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.
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