The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel Summary and Analysis of Chapters 20-24


Lady Blakeney goes to see Sir Andrew, a friend of the Pimpernel, and reveals the trap -- that she has unwittingly betrayed Percy, who she knows to be the Pimpernel, and he is now on his way into the hands of Chauvelin at Calais. Though Andrew tries to convince Lady Blakeney to leave affairs in his hands, she insists on going with him. They plot to meet that night in Dover to sail for Calais the next day.

Andrew arrives and tells Lady Blakeney that no one will sail from Dover that night because of the strong storm. Andrew suggests just killing Chauvelin in order to end the matter, but Lady Blakeney tells him that the penalties for capture of murderers is too high a price to pay. They spend the night at the pub, waiting for the storm to pass.

The side-effect of the storm is that Chauvelin no longer has his head start on Lady Blakeney and the Englishmen. Indeed, now when the storm passes, she will have the upper hand, provided she can find Percy before he runs into Chauvelin. Moreover, should Chauvelin see her there, he would suspect her involvement in aiding Percy and the other fugitives from France.

The next day they sail to Calais, where they go to the Chat Gris, a small pub, and discover that the master of the inn, named Brogard, expects Percy to return that evening for supper. Lady Blakeney is overjoyed, but realized that now they are on French soil: if Percy were to be apprehended, his fate would quickly be sealed.

At the same time, Andrew reminds Lady Blakeney why Percy came to Calais -- namely to free the Count de Tournay, as well as her brother. Lady Blakeney realizes that there is no way that Percy would leave without the fugitives, and she grants that Andrew must find Percy and warn him about Chauvelin's hunt. Meanwhile, Lady Blakeney will hide in the Chat Gris should Percy return for supper, but Andrew instructs her not to reveal herself to him.

Marguerite waits at the inn for Percy and soon enough a man arrives. But it is Chauvelin. She listens as Chauvelin instructs his henchman, Degas, to return with six soldiers and ambush Percy the moment he walks into the pub. But he says that he wants Percy "alive... if possible." Degas leaves, and Chauvelin waits for him to return.

Lady Blakeney is horrified at the obvious danger her husband faces. She sees that despite his heroism, her husband will be no match for Chauvelin's soldiers. Thus Lady Blakeney waits in despair -- and indeed, soon enough, she hears Percy's voice outside singing lustily as he approaches.


In perhaps the oddest section of Orczy's novel, Lady Blakeney is rendered a suddenly passive, almost immobile character. Indeed, though she has grown increasingly emotional fragile as the novel progresses, she has at least been a figure of action, driving the plot onward. In these sections, however, the only action Lady Blakeney takes is to beg for help from supporting characters whom we know little of. Otherwise, she spends her time... waiting.

In what has to be one of the most bizarre plot choices of the book, Orczy chooses to stop the momentum completely by using a storm to abort the race between Lady Blakeney and Chauvelin to Calais. For nearly two chapters, we wait while Marguerite sits at the pub, drowning in her own fear and anxiety, simply waiting for the chapter to end and her trip to begin the next day. On an plot level, we can chalk up this device to Orczy's wish to have Marguerite reach Calais before Chauvelin, eliminating Chauvelin's head-start; but it is a rather clumsy, even lazy choice of tactics, for it slows our pacing in this crucial stretch of the novel -- and indeed distances us further from Percy.

Of Percy, meanwhile, we are nearly at the end of the book and know little to nothing of his heroism. What is so striking about The Scarlet Pimpernel in its depiction of heroism is its refusal to ever take us inside the hero's point of view. We are always left to admire the results of his action, the objective sequences of events, rather than witness the thoughts, strategy, or interior conflicts that bears them out. In that, there is an odd dynamic between the masculine and feminine here, as Marguerite's point-of-view remains fairly passive -- she is merciless at the hands of men, who we never fully understand, but admire for their nobility and bravery.

To take this a step farther, as the genre of The Scarlet Pimpernel shifts from romance to adventure, the emphasis shifts from the feminine action of Lady Blakeney to the secret masculine action of the Pimpernel. As long as the focus of the novel is on the struggles of marriage, Lady Blakeney emerges as a complicated, deep, interesting woman. When it comes to action, however, she is reduced to a hapless "damsel in distress," a mere witness to the Pimpernel's heroism.

Chauvelin becomes more threatening once he's on French soil in Calais. When he tells Degas to return with his soldiers, we begin to understand just how much danger Percy is actually in. Indeed, it is not Percy's death at the hands of Chauvelin that we fear, but his simple arrest -- for that ensures his execution at the hands of the masses and guillotine. Therefore Percy's margin for error is much smaller -- he can not win in a hand-to-hand climax with Chauvelin; he cannot succeed simply through brawn and physical prowess. Rather the victory here must be about rescue and physical escape without allowing a face-to-face meeting.

Thus when Percy arrives at the Chat Gris in the last line "hook" of the chapter, the reader realizes both the inherent danger of the situation and also the additional fear that comes with the filter of Marguerite's defenseless point-of-view. We will watch Percy for the very first time as the Scarlet Pimpernel, and though we may not be privy to his thoughts or feelings, at the very least we'll have first-hand observation of why he deserves to be our hero.