The Scarlet Pimpernel

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The Scarlet Pimpernel
Cover of the 1908 edition
1908 edition
Author Emma Orczy
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Adventure, Historical novel
Publisher Hutchinson
Publication date
1905
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 319 pp
ISBN NA
Preceded by The First Sir Percy
Followed by Sir Percy Leads the Band

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a play and adventure novel by Emma Orczy set during the Reign of Terror following the start of the French Revolution. The title character, Sir Percy Blakeney, represents the original "hero with a secret identity" that inspired[citation needed] subsequent literary creations such as Don Diego de la Vega (Zorro) and Bruce Wayne (Batman).

Character[edit]

Anagallis arvensis, the scarlet pimpernel flower

Sir Percy is a wealthy English baronet who rescues individuals sentenced to death by the guillotine. He soon reveals himself to be a master of disguise, an imaginative planner, a formidable swordsman and a quick-thinking escape artist. With each rescue he taunts his enemies by leaving behind a card showing a small flower—a scarlet pimpernel. The identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel thus becomes a topic of widespread popular interest and the hero himself becomes the subject of an international manhunt by the French revolutionary authorities. To hide his true identity, Sir Percy presents himself in everyday life as a dim-witted, foppish playboy. His secret is kept by a band of friends known as the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel. The league operates as an undercover team in enacting Sir Percy's rescue plans.

Baroness Orczy's general sympathy with aristocrats is evident in her stories, where nobility of birth and nobility of character easily correspond. Even so, her tales present commoners as capable of selfless and heroic actions. Marguerite St. Just and her brother Armand, both commoners who initially help bring about the French Revolution, work closely with Sir Percy as members of the League.

Initial publication[edit]

Orczy's original play, The Scarlet Pimpernel, was produced and adapted by Julia Neilson and Fred Terry. It opened on 15 October 1903 at Nottingham's Theatre Royal and was not a success. Terry, however, had confidence in the play and, with a rewritten last act, took it to London where it opened at the New Theatre on 5 January 1905. The premier of the London production was enthusiastically received by the audience, but critics considered the play 'old-fashioned.' In spite of negative reviews, the play became a popular success, running 122 performances and enjoying numerous revivals. The Scarlet Pimpernel became a favourite of London audiences, playing more than 2,000 performances and becoming one of the most popular shows staged in England to that date.[citation needed]

The novel The Scarlet Pimpernel was published soon after the play opened and was an immediate success. Orczy gained a following of readers in Britain and throughout the world. The popularity of the novel encouraged her to write a number of sequels for her "reckless daredevil" over the next 35 years. The play was performed to great acclaim in France, Italy, Germany and Spain, while the novel was translated into 16 languages. Subsequently, the story has been adapted for television, film, a musical and other media.

The international success of The Scarlet Pimpernel allowed Orczy and her husband to live out their lives in luxury. Over the years, they lived on an estate in Kent, a bustling London home and an opulent villa in Monte Carlo. Orczy wrote in her autobiography, Links in the Chain of Life:

I have so often been asked the question: "But how did you come to think of The Scarlet Pimpernel?" And my answer has always been: "It was God's will that I should." And to you moderns, who perhaps do not believe as I do, I will say, "In the chain of my life, there were so many links, all of which tended towards bringing me to the fulfillment of my destiny."

Plot[edit]

Fred Terry in The Scarlet Pimpernel, 1905

The Scarlet Pimpernel is set in 1792, during the early stages of the French Revolution. Marguerite St. Just, a beautiful French actress, is the wife of wealthy English fop Sir Percy Blakeney, a baronet. Before their marriage, Marguerite took revenge upon the Marquis de St. Cyr, who had ordered her brother to be beaten for his romantic interest in the Marquis' daughter, with the unintended consequence of the Marquis and his sons being sent to the guillotine. When Percy found out, he became estranged from his wife. Marguerite, for her part, became disillusioned with Percy's shallow, dandyish lifestyle.

Meanwhile, the "League of the Scarlet Pimpernel", a secret society of twenty English aristocrats, "one to command, and nineteen to obey", is engaged in rescuing their French counterparts from the daily executions (see Reign of Terror). Their leader, the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel, takes his nickname from the drawing of a small red flower with which he signs his messages. Despite being the talk of London society, only his followers and possibly the Prince of Wales know the Pimpernel's true identity. Like many others, Marguerite is entranced by the Pimpernel's daring exploits.

We seek him here, we seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven?—Is he in hell?
That demmed, elusive Pimpernel.

Sir Percy Blakeney (ch.12)

At a ball attended by the Blakeneys, a verse by Percy about the "elusive Pimpernel" makes the rounds and amuses the other guests. Meanwhile, Marguerite is blackmailed by the wily new French envoy to England, Citizen Chauvelin. Chauvelin's agents have stolen a letter incriminating her beloved brother Armand, proving that he is in league with the Pimpernel. Chauvelin offers to trade Armand's life for her help against the Pimpernel. Contemptuous of her seemingly witless and unloving husband, Marguerite does not go to him for help or advice. Instead, she passes along information which enables Chauvelin to learn the Pimpernel's true identity.

Later that night, Marguerite finally tells her husband of the terrible danger threatening her brother and pleads for his assistance. Percy promises to save him. After Percy unexpectedly leaves for France, Marguerite discovers to her horror that he is the Pimpernel. He had hidden behind the persona of a dull, slow-witted fop to deceive the world. He had not told Marguerite because of his worry that she might betray him, as she had the Marquis de St. Cyr. Desperate to save her husband, she decides to pursue Percy to France to warn him that Chauvelin knows his identity and his purpose. She persuades Sir Andrew Ffoulkes to accompany her, but because of the tide and the weather, neither they nor Chauvelin can leave immediately.

At Calais, Percy openly approaches Chauvelin in a decrepit inn (the Chat gris), whose owner is in Percy's pay. Despite Chauvelin's best efforts, the Englishman manages to escape by offering Chauvelin a pinch of snuff, which turned out to be pure pepper. When Chauvelin took this pinch, he effectively incapacitated himself. Through a bold plan executed right under Chauvelin's nose, Percy rescues Marguerite's brother Armand and the Comte de Tournay, the father of a schoolfriend of Marguerite's. Marguerite pursues Percy right to the very end, resolute that she must either warn him or share his fate. Percy, heavily disguised, is captured by Chauvelin, but he does not recognise him, and he is enabled to escape.

With Marguerite's love and courage amply proven, Percy's ardour is rekindled. Safely back on board their schooner, the Day Dream, the happily reconciled couple returns to England. Sir Andrew marries the Count's daughter, Suzanne.

Sequels[edit]

Baroness Orczy wrote numerous sequels, none of which became as famous as The Scarlet Pimpernel. Many of the sequels revolve around French characters whom Sir Percy has met and is attempting to rescue. His followers, such as Lord Tony Dewhurst, Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, Lord Hastings, and Armand St. Just (Marguerite's brother), also take their turn in major roles.

In addition to the direct sequels about Sir Percy and his league, Orczy's related books include The Laughing Cavalier (1914) and The First Sir Percy (1921), about an ancestor of the Pimpernel's; Pimpernel and Rosemary (1924), about a descendant; and The Scarlet Pimpernel Looks at the World (1933), a depiction of the 1930s world from the point of view of Sir Percy.

Some of her non-related Revolutionary-period novels reference the Scarlet Pimpernel or the League, most notably The Bronze Eagle (1915).

Members of the League[edit]

The Life and Exploits of the Scarlet Pimpernel, a fictional biography of Percy Blakeney published in 1938, named the nineteen members of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel.[1]

  • The original nine League or founder members who formed the party on 2 August 1792: Sir Andrew Ffoulkes (second in command), Lord Anthony Dewhurst, Lord Edward Hastings, Lord John Bathurst, Lord Stowmarries, Sir Edward Mackenzie, Sir Philip Glynde, Lord Saint Denys, and Sir Richard Galveston.
  • Ten members enrolled on January 1793: Sir Jeremiah Wallescourt, Lord Kulmstead, Lord George Fanshawe, Anthony Holte, John Hastings (Lord Edward's cousin), Lord Everingham, Sir George Vigor, Bart., The Hon. St. John Devinne, Michael Barstow of York, and Armand St. Just (Marguerite's brother).
  • Marguerite, Lady Blakeney, is also named as a member of the League in the book Mam'zelle Guillotine, but it is not known when she was formally enrolled.

Historical allusions[edit]

As a writer, Baroness Orczy often alluded to historical events and figures but adapted these freely in creating her tales.

Citizen Chauvelin, the recurring villain of the Scarlet Pimpernel series, is based to some extent on the real-life Bernard-François, marquis de Chauvelin, who survived the Revolutionary period to serve as an official under Napoleon I of France. He was a noted liberal Deputy under the Bourbon Restoration.

Other real life historical figures who appear in Orczy's Pimpernel series include:

Scarlet Pimpernel publications[edit]

Novels[edit]

Collections of short stories[edit]

Omnibus editions[edit]

Related books[edit]

Chronology[edit]

Baroness Orczy did not publish her Pimpernel stories as a strict chronological series, and in fact, the settings of the books in their publication sequence may vary forward or backward in time by months or centuries. While some readers enjoy following the author's development of the Pimpernel character as it was realised, others prefer to read the stories in historical sequence. Taking into account occasional discrepancies in the dates of events (real and fictional) referred to in the stories, the following is an approximate chronological listing of Baroness Orczy's Scarlet Pimpernel novels and short stories:

Book Title Setting Notes
The Laughing Cavalier January 1623
The First Sir Percy March 1624
The Scarlet Pimpernel September–October 1792
Sir Percy Leads the Band January 1793
The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel July 1793
I Will Repay August–September 1793
The Elusive Pimpernel September–October 1793
Lord Tony's Wife November–December 1793
The Way of the Scarlet Pimpernel late 1793 concurrent with preceding 2 or 3 novels
Eldorado January 1794 unclear whether before, after, or concurrent with Mam'zelle Guillotine
Mam'zelle Guillotine January 1794 unclear whether before, after, or concurrent with Eldorado
Sir Percy Hits Back May–June 1794
Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel 1794? exact dates unclear
The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel April 1794 seems to have happened later than dates indicate
A Child of the Revolution July 1794
Pimpernel and Rosemary 1917–1924

Adaptations[edit]

Hollywood took to the Pimpernel early and often, although most of the Pimpernel movies have been based on a melange of the original book and another Orczy novel, Eldorado. The most well-known of the Pimpernel movies is the 1934 The Scarlet Pimpernel starring Leslie Howard, which is considered the definitive adaptation by some.[citation needed]

Parodies and media references[edit]

The novel has been parodied or used as source material in a variety of media, such as films, TV, stage works, literature, and games. It was parodied as a 1950 Warner Bros. cartoon short featuring Daffy Duck: "The Scarlet Pumpernickel". An action figure of the Scarlet Pumpernickel was released by DC Direct in 2006, making it one of the few—if not the only—toys produced based on the Pimpernel. The Scarlet Pimpernel was parodied extensively in the Carry On film Don't Lose Your Head which featured Sid James as the Black Fingernail, who helps French aristocrats escape the guillotine while hiding behind the foppish exterior of British aristocrat Sir Rodney Ffing. It also features Jim Dale as his assistant, Lord Darcy. They must rescue preposterously effete aristocrat Charles Hawtrey from the clutches of Kenneth Williams' fiendish Citizen Camembert and his sidekick Citizen Bidet (Peter Butterworth).[2] In The Court Jester, the baby heir to the throne has a birthmark known as "the purple pimpernel".

In 1987, the BBC sitcom Blackadder the Third included an episode, "Nob and Nobility", in which the Scarlet Pimpernel is praised by everyone except Mr. E. Blackadder, who sees nothing admirable in "filling London with a load of garlic-chewing French toffs... looking for sympathy all the time simply because their fathers had their heads cut off". The episode ends with Blackadder killing two noblemen claiming to be the Pimpernel and his partner. Prince George was about to give some money to the Pimpernel just before he died, so Blackadder claims to be the real Pimpernel to get the money.

Other TV references include the series Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp, which had an episode entitled "The Scarlet Chimpernel". The title character has a fantasy where he is the Scarlet Pimpernel. The part of Marguerite is filled by Mata Hairi. The seventh episode of the 2007 season of the TV series Midsomer Murders, "They Seek Him Here", centres around a shooting of a remake of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Several episodes of the CBBC series ChuckleVision featured the Chuckle Brothers encountering the "Purple Pimple", aka Sir Percy, played by Barry Killerby.

In Ken Lugdwig's play Moon Over Buffalo, the lead character, George, hopes to be cast by Frank Capra in the movie Twilight of the Scarlet Pimpernel. In The Desert Song, the heroic "Red Shadow" has a milquetoast alter ego modelled after The Scarlet Pimpernel.[3] The Canadian comedy team of Wayne and Shuster created a comedy sketch in 1957 based on the Scarlet Pimpernel called "The Brown Pumpernickel" in which, instead of a red flower as his calling card, the hero would leave behind a loaf of pumpernickel.[4][5]

Sir Percy and Marguerite are mentioned as members of an 18th-century incarnation of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in the graphic novels of that title by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill and make a more significant appearance in The Black Dossier, in the accounts of both Orlando and Fanny Hill, with whom Percy and Marguerite are revealed to have been romantically involved. In the third book in the TimeWars series, The Pimpernel Plot, Sir Percy is killed in an accident at the beginning of his career as the Scarlet Pimpernel, and a time traveler must act the part of Sir Percy to preserve history. The Scarlet Pimpernel is a member of the Wold Newton family, a concept created by Philip Jose Farmer. In addition, a series of novels by Lauren Willig, beginning with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation (2005), chronicle the adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel's associates, including the Purple Gentian (alias of Lord Richard Selwick), spies in the Napoleonic era.[6]

Steve Jackson Games published GURPS Scarlet Pimpernel, by Robert Traynor and Lisa Evans in 1991, a supplement for playing the milieu using the GURPS roleplaying game system.[7] In the 1998 Wizards of the Coast game Guillotine, there is an action card named The Scarlet Pimpernel, which instantly ends the day after the next noble is collected.

Writer Geoffrey Trease wrote his adventure novel, Thunder of Valmy (1960; US title Victory at Valmy) partly as a response to Orczy's Pimpernel novels, which he argued were giving children a misleading image of the French Revolution.[8] Thunder of Valmy revolves around the adventures of a peasant boy, Pierre Mercier, during the start of the Revolution, and his persection by a tyrannical Marquis.[8]

The 2013 Phineas and Ferb episode, "Druselsteinoween", featured the Scarlet Pimpernel as an important plot device.

Real-life tie-ins[edit]

The Tartan Pimpernel[edit]

Inspired by the title, Scarlet Pimpernel, the Tartan Pimpernel was a nickname given to the Reverend Donald Caskie (1902–1983), formerly minister of the Paris congregation of the Church of Scotland, for aiding over 2,000 Allied service personnel to escape from occupied France during World War II.

The American Pimpernel[edit]

Varian Fry was a 32-year-old Harvard-educated classicist and editor from New York City who helped save thousands of endangered refugees who were caught in Vichy France, helping them to escape from Nazi terror during World War II. His story is told in American Pimpernel — the Man Who Saved the Artists on Hitler's Death List.

The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican[edit]

Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty was an Irish priest who saved thousands of people, British and American servicemen and Jews, during World War II while in the Vatican in Rome. His story is told in two books and a film:

  • J. P. Gallagher (1968), Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican, New York: Coward-McCann
  • Brian Fleming (2008), The Vatican Pimpernel: The Wartime Exploits of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, Collins Press
  • The Scarlet and the Black, a 1983 made-for-TV movie starring Gregory Peck and Christopher Plummer

The Black Pimpernel[edit]

Harald Edelstam (1913–1989) was a Swedish diplomat. During World War II, he earned the nickname Svarta nejlikan ("the Black Pimpernel") for helping Norwegian resistance fighters in Hjemmefronten escape from the Germans.[9] Stationed in Chile in the 1970s, he arranged for the escape of numerous refugees from the military junta of Augusto Pinochet; this brought him into conflict with the regime, and he eventually was forced to leave the country.

This name was also given to Nelson Mandela prior to his arrest and long incarceration for his anti-apartheid activities in South Africa due to his effective use of disguises when evading capture by the police.[10][11][12]

Raoul Wallenberg[edit]

Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat, was directly inspired by the film Pimpernel Smith to begin rescuing Hungarian Jews during World War II.[13] Wallenberg issued false passports identifying the Jews as Swedish nationals, and is credited with rescuing at least 15,000 Jews. He disappeared in Eastern Europe after the war, and is believed to have died in a Soviet prison camp.[14]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Blakeney, John (1938). The Life and Exploits of the Scarlet Pimpernel. Appendix I. Retrieved 7 November 2012. 
  2. ^ Hibbin, Sally and Nina Hibbin. What a Carry On — The Official History of the Carry On Film Series, Hamlyn, London, 1998, ISBN 0-600-55819-3, pp. 98–99
  3. ^ Everett, William A. and Geoffrey Holden Block. Sigmund Romberg, p. 160, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007 ISBN 0-300-11183-5
  4. ^ "The Archivist". collectionscanada.ca (Library and Archives Canada). 10 April 2000. Retrieved 29 October 2007. 
  5. ^ "Episode Guide for the Wayne and Shuster Show" at TVArchive
  6. ^ Barnes, Tania. "Q&A: Lauren Willig", Library Journal, 15 November 2004
  7. ^ "Steve Jackson Games". Sjgames.com. Retrieved 19 March 2013. 
  8. ^ a b "Writers for Children XIII: Geoffrey Trease", in The School Librarian and School Library Review, Volume 13, 1965, (p. 134).
  9. ^ Joan Baez (6 November 1981). "Human Rights in the 80s: Seeing through both eyes". commonwealthclub.org. 
  10. ^ Time Magazine article The Black Pimpernel, Time Magazine, 17 August 1962
  11. ^ The New York Times obituary Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s Liberator as Prisoner and President, Dies at 95, The New York Times, 06 December 2013
  12. ^ Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting blog post NYT Takes Mandela's Death as a Chance to Mock His Fight to Free His Country, FAIR Blog, 06 December 2013
  13. ^ "Yad Vashem database". Yad Vashem. Archived from the original on 7 February 2007. Retrieved 12 February 2007. "who saved the lives of tens of thousands of Jews in Budapest during World War II ... and put some 15,000 Jews into 32 safe houses." 
  14. ^ Linnéa, Sharon, Raoul Wallenberg: The Man Who Stopped Death, Jewish Publication Society of America, copyright 1993.

External links[edit]