The Scarlet Pimpernel was initially rejected by publishers, when Orczy completed it in 1903. Undeterred, she reinvented the book as a play, which went on to be successful, leading to the publication of the book in 1905. The book was an immediate success with the public, relieving Orczy of her financial troubles, but critics found it superficial, classist, and ultimately little more than a disposable lark.
And yet, the public took to the book, looking past its overt sympathies with the noble class, and their demand for more such adventure stories led Orczy to write a slew of Pimpernel sequels over the next forty years. These include The Laughing Cavalier (1914), The First Sir Percy (1921), Pimpernel and Rosemary (1924), and The Scarlet Pimpernel Looks at the World (1933).
The Scarlet Pimpernel takes place during the French Revolution, which lasted from 1789-99, and involved an overthrow of the monarchical regime by the peasant classes. This uprising is often seen as a radical manifestation of the egalitarian principles of the Enlightenment. As a result of this uprising, a Reign of Terror took hold, where aristocrats were condemned, imprisoned and sent to the guillotine. In Orczy's novel, a masked hero known as the Scarlet Pimpernel rescues those aristocrats trying to flee the gates of Paris and takes them safely to England, where they enjoy diplomatic immunity from the terror of the masses.