The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel

by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

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The first and most successful in the Baroness’s series of books that feature Percy Blakeney, who leads a double life as an English fop and a swashbuckling rescuer of aristocrats, The Scarlet Pimpernel was the blueprint for what became known as the masked-avenger genre. As Anne Perry writes in her Introduction, the novel “has almost reached its first centenary, and it is as vivid and appealing as ever because the plotting is perfect. It is a classic example of how to construct, pace, and conclude a plot. . . . To rise on the crest of laughter without capsizing, to survive being written, rewritten, and reinterpreted by each generation, is the mark of a plot that is timeless and universal, even though it happens to be set in England and France of 1792.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780804900287
Publisher: Airmont Publishing Company, Incorporated
Publication date: 01/01/1964
Series: Airmont Classics Series
Age Range: 12 Years

About the Author

Baroness Emmuska Orczy (1865-1947), an only child of Austro-Hungarian nobles, lived most of her life in London, where she built her reputation as an established novelist, playwright, and artist. Also a success on stage, her most famous novel, The Scarlet Pimpernel, spawned a series of books featuring its cast of characters.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter I

Paris: September 1792

A surging, seething, murmuring crowd, of beings that are human only in name, for to the eye and ear they seem naught but savage creatures, animated by vile passions and by the lust of vengeance and of hate. The hour, some little time before sunset, and the place, the West Barricade, at the very spot where, a decade later, a proud tyrant raised an undying monument to the nation’s glory and his own vanity.

During the greater part of the day the guillotine had been kept busy at its ghastly work: all that France had boasted of in the past centuries, of ancient names, and blue blood, had paid toll to her desire for liberty and for fraternity. The carnage had only ceased at this late hour of the day because there were other more interesting sights for the people to witness, a little while before the final closing of the barricades for the night.

And so the crowd rushed away from the Place de la Grève and made for the various barricades in order to watch this interesting and amusing sight.

It was to be seen every day, for those aristos were such fools! They were traitors to the people of course, all of them, men, women, and children, who happened to be descendants of the great men who since the Crusades had made the glory of France: her old noblesse. Their ancestors had oppressed the people, had crushed them under the scarlet heels of their dainty buckled shoes, and now the people had become the rulers of France and crushed their former masters—not beneath their heel, for they went shoeless mostly in these days—but beneath a more effectual weight, the knife of the guillotine.

And daily, hourly, the hideous instrument of torture claimed its many victims—old men, young women, tiny children, even until the day when it would finally demand the head of a King and of a beautiful young Queen.

But this was as it should be: were not the people now the rulers of France? Every aristocrat was a traitor, as his ancestors had been before him: for two hundred years now the people had sweated, and toiled, and starved, to keep a lustful court in lavish extravagance; now the descendants of those who had helped to make those courts brilliant had to hide for their lives—to fly, if they wished to avoid the tardy vengeance of the people.

And they did try to hide, and tried to fly: that was just the fun of the whole thing. Every afternoon before the gates closed and the market carts went out in procession by the various barricades, some fool of an aristo endeavoured to evade the clutches of the Committee of Public Safety. In various disguises, under various pretexts, they tried to slip through the barriers which were so well guarded by citizen soldiers of the Republic. Men in women’s clothes, women in male attire, children disguised in beggars’ rags: there were some of all sorts: ci-devant counts, marquises, even dukes, who wanted to fly from France, reach England or some other equally accursed country, and there try to rouse foreign feeling against the glorious Revolution, or to raise an army in order to liberate the wretched prisoners in the Temple, who had once called themselves sovereigns of France.

But they were nearly always caught at the barricades. Sergeant Bibot especially at the West Gate had a wonderful nose for scenting an aristo in the most perfect disguise. Then, of course, the fun began. Bibot would look at his prey as a cat looks upon the mouse, play with him, sometimes for quite a quarter of an hour, pretend to be hoodwinked by the disguise, by the wigs and other bits of theatrical make-up which hid the identity of a ci-devant noble marquise or count.

Oh! Bibot had a keen sense of humour, and it was well worth hanging round that West Barricade, in order to see him catch an aristo in the very act of trying to flee from the vengeance of the people.

Sometimes Bibot would let his prey actually out by the gates, allowing him to think for the space of two minutes at least that he really had escaped out of Paris, and might even manage to reach the coast of England in safety: but Bibot would let the unfortunate wretch walk about ten mètres towards the open country, then he would send two men after him and bring him back, stripped of his disguise.

Oh! that was extremely funny, for as often as not the fugitive would prove to be a woman, some proud marchioness, who looked terribly comical when she found herself in Bibot’s clutches after all, and knew that a summary trial would await her the next day and after that, the fond embrace of Madame la Guillotine.

No wonder that on this fine afternoon in September the crowd round Bibot’s gate was eager and excited. The lust of blood grows with its satisfaction, there is no satiety: the crowd had seen a hundred noble heads fall beneath the guillotine to-day, it wanted to make sure that it would see another hundred fall on the morrow.

Bibot was sitting on an overturned and empty cask close by the gate of the barricade; a small detachment of citoyen soldiers was under his command. The work had been very hot lately. Those cursed aristos were becoming terrified and tried their hardest to slip out of Paris: men, women and children, whose ancestors, even in remote ages, had served those traitorous Bourbons, were all traitors themselves and right food for the guillotine. Every day Bibot had had the satisfaction of unmasking some fugitive royalists and sending them back to be tried by the Committee of Public Safety, presided over by that good patriot, Citoyen Foucquier-Tinville.

Robespierre and Danton both had commended Bibot for his zeal, and Bibot was proud of the fact that he on his own initiative had sent at least fifty aristos to the guillotine.

But to-day all the sergeants in command at the various barricades had had special orders. Recently a very great number of aristos had succeeded in escaping out of France and in reaching England safely. There were curious rumours about these escapes; they had become very frequent and singularly daring; the people’s minds were becoming strangely excited about it all. Sergeant Grospierre had been sent to the guillotine for allowing a whole family of aristos to slip out of the North Gate under his very nose.

It was asserted that these escapes were organised by a band of Englishmen, whose daring seemed to be unparalleled, and who, from sheer desire to meddle in what did not concern them, spent their spare time in snatching away lawful victims destined for Madame la Guillotine. These rumours soon grew in extravagance; there was no doubt that this band of meddlesome Englishmen did exist; moreover, they seemed to be under the leadership of a man whose pluck and audacity were almost fabulous. Strange stories were afloat of how he and those aristos whom he rescued became suddenly invisible as they reached the barricades and escaped out of the gates by sheer supernatural agency.

No one had seen these mysterious Englishmen; as for their leader, he was never spoken of, save with a superstitious shudder. Citoyen Foucquier-Tinville would in the course of the day receive a scrap of paper from some mysterious source; sometimes he would find it in the pocket of his coat, at others it would be handed to him by someone in the crowd, whilst he was on his way to the sitting of the Committee of Public Safety. The paper always contained a brief notice that the band of meddlesome Englishmen were at work, and it was always signed with a device drawn in red—a little star-shaped flower, which we in England call the Scarlet Pimpernel. Within a few hours of the receipt of this impudent notice, the citoyens of the Committee of Public Safety would hear that so many royalists and aristocrats had succeeded in reaching the coast, and were on their way to England and safety.

The guards at the gates had been doubled, the sergeants in command had been threatened with death, whilst liberal rewards were offered for the capture of these daring and impudent Englishmen. There was a sum of five thousand francs promised to the man who laid hands on the mysterious and elusive Scarlet Pimpernel.

Everyone felt that Bibot would be that man, and Bibot allowed that belief to take firm root in everybody’s mind; and so, day after day, people came to watch him at the West Gate, so as to be present when he laid hands on any fugitive aristo who perhaps might be accompanied by that mysterious Englishman.

“Bah!” he said to his trusted corporal, “Citoyen Grospierre was a fool! Had it been me now, at that North Gate last week . . .”

Citoyen Bibot spat on the ground to express his contempt for his comrade’s stupidity.

“How did it happen, citoyen?” asked the corporal.

“Grospierre was at the gate, keeping good watch,” began Bibot, pompously, as the crowd closed in round him, listening eagerly to his narrative. “We’ve all heard of this meddlesome Englishman, this accursed Scarlet Pimpernel. He won’t get through my gate, morbleu! unless he be the devil himself. But Grospierre was a fool. The market carts were going through the gates; there was one laden with casks, and driven by an old man, with a boy beside him. Grospierre was a bit drunk, but he thought himself very clever; he looked into the casks—most of them, at least—and saw they were empty, and let the cart go through.”

A murmur of wrath and contempt went round the group of ill-clad wretches, who crowded round Citoyen Bibot.

“Half an hour later,” continued the sergeant, “up comes a captain of the guard with a squad of some dozen soldiers with him. ‘Has a cart gone through?’ he asks of Grospierre, breathlessly. ‘Yes,’ says Grospierre, ‘not half an hour ago.’ ‘And you have let them escape,’ shouts the captain furiously. ‘You’ll go to the guillotine for this, citoyen sergeant! that cart held concealed the ci-devant Duc de Chalis and all his family!’ ‘What!’ thunders Grospierre, aghast. ‘Aye! and the driver was none other than that cursed Englishman, the Scarlet Pimpernel.’ ”

A howl of execration greeted this tale. Citoyen Grospierre had paid for his blunder on the guillotine, but what a fool! oh! what a fool!

Bibot was laughing so much at his own tale that it was some time before he could continue.

“ ‘After them, my men,’ shouts the captain,” he said, after a while, “ ‘remember the reward; after them, they cannot have gone far!’ And with that he rushes through the gate, followed by his dozen soldiers.”

“But it was too late!” shouted the crowd, excitedly.

“They never got them!”

“Curse that Grospierre for his folly!”

“He deserved his fate!”

“Fancy not examining those casks properly!”

But these sallies seemed to amuse Citoyen Bibot exceedingly; he laughed until his sides ached, and the tears streamed down his cheeks.

“Nay, nay!” he said at last, “those aristos weren’t in the cart; the driver was not the Scarlet Pimpernel!”


“No! The captain of the guard was that damned Englishman in disguise, and everyone of his soldiers aristos!”

The crowd this time said nothing: the story certainly savoured of the supernatural, and though the Republic had abolished God, it had not quite succeeded in killing the fear of the supernatural in the hearts of the people. Truly that Englishman must be the devil himself.

The sun was sinking low down in the west. Bibot prepared himself to close the gates.

“En avant the carts,” he said.

Some dozen covered carts were drawn up in a row, ready to leave town, in order to fetch the produce from the country close by, for market the next morning. They were mostly well known to Bibot, as they went through his gate twice every day on their way to and from the town. He spoke to one or two of their drivers—mostly women—and was at great pains to examine the inside of the carts.

“You never know,” he would say, “and I’m not going to be caught like that fool Grospierre.”

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Arguably the best adventure story ever published and certainly the most influential that appeared during the early decades of the twentieth century.”—Gary Hoppenstand

Reading Group Guide

1. 1. Does Percy treat Marguerite unfairly?

2. 2. How do the theater and theatricality function in the novel?

3. 3. Are there other heroes in the story besides Percy, and if so, who are they and why are they heroes?

4. 4. What is the significance of the flower that gives Percy his secret name?

5. 5. Discuss the use of animal imagery in the novel.

6. 6. Compare and contrast the Fisherman’s Rest with the Chat Gris.

7. 7. What do you make of Marguerite’s assumption throughout the last part of the story that Percy is unaware of the fact that Chauvelin is on his trail?

8. 8. Discuss point of view in the novel–it is told mostly from Marguerite’s point of view, but occasionally it slips into the minds of other characters, such as Percy and Chauvelin. What is the effect of these slips?

9. 9. Is Marguerite ultimately a likable character?

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The Scarlet Pimpernel 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 318 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was definitely one of my favorite books in the entire world. It was so amazing...the Scarlet Pimpernel is one of the greatest characters in literature. He's extremely clever and just all around amazing. The book was totally captivating- a mixture of action, suspense, and romance. Orczy touches into the horrible events of the French Revolution in a great story. It deserves nothing less than five stars.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Scarlet Pimpernel was an outstanding book. It was a thriller that left me wanting to read more. It had all of the key components to an excellent book in my opinion: a romance, a big twist, and a thrilling ending. The way the author was able to create ways in which the Scarlet Pimpernel infiltrated France and was able to escape dumbfounded me. What was even more shocking to me is how submissive the other 19 of the League were to him. it truly shows an intense battle of good over evil. The Scarlet Pimpernel is an excellent book for people of all ages.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading this book, and I was very impressed. When I first started it, I thought it would have the usual classic novel stereotypes: hard to understand English and a plot that seems boring (to teens anyways..). I was definitely wrong! To me, this was one of those can't-put-down-until-I-finish books. The identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel is revealed at the end, but you pick up on subtle hints of who it is throughout the book (the surprise at the end is finding out if your suspicions are true). As a teen, I would recommend this book to anyone who appreciates a good read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I recently had to read this book for summer reading, and it was great. I assumed that it would be boring because it was a very old book. I found that the book was interesting throughout and I couldn't put it down. The Scarlet Pimpernel is a surprising book that keeps you guessing until you're done reading.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I started reading this book and thought it would turn out very boring.But after you kind of get passed some of the beginning it is awesome. I loved how the book just kind of flowed. It was pretty easy to picture the characters!! You truly don't know where or who the Scarlet Pimpernel is!!! If you're reading this than get the BOOK!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Scarlet Pimpernel is an amazing book. It has so many qualities that make an intriquing story, i.e. adventure, mystery and romance. Now let me give you fair warning, this extrodinary novel does begin rather slow. However, if you give it a chance, you won't be sorry. It transforms into a major page-turner and you find yourself engrossed in the story. I would reccomend this book to anyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this book. I think I have it almost all the way memorized. It is veddy veddy good. I give it 5,412 stars!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an AMAZING book! One of my favorites and anyone who writes bad things about it read it backwards or upside-down! I wish I could give it 100,000,000....... stars! The movie is good too so buy this AND watch the movie!! :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book! I've been reading the whole series and I recommend this book to everyone. It's my absolute favorite, y'all! You wanna read a good book? I'd recommend this one definitely. The Scarlet Pimpernel rocks!
mcms More than 1 year ago
this is one of the classics on my "must read list". even though you "know", it is still romantic and interesting.
jazzybadger21 More than 1 year ago
A delightful adventure tale of one man taking on the blood-thirsty mass-mob of the French Revolution. A concise and highly readable thriller.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This entreeging, romantic, and suspenseful tale that should be read by people my age agin and again. Orczy did a fantastic job. She made it to be about how good always triuphs over evil. In my opinion, i think the star of this book is none other than Margarrite. It's a wonderful book. Trust me. I know.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Scarlet Pimpernel is a well written and interesting book. It is full of suspence romance and mystery. The book has rich vocabulary and one of the most interesting story lines I have ever read. It is truly gripping novel and makes the reader feal as if they are there. Not only is it capturing but it also makes you use your head by trying to figure out the great mystery of `who is the scarlet pimpernel?¿. Overall It was a great read and classic. I recommend it to all readers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Scarlet Pimpernel kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time I was reading it. I could not put the book down! If it had not been for my parents, I would have read the entire book in one sitting! The Baroness writes exquistly well. I cannot wait to get a hold of more fantastic books from her!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The best book I have had to read for school, I am now reading the rest of the series. Eloquently written, with a fantastic mix of humor, adventure, irony, and romance. The characters are as real as you and me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book! Yes, it did reveal the Scarlet Pimpernel's identity a little early, but the book contained an exciting plot. I also found the characters of Chauvelin and Sir Percy quite fascinating. The ingenuity of these characters make each of the sequels also a must-read. I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone who is looking for some adventure and romance.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a required read when I was in high school. I loved it so much I would read ahead everynight--and then get in trouble with my teacher the next day...but I didn't care--it's amazing. I recommend this book to everyone!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Scarlet Pimpernel has something for everyone...mystery, romance, history. No book has ever been more difficult to put down. There are so many unexpected plots and so much passion. Everyone should read it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I wanted something simple to read and I came over the Scarlet Pimpernel. Even the first page caught me eyes. It was amazingly written with an ardent array of mystery, romance, and suspense. It was everything that you expect from a book! I recommend this book to anyone who's looking for something memorable (not to mention excellent) to read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book rocks!! It has so many qualities that make a good book; mystery, romance, memorable characters, etc.etc.etc. Make sure if you read it, don't give up right away, because the first few chapters are rather slow. However, when you get into the book it because a major page-turner. If you don't love this book you're crazy. Baroness Orczy uses great language. I'd reccomend this book to anyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A French Government agent is hired to find the identity of a daring and elusive Englishman. The Scarlet Pimpernel tells of his attempts to discover him, and get him eliminated. Baroness Orczy cleverly tells of how he employs all sorts of methods to discover the character, while the reader is dumbfounded as well. The book starts out in France during the French Revolution. The leaders of the Revolution are outraged, since an Englishman is entering Paris and rescuing the aristocrats. No one, save the members of the league of the Scarlet Pimpernel know the true identity of the daring and elusive man. It is not until of the wife of Sir Percy Blakeney realizes the true identity, that the identity is revealed. She gets a tip that the agent will capture him, and races all over France and England to warn him. I really liked the book. It was full of action, and excitement. The plot was brilliantly laid out, so that the reader does not find out the personality of the Scarlet Pimpernel, until Lady Blakeney does. There are hints dropped throughout the book, but they are not fully understood until the character is revealed. The characters were very well laid out. They were believable; they did not seem overly unrealistic. In some books, the main characters are not quite believable. These were just normal characters looking for a little bit of fun. I really enjoyed the writing. It was interesting; there was a good balance between setting the scene, developing characters, and laying the plot. It was balanced very well in that sense. It was not too hard of reading, so that you have to have a PhD to understand it, but it is not so easy that it is boring. I think that this was a really good book, and I would definitely recommend it to people looking for some good reading.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Plow through the first two chapters of this book and you'll be hooked after that. I literally could not bring myself to put it down. I found myself feeling like I'd known Marguerite all my life, and at times I WAS Marguerite. This book has a fantastic twist, too. It's no wonder this book is considered an all-time classic.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this for a class that combines English and World History while studying the French Revolution and it's so fun reading a novel that you can connect with what you're learning and also talk about among classmates! FIRST 10 chapters: started off a little boring, but now that I think about it, if I were writing the book I probably wouldn't have thought of beginning it any better way. The depiction of characters is so intense and specific you start to LITERALLY fall in love with the characters. During the last chapter I started loving the book because the plot is so intriguing and there was already just so much to talk about. NEXT 10 CHAPTERS: Not as favorable, but still worth reading. The beginning actually a bit tedious to read-- if you're not big on romance. The culprit/hero (what is he really? you need to think on both points of view of the Revolution) is revealed toward the end of this section. Last 11 chapters: SO GOOD! You just really start to wonder a lot of things-- OVERALL: the book was GREAT. It just feels so good to feel strongly toward the characters; you either love them or hate them or start too love them and grow to hate them. Orczy used all 3 types of irony in the novel which makes it OH SO intriguing and you're just so frustrated all the time (WHICH IS A GOOD THING)! Read THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL by Baroness Orczy NOW.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you love romance, adventure, action, mystery, and comedy (and trust me, it's all in there) you must read this book! Such a classic story, but so ahead of it's time, giving the reader the best of everything. If you are like me, you will read it in a weekend, and find yourself gasping out loud as you travel through the story with the richly illustrated characters. My only regret is that I read it so fast, and it was over so quickly. A beautifully written book that appeals to readers who enjoy getting swept away completely into the world of the novel. An excellent read, and I can't say enough great things about it! Demmit, you MUST READ 'The Scarlet Pimpernel'!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I tought that this book would be terrible, because it was about the French Revolution, you understand... no, I was wrong!! You will enjoy this so much you will just have to buy it.