The Scarlet Pimpernel: Chapter 3,4

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Chapter III: The Refugees


Summary: Lord Antony Dewhurst arrives at The Fisherman’s Rest, in advance of a group of three noble French refugees: an elderly Comtesse (Countess), her young companion Suzanne, and the barely 19-year-old Vicomte (Viscount) de Tournay. They are escorted by Sir Andrew Ffoulkes; Ffoulkes and Suzanne have apparently developed an attraction for each other on the journey. For his part, the Vicomte is immediately attracted to Sally as she serves supper to the new arrivals—to the evident disapproval of Harry Waite, one of Jellyband’s customers. Meanwhile, the stranger with whom Jellyband disputed previously, and his companion, watch the scene in inscrutable silence.


Analysis: This chaper offers us our first glimpse of the end results of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s heroics, as the Comtesse and her party arrive safely in Dover. It continues the theme of antagonism between the English and the French, even as the English are shown in a positive light, offering hospitality and safe harbor to the persecuted nobles: “Indeed, indeed, we are glad to be in England,” the Comtesse gushes, “and we have already forgotten all that we have suffered” (p. 28).


The Princesse de Lamballe (p. 24) was Maria Luisa de Savoy, a noblewoman who was indeed Marie Antoinette’s confidante whose death in the September 1792 massacres fueled much anti-Revolutionary sentiment, as the text suggests. Her death was often portrayed in graphic and sensationalistic detail, not all of which may be historically accurate; however, it did increase anti-Revolutionary feeling. This passage speaks to how that opinion played out beyond France’s borders, alluding perhaps to Genesis 4:10, in which God tells the world’s first fratricide, Cain, “Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” The biblical allusion reinforces the novel’s depiction of the Scarlet Pimpernel on the side of true morality and justice, casting his acts of rescue as “vengeance” of a sort: a victory for “civilised Europe” over and against chaotic France.


Chapter IV: The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel


Summary: As Ffoulkes, Dewhurst, and the newly arrived French refugees relax, the two gentlemen strangers finish their game. When no one is watching, one of the gentlemen instructs the other to slip under the bench; he then takes his leave of the tavern patrons, leading them to believe they are alone. The Comtesse relates her dismay at having had to leave her husband behind in France, but Ffoulkes and Dewhurst assure her that the Scarlet Pimpernel and his league (19 followers in all) will not disappoint her. The Vicomte relates how, in France, the women have often grown more bitter than the men against the aristocracy; one Marguerite St. Just, for instance—a leading actress of the French comedic theater (and, years before, a fellow student of Suzanne’s at a Paris convent) who married Sir Percy Blakeney, an English noble—denounced the Marquis de St. Cyr and all his family to the republican revolutionaries. Dewhurt realizes that Marguerite St. Just is none other than Lady Blakeney, a leading London noblewoman. The Comtesse hopes that she may never encounter this woman whom she regards as a traitor while in England; however, at that moment, Lady Blakeney and her husband, Sir Percy, are arriving at the tavern.


Analysis: This chapter offers two contrasting view of the motivations of the Scarlet Pimpernel and his men: “Twenty all told… one to command, and nineteen to obey” (p. 36). The Comtesse assumes—not unreasonably, given her status among the Pimpernel’s beneficiaries (incidentally, the narrator allows us access to her memories of her family’s escape from France, and we realize that this family was in the wagon we saw escape Sergeant Bibot in Chapter I)—that the League of the Pimpernel is motivated by high and lofty principles: why else, as she asks Dewhurts, should they “spend your money and risk your lives—for it is your lives you risk, Messieurs, when you set foot in France—and for all us French men and women, who are nothing to you?” (p. 34). She even identifies the Pimpernel’s ideals as those that ostensibly originally motivated the French Revolution, but from which she clearly thinks the Revolution has strayed: “That you should all be so brave, so devoted to your fellowmen—yet you are English!—and in France treachery is rife—all in the name of liberty and fraternity” (p. 36). In contrast, Ffoulkes and Dewhurst protest no such noble aspirations; indeed, so far from claiming they act out of “devotion to their fellow men,” they characterize their behavior as typically British! “[W]e are a nation of sportsmen, you know, and just now it is the fashion to pull the hare from between the teeth of the hound”—an analogy comparing the Pimpernel’s activities to the quintessentially British (and, it must be said given the novel’s socio-economic concerns, aristocratic!) sport of fox-hunting (p. 34). The French women are unwilling to accept this explanation at face value—Suzanne, in particular, thinks that Ffoulkes “at any rate rescued his fellowmen from terrible and unmerited death through a higher and nobler motive” (p. 36)—and readers may also be inclined to think the young English nobles are simply concealing any deep-seated moral sentiment behind a jovial mask of bravado and derring-do. In casting the Pimpernel’s activities as a kind of classic British fox-hunt, however, Orczy leaves little doubt that we are supposed to accept it as the right thing to do: the Comtesse repeatedly gives thanks to her benefactors, and the group raises toasts to King George III and to Britain, described with such phrases as “this beautiful, free England” (the Comtesse, p. 33) and “this land of civil and religious liberty” (the narrator’s words, p. 35).


This chapter still leaves open the question of the two mysterious, domino-playing strangers’ identifies—why is one of them under the bench, spying on Jellyband’s other patrons? And it ends on a note of anticipation, as readers look forward to a confrontation between Lady Blakeney—“the most fashionable woman in London” and “the wife of the richest man in England” (p. 37)—and the Comtesse, who regards her as a traitor to her fellow French aristocrats. (Interestingly, Marguerite St. Just’s brother, Armand, is also identified as a republican; it is to his influence that Marguerite’s alleged actions are accounted, as though she were not fully independent of making her own decisions and allegiances.)

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