Brash and overconfident, Bibot lets a filthy hag drive her cart unchecked through the Paris gates—but the woman is the Scarlet Pimpernel, and Bibot will surely be executed for his folly.
The plot revolves around the actions of Marguerite, the central protagonist. A clever French actress with Bohemian leanings, Marguerite St. Just became Lady Blakeney in marrying Sir Percy. The two grew quickly estranged, however, when Percy learned from others of her denouncement of the executed marquis de St. Cyr; she chose to test Percy’s love rather than explain the circumstances and her lack of ill intent, but he felt his aristocratic British honor to be compromised. Thenceforth, he could only tepidly serve her, leaving her resentful and inclined to exploit his eccentricities to sharpen her wits. She laments her increasingly lonely marriage before Armand when he leaves for France after a few weeks’ stay with her.
After Chauvelin presents Marguerite with the dilemma of either helping him find the Scarlet Pimpernel, whom she reveres (especially as a contrast to her idle husband), or leaving Armand to be executed as a traitor to France, she can find no peace of mind. She holds her brother too dear to imagine losing him, and so she regretfully settles on aiding the conniving Chauvelin, making use of her impeccable acting skills to dupe Sir Andrew. When she realizes that she has in fact betrayed her husband, she can think only of tracking him down in France so as to warn him of his grave danger as well as to profess her undying love. Riding sentimental waves, she becomes a nervous wreck and loses sleep while waiting out the storm in Dover, then feels effusive optimism upon hearing Percy should be supping at the Chat Gris in Calais, and then despairs again when Chauvelin arrives first. Indeed, Marguerite’s perspective is the perfect one to be offered the reader in the narration of the tale, as her full emotional engagement and limited knowledge of circumstances allow the reader to experience the utmost sympathetic emotion and suspense.
Marguerite’s sentimental priorities can be understood as her primary weakness, as her romantic notions led her to refuse to offer Percy the rational explanation about St. Cyr that he needed to hear, while, as she admits, the more virtuous choice would have been to sacrifice her brother’s life so as to allow the Scarlet Pimpernel to continue saving others. However, her heroic efforts to make up for her unwitting betrayal of her husband redeem her by the novel’s end. She demonstrates extraordinary courage and determination in first trailing, on foot, the cart Chauvelin hires for over a dozen miles on a muddy road and then crawling on her hands and knees through prickly brush in hopes of somehow warning the fugitives and her husband. She is caught by Chauvelin, but he leaves her ungagged, and her last crucial decision is to cry out in warning upon hearing Percy’s singing voice. Percy perhaps expected her to take this action, which sets in motion the final stage of his impromptu plan to save the French fugitives as well as himself and his wife.
Sir Percy Blakeney
On the surface, Sir Percy seems a laconic, dimwitted dandy, excelling mostly at appearing fashionable and laughing inanely at his own jokes. However, he has an impressive physique, is among the richest men in England, and has somehow managed to charm the brilliant Marguerite St. Just. As do many men of his class, he values his honor perhaps above all—such that the rumors of Lady Blakeney’s role in the execution of the marquis de St. Cyr’s family sting him so severely that he finds himself unable to continue showing the same affection and devotion that he extended to Marguerite when courting her. When she comes to treat him with condescension, he resigns himself to perfunctorily serving her. When, after Lord Grenville’s ball, she pleads with him to try to feel as he felt when they first fell in love, his honor yet keeps his passion in check. Only his occasional yearning glances and his kissing of the ground where she walked reveal his persisting love for her.
As it turns out, Percy’s vacant appearance is largely intended to conceal his secret identity as the Scarlet Pimpernel. Marguerite only realizes this truth after entering his unexpectedly pristine study and finding the ring with the seal of the red flower (a pimpernel). His strength and wealth alike—as well as his fondness for driving his coach at a gallop in the middle of the night— certainly serve the activities of the rescuers’ league well, and he is a master of disguise. He fools Bibot by dressing as an ugly old woman, and later, taking advantage of the French people’s supposed low opinion of Jewish people, dupes Chauvelin by playing the part of the sniveling Benjamin Rosenbaum. Percy’s flair for the dramatic is also in evidence when he twice alerts Chauvelin to his presence by heartily singing ‘‘God save the King!’’ Proving a true romantic hero, Percy rises with great effort after suffering a sound beating at the hands of Chauvelin’s soldiers to then carry his stunned, exhausted, beloved Marguerite to the safety of the schooner’s boat.
Briggs is the skipper of Percy’s schooner, the Day Dream.
As the innkeeper at the filthy Chat Gris in Calais, Brogard is a caricature of the utterly free postrevolutionary Frenchman: he spits on the ground before the cursed aristocrats, serves them with exaggerated indifference and deliberation, smokes in their faces (rudely asserting his equality to them), and answers their questions as curtly as possible.
The official representative of the French government in Britain and a French spy, Chauvelin’s primary goal is to uncover the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel and capture him on French soil. He uses the incriminating letter from Armand St. Just to blackmail Marguerite into assisting him. At Lord Grenville’s ball, he concludes that Sir Percy must be the daring rescuer, and he tracks Sir Percy to Calais, just across the channel from Dover, dressed as a churchman. At the Chat Gris, he is startled when Sir Percy walks in and chats with him; outraged after Percy leaves him in a sneezing fit, he fails to realize that the haggard Jew who professes to be a witness is Sir Percy in disguise. Ever calculating as he tracks his prey, Chauvelin is often characterized as a fox. His downfall is his obsessive need to capture the Scarlet Pimpernel. At the Pere ` Blanchard’s hut, his soldiers, fearing retribution, follow his strict orders to await the Englishman even when the fugitives slip out on their own. Chauvelin then leaves the cruelly beaten Jew and Marguerite behind because he wants all his men available to capture the Scarlet Pimpernel back toward Calais—and he thus unwittingly allows Marguerite and the disguised Percy to escape.
Chauvelin’s secretary and servant, Desgas helps coordinate the soldiers’ tracking of the Scarlet Pimpernel and the French fugitives.
Lord Antony Dewhurst
A member of the league of the Scarlet Pimpernel, Lord Antony welcomes the comtesse’s family at the Fisherman’s Rest. When he later meets privately with Sir Andrew, the two are seized by the French agents directed by Chauvelin, who thus gains the letter that compromises Armand St. Just.
A cabinet minister, Lord Fancourt kindly helps Marguerite locate her husband when she wishes to leave Lord Grenville’s ball.
Sir Andrew Ffoulkes
As a member of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s league, Sir Andrew escorts the comtesse’s family over the channel to Dover, taking a liking to the young Suzanne along the way. He and Lord Antony are later attacked by Chauvelin’s men, giving up the letter from Armand St. Just. At Lord Grenville’s party, Sir Andrew fails to prevent Marguerite from reading a note from the Scarlet Pimpernel, but she seemingly dupes him into thinking she misunderstood its contents. When Marguerite later confesses her errant actions and begs his help in reaching her husband, he affirms his loyalty to Percy Blakeney and gallantly plays the role of her servant to guide her to the Chat Gris in Calais. There, he manages to warn Percy and later meets up with the couple by the Pere ` Blanchard’s hut.
Reuben Goldstein lives in Calais and has a horse and cart available for hire. Sir Percy pays him to disappear for the day so as to trick Chauvelin into thinking Goldstein has driven the Scarlet Pimpernel to the Pere Blanchard’s hut.
The English secretary of state for foreign affairs, Lord Grenville hosts the magnificent ball at which Chauvelin identifies Sir Percy as the Scarlet Pimpernel. As his office demands, he treats Chauvelin with dignity even though others would rather not.
A member of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s league of rescuers, Lord Hastings hands Sir Andrew the note that Marguerite later reads.
Locally respected for his knowledge of the Scriptures, Hempseed frequents The Fisherman’s Rest.
Ever ready to serve his customers, especially the high-society ones, Jellyband has proud royalist leanings and applauds the efforts of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s league, which he supports by allowing the use of his hostel as a meeting place.
Louise is Marguerite’s helpful personal maid.
Lady Portarles shrewdly advises the comtesse about navigating English high society.
See Sir Percy Blakeney
The young and pretty daughter of Mr. Jellyband, Sally serves and flirts with customers at the Fisherman’s Rest.
The Scarlet Pimpernel
See Sir Percy Blakeney
Armand St. Just
A rare humanitarian member of the new republican French government, Armand finds himself unable to support the mass slaughter of the aristocracy. Soon after he sails from Dover to France via Sir Percy’s schooner, the French agent Chauvelin obtains a letter signed by Armand indicating that he has been aiding the Scarlet Pimpernel’s league. Armand’s extremely close relationship with his sister accounts for much of Marguerite’s uncertainty about how to resolve her dilemma of whether to help Chauvelin find the Scarlet Pimpernel or allow Armand to be condemned to death. The elder sibling by eight years, Armand effectively raised Marguerite after their parents died while she was still a child. Armand escapes France after taking shelter in the Pere Blanchard’s hut along with the comte de Tournay.
Marguerite St. Just
See Marguerite Blakeney
Comte de Tournay de Basserive
The comte huddles in the Pere Blanchard’s hut with Armand St. Just and two others, awaiting rescue. They slip out while the soldiers stick to orders and keep waiting.
Comtesse de Tournay de Basserive
The comtesse is grateful when she and her children are rescued by the league, but she fears for her husband’s life. She distrusts and insults Marguerite, who is known to her as a betrayer of aristocrats, and tries to prevent Suzanne from associating with Marguerite. However, she is advised not to shun the most fashionable woman in England, and she later allows the two former classmates to meet with each other.
Suzanne de Tournay de Basserive
Suzanne, the daughter of the comtesse de Tournay, develops a fondness for one of her family’s rescuers, Sir Andrew. She visits Marguerite, her old schoolmate, at the Blakeney estate, but Marguerite is just realizing that she must pursue her husband to warn him of his peril. Suzanne marries Sir Andrew after her father escapes from France.
Vicomte de Tournay de Basserive
In accord with French etiquette, the young vicomte invites Sir Percy to a duel after the indignities between the comtesse and Lady Blakeney at the Fisherman’s Rest. Sir Percy refuses, being a genteel Englishman, and belittles the lad.
A local patron of the Fisherman’s Rest in Dover, Waite grows quickly jealous when Lord Antony dotes on Sally.
Prince of Wales
At Lord Grenville’s ball, the Prince of Wales (the next in line for the British throne) escorts Lady Blakeney in and praises her before the stewing comtesse. He also proudly tells Chauvelin of the profound esteem that the British have for the Scarlet Pimpernel, the daring, selfless English rescuer of French aristocrats. (This Prince of Wales is the future King George IV.)
Sara Constantakis (Editor), Novels for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Novels, Volume 31, Baroness Emmuska Orczy, Published by Gale, Cengage Learning, 2010.