Baroness Emmuska Orczy
The Scarlet Pimpernel
"An apology? Bah! Disgusting! Cowardly! Beneath the dignity of any gentleman, however wrong he might be."

"Now they had drifted quite apart, and Sir Percy seemed to have laid aside his love for her, as he would an ill-fitting glove" (The Scarlet Pimpernel)

Born in Tarna-Ors, Hungary, in 1865, the daughter of the composer Baron Felix Orczy, the extraordinarily named Baroness Emmuska Magdalena Rosalia Maria Josefa Barbara Orczy is chiefly known for the eponymous hero of her novel The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905). She received a convent education in Paris and Brussels, and found moved with her family to London where she studied Art and met her future husband - Montague Barstow - who she would marry in 1894 and collaborate with on the theatrical original of "The Scarlet Pimpernel" in 1903.

Orczy was extremely fond of England (she called it her "spiritual birthplace") and remained there with her husband, who introduced her to various literary types. Her lack of success in the artistic field led her to start writing and found it surprisingly easy to get her early crime stories published (notably "The Old Man in the Corner" (1901) - its hero being a new kind of detective, working at a distance from events). Her interest in murders and underground activities was sparked allegedly by the shocking discovery of one of the infamous Jack the Ripper's victims outside their house in London. Ironically, given its later ubiquity, when it came to trying to publish The Scarlet Pimpernel, Orczy had astonishing trouble. She approached twelve or more publishers without success. However, the book - her first novel - was a great success. It has been adapted a number of times for the screen, the most recent starring Richard E. Grant as the eponymous hero of the French aristocracy.

Orczy, a prolific writer (who had written the original in five weeks), continued to knock out sequels but with limited popular or critical success. They include The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1919), Pimpernel and Rosemary (1925), Sir Percy Hits Back (1927), and thirteen more besides.

The Baroness was involved with the "Order of the White Feather" during the First World War, made up of women who gave white feathers to young men who had abstained from the conflict and refused service in the British Army, to encourage them to feel guilty and therefore join up. This services-backed project started to cause problems when its members started to pick on the domestic civil services as well as the pacifists and skivers.

Orczy and Barstow moved to Monte Carlo, where the latter died in 1943, leaving his wife to write her autobiography, Links in the Chain of Life (1947) which was published a matter of weeks before her death. It would be unfair to say that the Baroness produced nothing of merit outside her early detective stories and the first Pimpernel novel, but it is certainly true to say that it is on this book that her whole reputation is based.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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