The Scarlet Pimpernel Summary and Analysis
The meeting between Chauvelin and Percy is understandably awkward, and Chauvelin realizes he needs time before Degas returns with the men to arrest Blakeney. Meanwhile, Lady Blakeney watches from the stairwell, horrified. Percy, nonplussed, eats his dinner, and asks Chauvelin trivial questions; the Frenchman gets ever more eager for his henchmen to arrive.
Percy innocently asks Chauvelin if he would like to inhale a top-notch brand of snuff he acquired from abroad. Chauvelin falls for the trap, ends up inhaling pepper, and Percy calmly leaves the room as Chauvelin struggles -- just before the soldiers arrive.
The soldiers tell Chauvelin that they found out Percy had talked to a Jew named Reuben about borrowing his horse and cart later that night to go down the St. Martin road. Chauvelin demands that they find Reuben, but they can't find him and instead bring a fellow old Jew who claims to be a friend of his.
The Jew says that he can lend the soldiers his horse and cart and they will go to Pere Blanchard's hut, where Percy is to supposed to end his ride on Reuben's horse. The Jew claims that the horse that Percy took is a miserable nag who can't move at more than a snail's place. Since the Jew claims his horse is faster than Reuben's, he said Chauvelin will either catch up with Percy or get to the Pere Blanchard hut before Percy gets there.
Chauvelin decides to trust the Jew, but makes a very clear deal. If they catch up with Percy, he will offer the Jew a monetary reward. But if they do not, he will make sure that the Jew is beaten mercilessly, even to death. The arrangement is confirmed and the Jew provides his nag to help the soldiers catch up with Percy.
Lady Blakeney leaves her hiding spot and eavesdrops as soldiers tell Chauvelin that Percy has not been found along the road to Pere Blanchard's hut. Chauvelin tells them not to attack Percy until they find the other fugitives that he is rescuing as well. All of them arrive at the hut, and Chauvelin decides to take the old Jew with him so that he doesn't make noise and mistakenly warn the Scarlet Pimpernel that he is walking into a trap.
When the light of the moon illuminates the area around the hut, Lady Blakeney sees Percy's ship anchored beneath the cliffs. Realizing that Percy is here, about to walk into the trap, she runs towards Pere Blanchard's hut to warn the people inside, but she's captured by Chauvelin.
Percy's evolution into the swashbuckling hero, courtesy of a new focus on him as the protagonist, finds assistance in Chauvelin's gross incompetence. Indeed, Chauvelin becomes increasingly idiotic with each new scene. For instance, when Percy arrives and sits down to a calm supper, despite Chauveline's presence, it is Chauvelin's fear that we feel through the subtext, rather than Percy's. Maguerite may be afraid for Percy, but he displays such command that we do not doubt for an instant his impending escape.
It's a curious choice to make the hero so devoid of inner conflict and transparency; the Scarlet Pimpernel appears to have no discernible motivation, no depths or complexities apart from the superficial problem of his "secret" identity. He's as two-dimensional as a comic book character -- and, indeed, the Scarlet Pimpernel is widely considered the forerunner to the pulp action comic heroes of the twenties and thirties. This lack of depth succeeds because Orczy narratorial maintains the point-of-view of an awed spectator and uses Marguerite as Percy's emotional anchor. As long as she's in fear of what's to happen, we'll fear for Percy's life -- even if he himself has no doubts about his escape.
Chauvelin ludicrous impulse to accept snuff from Percy is, of course, remarkably convenient -- and quite juvenile -- as a plot device, but we accept it if only to keep the plot moving. The escape also emasculates Chauvelin and puts an even higher premium on Percy's cleverness. If he does not dazzle us with cunning and ingenious means of escape, we will lose interest -- for we certainly do not see Chauvelin as a worthy match.
Critics have pointed to the obvious prejudice in the delineation of the Jew character, and with good reason. That said, characterization in the novel is typically broad, and the later revelation that Percy himself is the Jew softens the depiction somewhat. Still, not giving the character a proper name, and referring to him only as 'The Jew' adds to the classism of the novel as a whole. A reader ought to keep it continually in mind that the subtext of The Scarlet Pimpernel is the worthiness of the aristocracy and the "old ways" of life -- ways which include racism, classism, and undisguised distaste for the masses.
Geography is a bit confusing here, and we have the slight suspicion its because Orczy is trying to keep the pace quick enough to distract us from some of the implausibilities of the actual chase. Indeed, we're never quite sure how Lady Blakeney keeps up with the parties and manages to be in all the right places at the right times, but for now, we take these chapters as more intermediate steps of exposition in order to get our principal characters -- Percy, Chauvelin, and Marguerite -- to Pere Blanchard's hut. It is a testament to Orczy's characterization of Marguerite that we are invested fully in her desire to save Percy now -- so we follow her exclusively and worry little about the details of how everyone will arrive at Pere Blanchard's hut.
What's slightly ironic is for all of Marguerite's fears of having to choose between Percy and Armand, she ultimately doesn't have to make that choice. (Indeed, as the novel fully embraces its swashbuckling nature, the complexities that have crept into the narrative are neatly ironed away.) Once she sees the Daydreamer boat anchored in the bay, she realizes she must save both at once, and goes hurtling towards the hut in her first decisive action in many, many chapters. Finally, our heroine has emerged -- only to be captured by Chauvelin, hence revealing Marguerite as the weakest of our principal characters. Her role, once defined by complicated choices and hidden depths, has devolved to become another mere foil for The Pimpernel's heroics.
The Scarlet Pimpernel Essays and Related Content
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- The Scarlet Pimpernel: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Baroness Emmuska Orczy: Biography
- 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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- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
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