Why is 1792 an appropriate year to begin The Scarlet Pimpernel?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

1792 is an appropriate year for the beginning of Baroness Emmuska Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel because on September 21, 1792, the Legislative Assembly voted to abolish the monarchy of the Bourbon kings; this monarchy was replaced with the First Republic. Once this republic was established, the aristocrats knew that their lives were in danger.

This change in government came three years after Louis XVI ascended to the throne, a time in which he inherited grave financial problems, especially because of the extravagance of Louis XIV. At this time, too, the king's counterrevolutionary efforts assisted by foreign nations were discovered and he was found guilty of treason and put to death. His queen, Marie Antoinette, was also imprisoned, and was sentenced to death by the Revolutionary Tribunal; she died on the guillotine in 1793.

Chapter One, which is entitled "Paris: September, 1792," opens with a description of the infamous guillotine performing its deadly work that ended with over a thousand French aristocrats losing their heads. One cannot miss the irony present in the Baroness's description:

It was to be seen every day, for those aristos were such fools! ... traitors to the people, of course....descendants of the great men who since the Crusades had made the glory of France her old noblesse.

....Now the descendants...had to hide for their lives...if they wished to avoid the tardy vengeance of the people.

Thus begins the narrative of the Scarlet Pimpernel's valiant efforts to smuggle what Orczy considers the best blood of France out of the country.