Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Scarlet Pimpernel and Orczy

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a vintage adventure novel written by Baroness Emmuska Orczy and originally published in 1905. It is set in the beginning of the French Revolution during the Reign of Terror. The Scarlet Pimpernel is an Englishman that goes undercover to rescue French aristocracy from the heads off approach of the guillotine.

The novel is a forerunner of disguised heroes like Zorro and of spy novels. Sir Percy Blakeney is the leader of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel. He and his accomplices risk their lives during their rescue missions.

Sir Percey Blakeney's wife, Marguerite Blakeney, is blackmailed by Citizen Chauvelin causing her to impart information that helps to reveal the Scarlet Pimpernel's real identity. Chauvelin's agents obtain a letter that implicates Marguerite's brother; it shows that he is in sodality with the elusive Pimpernel. She tells Chauvelin what she knows to save her brother from execution. After her husband has gone to France again, she apprehends that he is the Scarlet Pimpernel. She is a French actress and Chauvelin is the French Ambassador to England..

Blakeney has concealed his role as the Scarlet Pimpernel by acting like a dullard and as an uncaring husband, which produced disdain for him in Marguerite. It is because of this picture of him that she doesn't ask for his help when Chauvelin blackmails her. Even so, she does love him and fears for his life once she understands he is the Scarlet Pimpernel. She rushes to France to find him and tell him that Chauvelin knows he is the Pimpernel. They are both captured, but Chauvelin doesn't perceive it is Blakeney because he is convincingly disguised as a Jewish man. Later, the prisoners escape and flee to England.

The theme of the novel is that the common man can be a hero because Blakeney disguises himself as different commoners in order to make his rescues. Her central theme has been used countless times since she invented it.

Her play actually debuted unsuccessfully in 1903 at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal. The last act was rewritten and it ran for one hundred and twenty-two performances at the New Theatre beginning January 5, 1905. The novel was published shortly after the play begin at the New Theatre and enjoyed great success. The novel has been adapted into several movies, a TV series, and a Broadway musical.

Scarlet Pimpernel Audio Book
Scarley Pimpernel Paperback
Scarlet Pimpernel DVD
The Scarlet Pimpernel: The New Musical Adventure - Original Broadway Cast Recording

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