man of mystery
passage contains some of the most famous lines of verse in English
literature and is found in the classic novel, The Scarlet Pimpernel,
by Baroness Emma Orczy.
Who was this
lterary character who has captured the imagination of generations
of readers, has spawned movies and popular TV series, and even
provided the inspiration for a hit Broadway musical?
character has his setting in the the streets of Paris, which are
awash in blood as Robespierre and his henchmen send hundreds of
French aristocrats to the guillotine. Against this backdrop one
unknown Englishman and his brave band of followers leave their
genteel lives behind to spirit the French royals to safety in
that France's new leaders demand to know is: who is the Scarlet
Pimpernel? The question the reader asks is: why does Sir Percy
risk life and honor for a land not his own?
motivation, the story of the Pimpernel and his gallant crew as
they outwit the Committee of Public Safety and its agent Chauvelin
again and again, is absorbing reading.
clergy, shopgirls, even the Dauphin himself - no one is beyond
the Pimpernel's aid.
So who was
he, this dashing character?
Pimpernel is one of the most famous heroic characters in popular
fiction of the past century. Because the adventures of the Pimpernel
were set in immediate post-revolutionary France, people these
days tend to think the story has been around since the end of
the 1700s, but the novel was first published in London in 1905.
It's all very French and very genteel English, but it was actually
written by a Hungarian woman who was an aristocrat by birth, and
actually became the template for a succession of Hollywood and
Orczy (1865-1947), a "transplanted" Hungarian, wrote dozens of
books but it is The Scarlet Pimpernel for which she is
The book tells
the story of Sir Percy Blakeney, a late-Georgian British society
fop who is known more for being a dandy than having an semblance
to a swordsman and hero.
All is not
as it seems, however, and Sir Percy leads a double life as "the
Scarlet Pimpernel" -the rescuer of aristocrats and innocents during
the Reign of Terror that followed the French Revolution. Sir Percy,
feeling betrayed by his bride, French actress Marguerite St. Just,
is pursued by his nemesis, the French Republican agent Citizen
thrust of the Pimpernel - that of an unlikely everyman being capable
of living a twin life, one of which is unbelievably heroic - has
been copied time and time again since Baroness Orczy put pen to
paper. How? Think about Zorro, Bruce Wayne/Batman, Clark Kent/Superman.
The list goes on.
has been dramatised on television and on the big screen several
times (most notably in 1935 with Leslie Howard, Merle Oberon and
Raymond Massey). In the '50s Marius Goring portayed what was arguably
the best TV Pimpernel, after starring in a Scarlet Pimpernel radio
series broadcast across the US. The 1982 TV series starring Anthony
Andrews, Jane Seymour and Ian McKellen was hugely popular. The
BBC made a six-part film in 1998 and 2000 starring Richard E.
Grant, Elizabeth McGovern and Martin Shaw. The Scarlet Pimpernel's
more recent popularity and notoriety is a result of the Tony Award-nominated
Broadway musical by Frank Wildhorn and Nan Knighton, which made
its debut at New York's Minskoff Theatre in 1997.
Pimpernel is forever being reinvented and will live on for new
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