The Scarlet Pimpernel

Novel by Emma Orczy / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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The Scarlet Pimpernel is the first novel in a series of historical fiction by Baroness Orczy,[2] published in 1905. She wrote the original manuscript in five weeks during what she described as "The happiest time of her life," attempted to sell it, but was unable to do so.[3] The Scarlet Pimpernel was rejected by most publishing houses in London, despite her previous successes with her armchair detective stories, primarily The Old Man in the Corner. Eventually a friend put her in contact with Fred Terry and Julia Neilson who wanted a new romantic drama. The new stage play version of the Scarlet Pimpernel (co-authored with Montague Barstow) enjoyed a long run in London, after opening at the New Theatre in London in 1904. The play was primarily successful by word of mouth as it was bemoaned by critics as "Old fashioned."[2] However, the novel and stage play, with their hero and villain, were so popular [4] that they inspired a revival of classic villainy at the time.[5] and went on to inspire many spin-offs, including many of its own sequels.[5] Not the least of which was the prequel series The Laughing Cavalier which though leaving behind the element of disguise, still follows many of the themes that makes the Scarlet Pimpernel so memorable.

Quick facts: Author, Country, Language, Genre, Set in...
The Scarlet Pimpernel
1908 edition
AuthorBaroness Orczy
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreHistorical fiction, adventure fiction
Set in1792, during the early stages of the French Revolution
Publication date
Preceded byThe First Sir Percy 
Followed bySir Percy Leads the Band 

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 5 January 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 London. Published after the success of the play, the novel was an immediate success, gaining Orczy a following of readers in Britain and the rest of the world.

Orczy's premise of a daring hero who cultivates a secret identity disguised by a meek or ineffectual manner proved enduring. Zorro, Doctor Syn, 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. Read by Stan Lee as a boy, the Marvel co-creator called The Scarlet Pimpernel "the first character who could be called a superhero."[6]

A scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis)