when I review it.

What I Didn’t Like:


Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Realistic, Classic


They both climbed up on the little hulk and looked out over the tops of the reeds, a sea of reeds, beyond which, and all around, grew the dark woods. But that was not all. Portia and Julian drew in a breath of surprise at exactly the same instant, because at the northeast end of the swamp, between the reeds and the woods, and quite near to them, they saw a row of wrecked old houses. There were perhaps a dozen of them; all large and shabby, though once they must have been quite elaborate, adorned as they were with balconies, turrets, widows’ walks, and lacy wooden trimming. But now the balconies were sagging and the turrets tipsy; the shutters were crooked or gone, and large sections of wooden trimming had broken off. There was a tree sticking out of the one of the windows, not into it but out of it. And everything was as still as death.

~Enright 31-32

“Do you know what I would like to offer you, children?” said Mrs. Cheever, tying another apron over the one she was already wearing. “Pin, do you know what I would like to offer them?” She paused dramatically. “A house!” she said. “Here are all these old houses! Nothing ever uses them but bats and birds, and some of them are still quite safe. You could pick a safe one and have it for a clubhouse; bring your friends if you wanted. Oh, Pin, wouldn’t it be nice to hear children’s voices here at Tarrigo again? Though perhaps they wouldn’t care for the idea—” she added hesitantly, looking at them.

But Portia, clasping a dish towel to her wishbone, cried: “Heavenly! Oh, Mrs. Cheever, what a heavenly idea!”

And Julian said: “Brother! Would that be neat!”

~Enright 99-100

Overall Review:

Gone-Away Lake will have you longing for the type of idyllic summer that Portia and Julian end up having. Exploration and discovery, especially of the countryside and old houses, are some of my favorite things to read about, and this book is what caused me to love it. This book, and any Enright book, are a definite recommendation for any child; it’s one of the pinnacles of classic children’s lit.

You can buy this book here: Gone-Away Lake (Gone-Away Lake Books)

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Happy Two-Year Anniversary!

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is Anne Brontë’s second novel. She published it in 1848 (a year before her death) under the name of Acton Bell. She is the lesser-known and lesser-read of the three Brontë sisters.


A mysterious young woman arrives at Wildfell Hall with her son and servant. She claims to be a widow, and Gilbert Markham is immediately struck by her beauty and her intelligence. However, things are not all as they appear. After a vicious string of rumors slander the name of Helen Graham, Gilbert discovers the truth behind Helen’s arrival to Wildfell Hall. Documented in a series of letters and diary entries, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a shocking tale of a young wife’s struggles with her husband’s alcoholism, debauchery, and cruelty.

What I Liked:

I thought this book was quite fun to read. My approach to reading Victorian/classic literature is to read it less seriously than I do other books. If I try and read it seriously, then I will not enjoy it as much. Reading it less seriously allows me to enjoy the story and the actions that take place, and if they seem ridiculous it is funny-ridiculous rather than cheesy-ridiculous.

Point in fact: Gilbert Markham. He was funny-ridiculous all the time, from his yelling at Mr. Millward to his throwing himself on the ground in a “paroxysm” of grief and rage (anytime the word “paroxysm” shows up, you know it is going to be funny-ridiculous; also, see the two quotes below for these two scenes) to knocking Mr. Lawrence off his horse in a jealous rage. I thought it was quite amusing to read about, although I can understand if some readers will think it is over-the-top. While reading Victorian/classic literature for fun and enjoyment and expecting it to be fun and enjoyable is not for everyone or every book, I think it is necessary for this one (see next section).

Helen, too, is at times funny-ridiculous, especially in her younger days when she is all over Arthur. The funny-ridiculousness of it wears off quickly, however, and soon becomes simply sad.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, though I did have some problems with it.

I really like this cover art.

What I Didn’t Like:

When I first started reading the book, I got one hundred pages in and thought, “This is so deliciously preachy.” That was my reading-for-fun attitude at work. I normally don’t like too much preachiness in a novel; however, I did expect this book to be preachy because older books usually are, to some extent. When I got to the preachy part, I thought it was amusing. However, over the next two hundred pages, I couldn’t even say it was deliciously preachy anymore. It was just tediously preachy. Essentially, Anne Brontë wrote this book to display the perils of alcoholism as well to express her views of salvation, and she got her point across again and again…and again…and…again. I was almost happy when Helen’s section ended because then the level of preachiness dropped abruptly since Gilbert (Gilbert! How I missed you and your jealous rages and paroxysms of grief!) was narrating again.

Also, this book is long. It could easily have been one hundred pages shorter; a lot could have been cut out and it wouldn’t have changed the book at all. Of course, back then I think writers were paid by the word, so Victorian novels tend to get long and rambling in any case.

It was made into a mini-series!

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Alcoholism, adultery.

Genre: Classic


And in truth, the vicar was just behind me, plodding homeward from some remote corner of his parish. I immediately released the squire; and he went on his way, saluting Mr. Millward as he passed.

“What, quarrelling, Markham?” cried the latter, addressing himself to me,—“and about that young widow I doubt,” he added, reproachfully shaking his head. “But let me tell you, young man” (here he put his face into mine with an important, confidential air), “she’s not worth it!” and he confirmed the assertion by a solemn nod.

“MR. MILLWARD!” I exclaimed, in a tone of wrathful menace that made the reverend gentleman look round—aghast—astounded at such unwonted insolence, and stare me in the face with a look that plainly said: “What, this to me?”

~Brontë 71

While thus conversing, they had sauntered slowly past me, down the walk, and I heard no more of their discourse; but I saw him put his arm round her waist, while she lovingly rested her hand on his shoulder;–and then, a tremulous darkness obscured my sight, my heart sickened and my head burned like fire. I half rushed, half staggered from the spot where horror had kept me rooted, and leaped or tumbled over the wall—I hardly know which—but I know that, afterwards, like a passionate child, I dashed myself on the ground and lay there in a paroxysm of anger and despair…

~Brontë 82-83

My cup of sweets is not unmingled: it is dashed with a bitterness that I cannot hide from myself, disguise it as I will. I may try to persuade myself that the sweetness overpowers it; I may call it a pleasant aromatic flavor; but say what I will, it is still there, and I cannot but taste it. I cannot shut my eyes to Arthur’s faults; and the more I love him the more they trouble me. His very heart, that I trusted so, is, I fear, less warm and generous than I thought it. At least, he gave me a specimen of his character to-day, that seemed to merit a harder name than thoughtlessness.

~Brontë 147

“Without another word I left the room and locked myself up in my own chamber. In about half-an-hour he came to the door, and first he tried the handle, then he knocked.

“Won’t you let me in, Helen?” said he.

“No; you have displeased me,” I replied, “and I don’t want to see your face or hear your voice again till the morning.”

~Brontë 167

Overall Review:

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, while being a little long and a little too preachy, is still a fun novel that I enjoyed quite a bit (Gilbert!). Fans of Victorian literature or the other two Brontë sisters should definitely put this on their reading list. I wouldn’t recommend it as an introduction to this type of literature, but as more of a supplement. It will be a great addition to any library.

You can buy this book here: Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Classic Sunday: Crime and Punishment

Note: This won’t be a regular occurrence. I’ve just had this review done for a while and I wanted to post it.

Crime and Punishment is one of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s best-known works. It was published in 1866. He and Leo Tolstoy (War and Peace, Anna Karenina) are considered among the greatest Russian writers.

Genre: Classic, Realistic, Suspense


Crime and Punishment focuses on the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of Rodion Raskolnikov, an impoverished ex-student in St. Petersburg who formulates and executes a plan to kill an unscrupulous pawnbroker for her cash. Raskolnikov argues that with the pawnbroker’s money he can perform good deeds to counterbalance the crime, while ridding the world of a worthless vermin. He also commits this murder to test his own hypothesis that some people are naturally capable of such things, and even have the right to do them. The anguish he suffers arouses the curiosity and suspicion of the people around him as he deals with his sister’s impending marriage, his relationship with a young prostitute, and the police’s investigations.


“I knew it,” he muttered in confusion, “I thought so! That’s the worst of all! Why, a stupid thing like this, the most trivial detail might spoil the whole plan. Yes, my hat is too noticeable…It looks absurd and that makes it noticeable…With my rags I ought to wear a cap, any sort of old pancake, but not this grotesque thing. Nobody wears such a hat, it would be noticed a mile off, it would be remembered…What matters is that people would remember it, and that would give them a clue. For this business one should be as little conspicuous as possible…Trifles, trifles are what matter! Why, it’s just such trifles that always ruin everything….”

~Dostoyevsky 5

“Bah, Zametov! The police office! And why am I sent for to the police office? Where’s the notice? Bah! I am mixing it up; that was then. I looked at my sock then, too, but now…now I have been ill…But what did Zametov come for? Why did Razumihin bring him?” he muttered, helplessly sitting on the sofa again. “What does it mean? Am I still in delirium, or is it real? I believe it is real…Ah, I remember, I must escape! Make haste to escape. Yes, I must, I must escape! Yes…but where? And where are my clothes? I’ve no boots. They’ve taken them away! They’ve hidden them! I understand! Ah, here is my coat—they passed that over! And here is money on the table, thank God! And here’s the I.O.U…I’ll take the money and go and take another lodging. They won’t find me!…Yes, but the address bureau? They’ll find me, Razumihin will find me. Better escape altogether…far away…to America, and let them do their worst! And take the I.O.U…it would be of use there…What else shall I take? They think I am ill! They don’t know that I can walk, ha-ha-ha! I could see by their eyes that they know all about it! If only I could get downstairs! And what if they have set a watch there—policemen! What’s this tea? Ah, and here is beer left, half a bottle, cold!”

~Dostoyevsky 127

“You mean Siberia, Sonia? I must give myself up?” he asked gloomily.

“Suffer and expiate your sin by it, that’s what you must do.”

“No! I am not going to them, Sonia!”

~Dostoyevsky 407

“Nothing in the world is harder than speaking the truth and nothing easier than flattery.”

~Dostoyevsky 461

So many cover arts to choose from!

Warnings: Murder

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Rating: 4/5

What I Liked:

I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book for the first couple of chapters. Then Raskolnikov (hereafter known as Ras) killed the two women, and I started liking it (what does that say about me…?). It was intense, it was humorous at points, it was heart-clenching. The mental trauma that Ras goes through is really brought out through the text.  A lot of Ras’s ideas were very similar to those in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, which I watched over the summer (of 2012), so there was a good degree of familiarity and recognition on my part as to Ras’s philosophy.

Also, forget about Ras and his problems. By far the most chilling part of the whole book, in my opinion, is contained in this sentence: “Svidrigaïlov pulled the trigger.” Seriously, I read that over about five times; despite how macabre it is, it is probably my favorite line in the whole book (besides Sviddy’s line about flattery and truth that I put in the Quotes above).

Also, happy ending for the win! Whoo!

Random note: I had a pair of goldfish that I named Sonia and Raz. This was before I read this book, but my roommates had (hence, why I eventually read it).

This really fits the mood of C&P.

What I Didn’t Like:

This is a book that was written in the nineteenth century, so of course it’s very long and flowery and says in five sentences what could have been said in one. I thought that a lot could have been cut out that would have taken nothing away and would have improved the book as a whole. It was very dry and tedious in some parts, especially the very beginning and the middle.

It can also be pretty confusing telling everyone apart with their multiple Russian names. Sonia is also called Sofia Semyonova, Ras’s sister Dounia is also referred to as Avdotya Romanova, and etc. and etc. I had the hardest time telling Zametov and Zosimov apart because their names were so similar.

Overall Review:

Crime and Punishment is on almost every “must-read classic” list and, in my opinion, should be. It is long and tedious in parts, and the characters may take a little time to sort out, but the overall effect of the novel is excellent and the glimpse of the various philosophies and beliefs talked about and described in the book make for a great learning experience and can easily jumpstart any conversation.

Coming Up Next: I have one other classic review which I’ll post eventually. If/when I read other classics, you’ll see them here…eventually. Hate List by Jennifer Brown on Tuesday!