Baroness Orczy portrays the Scarlet Pimpernel, the protagonist and title character of her novel, as the epitome of British restraint and humility. He risks his life to save aristocrats from the guillotine of the French Revolution, but because of his secret identity, he never truly receives formal recognition or reward for his good deeds. Instead, the Scarlet Pimpernel is content to operate largely undetected and unrecognized, rewarded only by his internal joy for saving fellow aristocrats and fighting the good fight on behalf of humanity. Throughout The Scarlet Pimpernel, many of Orczy’s characters falter or fail completely in their various pursuits due to excessive pride. The citizens of the new French Republic struggle to maintain power over the aristocracy during the French Revolution in large part because they are boastful and proud, and Sir Percy Blakeney, the alter-ego of the Scarlet Pimpernel, likewise agonizes because of his ego. The characters who refuse to be humble and instead display hubris are all made to suffer by the end of the novel, and it is in this way that Orczy effectively argues the value of humility and the many dangers of pride.
Orczy portrays the guards and soldiers of the new French Republic as especially boastful, which only adds to their inability to capture and defeat the Scarlet Pimpernel. Citoyen Bibot, a guard at the gates of Paris, tells of the “folly” of Grospierre, a previous guard who had allowed the Scarlet Pimpernel to escape from France with a group of condemned aristocrats. Grospierre “thought himself very clever,” but he failed to search a cart exiting the city. Once the cart was gone, a captain of the French guard and several soldiers gave chase. Grospierre assumed that the Scarlet Pimpernel had been driving the cart, but “the captain of the guard was that damned Englishman in disguise, and every one of his soldiers aristos!” Bibot, too, is arrogant regarding his ability to effectively guard the gates of Paris. “I’m not going to be caught like that fool Grospierre,” Bibot claims confidently, right before he allows a cart driven by an old hag to pass through the gates. Within minutes, a captain of the guard informs Bibot that the old hag is the Scarlet Pimpernel, and three aristocrats are hiding inside the cart. Chauvelin, the antagonist of the novel, is likewise boastful and convinced of his ability to catch the Scarlet Pimpernel. Chauvelin fails to alert the French Republic when he identifies Sir Percy as the masked hero and instead tries to take him down alone, using only his small group of henchmen. Like Bibot and Grospierre, Chauvelin fails because of his arrogance, and the Scarlet Pimpernel escapes.
Arrogance is also a thwarting force in the case of Sir Percy Blakeney and his wife, Lady Blakeney. Both husband and wife display excessive pride, and as a result, they are unable to fully realize their love for each other. Initially, Sir Percy is madly in love with his French wife, but her sympathy for the French Revolution and the role she played in condemning an aristocratic family to death wounds Sir Percy’s pride in his own noble heritage. Sir Percy finds himself incapable of surrendering “to the magic charm of this woman whom he had so deeply loved, and at whose hands his pride has suffered so bitterly.” Lady Blakeney’s identity as “the cleverest woman in Europe” means that her own pride is compromised when she discovers that her husband is known as “the biggest fool in England.” Sir Percy’s stupidity, however, is only an act to hide his identity as the Scarlet Pimpernel, and he secretly longs for Lady Blakeney to return his love, “which her foolish pride withholds from him.” According to Orczy, pride keeps Sir Percy from completely loving Lady Blakeney, and her own “pride seals her lips when [Sir Percy’s] love seems to perish” early in the novel. Because of egotism and self-importance, Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney’s marriage and love suffers.
Between Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney, there is “a strong, impassable barrier, built up of pride on both sides, which neither of them cares to be the first to demolish.” Sir Percy’s pride “remains the conqueror,” and for much of the novel, he “cares naught for [Lady Blakeney].” However, this persistent pride “gives way at last” and both Sir Percy and his wife begin to soften. In contrast, the boastful Chauvelin never does correct his pride, and after the Scarlet Pimpernel outsmarts him and his blindly loyal men, Chauvelin and his men are presumably sent to the guillotine, just as the conceited Grospierre and Bibot were before them. Fortunately for Lady Blakeney, she does finally realize that she loves her husband after all, but her waning pride is mainly due to her desire “to win back the conquest which had been hers before.” Sir Percy, on the other hand, is “powerless” and “but a man madly, blindly, passionately in love” with his wife. In the absence of their crippling pride, Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney finally enjoy a marriage full of love and happiness.
Pride and Humility ThemeTracker
Pride and Humility Quotes in The Scarlet Pimpernel
"Listen to the tale, Sir Percy,” she said, and her voice now was low, sweet, infinitely tender. "Armand was all in all to me! We had no parents, and brought one another up. He was my little father, and I, his tiny mother; we loved one another so. Then one day—do you mind me, Sir Percy? The Marquis de St. Cyr had my brother Armand thrashed— thrashed by his lacqueys—that brother whom I loved better than all the world! And his offence? That he, a plebeian, had dared to love the daughter of the aristocrat; for that he was waylaid and thrashed ... thrashed like a dog within an inch of his life! Oh, how I suffered! His humiliation had eaten into my very soul! When the opportunity occurred, and I was able to take my revenge, I took it. But I only thought to bring that proud marquis to trouble and humiliation. He plotted with Austria against his own country. Chance gave me knowledge of this; I spoke of it, but I did not know—how could I guess?—they trapped and duped me. When I realised what I had done, it was too late.”
He stood aside to allow her to pass. She sighed, a quick sigh of disappointment. His pride and her beauty had been in direct conflict, and his pride had remained the conqueror. Perhaps, after all, she had been deceived just now; what she took to be the light of love in his eyes might only have been the passion of pride or, who knows, of hatred instead of love. She stood looking at him for a moment or two longer. He was again as rigid, as impassive, as before. Pride had conquered, and he cared naught for her. The grey of dawn was gradually yielding to the rosy light of the rising sun. Birds began to twitter; Nature awakened, smiling in happy response to the warmth of this glorious October morning. Only between these two hearts there lay a strong, impassable barrier, built up of pride on both sides, which neither of them cared to be the first to demolish.
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.
He certainly felt exceedingly vicious, and since he had no reasonable grounds for venting his ill-humour on the soldiers who had but too punctually obeyed his orders, he felt that the son of the despised race would prove an excellent butt. With true French contempt of the Jew, which has survived the lapse of centuries even to this day, he would not go too near him, but said with biting sarcasm, as the wretched old man was brought in full light of the moon by the two soldiers, —
“I suppose now, that being a Jew, you have a good memory for bargains?”
All his fatigue was forgotten; his shoulders must have been very sore, for the soldiers had hit hard, but the man’s muscles seemed made of steel, and his energy was almost supernatural. It was a weary tramp, half a league along the stony side of the cliffs, but never for a moment did his courage give way or his muscles yield to fatigue. On he tramped, with firm footstep, his vigorous arms encircling the precious burden, and... no doubt, as she lay, quiet and happy, at times lulled to momentary drowsiness, at others watching, through the slowly gathering morning light, the pleasant face with the lazy, drooping blue eyes, ever cheerful, ever illumined with a good-humoured smile, she whispered many things, which helped to shorten the weary road, and acted as a soothing balsam to his aching sinews.