Lisa Lang Blakeney Biography & Facts
The Scarlet Pimpernel is the first novel in a series of historical fiction by Baroness Orczy, published in 1905. It was written after her stage play of the same title enjoyed a long run in London, having opened in Nottingham in 1903.
The novel is set during the Reign of Terror following the start of the French Revolution. The title is the nom de guerre of its hero and protagonist, a chivalrous Englishman who rescues aristocrats before they are sent to the guillotine. Sir Percy Blakeney leads a double life: apparently nothing more than a wealthy fop, but in reality a formidable swordsman and a quick-thinking master of disguise and escape artist. The band of gentlemen who assist him are the only ones who know of his secret identity. He is known by his symbol, a simple flower, the scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis).
Opening at the New Theatre in London's West End on January 5, 1905, the play became a favourite of British audiences, eventually playing more than 2,000 performances and becoming one of the most popular shows staged in Britain.
Orczy's premise of a daring hero who cultivates a secret identity disguised by a meek or ineffectual manner proved enduring. Zorro, the Shadow, the Spider, the Phantom, Superman and Batman followed within a few decades, and the trope remains a popular one in serial fiction today.
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 of the Reign of Terror. Their leader, the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel, takes his nickname from the small red flower he draws on 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.
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 Citizen Chauvelin, the wily new French envoy to England. Chauvelin's agents have stolen a letter proving her beloved brother Armand 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 (and simultaneous delight) 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 the Chat gris, a decrepit inn 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 turns out to be pure pepper. 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, who does not recognise him so he is able 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.
Sir Percy Blakeney: He 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.
Marguerite Blakeney, née St Just: She is the wife of Sir Percy. She leads London society with her beauty, style and intelligence. She was an actress in Paris, where she held salons to discuss the issues of the day. She was not an aristocrat in French society. She is 25 years old.
Armand St Just: Older brother of Marguerite, who raised her after their parents died. He is a gentleman and a republican in France, but his views of the slaughter of the aristocracy do not match the times.
Citizen Chauvelin: Newly appointed envoy to England from Revolutionary France. He seeks the Scarlet Pimpernel, who is allowing aristocrats to escape their fate under the new regime.
Sir Andrew Ffoulkes: Friend of Sir Percy who aids Marguerite when she realizes her mistake. He falls in love with an émigrée, a girl who had been at school with Marguerite.
Suzanne: Daughter of Comte de Tournay, also a friend of Marguerite's; she is the love interest of Sir Andrew Ffoulkes.Literary significance
The title character, Sir Percy Blakeney, a wealthy English fop who transforms into a formidable swordsman and a quick-thinking escape artist, established the "hero with a secret identity" in popular culture, a trope that would be seen in subsequent literary creations such as Don Diego de la Vega (Zorro), Kent Allard/Lamont Cranston (The Shadow) and Bruce Wayne (Batman). The Scarlet Pimpern.... Discover the Lisa Lang Blakeney popular books. Find the top 100 most popular Lisa Lang Blakeney books.