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The Scarlet Pumpernickel

November’s End 2020

Last evening, I was engaged in multi-tasking amidst my translation of Chapter 91 of THE DAWN into L’AUBE. I’m coming ‘round the far turn on this one.

Dear Husband and I were plowing through the unpacking of 8 very large boxes as we attempt to “settle into” our Dream House, Larkhaven. The diminishing of available sunlight during shortening daylight hours in late November continues to give me a vanishing feeling of time swiftly passing as it swiftly passes by — which indeed is just what is happening.

The sunlight axe falls fast in the Forest!

I aim to finish Book VI by the Winter Solstice, when the sunlight runs really short. I shall probably meet that self-imposed deadline, without rebelling against it. There is nonetheless always a comical distraction or two to lure me, or my attention away . . .

Mid-Chapter 91 I came upon . . . The Scarlet Pimpernel!!

I deeply inhaled and gasped. Dear Husband took a break from tossing away a floor-full of crumpled paper wrappings and commented:

“You found the Count?”

He always gets to glimpse the next text of THE DAWN to translate before I do.

Dutifully, and with inordinate patience, Dear Husbands prints each upcoming chapter on the home-printer which, for some bizarrely illogical reason, gives no timely warning — actually, no warning at all — to signal that the ink-cartridge has run out of ink.

And the ink always runs out HALF-WAY through the printing of The Next Chapter. The half-printed/half-fading-to-non-existent words are the clue that the ink has vanished — poof — from the obscenely expensive cartridge. The Chapter is furthermore printed, whenever it is successfully printed, back-to-front, so the labors of Dear Husband to deliver the fully-printed and legible Chapter to Dear Novelist-Wife-Translator are often more intensive than is her mere mental work to translate the text.

We’ve not lost a page or a chapter yet!

He tells me that he catches sight of — here and there, and there and here — the key parts of the crucial scenes that I have yet to re-discover from writing my one-and-only draft of THE DAWN. My process of translation is to go line-by-line on the printed page, sometimes looking ahead only a sentence or two because the sentence structure and certain clauses in the French can be the inverse of the English ones.

Whenever I reach The Emotional Moment, I usually GASP!

Last night, it was the Scarlet Pimpernel statement that took my breath away. I then said to Dear Husband-Printer-Plotline-Deliverer:

“I really need to read this book.”

I thereupon did a bit of research of the author, whom I already knew as The Baroness, and the history of this classic. Yes, the play came first and then the book was written by the Hungarian-born English writer. That factoid, in itself, points to the intriguing plot complications that this imperial and impish author tossed off like rare jewels from her pearl-strewn neck.

Tally-ho and away we go!

Why have I not read this 1905 book by Emmuska Orczy? (Is that not a Writer’s Name????)

Images of Jane Seymour in the 1980s tv mini-series, which I did not watch and never will, along with newer-but-older images of the 1934 Hollywood film, a frock flick, with, yes, Leslie Howard of “Oh Ashley Ashley” (Oh Scarlett Scarlett) milquetoast fame, and Merle Oberon looking too much like Olivia de Havilland:

those absurdly silly visions absolutely chased me far far away — into the furthest reaches from this piece of classic literature with its secret-identity-plot device.

(If Errol Flynn had been cast as Monsieur Pimpernel, I would have long ago watched the film, ad nauseam, and read the original source material — THE BOOK.)

What an awful way for anyone, least of all a Novelist, to treat a literary masterpiece!

How is that for judging the Book by its Movie Cover? Especially an historic adventure romantic novel that is reputedly a real hoot!

Why, I’ve even known, in real life, a dandy or two, who, behind the cunning disguise, and without the masterful guise of acting modest, meek and boringly unwise, were mastermind hero-hunks under cover of darkness.

I, author of non-Romance Novels, can be downright dumb when it comes to the more, ahem, bold portions of my own writing. A hero wears a mask, for his own goals, to face the world outside. Behind the mask, there, inside — he is a completely different animal.

A novelist wears blinders, for her own purposes, to create her own fiction to face the world outside. Inside, she completely forgets what she’s written!

Dear Husband served as my final proofreader for THE DAWN. During August 2012, he shed copious tears as he read The End. Sobbed, in fact. And then he asked me if I realized certain plot lines, elements, and themes A, B, C, and D — that he’d picked up on right away.

I knew . . . not a one! Maybe they were too obvious for me to have seen.

I think that I might glean some insights into my own œuvre, THE DAWN, and perhaps even discover a literary trick or six, through reading the Baroness. Surely, I can find room on my anemic list of unread British novels to permit a space right on top for Sir Percy Blakeney.

Percy’s the English dandy who transforms himself (long before Batman or Zorro ever tried it) into a Hero — and to the French aristocrats, no less!

His Yacht, The Day Dream, cruises, intrepidly and undeterred, across La Manche, the English Channel, to land in France. There, with the requisite and exquisite Element of Surprise, the Scarlet Pimpernel daringly rescues those noble necks from the National Razor, le rasoir national — named after Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (1738-1814).

Joe did not invent the guillotine, but he advocated for its use as a merciful method of capital punishment. Monsieur Guillotin was a physician and a politician, long before that practice became a way for doctors in the USA to try to save their practices from the Lawyer Class. It is said that he even opposed the death penalty, and later came to deeply regret the association of his name with the decapitation machine that would, in his own words, “behead painlessly.”

Monsieur Guillotin had slyly proposed to the French National Assembly, l’Assemblée nationale, the only appropriate way to enact the coup de grâce: The administered justice should always take the form of decapitation by means of a simple mechanism. (Centuries later, at least in America, the capitation of doctors’ fees would return the favor to Dr. Guillotin.)

The French devised the most artful of euphemisms to disguise the name of this simple mechanism, the bloody beheading device. The demand for the clever circumlocution was necessitated, in part, by the living heads that survived the blade. All throughout the centuries of use of the guillotine in France (where it was outlawed only in 1977), there persisted the ticklish question of human consciousness that remained long after the head was severed from the neck of the Executed Prisoner.

The movement of the eyes, in particular, indicated life, until the glazed look of the dead overtook the unwilling corpse. That dead-eye look is currently conspicuous among certain political animals, in France as well as in the United States and England.

Some of the more subtle but nonetheless descriptive delicacies include:

Madame La Guillotine

La demi-lune (The Half-Moon, mimicking the shape of a very large scalpel)

La Raccourcisseuse patriotique (The Patriotic Shortener)

La Monte-à-regret (The Regretful Climb)

Le Moulin à Silence (The Silence Mill)

and, my personal favorite:

Le Prix Goncourt des Assassins (The Goncourt Prize for Murderers)

The French used to do macabre irony, execution and revolution with such sublime efficiency, panache and aplomb. Les Français, in their land of the Gauls, have most assuredly plummeted from that height of grandeur. Their dark, or gallows, humor, has taken on the white and pasty pallor of puff-pâté. Methinks they can relive, even revive, the glories of Versailles by reading more of those livres classiques, the archaic and antiquated classic books by the outmoded French authors, ces démodés, who taught me so much of the art of writing, the joy of writing, the joy of reading, the art of reading.

Pas du tout — can you judge a book by its movie cover, or a novelist by her inability to understand the driving forces and the finer nuances of her own book.

Last night, as I explained to Dear Husband the hilarious romp through history in this novel by the Baroness — with the silvery glinting of the French guillotine blade upon the necks of even children, and the blood-thirsty French maniacs tearing down an Ancient régime — he began to smirk, and then smile, and then giggle, and then uproariously laugh.

He’d found the 1950 Warner Brothers Looney Tune version of The Scarlet Pimpernel. He states that I have to watch it first before reading the book.

This morning, amidst breakfast and the briskly glowing sunlight of the 10:00 morning hour, I did some online research of Daffy as The Scarlet Pumpernickel. The spirit of adventure superbly comes to life, even as it is spoofed to the hilt, in this celluloid caper written by Michael Maltese. Those seven minutes of non-formulaic Warner Brothers cartooning were created by Mel Blanc and Chuck Jones. This masterpiece is not without its controversies, but where would a classic be without at least one?

Best of all, Swashbuckler Daffy, the blundering but dashing romantic masked hero, emulates Errol Flynn in this spoof that just might rival my all-time Looney Tunes favorite: Robin Hood Daffy.

First, however, I must trip-a-trip through the Boxes of Florals. Certain silk flowers pale in comparison to the splendour of golden oaks and dark green pine trees. The donations pile takes on generously monumental proportions that way. Especially when the creative mind is really dans le jardin, in the garden — that has yet to be planted!


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