Paris september 1792

Words: 601-700

Skills: Character Traits Figurative Language Story Elements

Grades: 9th 10th 11th

Topics: Adventure / Thriller, Historical Fiction, and Romance

Genres: Prose

Lexile Range: 1060L - 1290L

Lexile Measure: 1240L

CCSS: Reading: Literature

Themes:

Paris: September 1792


by Baroness Orczy from The Scarlet Pimpernel

Chapter I passage: The adventure novel “The Scarlet Pimpernel” was written in 1902 by Baroness Orczy. The lead character, Sir Percy Blakeney, aka the Scarlet Pimpernel, is arguably the first superhero in the manner of Zorro, Batman, and the Lone Ranger. In public he was a foppish and rather dim English lord. However, in private he was the brave and clever leader of a band of British noblemen who rescued doomed French aristocrats from the guillotine of the French Revolution. Students will read the passage and draw conclusions on the character of the Pimpernel and the figurative language in the text.

Reading Comprehension Passage

Paris: September 1792

by Baroness Orczy from The Scarlet Pimpernel
The novel The Scarlet Pimpernel is about the band of mysterious Englishmen who rescue French nobles from the guillotine during the French Revolution. The leader uses a red flower, know as a scarlet pimpernel, as his trademark. This passage is from the opening of the book. Bibot is a French sergeant who is assigned to make sure the French nobles don’t escape. The word “citoyen” is French for citizen. "Aristos"  are aristocrats, or nobles.

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No wonder that on this fine afternoon in September the crowd round Bibot’s gate was eager and excited. The lust of blood grows with its satisfaction, there is no satiety: the crowd had seen a hundred noble heads fall beneath the guillotine today, it wanted to make sure that it would see another hundred fall on the morrow.

Bibot was sitting on an overturned and empty cask close by the gate of the barricade; a small detachment of citoyen soldiers was under his command. The work had been very hot lately. Those cursed aristos were becoming terrified and tried their hardest to slip out of Paris: men, women and children, whose ancestors, even in remote ages, had served those traitorous Bourbons, were all traitors themselves and right food for the guillotine. Every day Bibot had had the satisfaction of unmasking some fugitive royalists and sending them back to be tried by the Committee of Public Safety, presided over by that good patriot, Citoyen Foucquier-Tinville.

Robespierre and Danton both had commended Bibot for his zeal and Bibot was proud of the fact that he on his own initiative had sent at least fifty aristos to the guillotine.

But today all the sergeants in command at the various barricades had had special orders. Recently a very great number of aristos had succeeded in escaping out of France and in reaching England safely. There were curious rumours about these escapes; they had become very frequent and singularly daring; the people’s minds were becoming strangely excited about it all. Sergeant Grospierre had been sent to the guillotine for allowing a whole family of aristos to slip out of the North Gate under his very nose.

It was asserted that these escapes were organised by a band of Englishmen, whose daring seemed to be unparalleled, and who, from sheer desire to meddle in what did not concern them, spent their spare time in snatching away lawful victims destined for Madame la Guillotine. These rumours soon grew in extravagance; there was no doubt that this band of meddlesome Englishmen did exist; moreover, they seemed to be under the leadership of a man whose pluck and audacity were almost fabulous. Strange stories were afloat of how he and those aristos whom he rescued became suddenly invisible as they reached the barricades and escaped out of the gates by sheer supernatural agency.

No one had seen these mysterious Englishmen; as for their leader, he was never spoken of, save with a superstitious shudder. Citoyen Foucquier-Tinville would in the course of the day receive a scrap of paper from some mysterious source; sometimes he would find it in the pocket of his coat, at others it would be handed to him by someone in the crowd, whilst he was on his way to the sitting of the Committee of Public Safety. The paper always contained a brief notice that the band of meddlesome Englishmen were at work, and it was always signed with a device drawn in red—a little star-shaped flower, which we in England call the Scarlet Pimpernel. Within a few hours of the receipt of this impudent notice, the citoyens of the Committee of Public Safety would hear that so many royalists and aristocrats had succeeded in reaching the coast, and were on their way to England and safety.

The guards at the gates had been doubled, the sergeants in command had been threatened with death, whilst liberal rewards were offered for the capture of these daring and impudent Englishmen. There was a sum of five thousand francs promised to the man who laid hands on the mysterious and elusive Scarlet Pimpernel.

Passage Only

Reading Comprehension Questions

1. Based on the text, describe the character of the man called the Scarlet Pimpernel. Use quotations from the text to support your answer.



2. The text says “Strange stories were afloat of how he and those aristos whom he rescued became suddenly invisible as they reached the barricades and escaped out of the gates by sheer supernatural agency.” Give an alternative explanation for how the Scarlet Pimpernel and the aristocrats escaped besides supernatural intervention.



3. Explain the personification here: “[the aristos] were all traitors themselves and right food for the guillotine.”



4. The text says the band of Englishmen had a “desire to meddle in what did not concern them.” Do you think that is the motivation for the Englishmen, or was it something else? If so, what was it?