The Scarlet Pimpernel: Chapter 21,22,23

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Chapter XXI: Suspense


Summary: Late that night, Marguerite reaches The Fisherman’s Rest, where she asks Mr. Jellyband if Ffoulkes has arrived. Jellyband, dismayed at his supposition that Marguerite is arranging a secret romantic rendezvous with Ffoulkes, waits upon Marguerite silently, fuming inwardly at this unfaithhful “furriner.” At length, Ffoulkes arrives, telling Marguerite that, due to the rough weather that has blown up outside, they will not be able to cross the Channel that evening. She is at first dismayed, but Ffoulkes reminds her that the storm likely means Chauvelin, too, has been unable to pursue the Pimpernel. Ffoulkes guesses Jellyband’s suspicions, and allays them by encouraging the landlord to treat Marguerite well for the night for Sir Percy’s sake.


Analysis: Our omniscient narrator allows us a glimpse into the mind of “honest Jellyband” (pp. 162, 165), who, despite that epithet, attempts to participate in the social “masks” we all wear as much as do his upper society counterparts, as he disguises his suspicions of and dislike for Marguerite when she thinks she is engaged in an illicit tryst with Ffoulkes: his “face now expressed distress in spite of himself” (p. 162). Marguerite seems oblivious to Jellyband’s discomfort, but Ffoulkes “had no doubt guessed the many conflicting doubts and fears which raged in honest Jellyband’s head” and partially succeeds in putting them to rest (p. 165). The whole dynamic of the trio’s encounter adds a further layer of irony to the plot, for Marguerite and Ffoulkes are indeed engaged in a secret rendezvous, although not the affair of the heart that Jellyband imagines.


This chapter also displays the “pathetic fallacy”—the idea that the natural environment reflects the interior emotional landscape of characters. As she waits for Ffoulkes, Marguerite realizes that “the beautiful warm October’s day, so happily begun, had turned into a rough and cold night” (p. 163)—a movement that mirrors Marguerite’s own emotional arc over the course of the day, from its bright beginning to her distress at the discovery of her husband’s secret identity and, therefore, imminent peril. Further, Marguerite attributes a willful frustration of her plans by the elements—“Nature herself was playing her a horrible, cruel trick” (p. 165)—not unlike the capricious manipulations of Fate referred to in recent chapters. Indeed, the narrator explicitly invokes the connection between interior emotion and exterior environment as the chapter closes: “It is only when we are happy, that we can bear to gaze merrily upon the vast and limitless expanse of water, rolling on and on with such persistent, irritating monotony, to the accompaniment of our thoughts, whether grave or gay” (p. 167).


Chapter XXII: Calais


Summary: Upon their arrival in now gloomy and tension-filled Calais, Marguerite and Ffoulkes make their way to a dingy inn, the Chat Gris, where the landlord, Brogard, informs them—after much persuasion to deign to interact with “sacrés aristos” and “sacrés Anglais”—that he has indeed seen a tall English gentleman meeting Sir Percy’s description. The man is presently away, getting a cart and horse, but has ordered supper and is expected to return shortly. Marguerite is filled with anticipation at the thought of her reunion with her husband.


Analysis: The narrator paints a vivid portrait of Calais and its citizens in this chapter, but the textual purpose is more than mere description. Each of the various details contributes to an overall negative impression of the latter French Revolution. Certainly the muttered curses of “damned aristos” and “damned English” that meet the two new arrivals (p. 170)—ironic in Marguerite’s case, for she was, readers recall, born a Frenchwoman; her marriage to Sir Percy has to this extent made her a liminal woman, no longer truly French or truly English—speak to the mistrust and resentment now characterizing (in Marguerite and the narrator’s eyes, and no doubt Orczy’s, too) French life after the revolution.


And if, as seems likely, the innkeeper of the Chat Gris is meant to be a typical Frenchman, as Jellyband of the Fisherman’s Rest is meant to be a typical Englishman (see Ch. II), then he does not provide a favorable representation of his fellows. While Jellyband, it is true, displayed some prejudice against foreigners, he ultimately emerged as a likeable and loyal fellow (recall his at last allayed suspicions about Marguerite and Ffoulkes in the previous chapter). For his part, however, Brograd shows few if any redeeming character traits. He is surly and slow to serve his guests, resentful of their requests: “A free citizen does not respond too readily to the wishes of those who happen to require something of him,” after all (p. 173)! Brogard uses his citizenship as a license for uncivil behabvior: “with [a] parting assertion of his rights as a citizen and a free man, to be rude as well as he pleased, Brogard shuffled out of the room, banging the door after him” (p. 176). He even rolls his “r”s as he pronounces imprecations upon his English visitors, “these two sacrrés Anglais,” as if to emphasize his disdain (p. 174). Hints that Marguerite and Ffoulkes would, if they allowed themselves, respond in kind—Marguerite calls Brogard “this creature” whilst Ffoulkes “savagely” says he’d like to “scrag the brute” (p. 174)—are not brought to the foreground. Instead, the text’s implication seems to be that if this is the society the Revolution, in its Reign of Terror, is producing, then it is just as well that forces such as the Scarlet Pimpernel are working against it.


Chapter XXIII: Hope


Summary: After urging Marguerite to be wary of possible spies, Ffoulkes confides in her something he did not want to share in Brogard’s presence: that he spotted Chauvelin on the Dover beach five minutes before he and Marguerite departed. He fears, then, that they do not enjoy a great advantage over their foe, for he may even now be in France. Marguerite’s anxiety returns as she contemplates the danger in which this turn of events places Sir Percy, since Chauvelin, in his raid on The Fisherman’s Rest in Dover, obtained the secret plans for this expedition of the Pimpernel’s men. Marguerite believes they have an hour, perhaps, at most, to warn Sir Percy. Ffoulkes instead urges Marguerite to take heart in Sir Percy’s bravery and resourcefulness, and the fact that he does not break his vows. She is shocked to realize that, for a moment, she has forgotten Armand and the Comte de Tournay in her anxiety for her husband. She vows she will not dissuade him from doing his duty.


Analysis: This chapter also plays with and subverts society’s expectations of men and women. Although Marguerite is at first distraught in what may seem “typically” feminine ways—e.g., “heavy tears gathered in here eyes, as memory came back to her of Armand, the companion and darling of her chilhdood, the man for whom she had committed the deadly sin, which had so hopelessly imperiled her brave husband’s life” (p. 180); in that passage, Marguerite has no identity outside her relationship to men—by the chapter’s end, she has been highlighted as a strong woman (although this is still in relation to her resolution not to interfere with her husband’s work; it could be argued her duty is still subservient to his): e.g., “Even as she spoke, [Ffoukes] felt how unnecessary was this caution [against spies]: Marguerite was as calm, as clear-headed as any man” (p. 182). Readers may argue whether this is praise or a back-handed sexist compliment; in either case, though, it shows a multiplicity of attitudes toward gender in the text. The chapter’s preoccupation with spies, on the other hand, seems more straightforward to interpret, as readers cannot help but wonder whether in constitutes an incidence of literary foreshadowing: “Do not, I beg of you, reveal yourself to Sir Percy, unless you are absolutely certain that you are alone with him” (p. 182). Will Marguerite find herself in such a situation, and will she unwittingly betray her husband again? (To this extent, then, even the emphasis on espionage further complicates the chapter’s examination of gender roles—the unspoken implication is that Ffoulkes, as a man, can be so trusted, while Marguerite’s trustworthiness is still to be determined.)

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