The Scarlet Pimpernel
The Fear of Loss Is the Path to Failure: Sir Percy’s Escape Came from Daring
The Scarlet Pimpernel can be seen in many different ways: a contrast between law and disorder, a war between different ideologies, or a personal fight between characters. In all of these interpretations, the victory of Sir Percy, the Scarlet Pimpernel, was not predestined but was achieved through by his creative and daring choices. In fact, the odds were stacked against him; the French knew the local terrain and greatly outnumbered him. Only through his mental faculties was Sir Percy able to succeed. In this essay, I analyze the relationship between courage and intelligence in The Scarlet Pimpernel by focusing on how Sir Percy escaped Chauvelin in Calais, France. Orczy shows that intelligence is only effective when matched with courage and daring by contrasting Chauvelin’s and the French’s seemingly impossible failures with Sir Percy’s success against tremendous odds.
Chauvelin fails to catch Sir Percy despite an overwhelming advantage because he lacks the courage to act in creative and unpredictable ways. Chauvelin has the intelligence to trick Sir Percy, as seen in Chauvelin’s skillful manipulation of Marguerite and his seeing past Sir Percy’s façade. What Chauvelin lacks is the courage to take risks because he fears failure. “She knew that Chauvelin would willingly have braved perilous encounters for the sake of the cause he had at heart, but what he did fear was that this impudent Englishman would, by knocking him down, double his own chances of escape” (Orczy 206). Chauvelin makes obvious and risk-adverse decisions, which makes him a predictable enemy. For example, Chauvelin’s fear of failure causes him thoughtlessly to accept the note that claims Sir Percy is heading to the creek directly opposite from the Chat Gris. “One phrase of the momentous scrawl had caught his ear. ‘I shall be at the creek which is in direct line opposite the ‘Chat Gris’ near Calais’: that phrase might yet mean victory for him” (Orczy 252). Sir Percy understands Chauvelin’s lack of courage and is able to exploit it by scaring Chauvelin into making desperate decisions because he fears the Scarlet Pimpernel has escaped. Rather than making desperate last attempts to capture the Scarlet Pimpernel, Chauvelin could have easily captured Sir Percy by holding Marguerite hostage and demanding that in return for Marguerite’s life Sir Percy turn himself in. Chauvelin’s fear prevented him from thinking creatively.
Chauvelin’s fear also prevents his soldiers from thinking at all. Chauvelin prevents his soldiers from having discretion by ruling them with the fear of the guillotine. Without discretion to make their own decisions, the soldiers allow the royalist fugitives to escape. “Armand St. Just and his three companions had managed to creep along the side of the cliffs, whilst the men, like true soldiers of the well-drilled Republican army, had with blind obedience, and in fear of their lives, implicitly obeyed Chauvelin’s orders” (Orczy 248). Chauvelin views any discretion on the part of his soldiers as a risk. He does not realize that the instructions he left his soldiers with do not give them the ability to adapt. Adapting to the Scarlet Pimpernel’s plans are essential because the Scarlet Pimpernel, unlike Chauvelin, is creative and unpredictable. Chauvelin soldiers fail to catch the Scarlet Pimpernel because they don’t have the discretion to act at critical points in Sir Percy’s escape.
Sir Percy’s courage and daring allow him to take the risks necessary to implement his cunning escapes. The meeting between Chauvelin and Sir Percy in the French pub, Chat Gris, exemplifies how Sir Percy’s boldness allows him to escape from a tight situation. “There was no doubt that this bold move on the part of the enemy had been wholly unexpected” (Orczy 206). Sir Percy’s tricks are effective because they are unforeseen. Chauvelin never expected Sir Percy to talk to him. Part of what makes Sir Percy’s plans surprising is that he approaches danger rather than fleeing it. Sir Percy eagerly meets Chauvelin in the Chat Gris, walks around Calais singing “God Save the King”, and hides from Chauvelin by disguising himself as a Jew and being captured. Sir Percy’s disguise as a Jew demonstrates Sir Percy’s mind-over-matter courage. “The unfortunate Jew was receiving on his broad back the blows of two sturdy soldiers of the Republic” (Orczy 257). Sir Percy’s ability to withstand pain to implement his plans ties into the definition of courage as strength in the face of pain (Google). Unlike Chauvelin, Sir Percy succeeds because he acts on his intellect rather than his fear.
The relationship Orczy describes between courage and intelligence represents a larger life theme: success comes from risk taking. Life mirrors many of the points made in this essay. For instance, success can come from giving others discretion, finding creative solutions, and having mind-over-matter courage. Although these strengths in Sir Percy imply that with enough talent and a willingness to take risks success is inevitable, a more realistic view would be that sometimes risks pay off and sometimes they don’t. Still, risks are a key part of success, because although risks sometimes result in failure fail, without risks there cannot be gain. In The Scarlet Pimpernel Sir Percy escapes Chauvelin because Sir Percy has the courage to take the risks necessary to see through the plans his intelligence creates.
Inspiration and Trust: The Moral Catalysts for True Loyalty in The Scarlet Pimpernel
The ability to inspire is the most important characteristic needed to unify a people with a similar common goal. The relationship formulated between a leader and his followers is based upon the leader’s ability to inspire, thus creating a dynamic that is built upon love, trust, and the willingness to sacrifice. Loyalty in the Scarlet Pimpernel represents an important theme that permeates the whole novel. Chauvelin is the primary antagonist in the book, and represents false loyalty through a one-dimensional relationship with his men. The Scarlet Pimpernel however, builds a follower base and forms relationships built upon the said dynamics: love, trust, and willingness to sacrifice. Through the contrast of Chauvelin and the Scarlet Pimpernel, Orczy conveys that true loyalty and dedication depends on the relationship built by the given leader, rather than a forced dynamic based upon fear or incentivization.
The loyalty between Chauvelin and his men encompasses a forced dynamic of superiority and a fear of retribution rather than a genuine connection based upon inspiration, trust, and love. This dynamic leads to many situations in which this flawed dynamic influences various scenarios that turn out to be unfavorable for Chauvelin. Many situations arise that exemplify the inherent risks of false loyalty in which dedication and trust in something may be one-sided. Commonly, one-sided loyalty and relationships can be attributed to negative characteristics, such as a leader’s un-inspiring presence or fear of retribution in the case of Chauvelin in the Scarlet Pimpernel. Chauvelin possesses underlying characteristics that prove to be unfavorable in contrast to the Scarlet Pimpernel’s inspiring persona. This leads to a rift and disconnect between him and his men, primarily based upon fear rather than inspiration, love, and willingness to sacrifice. “Like true soldiers of the well-drilled Republican army, had with blind obedience, and in fear of their lives, implicitly obeyed Chauvelin’s orders” (Orczy 249). The representation of false loyalty permeates every singular scenario in the book between Chauvelin and his men.
In a sense, fear becomes the underlying reason for Chauvelin’s failure. He does not possess charisma and charm like the Scarlet Pimpernel, he is not considered inspiring by his men, and ultimately only a fear of failure for himself influences his attitude. The singular similarity between Chauvelin and his men is an overarching fear of something, and this proves exactly why Chauvelin suffers such failure at everything he attempts to control, as fear cannot form a sense of true loyalty. His motives lie in preserving ideals that aren’t viewed as inspiring and passionate. Ultimately, his blind arrogance and ego cause him to be self-destructive in every sense. “His men, he knew, were spurred on by the hope of the reward…if the soldiers had a grain of intelligence, if…it was a long ‘if,’ and Chauvelin stood for a moment quite still… and cursed nature, cursed man and woman, and above all, he cursed all long-legged, meddlesome British enigmas with one gigantic curse” (256). Only incentivization can truly motivate and legitimize a certain sense of loyalty for Chauvelin with regard to his men. However, this still reinforces the sense of false-loyalty and bond in the sense that it can only be bought, not created through time, love, the creation of trust, and ultimately willingness to sacrifice.
Sir Percy Blakeney, otherwise known as the Scarlet Pimpernel, builds the league of the Scarlet Pimpernel based upon universal inspiration for doing good, trust in one another, and most importantly the willingness to sacrifice. He possesses the characteristics that are valued in a group of men who strive to achieve the same goal. This in itself is the true reason for the Scarlet Pimpernel’s continued successes throughout the book. The inextinguishable dedication and loyalty displayed by the various members of the League reinforce the ideals of a true positive leader, and his ability to unify. “God knows you have perplexed me, so that I do not know which way my duty lies. Tell me what you wish me to do. There are nineteen of us ready to lay down our lives for the Scarlet Pimpernel if he is in danger” (168). The inexplicable truth is represented through this quotation in which inspiration, trust, and willingness to sacrifice are the primary factors seen through deep-seated loyalty. Loyalty that exceeds any trivial and synthetic relationship exemplified through Chauvelin and his men.
The willingness to sacrifice exhibited by the men of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel goes to show the true strength of an undying bond between leader and follower. “When first she heard of this band of young English enthusiasts, who, for sheer love of their fellow-men, dragged women and children, old and young men, from a horrible death, her heart had glowed with pride for them” (68). The underlying reason for the young men of the League to participate in such activities can be traced back to the Scarlet Pimpernel himself, as he exemplifies the true characteristics of an inspiring leader. Even to the people of England and abroad, the feelings towards the Scarlet Pimpernel embody the ideal mystical leader. “ Her very soul went out to the gallant and mysterious leader of the reckless little band, who risked his life daily, who gave it freely and without ostentation, for the sake of humanity” (68). Overall, the root of the inspiration for the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel is centered around positive intervention. In this lies the true reason for continued success, as a positive common goal is the cornerstone to building a relationship built upon loyalty.
The contrast between the motives of Chauvelin and Sir Percy in the Scarlet Pimpernel can be represented as easily as comparing black and white. Ultimately, the reason for Chauvelin’s continued failure and Sir Percy’s continued success is viewed through contrasting the built upon relationships and loyalties we see throughout the book. The inherent goodness of saving people from certain death allows for an immediate bond revolving around inspiration and admiration. The ideals that formed the original League of the Scarlet Pimpernel are the true reasons for the continued success, as seen through this essay, loyalty, trust, and the willingness to sacrifice are the primary precursors for success. For Chauvelin, his continued failure is built upon one-sided loyalties, lack of inspiration and true relationships, and motives that supersede any given orders.