As the Scarlet Pimpernel, a cunning master of disguise, Sir Percy Blakeney deceives the French government and saves aristocrats from bloody death at the hands of the rebellion and their unforgiving guillotine. Due to a series of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s increasingly outlandish and ingenious costumes—including an impoverished hag, an old Jewish man, and even a captain of the French guard—a vast majority of the French émigrés who find sanctuary in Great Britain “owe their safety” to the Scarlet Pimpernel and his many disguises. The Scarlet Pimpernel is heralded across Great Britain as a hero, but his life as Sir Percy Blakeney is anything but rewarding. Sir Percy is exceedingly unhappy in his marriage to Lady Blakeney, formerly Marguerite St. Just of the French Republic, and she is likewise miserable in their union. Both Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney wear “masks” to deceive one another and hide their feelings, and it isn’t until they reveal their true identities that they are able to find real happiness. Though the dual identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel certainly makes for an exciting tale of adventure (and inspired countless other similar heroes), in the characters’ personal lives author Orczy argues the value of honesty and the limited power of trickery.
As Sir Percy Blakeney, the Scarlet Pimpernel is described as a wealthy and handsome, albeit shallow and “brainless” aristocrat who is content to worship his stylish French wife, but this persona is just a disguise. Sir Percy is “of high social position” and is “the intimate friend of the Prince of Wales,” but his “foppish ways” and “perpetual inane laugh” bring “one’s admiration of Sir Percy Blakeney to an abrupt close.” In his dual identity as Sir Percy, the Scarlet Pimpernel dupes most of British society and the French government into believing he is stupid and chiefly concerned with high fashion and socializing, not issues of politics and revolution. Lady Blakeney herself describes Sir Percy as a “lazy nincompoop” and an “effete fop” who spends all his time “in card- and supper-rooms.” Even Sir Percy’s wife believes him to be an idiot who couldn’t possibly be responsible for the daring and brilliant exploits of the Scarlet Pimpernel. Ultimately, Orczy claims that Sir Percy is merely another disguise worn by the Scarlet Pimpernel “in order to throw dust in everybody’s eyes,” and maintains that “the mask of the inane fop” is “a good one, and the part consummately well played.” It is not Sir Percy masquerading as the Scarlet Pimpernel but vice versa, and everything about Sir Percy’s life, including his marriage to Lady Blakeney, is not exactly as it appears to be.
In addition to fooling the French Republic, the Scarlet Pimpernel also uses his identity as Sir Percy to deceive his wife and hide his true feelings for her. Sir Percy secretly resents Lady Blakeney for the role she played in the arrest and execution of the Marquis de St. Cyr, a French aristocrat, and his entire family after she publicly accused him of treason. Lady Blakeney’s thoughtless actions aided in the violence of the Reign of Terror, and directly undermined the work of the Scarlet Pimpernel. While Lady Blakeney doesn’t know that her husband is the Scarlet Pimpernel, she is certainly aware of Sir Percy’s feelings regarding the Reign of Terror. Because of her connection to the execution of the St. Cyr family, Lady Blakeney is convinced that “the biggest fool in England has the most complete contempt for his wife.” Despite her husband’s “brainless” personae, however, Lady Blakeney senses that Sir Percy’s “foolish inanities” and “lazy nonchalance” are “nothing but a mask” used to disguise “the bitter wounds she had dealt to his faith and to his love.” Lady Blakeney admits her responsibility in the death of the St. Cyr family, but not until after her marriage to Sir Percy, and as an aristocrat, he is left feeling betrayed. Thus, Sir Percy’s identity as “an inane fool” allows the Scarlet Pimpernel to hide how much he loves Lady Blakeney despite her role in the Reign of Terror.
By the time Lady Blakeney discovers that Sir Percy is the Scarlet Pimpernel, she claims that she “ought to have known that [Sir Percy] was wearing a mask” and that she should have “torn it from his face” as soon as she sensed it. Sir Percy doesn’t officially reveal himself to his wife as the Scarlet Pimpernel until after Lady Blakeney atones for her sin against the St. Cyr family. Once she does, however, Sir Percy officially lifts the mask of his deception, thereby admitting both his identity as the Scarlet Pimpernel and his love for his wife, and together they finally find a “great and lasting happiness.”
Disguise, Deception, and Dual Identity ThemeTracker
Disguise, Deception, and Dual Identity Quotes in The Scarlet Pimpernel
Lord Antony and Sir Andrew had said nothing to interrupt the Comtesse whilst she was speaking. There was no doubt that they felt deeply for her; their very silence testified to that—but in every century, and ever since England has been what it is, an Englishman has always felt somewhat ashamed of his own emotion and of his own sympathy. And so the two young men said nothing, and busied themselves in trying to hide their feelings, only succeeding in looking immeasurably sheepish.
Sir Percy Blakeney had travelled a great deal abroad, before he brought home his beautiful, young French wife. The fashionable circles of the time were ready to receive them both with open arms; Sir Percy was rich, his wife was accomplished, the Prince of Wales took a very great liking to them both. Within six months they were the acknowledged leaders of fashion and of style. Sir Percy’s coats were the talk of the town, his inanities were quoted, his foolish laugh copied by the gilded youth at Almack’s or the Mall. Everyone knew that he was hopelessly stupid, but then that was scarcely to be wondered at, seeing that all the Blakeneys for generations had been notoriously dull, and that his mother had died an imbecile.
How strange it all was! She loved him still. And now that she looked back upon the last few months of misunderstandings and of loneliness, she realised that she had never ceased to love him; that deep down in her heart she had always vaguely felt that his foolish inanities, his empty laugh, his lazy nonchalance were nothing but a mask; that the real man, strong, passionate, willful, was there still—the man she had loved, whose intensity had fascinated her, whose personality attracted her, since she always felt that behind his apparently slow wits there was a certain something, which he kept hidden from all the world, and most especially from her.
She felt no longer anxious about Armand. The man who had just ridden away, bent on helping her brother, inspired her with complete confidence in his strength and in his power. She marveled at herself for having ever looked upon him as an inane fool; of course, that was a mask worn to hide the bitter wound she had dealt to his faith and to his love. His passion would have overmastered him, and he would not let her see how much he still cared and how deeply he suffered.
Since she had entered this neat, orderly room, she had been taken so much by surprise, that this obvious proof of her husband’s strong business capacities did not cause her more than a passing thought of wonder. But it also strengthened her in the now certain knowledge that, with his worldly inanities, his foppish ways, and foolish talk, he was not only wearing a mask, but was playing a deliberate and studied part.
Marguerite wondered again. Why should he take all this trouble? Why should he—who was obviously a serious, earnest man—wish to appear before his fellow-men as an empty-headed nincompoop?
He may have wished to hide his love for a wife who held him in contempt... but surely such an object could have been gained at less sacrifice, and with far less trouble than constant incessant acting of an unnatural part.
The mask of the inane fop had been a good one, and the part consummately well played. No wonder that Chauvelin’s spies had failed to detect, in the apparently brainless nincompoop, the man whose reckless daring and resourceful ingenuity had baffled the keenest French spies, both in France and in England. Even last night when Chauvelin went to Lord Grenville’s dining-room to seek that daring Scarlet Pimpernel, he only saw that inane Sir Percy Blakeney fast asleep in a corner sofa.
She looked through the tattered curtain, across at the handsome face of her husband, in whose lazy blue eyes, and behind whose inane smile, she could now so plainly see the strength, energy, and resourcefulness which had caused the Scarlet Pimpernel to be reverenced and trusted by his followers. "There are nineteen of us is ready to lay down our lives for your husband, Lady Blakeney,” Sir Andrew had said to her; and as she looked at the forehead, low, but square and broad, the eyes, blue, yet deep-set and intense, the whole aspect of the man, of indomitable energy, hiding, behind a perfectly acted comedy, his almost superhuman strength of will and marvelous ingenuity, she understood the fascination which he exercised over his followers, for had he not also cast his spells over her heart and her imagination?
“Dressed as the dirty old Jew," he said gaily, “I knew I should not be recognised. I had met Reuben Goldstein in Calais earlier in the evening. For a few gold pieces he supplied me with this rig-out, and undertook to bury himself out of sight of everybody, whilst he lent me his cart and nag.”
“But if Chauvelin had discovered you,” she gasped excitedly, “your disguise was good ... but he is so sharp.”
“Odd’s fish!” he rejoined quietly, “then certainly the game would have been up. I could but take the risk. I know human nature pretty well by now,” he added, with a note of sadness in his cheery, young voice, “and I know these Frenchmen out and out. They so loathe a Jew, that they never come nearer than a couple of yards of him, and begad! I fancy that I contrived to make myself look about as loathsome an object as it is possible to conceive.”