Beau Brocade by Baroness Orczy

Goodreads: Beau Brocade
Source: Purchased

Summary: King George’s troops scour the countryside of Derbyshire for traitors after the failed rebellion led by Bonny Prince Charlie.  Falsely accused of siding with the pretender, Philip, the young Earl of Stratton, hides on the moors until his sister Lady Patience can deliver to London letters that prove his innocence.  The man who accused Philip, however, remains hot on his trail.  Only one man can help the Earl and his sister outwit their adversary, but dare they place Philip’s life in the hands of the notorious highwayman Beau Brocade?

Review: Beau Brocade should please fans of Orczy’s better-known work The Scarlet Pimpernel as it contains many of the same elements—a beautiful young aristocrat with her brother in danger, a dashing hero with a double identity, and a ruthless villain who will stop at nothing to catch his prey.  Although the plot is unlikely to catch any readers by surprise, it proceeds apace—the majority of its interest lying in the budding romance as well as the various tricks played upon the villains by the audacious Beau Brocade.  As is usual with Orczy’s books, the characters carry the story;  hating the villains is almost as fun as cheering on the protagonists.

Beau Brocade has immediate reader appeal as he functions as a slightly more questionable version of the Scarlet Pimpernel–a man who lives outside the law, but who steals from the rich only to give to the poor (and always while wearing the latest fashion).  Thus, although Orczy takes care to draw attention to his chivalry, his boyish laughter, his zest for life, and his ability to win the loyalty and love of all the poorer folk in Derbyshire, an air of mystery surrounds him; if this man is so noble, what crime in his past forces him to hide upon the moors like a common thief?  That nagging doubt plays into his relationship with Lady Patience, who finds herself attracted to his honorable qualities but fearing to lose her heart to a man who could betray her for personal gain.

If Beau Brocade is the Scarlet Pimpernal (or perhaps a better parallel can be drawn to Blakeney’s ancestor Diogenes, hero of The Laughing Cavalier), Patience obviously corresponds to the Pimpernel’s love interest, Marguerite.  Fortunately, however, she lacks that lady’s talent for falling captive to her enemies every so often so they can more easily blackmail the hero.  I admit I had high hopes for Patience.  Her brother thinks highly of her intelligence and good sense, and early on in the story she takes the initiative to discover his whereabouts and formulate a suitable plan for his recovery.  She, too, quickly discerns the identity of their hidden enemy and takes various precautions to attempt to elude his clutches.  By the end of the story, however, she finds herself unable to resist the relentless plots of her adversary and meekly places herself in the hands of the hero.  Admitting one’s weaknesses and deferring to another’s strengths indeed counts as good sense.  Even so, I wish Lady Patience had had a few more opportunities to exhibit the intelligence she clearly possesses.  She has the ability to take stock of a situation much more quickly than anyone else in the story and tries to use this to her advantage.  For some reason, however, things never work out in her favor, which leads to the sense that Beau Brocade is forever rescuing her–even though I think they would work remarkably well together as a team.

I thought the villain of the story was particularly notable, especially in light of comparisons with the Scarlet Pimpernel’s main adversary, Chauvelin.  I suspect Chauvelin can gain the sympathy of readers much more easily, especially considering the implication in various adaptations (such as the musical) that he and Marguerite were once a couple.  Chauvelin’s defining trait, after all, is merely his obsession with capturing the Scarlet Pimpernel–an understandable one considering his precarious position in the new hierarchy of the French Revolution.  As book after book progresses and Chauvelin always loses, he increasingly becomes more pitiable than threatening.  The villain of Beau Brocade, however–well, there’s a villain for you.

This villain lacks all honor, all chivalry, all trace of any finer trait.  Perversely, however, he acts always with the intention of winning the hand of the Lady Patience in marriage.  His love turned to obsession paints the picture of a truly warped mind–one so far gone that he would hurt the one he claims to love simply to possess her.  He may not be threatening physically, but he is truly terrifying psychologically.  One can almost see him tottering on the brink of madness.  Even more terrifying, he retains the ability to enlist others in his cause–solely because of his place in society.

Though I am a fan of Orczy’s Pimpernel books, Beau Brocade still surprised me with the depth of its characterization (often hidden behind seeming stereotypes), the gripping nature of its plot, and the general feel-good quality of the story overall.  If you like dashing heroes, scheming villains, and a good romance, Beau Brocade is the perfect way to spend an afternoon.

Published: 1907

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