In The Scarlet Pimpernel, what does Sir Percy do to confirm the common assumption that he is stupid?

Sir Percy Blakeney confirms the common assumption that he is stupid by laughing inanely, pretending not to understand their insults, and pretending not to speak French. People think him foolish for having married a smart woman. Because he never loses his composure when others are rude to him, everyone believes that he does not catch the meanings of insults they direct toward him and his wife and that she hurls at him.

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In chapter VI of The Scarlet Pimpernel, Sir Percy Blakeney is first described in detail. While he is a tall, and very good-looking man, his personal characteristics and his behavior encourage people in his social circle to believe that he is an “imbecile.” This opinion stems in part from the idea that dullness runs in his family, and most recently afflicted his mother, who “died an imbecile.” Sir Percy is described as having a “lazy” look in his eyes, and constantly emitting an “inane laugh.”

In many respects, Blakeney is tolerated because he is extremely rich. Younger men who aspire to be fashionable admire his lavish wardrobe; quote his inanities, and copy his foolish laugh. Although London society had relatively low expectations for him, he is also discredited for being foolish enough to marry someone far superior to him in both intelligence and social skills. Furthermore, he does not seem to catch on that she is constantly belittling him:

Taking into consideration his own intellectual limitations, it would have been wiser on his part had he bestowed those worldly advantages upon a less brilliant and witty wife … Blakeney was really too stupid to notice the ridicule with which his clever wife covered him….

When Blakeney arrives from France, he intrudes on an uncomfortable situation. The Comtesse de Tournay has just insulted Marguerite by ordering her daughter Suzanne not to speak to her. When he asks what is going on, Marguerite tells him she was insulted, and the Comtesse’s son the Vicomte tells him that his mother had spoken the words.

Rather than criticize them, Sir Percy teases his wife for being sharp-tongued, but retains his composure. The fact that he never loses his “imperturbable good-humour” makes people think he does not understand the insults. In addition, as the Tournays are French, Percy pretends to be astonished that the youth speaks English. He then compounds the impression of his dimness by pretending to understand neither the French language nor that the Vicomte is challenging him to a duel.

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