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The Scarlet Pimpernel Essay, Research Paper
The historical novel entitled The Scarlet Pimpernel is a classic and truly deserves
this prestigious title. The author of this enthralling 267 page book is Baroness Emma
Orczy and it was published by Dodd, Mead & Company in the year 1964. The scene is
set in the terrorized Paris of revolutionary France in the 1800’s. During this time
period nobody was safe from the horrifying grasp of “Madame la Guillotine” which
claimed hundreds of lives every day. But a few brave men headed by a courageous
person known only as the anonymous Scarlet Pimpernel, helped the innocent escape from
their deaths. By use of trickery and deceit, these 20 men helped many endangered
aristocrats escape from France back to the safety of England. There, the lives of the
royalty and honored citizens were protected. Among the most widely acknowledged
person of high society at the time was Lady Marguerite Blakeney who was also known as
being the “cleverest woman in Europe.” She had married a man by the name of Sir
Percy Blakeney who had flattered her with his deep love. But they soon grew apart
after Lady Blakeney confessed to her husband how she had accidentally been involved in
sending a noble family to the guillotine. Feeling shocked and disappointed towards his
wife, Sir Percy’s adoration of her was not shown anymore. However he continued on
with his life of which a part was left untold to his wife whom he could not trust. He
never let her know of the secretive life he led as the celebrated Scarlet Pimpernel.
Later on, Lady Blakeney was blackmailed into making a deal with a French spy
named Chauvelin. He had promised the return of her beloved brother, Armand, from
death in France if she promised to help in leading him to the elusive man known as the
Scarlet Pimpernel. It was a difficult moral decision, but out of the love for her dear
brother and not knowing that her husband was actually the man she was sacrificing for
him, Marguerite Blakeney helped Chauvelin. After discovering the true identity of the
Scarlet Pimpernel, Marguerite raced to France in hopes of undoing her grave mistake
and saving her husband who she knew was being hunted by Chauvelin. The suspense
mounted as Marguerite felt the time ticking away in which her dear husband and
brother had to live. She secretly followed Chauvelin through the dark streets of France
as he tracked down her husband. Chauvelin’s soldiers were guided by a Jewish man to a
hut where the Scarlet Pimpernel was thought to be hiding with Armand. However,
Marguerite Blakeney was soon discovered by the soldiers. She was tied and gagged
along with the Jewish man and the hut was searched for Armand and the other men, but
they had escaped. However, Chauvelin had found a small note in the corner of the hut
which seemed to have been forgotten by them. It was written by the Scarlet Pimpernel
and had directions to the place where he was next headed. Leaving the weak
Marguerite Blakeney and the Jewish man alone, Chauvelin and his soldiers marched off
to the place described in the note. Little did they know that the Scarlet Pimpernel had
been with them the entire time, as the disguised Jewish man. Reunited at last, Lady
Blakeney and her daring husband rekindled their love as they saw how their lives had
almost been sacrificed for each other. They traveled back to the safety of England
where they met Armand and the innocent ones who had escaped with him. As for
Chauvelin, his fate was not made very clear in the novel but it can be guessed that an
appointment was arranged for him to meet “Madame la Guillotine.”
This novel seemed to be well written being filled with suspense, mystery, wit,
romance, and a “twist” at the end. The use of a few illustrations throughout the novel
assisted in visually portraying the story. They gave flare to the vivid descriptions of
Lady Marguerite Blakeney, the “cleverest woman in Europe,” and depicted her husband’s
valor. The sentence stating, “her beauty was at its most dazzling stage. . .the sweet
childlike mouth, the straight chiselled nose, round chin, and delicate throat, all seemed
set off by picturesque costume of the period,” is brought to life by these illustrations.
The language in which this was written is also interesting. The book was obviously
written in the 18th century which is demonstrated by the sort of English used. The
characters seem to be very conservative, all the customs and polite airs are strictly
obeyed. A chapter did not seem to pass without someone’s health being questioned, or
Lady Blakeney being politely greeted with a kiss upon her hand.
The suspense in this novel also enhanced it’s quality, enthralling the reader and
holding their attention. A quote from one of the concluding chapters serves as an
example to the amount of suspense present. It states, “Marguerite’s breath stopped short;
she seemed to feel her very life standing still momentarily whilst she listened to that voice
and to that song.” Marguerite’s fear, frustration, and confusion is grasped by the reader
and serves to keep them interested. The plot of the book is complex and yet so simple. It
is a basic story which is soon complicated by events and other characters which
dramatize it and add the wonderful suspense. The conclusion is also set off with much
anticipation with the reader asking what will finally become of the courageous Scarlet
Pimpernel and his unknowing wife. The true identity of the Jewish man is shocking and
adds depth to the characters along with the story. What we perceive to be, and take for
granted, is suddenly proven false with a sudden “twist” at the end.
Wit enhances a novel by entertaining the reader with not only the plot line but
also a side anecdote. It is rare to find a story which does this, but it seems as though
the author of The Scarlet Pimpernel achieved the task. Emma Orczy adds humor to
some of the situations which the characters encounter, and lessens the amount of tension
present by it. For instance, as Lady Blakeney enters the inn at Calais, France she makes
a statement which is somewhat humorous considering the amount of suspense present at
the time. The quote reads, “The paper, such as it was, was hanging from the walls in
strips; there did not seem to be a single piece of furniture in the room that could, by the
wildest stretch of imagination, be called ‘whole.’” The character’s opinion is relayed to
the reader which not only brings a grin to their face, but also helps them to understand
the character more.
Suspense coupled with romance, even further captivates the reader. It’s
unfortunate that the misunderstanding between Sir Percy and his wife effects their love
towards one another. If she had only been aware of the secretive part of his life,
different events might have occurred for the better. These emotions strike the reader
and add depth to the novel. A particular scene, where the tension between the two main
characters is at it’s height, takes place on the porch of the Blakeney’s estate during the
early hours of the morning. Sir Percy and Marguerite misunderstand one another and
she leaves feeling that he doesn’t love her anymore, when he actually adores her just as
much as the day they got married. But the two never reveal their true emotions until the
conclusion of the story where certain events lead to it’s exposure.
The Scarlet Pimpernel is also noteworthy for it’s historical content and
enlightenment of the time period during the French revolution. Those years saw the
violent overthrow of a thousand years of monarchy, and shook the capitals of the world.
The struggles faced by those who were innocent and who’s lives were unfortunately ended
at the hands of “Madame la guillotine” is clearly expressed by this novel. The reader
even gains a respect and appreciation for it. This story not only entertains the reader,
but also educates them and arises interest in history.
Overall, this proved to be a very interesting novel, one which should be
recommended to any reader in search of entertainment and historical enlightenment.
The Scarlet Pimpernel truly captured the essence of the time period through the lavish
language and detailed descriptions, proving it to be a notable history book.
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