Baroness Orczy

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Baroness (Emma) Orczy
Portrait of Baroness Emma Orczy by Bassano
Portrait of Baroness Emma Orczy by Bassano
BornEmma Magdalena Rozália Mária Jozefa Borbála Orczy de Orci
23 September 1865 (1865-09-23)
Tarnaörs, Heves County, Hungary, Austrian Empire
Died12 November 1947 (1947-11-13) (aged 82)
Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, UK
NationalityHungarian, British
GenreHistorical fiction, mystery fiction and adventure romances
Notable worksThe Scarlet Pimpernel
The Emperor's Candlesticks
Henry George Montagu MacLean Barstow
(m. 1894; died 1942)

Baroness Emma Orczy (full name: Emma Magdalena Rozália Mária Jozefa Borbála Orczy de Orci) (/ˈɔːrts/; 23 September 1865 – 12 November 1947), usually known as Baroness Orczy (the name under which she was published) or to her family and friends as Emmuska Orczy, was a Hungarian-born British novelist and playwright. She is best known for her series of novels featuring the Scarlet Pimpernel, the alter ego of Sir Percy Blakeney, a wealthy English fop who turns into a quick-thinking escape artist in order to save French aristocrats from "Madame Guillotine" during the French Revolution, establishing the "hero with a secret identity" in popular culture.[1]

Opening in London's West End on 5 January 1905, The Scarlet Pimpernel became a favourite of British audiences. Some of Orczy's paintings were exhibited at the Royal Academy in London. She established the Women of England's Active Service League during World War I with the intention of empowering women to convince men to enlist in the military.

Early life[edit]

Orczy was born in Tarnaörs, Hungary. She was the daughter of the composer Baron Félix Orczy de Orci (1835–1892) and Countess Emma Wass de Szentegyed et Cege (1839–1892).[2] Her paternal grandfather, Baron László Orczy (1787–1880) was a royal councillor, and knight of the Sicilian order of Saint George,[3] her paternal grandmother, Baroness Magdolna, born Magdolna Müller (1811–1879), was of Austrian origin.[4] Her maternal grandparents were the Count Sámuel Wass de Szentegyed et Cege (1815–1879), member of the Hungarian parliament,[5] and Rozália Eperjessy de Károlyfejérvár (1814–1884).[6]

Emma's parents left their estate for Budapest in 1868, fearful of the threat of a peasant revolution. They lived in Budapest, Brussels, and Paris, where Emma studied music unsuccessfully. Finally, in 1880, the 14-year-old Emma and her family moved to London, England where they lodged with their countryman, Francis Pichler, at 162 Great Portland Street. Orczy attended West London School of Art and then the Heatherley School of Fine Art.

Although not destined to be a painter, it was at art school that she met a young illustrator named Henry George Montagu MacLean Barstow, the son of an English clergyman; they were married at St Marylebone parish church on 7 November 1894. It was the start of a joyful and happy marriage, which she described as "for close on half a century, one of perfect happiness and understanding, of perfect friendship and communion of thought."[7]

Writing career[edit]

They had very little money and Orczy started to work with her husband as a translator and an illustrator to supplement his meager earnings. John Montague Orczy-Barstow, their only child, was born on 25 February 1899. She started writing soon after his birth, but her first novel, The Emperor's Candlesticks (1899), was a failure. She did, however, find a small following with a series of detective stories in the Royal Magazine. Her next novel, In Mary's Reign (1901), did better.

In 1903, she and her husband wrote The Scarlet Pimpernel, a play based on one of her short stories about an English aristocrat, Sir Percy Blakeney, Bart., who rescued French aristocrats from the French Revolution. She had conceived the character while standing on a platform on the London Underground.[8] She submitted her novelisation of the story under the same title to 12 publishers. While waiting for the decisions of these publishers, Fred Terry and Julia Neilson accepted the play for production in London's West End. Initially, it drew small audiences, but the play ran for four years in London, broke many stage records, eventually playing more than 2,000 performances and becoming one of the most popular shows staged in Britain. It was translated and produced in other countries, and underwent several revivals. This theatrical success generated huge sales for the novel . The couple moved to Thanet, Kent.[9]

Introducing the notion of a "hero with a secret identity" into popular culture, the Scarlet Pimpernel exhibits characteristics that would become standard superhero conventions, including the penchant for disguise, use of a signature weapon (sword), ability to out-think and outwit his adversaries, and a calling card (he leaves behind a scarlet pimpernel at each of his interventions).[1] By drawing attention to his alter ego, Blakeney hides behind his public face as a slow-thinking, foppish playboy, and he also establishes a network of supporters, The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, who aid his endeavours.[1][10]

Orczy went on to write over a dozen sequels featuring Sir Percy Blakeney, his family, and the other members of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, of which the first, I Will Repay (1906), was the most popular. The last Pimpernel book, Mam'zelle Guillotine, was published in 1940. None of her three subsequent plays matched the success of The Scarlet Pimpernel. She also wrote popular mystery fiction and many adventure romances. Her Lady Molly of Scotland Yard was an early example of a female detective as the main character. Other popular detective stories featured The Old Man in the Corner, a sleuth who chiefly used logic to solve crimes. Orczy was a founding member of the Detection Club (1930).

Orczy's novels were racy, mannered melodramas and she favoured historical fiction. Critic Mary Cadogan states, "Orczy's books are highly wrought and intensely atmospheric".[11] In The Nest of the Sparrowhawk (1909), for example, a malicious guardian in Puritan Kent tricks his beautiful, wealthy young ward into marrying him by disguising himself as an exiled French prince. He persuades his widowed sister-in-law to abet him in this plot, in which she unwittingly disgraces one of her long-lost sons and finds the other murdered by the villain. Even though this novel had no link to The Scarlet Pimpernel other than its shared authorship, the publisher advertised it as part of "The Scarlet Pimpernel Series".

Later life[edit]

Orczy's work was so successful that she was able to buy a house in Monte Carlo: "Villa Bijou" at 19 Avenue de la Costa (since demolished), which is where she spent World War II. She was not able to return to London until after the war. Montagu Barstow died in Monte Carlo in 1942. Finding herself alone and unable to travel, she wrote her memoir Links in the Chain of Life (published 1947).[12]

She held strong political views. Orczy was a firm believer in the superiority of the aristocracy,[13] as well as being a supporter of British imperialism and militarism.[11] During World War I, Orczy formed the Women of England's Active Service League, an unofficial organisation aimed at encouraging women to persuade men to volunteer for active service in the armed forces. Her aim was to enlist 100,000 women who would pledge "to persuade every man I know to offer his service to his country". Some 20,000 women joined her organisation.[14][15] Orczy strongly opposed the Soviet Union.[16]

She died in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire on 12 November 1947.[citation needed]

Name pronunciation[edit]

Asked how to say her name, Orczy told The Literary Digest: "Or-tsey. Emmuska—a diminutive meaning "little Emma"—accent on the first syllable, the s equivalent to sh in English; thus, EM-moosh-ka."[17]




  • The Scarlet Pimpernel (1903) with Montague Barstow, as ‘Orczy-Barstow’
  • The Sin of William Jackson (1906) with Montague Barstow
  • Beau Brocade (1908) with Montague Barstow. Written in 1905
  • ‘’The Whip’’. With Montague Barstow
  • The Duke's Wager (1911)
  • The Legion of Honour (1918), adapted from A Sheaf of Bluebells
H.M. Brock's cover of Baroness Orczy's The Old Man in the Corner (popular edition, Greening & Co., London, 1910).
The Laughing Cavalier was serialised in Adventure in 1914

Short story collections

The Man in The Corner Series

Scarlet Pimpernel Series

Other short story books


Short stories[edit]

  • "The Red Carnation" (First published in Pearson’s Magazine, June 1898, reprinted in Everybody's Magazine, June 1900)
  • The Traitor (1898)
  • Juliette (1899)
  • Number 187 (1899)
  • The Trappists Vow (1899)
  • The Revenge of Ur-Tasen (1900)
  • The Murder in Saltashe Woods Windsor Magazine, June 1903 (Skin o’ My Tooth)
  • The Case of the Polish Prince Windsor Magazine, July 1903 (Skin o’ My Tooth)
  • The Case of Major Gibson Windsor Magazine, August 1903 (Skin o’ My Tooth)
  • The Duffield Peerage Case Windsor Magazine, September 1903 (Skin o’ My Tooth)
  • The Case of Mrs. Norris Windsor Magazine, October 1903 (Skin o’ My Tooth)
  • The Murton-Braby Murder Windsor Magazine, November 1903 (Skin o’ My Tooth)
  • The Traitor Cassell’s Magazine of Fiction, May 1912. Collected in The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel (The Scarlet Pimpernel)
  • Out of the Jaws of Death Princess Mary’s Gift Book, 1914. Collected in The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel (The Scarlet Pimpernel)
  • A Fine Bit of Work The New Magazine, Christmas 1914. Collected in The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel (The Scarlet Pimpernel)
  • In the Rue Monge (1931) (The Scarlet Pimpernel)

Omnibus editions[edit]


  • ‘’If I Were a Millionaire’’. Young Woman, August 1909
  • Links in the Chain of Life (autobiography, 1947)

The Scarlet Pimpernel Chronology[edit]

  1. The Laughing Cavalier (1914)
  2. The First Sir Percy (1921)
  3. The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905)
  4. Sir Percy Leads the Band (1936)
  5. The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1919) - short story collection
  6. I Will Repay (1906)
  7. The Elusive Pimpernel (1908)
  8. The Way of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1933)
  9. Lord Tony's Wife (1917)
  10. El dorado (1913)
  11. Mam'zelle Guillotine (1940)
  12. The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1922)
  13. Sir Percy Hits Back (1927)
  14. Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1929) - short story collection
  15. A Child of the Revolution (1932)
  16. In the Rue Monge (1931) - short story
  17. Pimpernel and Rosemary (1924)
  18. The Scarlet Pimpernel Looks at the World (1933) with Montague Barstow



  1. ^ a b c Robb, Brian J. (May 2014). A Brief History of Superheroes: From Superman to the Avengers, the Evolution of Comic Book Legends. Hachette UK. p. 15. ISBN 9781472110701.
  2. ^ Szluha, Márton (2012): Vas vármegye nemes családjai II. kötet (Noble families from the county of Vas, II tome). Heraldika kiadó. page 260.
  3. ^ "Hungary Funeral Notices, 1840-1990; pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-266-12122-137523-99 —". FamilySearch. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  4. ^ "Hungary Funeral Notices, 1840-1990; pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-266-12122-133677-0 —". FamilySearch. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  5. ^ "Hungary Funeral Notices, 1840-1990; pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-267-11097-127369-82 —". FamilySearch. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  6. ^ "Hungary Funeral Notices, 1840-1990; pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-267-11097-128186-85 —". FamilySearch. Archived from the original on 7 March 2016. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  7. ^ Orczy, Emmuska. Links in the Chain of Life, Ch. 8. London: Hutchinson, 1947.
  8. ^ Hodgkinson, Thomas W (9 March 2022). "Beat it Batman – this foppish baronet was the world's first superhero". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 March 2022.
  9. ^ "Baroness Emmuska Orczy (1865 – 1947)". Archived from the original on 23 October 2021. Retrieved 23 October 2021.
  10. ^ Naversen, Ron (2015). "The (Super) Hero's Masquerade". In Bell, Deborah (ed.). Masquerade: Essays on Tradition and Innovation Worldwide. McFarland. pp. 217ff. ISBN 978-0-7864-7646-6.
  11. ^ a b Cadogan, Mary (1994). "Orczy, Baroness". In Vasudevan, Aruna (ed.). Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers (3rd ed.). London: St. James Press. pp. 499–501. ISBN 1558621806.
  12. ^ introductory notes to 'The Scarlet Pimpernel', Sarah Juliette Sasson, Barnes & Noble Classics, 2005, ISBN 978-1-59308-234-5, p. v,xii
  13. ^ "In spite of her attraction to strongly chivalric ideas, she writes about the "lower orders" with a distinct air of patronage and condescension, especially if they step out of line and fail to obey their "betters"". Cadogan, Twentieth-century romance and historical writers.
  14. ^ Haste, Cate (1977). Keep the Home Fires Burning, Propaganda in the First World War. Allen Lane.
  15. ^ See also White feather – A symbol of cowardice.
  16. ^ Orczy, Emmuska (1933). The Scarlet Pimpernel Looks at the World: Essays, with a Portrait. London: John Heritage.
  17. ^ Funk, Charles Earle (1936). What's the Name, Please?. Funk & Wagnalls.

External links[edit]