In Baroness Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel, the historical backdrop of the French Revolution affects everything about each character's life, especially the lives of the novel's main characters—Lord Percy Blakeney and his wife Marguerite St. Just. One might argue that the couple would have never met if it had...
In Baroness Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel, the historical backdrop of the French Revolution affects everything about each character's life, especially the lives of the novel's main characters—Lord Percy Blakeney and his wife Marguerite St. Just. One might argue that the couple would have never met if it had not been for Sir Percy's secretive activities which prompted his many travels to France during the Revolution. As part of the British nobility, Blakeney could have simply avoided France until the turmoil there died down. However, he entangles himself in French affairs by leading a ring which rescues French men and women from the guillotine.
As for Marguerite, she had just risen to the height of Parisian society
"at the very moment when the greatest social upheaval the world has ever known was taking place within [Paris's] walls" (Orczy, Chapter VI).
With the help of her beauty, wit, and ingenuity, Marguerite has made a place for herself in the Parisian theatre at just eighteen years of age. Orphaned and having only a brother to watch over and support her, the tumultuous times in France have forced young people like Marguerite to summon their ambition and make a life for themselves. The French Revolution also places Marguerite in the unique position of being able to overcome the traditional discrimination that would have resulted from her "common" birth. Her philosophy is that
"'money and titles may be hereditary . . . but brains are not,' and thus her charming salon [is] reserved for originality and intellect, for brilliance and wit, for clever men and talented women" (Orczy, Chapter VI).
This propensity to surround herself with witty intellectuals essentially leads to Marguerite's being able to appreciate Sir Percy's clever persona even when he plays a fop in front of everyone else. The Revolution also erases the social class barrier that might have once existed between Percy and Marguerite and enables them to marry quickly, move to England, and be "mostly" accepted by British society.
As the novel's plot continues after the Blakeneys' wedding, the historical events of the era continue to generate conflict in their relationship, for Sir Percy is leading a double life which includes deceiving his wife. Ultimately, though, Marguerite realizes that her husband is involved in a noble venture, and his actions in the face of perilous historical events draw the couple closer to one another.
Overall, Baroness Orczy uses her novel and its sequel, Eldorado, to illustrate that no class in society is entirely evil or good. Many of the French aristocrats most certainly abused their power at the expense of the common class, but so, too, did Robespierre and the Jacobins when they begin their Reign of Terror. This difficult setting is one which the Blakeneys and many like them who sought moral justice had to navigate during the Revolution.