We seek him here, We seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven? — Is he in hell?
That demmed, elusive Pimpernel.
Recited by Sir Percy Blakeney
in Chapter 12 of The Scarlet Pimpernel
by Baroness Emmuska Orczy
The stories of The Scarlet Pimpernel take place during the French Revolution, more than a score of years before the beginning of the English Regency. And yet, without the work of Baroness Orczy, we might not have all those delightful Regency novels written by Georgette Heyer.
Georgette Heyer’s first novel was The Black Moth, written in 1921, to amuse her younger brother when he was confined to bed while recovering from an illness. She told a friend later in life that she was heavily influenced in writing her first novel by the Scarlet Pimpernel stories she had read as a young girl. The Black Moth is set in the later part of the eighteenth century, though it takes place in England rather than France. It is very melodramatic, filled with much sword-play and derring-do, and features a deliciously dastardly villain. (I must admit find the Duke of Andover a much more interesting and compelling character than any of the villains faced by the Scarlet Pimpernel in his many adventures). Heyer later reworked The Black Moth, and the new version, These Old Shades, became a best-seller, and one of her most beloved novels. It was this success that encouraged her to continue to write, and eventually led her to turn to the era of the English Regency as the setting for a number of her most celebrated historical novels. In so doing, she created an entire genre of romance novels which remains popular to this day. And the stories of the Scarlet Pimpernel helped to set her on that path.
Most people assume that there was only one novel about the Scarlet Pimpernel, but in actual fact the Baroness wrote fifteen separate novels about the intrepid Sir Percy Blakeney and the courageous members of his League. All of the novels are now out of print, but they are also out of copyright and thus in the public domain. Which means they can be made available online, and they have been. You can find a selection of the Scarlet Pimpernel novels and other works by Baroness Orczy, at both Project Guttenberg and at Google Books.
Perhaps the best site for those new to the adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel is Blakeney Manor. At this site, not only can you find the full eTexts of all fifteen of the Scarlet Pimpernel novels, you will also find a plethora of information about both the Scarlet Pimpernel and his creator, Baroness Orczy. There is biographical information about the Baroness, and a great deal of historical information about the era of the French Revolution. This site is an excellent companion to the Scarlet Pimpernel novels, especially for someone who is new to the world of the Pimpernel.
What few people today know is that the Baroness originally wrote the story of the Scarlet Pimpernel as a play in 1905. It was only after the play had become successful that she re-worked it into the first novel. In keeping with the Pimpernel’s theatrical origins, the Blakeney Manor site also has information and images from some of the many movies which have been made about the Scarlet Pimpernel over the past century. In addition, Blakeney Manor has a selection of sound clips from several of the Pimpernel movies and related radio shows.
Baroness Orczy was a serious student of history and was careful to make her novels as historically accurate as possible. She also liked to include real figures from history in her stories to add to their authenticity. Clearly, Georgette Heyer appreciated these qualities of the Baroness’ stories, as she did the same in her own novels. If you would like to know more about this author and her dashing hero who inspired Georgette Heyer to turn her hand to writing, treat yourself to a vist to Blakeney Manor. There, you can learn about the Baroness and the Pimpernel. There, you can also read the books which Georgette Heyer enjoyed as a young girl.