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Baroness Emmuska Orczy
(A master of disguise rescues French aristocrats from the guillotine and drops them safely into London society—until a sly French inspector tracks him down.)
Ian McKellen as the French inspector Chauvelin in the 1982 London Films production of The Scarlet Pimpernel, which also starred Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour. This and other stills can be found at the blog Of Trims and Frills and Furbelows.
Don’t let the title’s reference to a dainty flower and the femininity of the author fool you. This is no Austen or Brontë novel. It is a hearty adventure, more along the lines of the father of adventure stories Sir Walter Scott, or Dumas, or Stevenson. What a treat to have a woman join these illustrious ranks! Rugged oaths and swordfights may be lacking, but stories stocked with those can easily be found elsewhere. Instead Orczy proficiently places a “caped avenger”-style suspense drama (a genre some say she invented) against a backdrop of fashionable London society. The high manners, the social competition, the gossip, the dress, the flamboyant events… Orczy was a baroness herself, and this is undoubtedly part of the reason why she was able to present these ingredients with such freshness and authenticity. But all this is ancillary to the mystery and excitement that lend this tale its permanent appeal.