The Scarlet Pimpernel: Top Ten Quotations

“…the story certainly savoured of the supernatural, and though the Republic had abolished God, it had not quite succeeded in killing the fear of the supernatural in the hearts of the people. Truly that Englishman must be the devil himself (Chapter I, p. 12)”—The narrator characterizes the Scarlet Pimpernel and his exploits of rescuing condemned French aristocrats as the one force with the power to strike fear and awe into the bloodthirsty crowds of the Reign of Terror. The words establish the novel’s title character as a larger-than-life, heroic figure.

“Mr. Jellyband was indeed a typical rural John Bull of those days—the days when our prejudiced insularity was at its height, when to an Englishman, be he lord, yeoman, or peasant, the whole of the continent of Europe was a den of immorality and the rest of the world an unexploited land of savages and cannibals (Chapter II, p. 18).”—The narrator establishes the proprietor of The Fisherman’s Rest in Dover as representative of many British people’s attitudes toward Europeans, and in particular the French, during the era of the Reign of Terror. It is this short-sighted, self-satisfied isolationism that the Scarlet Pimpernel is presented as working to overcome in his rescuing of French nobles from the guillotine.

““The Scarlet Pimpernel, Mademoiselle,” he said at last, “is the name of a humble English wayside flower; but it is also the name chosen to hide the identity of the best and bravest man in all the world, so that he may better succeed in accomplishing the noble task he has set himself to do” (Chapter IV, p. 34).”—Sir Andrew Ffoulkes’ explanation, to the French refugees at the Fisherman’s Rest, of the Pimpernel’s name and motivations. The words highlight the congruency between the fact that the pimpernel is a common and often overlooked flower and the fact that the Scarlet Pimpernel is able to effect the rescues of French aristos quite often literally under the noses of the Revolutionaries.

“He, the sleepiest, dullest, most British Britisher that had ever set a pretty woman yawning, had secured a brilliant matrimonial prize for which, as all chroniclers aver, there had been many competitors (Chapter VI, p. 44).”–The narrator’s introduction of Sir Percy Blakeney, the foppish and (apparently) foolish gentleman, a wealthy noble who has nonetheless married, it seems, far above his intellectual station. In actuality, of course, Sir Percy cultivates his dull and unappealing public image in order to conceal the fact that he is the Scarlet Pimpernel.

“The Day Dream it was, Sir Percy Blakeney’s yacht, which was ready to take Armand St. Just back to France into the very midst of that seething, bloody Revolution which was overthrowing a monarchy, attacking a religion, destroying a society, in order to try and rebuild upon the ashes of tradition a new Utopia, of which a few men dreamed, but which none had the power to establish (Chapter VII, p. 53).”–The narrator’s (low) opinion of the state of the French Revolution on the cusp of the Reign of Terror, an opinion no doubt not too far from Baroness Orczy’s own. Orczy did not approve of the relentless and violent purging of the aristocracy, and the narrative voice of her novel reflects that objection.

“Then, when first she heard of this band of young English enthusiasts who, for sheer love of their fellow-men, dragged women and children, old and young men, from a horrible death, her heart had glowed with pride for them, and now, as Chuavelin spoke, her very soul went out to the gallant and mysterious leader of the reckless little band, who risked his life daily, who gave it freely and without ostentation, for the sake of humanity (Chapter VIII, p. 68).”–These words contain Marguerite’s ironic, idolizing reflections on the Scarlet Pimpernel—who, unbeknownst to her, is the husband whom she can barely tolerate!

“She loved him still… she had never ceased to love him… deep down in her heart she had always vaguely felt that his foolish inanities, his empty laugh, his lazy nonchalance were nothing but a mask; that the real man, strong, passionate, willful, was there still—the man she had loved… (Chapter XVII, p. 133)–The narrator gives this glimpse into Marguerite’s thoughts about her husband, after she has attempted to reconcile herself to him at Richmond. The passage is an important one because it shows both how close and how far Marguerite comes to seeing Sir Percy’s double (secret) identity. She knows Sir Percy wears a metaphorical “mask,” but she does not yet know what identity it truly conceals: that of her hero, the Scarlet Pimpernel.

“Why should he take all this trouble? Why should he—who was obviously a serious, earnest man—wish to appear before his fellow-men as an empty-headed nincompoop? (Chapter XVIII, p. 143)”–Why indeed? This quotation is Marguerite’s wonderings once she realizes, inferring from the neat and orderly appearance of her husband’s private “inner sanctum,” that Sir Percy is presenting one face to the world (a “mask”) for reasons as yet unknown to her. The words capture a pivotal moment in the plot, and virtually immediately precede her discovery of Sir Percy’s Scarlet Pimpernel signet ring.

“It is only when we are happy, that we can bear to gaze merrily upon the vast and limitless expanse of water, rolling on and on with such persistent, irritating monotony, to the accompaniment of our thoughts, whether grave or gay. When they are gay, the waves echo their gaiety; but when they are sad, then every breaker, as it rolls, seems to bring additional sadness, and to speak to us of hopelessness and of the pettiness of all our joys (Chapter XXI, p. 167).”–A notable example in the text of the “pathetic fallacy;” that is, “the attribution of human emotions or characteristics to inanimate objects or to nature” ( Marguerite imposes her own emotional state on the environment as she waits for the storm that has prevented her departure to Calais to pass. The exterior storm mirrors, she believes, her own emotional storm over her husband’s peril as Chauvelin hunts for him.

“Chauvelin was putting the knife to her throat. Marguerite felt herself entangled in one of those webs, from which she could hope for no escape. A precious hostage was being held for her obedience: for she knew that this man would never make an empty threat (Chapter X, p. 87).”–Chauvelin’s metaphorical “knife” is his knowledge of Armand St. Just’s involvement with the Scarlet Pimpernel, and his promise that he will ensure the young man’s safety, if only his sister, Marguerite, will help Chauvelin reveal and stop the Pimpernel from his assistance of condemned French nobilit