The Scarlet Pimpernel Summary and Analysis
Lady Blakeney arrives, despite the Comtesse's refusal to see her. Indeed, the Comtesse makes a grand gesture of forbidding her daughter from speaking to Lady Blakeney. The Comtesse leaves with her daughter in tow and Lady Blakeney reveals her haughtiness, mocking the Comtesse afterwards.
Yet there's a crucial moment where we see the 'hard, set expression vanish, and a wistful, almost pathetic and childlike look steal' into Lady Blakeney's eyes. In this moment we see that Lady Blakeney is not nearly as haughty or unfeeling as she might seem.
Her husband Percy Blakeney arrives. He is one of the richest men in England, 'leader of all fashions,' and managed to secure 'a brilliant matrimonial prize' in Lady Blakeney, a 'beautiful, fascinating, clever, French wife' who had many suitors. But Percy himself seems terribly dull -- even stupid. The narrator comments that society wonders how he managed to woo Lady Blakeney.
As the Comtesse has insulted Lady Blakeney, the Comtesse's son emerges to challenge Percy to a duel to allow Percy to settle the score. But Lady Blakeney is so effective in her shrill mocking of the men -- both her husband and the Comtesse's son -- that the duel is avoided.
Percy, meanwhile, is an almost cartoonish fop, clearly intimidated by his wife, Lady Blakeney, and puerile in his language. But as Lady Blakeney leaves, the narrator remarks on the deep intense look in Percy's eyes as he watches her, a sign of complexity in Percy that we hang on to.
Outside, Lady Blakeney wishes her brother Armand farewell, before he returns to France to continue serving the country. Armand asks whether Lady Blakeney has told her husband of the full circumstances of her denunciation of the Marquis de Cyr's family to the tribunal -- circumstances which apparently exonerate her from all blame. But Lady Blakeney says she has not, and as a result, her relationship with her husband has been destroyed.
As Marguerite goes back to the pub, she meets Chauvelin, a French officer who is intent on discovering the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel. He has been spying on the activities of the Englishmen at the pub, and says that Marguerite must help him find the Pimpernel. She refuses, saying he is a brave and noble man, and she would never lend a hand to assist in his capture.
By the end of these chapters, Lady Blakeney has evolved into our chief protagonist, but it's an uneasy role for her, because as the reader we're not convinced that she warrants our sympathies. We begin to soften towards her in the key scene where she converses with her brother, Armand St. Just. Armand urges Lady Blakeney to reveal the circumstances which led to her condemnation of St. Cyr's family -- circumstances which would appease those who doubt her innocence. But Lady Blakeney reveals that its too late -- Percy already hates her.
This exchange, where Lady Blakeney reveals her husband's secret contempt for her, is one of the most compelling in the novel: it reveals different themes that will evolve in the course of the story. First, it reveals that Lady Blakeney respects her husband's opinion despite earlier giving the impression that he's a useless dimwit; we understand that she gives him far more credit in private than she does in public. Second, it reveals that Percy has a deeper side to him, for in the earlier scene, he seems not only incapable of feeling, but boorish and dull as well. Third, and perhaps most importantly, it reveals Percy's deep allegiance to the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel. For him to hate his wife so deeply over her denunciation of the St. Cyr family reveals Percy's profound commitment to the Pimpernel's cause. He feels more deeply for the St. Cyr's than he does for his own beautiful and popular wife -- an interesting character wrinkle that straight-off should give us a clue as to Percy's true identity.
Already, many of the characters in The Scarlet Pimpernel appear to be "red herrings"; they vie for our sympathies only to fade into the background as unimportant. The Comtesse de Tournay, though a central figure in the first chapters, does not have a significant role in the book. Her ultimate importance is as a foil: she allows us to wonder about Lady Blakeney's innocence and introduces the major plot movement of the book, the rescue of the Comtesse's husband.
But the biggest red herring in the book is seemingly Seargent Bibot, who is placed squarely at the outset as our villain. We fully expect Bibot to be the foil to the Pimpernel and a classic battle between them to ultimately provide our climax. But Bibot never returns; instead, he is replaced in Chapter Eight by Chauvelin, a Frenchman on a mission to capture the Pimpernel. It's an odd choice by Orczy, for we're disoriented by Chauvelin's appearance -- and aren't quite sure whether he's our real villain, or simply a shadowy stand-in for a larger force. In time we'll come to see him as the villain of the book, but for now, we're still uneasy with our hierarchy of characters, with neither a clear hero nor antagonist.
Additionally, it's important to note that many of the key moments in the book come from our omniscient narrator, who offers insights that we can't divest from the action of the plot. In particular, we believe Lady Blakeney is haughty, and Percy is dull, but the narrator finds the pitiful, childlike expression in Lady Blakeney as the Comtesse leaves, and the intense depth in Percy's look as his wife leaves. Indeed, without the narrator, we're not quite sure what to feel of these characters. With the narrator's help, we glean hints as to the character's interior secrets, foreshadowing the revelations to come.
The Scarlet Pimpernel Essays and Related Content
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- The Scarlet Pimpernel Summary
- About The Scarlet Pimpernel
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1-4
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 5-8
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9-14
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 15-19
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 20-24
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 25-28
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 29-31
- The History of the Guillotine
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- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
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