If you’ve ever heard this phrase at all, you associate it, as I do, with Sir Percy Blakeney, hero of Baroness Emma Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel. And Progeny Press has an excellent literature curriculum for this rip-roaring adventure, entitled The Scarlet Pimpernel E-Guide. We were privileged to receive a digital download of this interactive study guide (coauthored by Michael S. Gilleland & Eileen Cunningham) to review. The e-guide can either be printed so that students can write their answers in it, or can be saved to the computer for students to type in and save their work. (Purchase of the e-guide does not include the book, but Progeny Press does have print copies available for purchase.)
What is The Scarlet Pimpernel?
Anyone who’s either seen the 1982 film of The Scarlet Pimpernel, or has read Baroness Emma Orczy’s excellent book (of the same title), can tell you that a scarlet pimpernel is a “humble English wayside flower” (The Scarlet Pimpernel, chapter 4). However, it’s also the name and badge or symbol of an Englishman who snatches innocent French men, women, and children away from the guillotine before they are put to death. For the time of the book is 1792, and the place is Paris; the Reign of Terror has begun and tens of thousands of suspected “enemies” of the new French Republic are being put to death, without trial.
While all of Europe is horrified at the wholesale killing in France, the nations around her are hesitant to actually become involved in trying to put a stop to it. Except, that is, for Sir Percy Blakeney, who is both a baronet and one of the richest men in England. Although outwardly and in public he behaves like a simpleton who is only interested in the latest extravagant fashions and the pursuits of his own upper class, secretly he is the Scarlet Pimpernel, and he and his band of loyal friends use costume, disguise, and intrigue to rescue those who are wrongly sent to the guillotine. Even his French wife, the lovely and accomplished Marguerite, knows nothing of his secretive pursuits.
But of course, this hero infuriates the new French government, and Citoyen (citizen) Chauvelin is tasked with finding the Pimpernel and eradicating him. He blackmails Percy’s wife, Marguerite, by threatening to kill Armand, her brother, telling her that to save him she must discover and betray the Scarlet Pimpernel. Misunderstandings, betrayal, secret identities, and many twists and turns hurtle the reader through Baroness Orczy’s fantastic adventure story. Will Marguerite discover the identity of the Pimpernel, or is her marriage to Percy doomed to sorrow and mistrust? And will Chauvelin win….or will the Pimpernel?
What is The Scarlet Pimpernel E-Guide?
Progeny Press is a curriculum company which produces exceptional literature guides and study guides for students in elementary, middle school, and high school grades. Their stated mission is: “To teach our children to think clearly, to understand literature, and to rely on the scripture for truth and values, and enjoy themselves while they do it!” (from the About Us page of their website). Their guides are based on Christian beliefs, and they integrate both Scripture and worldview study into their literature guides. I personally find their guides both fascinating and thought-provoking, as well as high-quality. These guides really cause the student to think and ponder, not just quickly enter fill-in-the-blank questions without looking more deeply into the books and literature.
The Scarlet Pimpernel E-Guide is designed for high school students in grades 9-12. Completing it will provide 1/4 of a credit for the student. The e-guide itself includes:
- a short bio of the author, Baroness Emma Orczy
- historical background on the French Revolution and the events leading up to it, as well as France’s culture at that time
- Prereading activities
- Student work in 7 sections, which divide the book into 4-5 chapters each, including vocabulary study, short answer questions, character study, literary analysis, and “Digging Deeper” questions
- Assignments for essay writing and projects
- An additional resources list
- Answer key for student work
Since this was a digital download, we saved it to our PC, where my son Jackson does all of his computer work for school. I also exported a copy of the e-guide to my Kindle Fire, so that I could use that for making and selecting assignments for Jackson to work on. On my device, we weren’t able to enter answers into the interactive guide as Jackson could on the PC, but it was still a great resource for me in lesson planning.
The prereading activities are fantastic. We as adults are probably very familiar with the French Revolution, with its cruelties and excesses not seen in our own American Revolution (though the goal of the two was the same, to establish a republic). But our students may not have delved that deeply into this era of history, and the prereading activities will help them in understanding the setting of The Scarlet Pimpernel. These include: geography; a brief study on King Louis XVI and his wife, Queen Marie Antoinette; study on the whys and hows of the French Revolution; French vocabulary study; and more. I love these because this type of well-rounded study increases the ability of the student to remember the events of history as well as the events of Sir Percy’s story. Plus, for us homeschooling geek mamas, they are just fun!
The vocabulary (English) study is also quite good. Baroness Orczy wrote in an extremely descriptive voice; the reader is able to really see and imagine the events of her story. And the words she uses are high-level. Students will gain understanding of words like carnage, reprobate, effusive, inane, ardent, retribution, and more. The questions for each chapters’ segment are both thoughtful and effective.
I think that the “Digging Deeper” section was my favorite, of all the truly good portions of this study. The authors list real and valid questions that are essential for high school students to consider as they’re preparing for life in the world. They also list Scripture verses for students to look up that aid in worldview development, and in consideration of each character’s actions and motivations.
The Scarlet Pimpernel is a great read for high school students. However, because of the subject matter, it does delve into some bloodthirsty and repulsive human actions and events. But it’s full of humor, adventure, and historical fact, as well as excellent characterization. Baroness Orczy’s words lend themselves beautifully to both personal reading or reading aloud. Because I am such a huge fan of the Anthony Andrews film version of The Scarlet Pimpernel, we chose to read it aloud. (This is not quite the way Progeny Press recommends the book and e-guide be used, but it worked really beautifully for us.)
Because the e-guide’s assignments are grouped for 4-5 chapters at a time, Jackson (who’s an eighth grader going into ninth grade this fall) didn’t work on the literature guide every day. Rather, we’d read the assigned chapters and then he’d work for several days on the assignments, doing (for example) vocabulary work one day, a few literary questions on another, and the “Digging Deeper” questions on a different day. This worked very well for us, especially for a summer study. (During the school year, or once Jackson were just a little older, we’d do more work in a day.)
As we’ve experienced before with Progeny Press, their literature guides are truly exceptional. (For another example of our experiences with Progeny Press, you can read our review Introduction to Poetry: Forms and Elements.) We love the worldview they write from and that the students are exposed to and caused to think upon. And both the literature this is based on, and the literary devices they learn about, expose them to knowledge and understanding that a well-rounded student can appreciate having in his learning arsenal.
The Scarlet Pimpernel is a fun and fantastic read. And this e-guide is exceptional. This is just one of the many great e-guides that Progeny Press has available at their website. Other Crew members reviewed E-Guides for all ages. Click on the banner below, and you’ll be able to read more about all those books, E-Guides, and the homeschoolers’ experiences!
And one last postscript; to my knowledge, Sir Percy never says “Sink me!” in The Scarlet Pimpernel book…though Anthony Andrews’ character makes it ever so memorable in the movie. If you want to see it in print, you’ll have to turn to Baroness Orczy’s related book about the Pimpernel, Mam’zelle Guillotine. (But I do think that the 1982 film is great fun….after you finish the book!)
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