The Scarlet Pimpernel

by

Baroness Orczy

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The Guillotine  Symbol Icon

The guillotine, a device consisting of a wooden frame and weighted blade used for decapitation, is the preferred form of execution in Orczy’s novel and is symbolic of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror in The Scarlet Pimpernel. Historically speaking, the guillotine replaced the breaking wheel—a particularly gruesome form of execution—after the aristocracy was overthrown in France. The French Republic thought the guillotine a more humane, and therefore more just, form of punishment, and they summarily sentenced all French royals, and their royal supporters, to death. The guillotine is swift and exacting, and constantly busy at its “ghastly work.” Thousands of French aristocrats—including women, children, and the elderly—are killed at the guillotine, known popularly as “Madame la Guillotine,” during the Reign of Terror.

More specifically, the guillotine represents the violence of the French Republic and their complete discrimination against those of noble birth in The Scarlet Pimpernel. The guillotine is a constant threat to the aristocracy, to the Scarlet Pimpernel, their heroic savior, and to anyone who supports him in his attack against the Republic. The relentless killing machine is the symbol of the French Republic’s vengeance, and their blind hate for those privileged few who once claimed social superiority over them. Orczy portrays the citizens of the French Republic as “bloodthirsty” and completely unjustified in their efforts to gain liberty and power, and the guillotine is the tool through which they realize their vicious plan.

The Guillotine Quotes in The Scarlet Pimpernel

The The Scarlet Pimpernel quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Guillotine . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Social Class and the French Revolution Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Signet edition of The Scarlet Pimpernel published in 1974.
Chapter 1 Quotes

A surging, seething, murmuring crowd of beings that are human only in name, for to the eye and ear they seem naught but savage creatures, animated by vile passions and by the lust of vengeance and of hate. The hour, some little time before sunset, and the place, the West Barricade, at the very spot where, a decade later, a proud tyrant raised an undying monument to the nation’s glory and his own vanity.

Related Symbols: The Guillotine
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

During the greater part of the day the guillotine had been kept busy at its ghastly work: all that France had boasted of in the past centuries, of ancient names and blue blood, had paid toll to her desire for liberty and for fraternity. The carnage had only ceased at this late hour of the day because there were other more interesting sights for the people to witness, a little while before the final closing of the barricades for the night.

Related Symbols: The Guillotine
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

She hated the Marquis. Years ago, Armand, her dear brother, had loved Angele de St. Cyr, but St. Just was a plebeian, and the Marquis full of the pride and arrogant prejudices of his caste. One day Armand, the respectful, timid lover, ventured on sending a small poem—enthusiastic, ardent, passionate —to the idol of his dreams. The next night he was waylaid just outside Paris by the valets of the Marquis de St. Cyr, and ignominiously thrashed—thrashed like a dog within an inch of his life—because he had dared to raise his eyes to the daughter of the aristocrat. The incident was one which, in those days, some two years before the great Revolution, was of almost daily occurrence in France; incidents of that type, in fact, led to the bloody reprisals, which a few years later sent most of those haughty heads to the guillotine.

Related Symbols: The Guillotine
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

She had but little real sympathy with those haughty French aristocrats, insolent in their pride of caste, of whom the Comtesse de Tournay de Basserive was so typical an example; but, republican and liberal-minded though she was from principle, she hated and loathed the methods which the young Republic had chosen for establishing itself. She had not been in Paris for some months; the horrors and bloodshed of the Reign of Terror, culminating in the September massacres, had only come across the Channel to her as a faint echo. Robespierre, Danton, Marat, she had not known in their new guise of bloody justiciaries, merciless wielders of the guillotine. Her very soul recoiled in horror from these excesses, to which she feared her brother Armand—moderate republican as he was—might become one day the holocaust.

Related Symbols: The Guillotine
Page Number: 67-8
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Guillotine Symbol Timeline in The Scarlet Pimpernel

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Guillotine appears in The Scarlet Pimpernel. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Paris: September, 1792
Social Class and the French Revolution Theme Icon
...vile passions and by the lust of vengeance and hate.” Near the West Barricade, the guillotine has been “busy” for most of the day at its “ghastly work,” where the “ancient... (full context)
Social Class and the French Revolution Theme Icon
...the people.” Now, the people rule France, and all nobility will find themselves under the guillotine sooner or later. No one is safe from “Madame la Guillotine”— “old men, young women,... (full context)
Social Class and the French Revolution Theme Icon
Pride and Humility Theme Icon
...upon the mouse.”  Bibot is “proud” to have sent “at least fifty” aristocrats to the guillotine, and he has been personally commended by high ranking members of the French Republic. (full context)
Social Class and the French Revolution Theme Icon
Disguise, Deception, and Dual Identity Theme Icon
Pride and Humility Theme Icon
...The captain and the soldiers ran after the cart and Grospierre was sent to the guillotine. After, it was discovered that the Scarlet Pimpernel was not in the cart but was... (full context)
Chapter 4: The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel
Social Class and the French Revolution Theme Icon
Pride and Humility Theme Icon
...can’t believe it. It is “preposterous” to think they risk capture and death at the guillotine for sport. She asks Lord Tony how many men are in league with the Scarlet... (full context)
Chapter 7: The Secret Orchard
Social Class and the French Revolution Theme Icon
Loyalty Theme Icon
...“enthusiasm for liberty and equality,” but that message is lost under the weight of the guillotine. (full context)
Social Class and the French Revolution Theme Icon
...you mean, to the tribunal that ultimately sent him and all his family to the guillotine?” she asks. Yes, Marguerite confirms, Sir Percy knows. She had told him after they were... (full context)
Chapter 8: The Accredited Agent
Social Class and the French Revolution Theme Icon
Loyalty Theme Icon
...that “she hated the Marquis,” but she never intended for them to go to the guillotine. Years ago, Armand had fallen in love with a young St. Cyr girl, but since... (full context)
Social Class and the French Revolution Theme Icon
...accusation of treason is “sufficient” evidence for the French tribunal to send anyone to the guillotine. Marguerite’s words had been “impulsive” and “thoughtless,” and while they came from a place of... (full context)
Social Class and the French Revolution Theme Icon
Loyalty Theme Icon
...and plans, so that he may capture him in France and send him to the guillotine before the British government can protest. “What you propose is horrible, Chauvelin,” Marguerite claims. “Whoever... (full context)
Chapter 14: One O’clock Precisely!
Social Class and the French Revolution Theme Icon
Disguise, Deception, and Dual Identity Theme Icon
...to Calais, trapping the Scarlet Pimpernel on French soil, where he will be vulnerable to Madame la Guillotine . (full context)
Chapter 16: Richmond
Social Class and the French Revolution Theme Icon
...Madame,” he says, “the Marquis de St. Cyr and all his family perished on the guillotine, and the popular rumor reached me that it was the wife of Sir Percy Blakeney... (full context)