The Scarlet Pimpernel: Chapter 9,10

Chapter IX: The Outrage

Summary: In The Fisherman’s Rest, after Jellyband and the others have retired for the night, Ffoulkes and Dewhurst discuss the success of their latest mission to France and plan for their next, which will be the rescue of the Comte de Tournay, even as his family has just been rescued. (Armand is on his way to France even now to meet the Comte.) The two English gentlemen also discuss their knowledge of Chauvelin’s arrival in Britain, realizing that his and his spies’ presence will curtail their chances to meet. As they read the Pimpernel’s instructions to them, they do not hear Chauvelin creeping into the tavern. Chauvelin and his confederates attack Ffoulkes and Dewhurst, muffling and binding them; they search them, then remove them from the tavern. Chauvelin reviews the stolen documents and learns that Armand St. Just is a traitor to France. He plans to use this information to secure Marguerite’s cooperation in discovering and stopping the Scarlet Pimpernel.

Analysis: This brief chapter reveals to readers something of the complexity of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s operations, and also shows us how Armand St. Just is connected to the Pimpernel’s rescue activities. Dewhurst alludes back to the daring rescue of the Comtesse and her family that we read about in the first chapter, establishing again that “that man’s [the Pimpernel] a marvel!” (p. 73). We also see that even the Pimpernel’s men appear to have no knowledge of his true identity. It is ironic that, even as Ffoulkes and Dewhurst discuss Chauvelin’s presence in England, the accredited agent himself is sneaking up on them, in order to carry out his successful attack. The chapter is thus a short but crucial complication in the novel’s plot: now that the necessary exposition has been accomplished, Orczy can increase the pace of her story’s action.

Chapter X: In the Opera Box

Summary: While attending (along with most of the rest of London society, fashionable and plebeian alike) a performance of Glück’s opera Orpheus, Marguerite is approached by Chauvelin, who tells her of the secret documents he has possessed and warns her that her brother Armand is in danger. One of the papers is a letter penned by Armand to Sir Ffoulkes. The revelation that her brother is in league with the Scarlet Pimpernel stuns Marguerite. Chauvelin offers Marguerite a “free pardon” for her brother if she will assist him, as he requested previously, in identifying and stopping the Pimpernel. He asks her to attend Lord Grenville’s post-performance ball, where he thinks Ffoulkes and Dewhurst will meet their secret leader. He will give her Armand’s incriminating letter if she will give him her aid. Marguerite seems on the precipice of agreeing to help when Sir Percy enters the box, interrupting the conversation.

Analysis: The tension in this dramatic chapter belies its serene setting: the refined atmosphere of an opera hall. The Covent Garden Theatre is an actual location; first opened in 1732, destroyed by fire and rebuilt twice in the 19th century, it is today known as London’s Royal Opera House. Orczy’s interest in using the setting here seems to be to highlight a veneer of calm and civilized society masking international turmoil and intrigue. (The star of this performance, Selina Storace , is likewise a real historical figure [also known to history as Anna Selina “Nancy” Storance], an English soprano well known for her work in comic opera. She is rumored to have been a paramour of Mozart’s at one time, as well.) Chauvelin’s intrusion into such a refined atmosphere lends an extra air of villainy to his character.Although the Comtesse de Tournay thinks the worst of Marguerite—“I am sure… that if this Chauvelin wishes to do us mischief, he will find a faithful ally in Lady Blakeney” (p. 78)—we readers are privy to Marguerite’s inner conflict. We have already learned that she is opposed to the currently violent excesses of the Revolution (perhaps, even as the Comtesse does, Marguerite would label them “bloodthirsty ruffians,” hardly worthy of being called a government, p. 78); but, of course, she remains lovingly loyal to her brother, Armand St. Just. Small wonder her brother’s letter feels like a “beloved knife in the hollow of [Chauvelin’s] hand” to her (p. 88). The narrative presents us with another striking bit of irony as Marguerite considers asking her husband for help: “He had very little brains, it is true, but he had plenty of muscle: surely, if she provided the thought, and he the manly energy and pluck, together they could outwit the astute diplomatist, and save the hostage from his vengeful hands, without imperiling the life of the noble leader of that gallant little band of heroes” with whom Armand is working (p. 88). Even here, in the elegant opera house, before their very eyes, the Scarlet Pimpernel is deceiving and outwitting people! Readers cannot help but eagerly anticipate Marguerite’s reaction when she learns the truth—not yet revealed to us, it is true, but certainly hinted at by our author—behind Sir Percy, “the lazy, good-humoured nonentity” (p. 80).