At the center of Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel is loyalty—loyalty to one’s country, one’s spouse, and one’s family—but Orczy also examines the loyalty one feels to their sense of self and morals. In the novel, the Scarlet Pimpernel is loyal to his lofty roots and supports the condemned aristocrats during the French Revolution, but he rescues them out of his “sheer love” for “fellow-man,” not a sense of allegiance to his noble blood. The Scarlet Pimpernel’s identity as an aristocrat aligns with his personal conviction to save those whom he considers innocent, but not every character in Orczy’s novel is as lucky. For instance, Armand St. Just, an “ardent” French republican, is loyal to his native France and the revolution, but he has grown disillusioned with the violence of the Reign of Terror. When Armand joins forces with the Scarlet Pimpernel to save a French aristocrat, he effectively abandons his loyalty to the French Republic to remain true to his personal morals and belief in the equality of all human life. Orczy’s conflicted portrayal of loyalty in The Scarlet Pimpernel suggests that while it may be difficult, it is better to be faithful to one’s moral compass than to remain blindly loyal to one’s country.
Many of the characters within the pages of The Scarlet Pimpernel demonstrate impressive loyalty and rely on the faithfulness of others in return. While some characters demonstrate unwavering loyalty to their countries, others are loyal to their own moral compass, which Orczy implies is even more commendable. In fact, the success of the French Revolution hinges on the loyalty of citizens like Chauvelin, the novel’s antagonist and an “accredited agent” of the new French government. Without support of citizens like Chauvelin, the new republic would be unable to overthrow the French aristocracy and rise to power. Chauvelin himself is aided by a gang of loyal men who help him identify and track down the Scarlet Pimpernel. Without his devoted followers, Chauvelin has little hope of finding and eliminating the Scarlet Pimpernel, an elusive enemy of the French Republic. Of course, the Scarlet Pimpernel has his own band of devoted men known as the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel. The League is loyal to the Scarlet Pimpernel not because they are forced to by a tyrannical government like Chauvelin’s men are, but because they love him and respect his noble cause. The Scarlet Pimpernel and his League triumph over Chauvelin and his group of henchmen, confirming Orczy’s argument of the value of loyalty to one’s self and moral convictions, not merely to one’s country and government.
While many of Orczy’s characters behave in loyal ways, it is Lady Blakeney, the French wife of Sir Percy, the Scarlet Pimpernel’s alter ego, whose loyalty is most tested. She must choose between her loyalty to France and her loyalty to those she loves most. Chauvelin relies on Lady Blakeney’s loyalty to her native France and her new position in British society to help him identify and capture the Scarlet Pimpernel. “Find him for France, citoyenne!” Chauvelin expects Lady Blakeney to support the revolution, which is also to support the Reign of Terror, simply because she is French—regardless of how she may feel about the violence. Lady Blakeney refuses to help Chauvelin despite her love for her country, but after he discovers that her beloved brother, Armand St. Just, has become a traitor to France and joined forces with the Scarlet Pimpernel, Chauvelin appeals to Lady Blakeney’s loyalty to her family. Chauvelin promises to spare Armand’s life only if Lady Blakeney helps him to find the Scarlet Pimpernel. With little choice otherwise, Lady Blakeney agrees to help Chauvelin for the sake of Armand, and it is not long before she discovers that the Scarlet Pimpernel and Sir Percy Blakeney are one and the same. In Lady Blakeney’s attempt to save her brother, she unwittingly endangers the life of her husband, and she must make the impossible choice of “either—or”: either betray her husband or suffer the loss of her only brother. Lady Blakeney can’t win no matter what course she chooses.
Regardless of her decision, Lady Blakeney must sacrifice her loyalties in one way or another. She loves her native France and is a self-professed republican, but she deeply disagrees with the Reign of Terror and the violent and unforgiving ways of the new French government. Furthermore, Lady Blakeney loves her brother above all else, but to save him is to condemn her own husband, whom she deeply loves as well (though she doesn’t really recognize this until she is force into this choice). In the end, Lady Blakeney turns her back on France and surrenders her fate, and Armand’s, to the capable and heroic hands of the Scarlet Pimpernel. Ultimately, Lady Blakeney makes the right choice and the Scarlet Pimpernel outsmarts Chauvelin and manages to save her, Armand, and a condemned French aristocrat. Lady Blakeney’s decision to abandon her loyalty to France is tragic and unfortunate, but just as Orczy implies through Armand’s similar choice, Lady Blakeney is better served remaining true to her moral convictions.
Loyalty Quotes in The Scarlet Pimpernel
She went up effusively to them both, with not a single touch of embarrassment in her manner or in her smile. Lord Tony and Sir Andrew watched the little scene with eager apprehension. English though they were, they had often been in France, and had mixed sufficiently with the French to realise the unbending hauteur, the bitter hatred with which the old noblesse of France viewed all those who had helped to contribute to their downfall. Armand St. Just, the brother of beautiful Lady Blakeney—though known to hold moderate and conciliatory views—was an ardent republican; his feud with the ancient family of St. Cyr—the rights and wrongs of which no outsider ever knew—had culminated in the downfall, the almost total extinction, of the latter.
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.
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.