The Scarlet Pimpernel Summary and Analysis
Lady Blakeney comes to, realizing she is outside the hut with Chauvelin and his soldiers just as they're waiting to ambush those waiting inside. Chauvelin tells her that she must remain silent if she wants her brother to remain alive. Lady Blakeney doesn't know what to do -- whether to save her brother or Percy -- but just then she hears Percy's voice singing 'God save the King!' out in the distance.
Lady Blakeney cannot stay silent and screams; she runs to the hut and shouts for those inside to save themselves. The soldiers grab her, run into the hut but it is empty. By following Chauvelin's strict orders -- to stand guard outside, waiting for Percy before doing anything with the fugitives -- they unwittingly let the fugitives free. Chauvelin promises his henchmen that they will die for their mistake, but they let Chauvelin know that they didn't go after the escaping fugitives in deference to his orders.
But suddenly down below the cliffs, they hear gunfire from the anchored boat. The fugitives have escaped onto the boat, and it sets sail for England. Chauvelin despairs momentarily before he realizes that he heard Percy's singing -- and that Percy must still be in the vicinity.
He finds a letter in the hut that tells the fugitives to go without him as he'll be near a creak outside the Chat Gris. Chauvelin sends his soldiers to find Percy -- but before he leaves, realizes that the Jew has been left unpunished. He tells his soldiers to bring the Jew.
He tells the Jew that the deal they made was clear -- and that not only did his horse fail to overtake Percy's, but that now even the fugitives have gone free. He orders his soldiers to beat the Jew mercilessly, which they do while Chauvelin watches and Marguerite lays unconscious.
Later, Marguerite awakes to hear the beaten Jew cursing -- in a clearly British accent. She runs to him to find that the Jew is indeed Percy in disguise. She frees him, they rejoice over his cunning, impenetrable scheme, and indeed, as the final part of his plan, Sir Andrew arrives, having followed his orders, to take them both to the returning boat, which soon sets sail for their home in England.
The novel ends with the resolution of both plot strands -- the reconciliation of husband and wife and the restoration of confidence between them, and the freedom of the remaining fugitives from the terror of the French revolutionary masses.
The climax and denouement of The Scarlet Pimpernel surprisingly is devoid of any physical combat or face-to-face action. Indeed, more than an adventure novel, we seem to have wandered into the espionage genre, where the goal is to evade, conceal, and ambush rather than embrace man-to-man combat. Furthermore, just as the end of each chapter in Orczy's novel relies on the dangling hook, the final machinations of the plot depend on the creativity and uniqueness of Percy's stratagems. We fully expect his escape -- but the question is whether we can predict or anticipate the nature of his plans.
For all her seemingly heroic plans at the end of the novel -- twice she tries to save Percy and the fugitives -- Marguerite is again rendered helpless and useless:
"The cleverest woman in Europe, the elegant and fashionable Lady Blakeney, who had dazzled London society with her beauty, her wit and her extravagances, presented a very pathetic picture of tired-out, suffering womanhood, which would have appealed to any, but hard, vengeful heart of her baffled enemy."
It's a curious passage, because our heroine is left so "pathetic" and pitiable. There is made a clear distinction here between man and woman, with the latter incapable and doomed to futility. It's a romantic vision of womanhood, and one that could potentially work, except for the fact that we don't especially feel threatened by Chauvelin's "hard, vengeful heart." Indeed, we're not quite sure what Chauvelin's motivation is, whether it's lust for Lady Blakeney (doubtful), desire to rise in rank and position (not really evident), or just hard-hearted evil (not borne out by the text). So Orczy's narrator, in her explanation of Chauvelin as the bearer of a "hard, vengeful heart," isn't particularly convincing.
The ending of the novel resolves both of our primary conflicts -- as husband and wife reconcile, primarily with Lady Blakeney in awe of Percy's cleverness, completing his character's arc from seeming buffoon to ingenious swashbuckler. Moreover, the fugitives are freed, which truly prevents any climactic showdown where Marguerite would have had to choose between Percy and her brother.
The final moments have a fairy tale absurdity. Percy manages to get into new, fashionable clothes on his boat, clothes "of which he always kept a supply on board his yacht." Marguerite finds a pair of shoes so "she could put foot on English shore in his best pair," and the rest is "silence" -- the silence of a perfect ending where everyone gets their happily ever after. Indeed, the close of the book is a firm reminder that this, after all, is melodrama at its most self-indulgent -- a slight fairy tale meant to divert and entertain, a bit of revisionist mythology set in a dreadful historical moment. Finally the nobility get their very own Robin Hood.
But we should not allow this fun, frivolous conclusion to overwhelm the clear class signals of the novel. The Baroness Orczy was herself, after all, a deposed aristocrat; her simple celebration of the aristocracy of France, which totally ignores the excesses and injustices that sparked the French Revolution in the first place, seems at the last reckoning to be a personal fantasy, with the naturally clever and resourceful aristocrats outwitting the flat-footed masses. The Scarlet Pimpernel is a deceptively complicated book: a celebration of individual heroism with a subtext that endorses traditionalism and conservatism; a simple, contrived yarn with passages of psychological subtlety (and the overarching psychology of the author); a revenge fantasy of the aristocracy in an increasingly democratic Europe. It's ironic, then, that the very masses whom the book scorns -- the book-buying, romance-reading masses -- ensured that The Scarlet Pimpernel is a perennial bestseller.
The Scarlet Pimpernel Essays and Related Content
- The Scarlet Pimpernel: Major Themes
- The Scarlet Pimpernel: E-Text
- The Scarlet Pimpernel: Questions
- 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
- Related Links on The Scarlet Pimpernel
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
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