The Scarlet Pimpernel

by Baroness Orczy

Start Free Trial

How is disguise utilized in The Scarlet Pimpernel?

Quick answer:

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a fantastic adventure story, with the backdrop of the French Revolution. The book revolves around Sir Percy Blakeney and his alter-ego, the Scarlet Pimpernel. Sir Percy is an English nobleman with a wife, Marguerite Blakeney and a brother in law who has just been guillotined by Robespierre. In order to seek revenge on the man responsible for his brother's death and many others' as well, Sir Percy decides upon a disguise so clever that he will be able to rescue many French aristocrats from being executed. He poses as a foppish dandy whom no one would ever suspect to be a hero.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Disguises are used in both a literal and symbolic sense throughout The Scarlet Pimpernel.

By and large, disguise is used extensively by Sir Percy in order to do his work as the Scarlet Pimpernel. He disguises himself in all sorts of ways to rescue French aristocrats from being executed by the revolutionaries. He usually picks the most unexpected roles to play: an elderly woman transporting a "son" with the plague is the most famous. However, such theatrical disguises are not the only sort adopted by Percy—and he is not the only character to disguise himself.

In society, both Percy and his wife, Marguerite, adopt "disguises" to mask their true feelings. Percy pretends to be an insipid fop so that no one would ever suspect him to be the dashing, clever Pimpernel. He also acts coolly towards his wife, despite being madly in love with her, because he believes she betrayed the Marquis de St. Cyr and his family to the revolutionaries due to the former having her brother beaten. While she did seek vengeance, she did not intend for the family to be guillotined, but Percy does not understand this. For her part, Marguerite also acts as though nothing is wrong with the marriage in public, but behind the scenes, she is disgusted with Percy's foppish ways, unaware it is a facade. (That Marguerite is also an actress is a tie-in to the disguise motif running through the story.)

At the end of the novel, all disguises are taken off by both parties. Percy and Marguerite rekindle their love and see through the lies and facades which previously estranged them.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial