The Scarlet Pimpernel
Critical Analysis of The Scarlet Pimpernel
Table of Content
1. Summary of The Scarlet Pimpernel
2. Analysis and Roles of all characters in The Scarlet Pimpernel
3. Analysis of the themes in The Scarlet Pimpernel
Summary of The Scarlet Pimpernel
The Scarlet Pimpernel Summary
The Scarlet Pimpernel begins in the throes of the French Revolution, with the revolutionary masses at the West Barricade waiting for fleeing aristocrats to be captured and sent to the guillotine. But we learn that in recent times, more and more aristocrats have escaped because of the help of the famous Scarlet Pimpernel who comes in disguise to free the nobility from certain death.
Meanwhile in England, several French escapees gather with the League of The Scarlet Pimpernel in a small pub, where they wait the arrival of the latest refugees. The rescued Comtesse de Tournay soon arrives, with her daughter and son, but says that her husband remains in Paris. She wants to thank the Scarlet Pimpernel for rescuing her, but is told his identity must be kept a secret. She mentions that back in France, the women are terrible for their traitorous actions – and specifically mentions Marguerite St. Just, who condemned a family to die. At that precise moment, Marguerite St. Just arrives.
Here in England, Marguerite St. Just is known as Lady Blakeney, for she is married to Percy Blakeney, the richest and most fashionable man in England. But Percy is also seemingly a buffoon – imbecilic and dull, and when the Comtesse’s son challenges him to a duel to avenge his mother’s disdain of Marguerite, Percy looks even more the fool as his wife wittily defuses the situation.
Lady Blakeney’s brother leaves for France, but before he leaves, he urges his sister to tell Percy why she denounced the St. Cyr family, but she says he already hates her for it, no matter the circumstances. As she goes back to the pub, she meets
Chauvelin, a French officer, intent on discovering the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel. He has been spying on the activities of the Englishmen at the pub, and says that Marguerite must help him find the Pimpernel. She refuses.
Later that night, two members of the League of the Pimpernel are ambushed by Chauvelin just as they discuss plans to rescue the Countess’s husband. Chauvelin finds a letter from Marguerite’s brother, Armand, and now he sees that he can blackmail her to help her find the Pimpernel.
Chauvelin corners Lady Blakeney at the opera and reveals the letter he has found. If she does not help him, he will ensure that her brother is executed.
At the ball that night, Lady Blakeney finds out that the Pimpernel will be waiting in one of the rooms at one o’clock that night. But when she tells Chauvelin of this, he goes to the room, only to find Percy stretched out on the couch taking a nap. Chauvelin tells Lady Blakeney that she better help him find the Scarlet Pimpernel or else her brother will be in danger.
Lady Blakeney and Percy go to their country home outside the city of London. Under the stress of all of her dealings with Chauvelin and the coolness of her husband, Lady Blakeney explains the circumstances that led her to denounce the Marquis de Cyr’s family at the tribunal. But Percy says she’s told him too late and he remains cool to her, even though deep down he still loves her. He promises to save her brother.
Later that night, Lady Blakeney is peeking around her husband’s study when she finds a ring emblazoned with the image of the Scarlet Pimpernel
she discovers his true identity. And indeed, now she realizes she has betrayed her own husband to Chauvelin – and must make the choice between saving him and her brother.
Lady Blakeney sails to Calais, where she hides at an inn, only to witness a tense encounter between Percy and Chauvelin, who have accidentally run into each other. Unbeknownst to Percy, however, Chauvelin has six soldiers on the way to arrest him.
But Percy manages to outwit Chauvelin and he escapes, and a chase ensues to find him. Marguerite follows behind as Chauvelin and his henchmen enlist the help of an Old Jew, who claims to know the way that Percy left.
The Jew takes them to a hut, where Marguerite realizes that the fugitives are hiding. She throws herself towards the hut in an effort to save the ones inside, but she’s captured by Chauvelin. Chauvelin and his henchmen go inside the hunt and find that its empty. A moment later they see a boat drifting out of the harbor and realize the fugitives have escaped.
Chauvelin leads his men on a hunt for Percy, but not after making sure the old Jew is mercilessly beaten. Only after Chauvelin leaves does the old Jew get up groggily and reveals himself to the bound Marguerite as her husband Percy in diguise.
Percy and Marguerite set sail for England the next day, reconciled, having freed the fugitives and Percy promises to make sure Chauvelin never steps foot in English noble society again.
Analysis and Roles of all characters in The Scarlet Pimpernel
Roles and character analysis of Percy Blakeney in The Scarlet Pimpernel
Percy Blakeney (a.k.a the Scarlet Pimpernel)
Percy Blakeney appears to us first as the maligned husband of Lady Blakeney — one of the richest, most fashionable men in England, but also a reputed dunce. He is built like a truck, apparently, with big shoulders and muscles, but this only adds to his reputation as a stupid stooge. But Percy is of course secretly the Scarlet Pimpernel who raids the barricades of France to save condemned French aristocrats from the guillotine.
Chauvelin, the novel’s chief villain, is a French agent who has English diplomacy rights. He is in England looking for the Pimpernel and anyone else who is attempting to rescue French aristocrats. His ‘hard-hearted, vengeful’ nature contrasts with the dashing Pimpernel.
Roles and character analysis of Marguerite St. Just / Lady Blakeney in The Scarlet Pimpernel
Marguerite St. Just / Lady Blakeney
Lady Blakeney, while living in France as an actress, was famous for her beauty, but even more for her charisma, wit, and intelligence. When she marries Percy Blakeney, no one’s quite sure what she’s thinking. Since he’s considered a dull turkey and she a renowned socialite, the consensus is that she’s married down. But she discovers her husband’s secret identity and we see her husband’s heroism through her eyes.
Roles and character analysis of Armand St. Just in The Scarlet Pimpernel
Armand St. Just
Armand St. Just, Marguerite St. Just’s brother, is in cahoots with the Pimpernel. Chauvelin uses Armand to blackmail Marguerite in an attempt to get to the Pimpernel.
Roles and character analysis of Sir Andrew Ffoulkes in The Scarlet Pimpernel
Sir Andrew Ffoulkes
Sir Andrew is one of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s devoted followers. Marguerite goes to him when she first learns that Percy is the Pimpernel and is thus in danger of being arrested by Chevalier.
Roles and character analysis of Lord Antony Dewhurst in The Scarlet Pimpernel
Lord Antony Dewhurst
Lord Antony does not last long in the novel, as he is one of the members of the League of the Pimpernel who is captured by Chauvelin at the pub in Dover.
Roles and character analysis of Comtesse de Tournay in The Scarlet Pimpernel
Comtesse de Tournay
The Comtesse is a French aristocrat rescued by the Scarlet Pimpernel in the opening section of the novel, but her husband is left behind, prompting the dramatic rescue that dominates the novel’s main plot. She does not like Marguerite St. Just because she thinks that she caused the demise of the St. Cyr family by denouncing them to the tribunal.
Roles and character analysis of Comte de Tournay in The Scarlet Pimpernel
Comte de Tournay
The Comte de Tournay is the Comtesse’s husband, rescued from France by the Scarlet Pimpernel.
Roles and character analysis of Lord Grenville in The Scarlet Pimpernel
Lord Grenville is an English governmental secretary who holds a grand ball after the opera, a ball which acts as the setting for Chauvelin’s and Marguerite’s plan to catch the Pimpernel.
Roles and character analysis of Mr. Jellyband in The Scarlet Pimpernel
Mr. Jellyband is the propietor of the Dover pub called The Fisherman’s Rest, which the Scarlet Pimpernel and his league use for convocations.
Roles and character analysis of Degas in The Scarlet Pimpernel
Degas is Chauvelin’s most trusted henchman who is sent to retrieve soldiers to arrest the Pimpernel. He consistently arrives too late to trap Percy.
Roles and character analysis of Brogard in The Scarlet Pimpernel
Brogard is the pugilistic owner of the Chat Gris inn in Calais where Chauvelin and Percy meet for their face-off.
Roles and character analysis of Marquis de St. Cyr in The Scarlet Pimpernel
Marquis de St. Cyr
The Marquis de St. Cyr is a French noble who was condemned because Marguerite made a statement about him to a French tribunal.
Analysis of the themes in The Scarlet Pimpernel
Analysis of the theme of Loyalty in The Scarlet Pimpernel
Loyalty becomes a crucial determinant of a person’s inherent goodness. Chauvelin maintains his group of loyal henchmen, but their loyalty is based solely on rank, and not to his character. At the end, this superficial loyalty leads to the escape of the fugitives, as Chauvelin’s soldiers begrudgingly adhere to his strict instructions, knowing they’re letting the prisoners go free — and yet do not let him know. Meanwhile, Percy’s followers put themselves in extreme dangers for the sake of the Pimpernel’s cause, because they truly believe in their leader and the plight of the nobility.
Analysis of the theme ofPretension in The Scarlet Pimpernel
For all the cult of nobility that surrounds Orczy’s novel, she puts a premium on humility. Any character that shows the slightest bit of arrogance or pretension is taught the lesson of humility by the end of the novel. In that, perhaps, Orczy is not so much vindicating nobility as much as instructing a new persona for the “brave, just noble” — one who fights for the right causes, for humanity instead of riches.
Analysis of the theme ofDisguise in The Scarlet Pimpernel
The entire scheme of the plot depends on disguise, as The Scarlet Pimpernel wins not through brawn, but rather through cunning and trickery. It’s important to remember that given the political context of the novel, the Pimpernel cannot fight fairly. He will be killed by the guillotine if he is merely arrested. Thus disguise as a way of concealing nobility becomes a crucial theme in the novel — indeed, the Scarlet Pimpernel takes the disguise of people who would be in the masses, including peasants, old hags, old Jews, etc. in order to save the nobility. He is very much a Robin Hood intent on saving the rich, as bizarre as that sounds.
Analysis of the theme ofThe Scarlet Pimpernel in The Scarlet Pimpernel
The Scarlet Pimpernel
The flower known as the “the Scarlet Pimpernel” is, according to the narrator, “the name of a humble English wayside flower; but it is also the name chosen to hide the identity of the best and bravest man in all the world.” The flower, then, which has become Percy’s moniker symbolizes all his best qualities — his English charm, his humble origins, and his innate humility as a hero that expects no reward for his deeds. Perhaps the most admirable thing about Percy is that he’s willing to appear stupid, even buffoonish, in order to secretly continue his missions as the Pimpernel. Indeed, behind a deceptively humble front dwells a hero.
Analysis of the theme ofDual Identities in The Scarlet Pimpernel
There is an odd dynamic between England and France that dominates the novel — the former is depicted as a land of justice and simplicity and order and propriety, whereas the latter is vulnerable to the impulsive rage of mobs and sacrificial violence. As a result, then, Marguerite/Lady Blakeney comes to serve as the perfect symbol of this schism. As Marguerite, she caused the condemnation of the St. Cyr family simply through a misspoken denunciation. Upon marrying Percy Blakeney, she maintains her French casualness — her haughty charm, but her innate ability to hurt people without thinking. Through the course of the novel, she turns more and more English, evolving gradually into the true Lady Blakeney, who stands by her husband, humble and deferential.
Analysis of the theme ofNobility vs. The Masses in The Scarlet Pimpernel
Nobility vs. The Masses
When it was first published, The Scarlet Pimpernel was considered classist by critics because it so clearly takes the side of the upper-crust nobles in The French Revolution. Indeed, a key theme that emerges in Orczy’s novel is an innate tie between nobility and heroism the idea that all the qualities of a grand adventure hero, namely charisma, beauty, elegance, ingenuity, and fashion, are all natural qualities of the noble class. This is, of course, quite obviously wrong (as any look at the actual history that preceded the French Revolution will show), but Orczy, a baroness herself, makes no bones about her allegiance. In order to create sympathy for the nobility, however, she must create the sense that the masses are bloodthirsty enough to kill indiscriminately.
Analysis of the theme ofGuilt vs. Redemption in The Scarlet Pimpernel
Guilt vs. Redemption
What makes a hero? In Orczy’s novel, it’s a question often motivated by guilt. Lady Blakeney, for instance, knows that her husband hates her because he thinks she condemned the St. Cyrs to die maliciously; thus she is determined to atone for the sin he thinks she’s committed. Meanwhile, Percy seems to feel at least some guilt for deceiving his wife about his identity as the Pimpernel, and enough that he cannot reveal his identity even when she confesses her own internal guilt and turmoil over the St. Cyr incident. Marguerite, meanwhile, has to struggle over the guilt that comes with making the choice between saving her brother, Armand, or saving the Scarlet Pimpernel, who she considers “noble and just.” When, of course, it is revealed that the Pimpernel is in fact, her husband, Lady Blakeney is left guilty no matter who she chooses to save. The plot machinations, however, save her from making a choice in the end.