10-01-2011 03:07 AM
(Portrait of Baroness Emma Orczy by Bassano)
Baroness Emmuska Orczy (EM-moosh-ka ORT-see) was born Sept. 23, 1865, in Tarnaörs, Heves County, Hungary. She died Nov. 12, 1947, in Henley-on-Thames, UK. Emmuska is Hungarian for "Little Emma."
Emmuska married Montagu Barstow and the couple had one son. Her son, John Montague Orczy-Barstow, was a writer under the name John Blakeney, the surname taken from that of his mother's most famous fictional character.
In 1903, Emmuska and her husband wrote a play based on one of her short stories about an English aristocrat, Sir Percy Blakeney, Bart., who rescued French aristocrats from the French Revolution: The Scarlet Pimpernel. She submitted her novelization of the story under the same title to 12 publishers.
While she was waiting for the decisions of these publishers, Fred Terry and Julia Neilson accepted the play for production in the West End. The play opened on Oct. 15, 1903, at Nottingham's Theatre Royal and drew only small audiences. Terry and Neilson rewrote the final act and took the play to London, where it opened at the New Theatre on Jan. 5, 1905.
The premiere of the London production was enthusiastically received by the audience, but critics considered the play old-fashioned. In spite of negative reviews, the play became a popular success with numerous revivals. The Scarlet Pimpernel became a favorite of London audiences, playing more than 2,000 performances and becoming one of the most popular shows staged in England to that date. The play broke many stage records, was translated and produced in other countries, and underwent several revivals around the world.
The play was performed to great acclaim in France, Italy, Germany and Spain, while the novel was translated into 16 languages.The story has been adapted for television, film, a musical production and other media.
The theatrical success of the play generated huge sales for the novel. The novel was published soon after the play's opening and was an immediate success. Orczy gained a following of readers in Britain and throughout the world. The popularity of the novel encouraged her to write a number of sequels for her "reckless daredevil" over the next 35 years.
The Scarlet Pimpernel is set during the Reign of Terror following the start of the French Revolution. The story is a precursor to the "disguised superhero" tales such as Zorro, the Shadow, the Blue Beetle, the Green Hornet, and Batman -- an average man by day, a superhero by night, but always to the rescue.
Emmuska's sympathies were plainly with the aristocracy and in truth, she was more interested in telling a good tale than in strict historical accuracy. To this end, Orczy frequently distorted real historical figures and events so they could be woven into the storylines of the books, placing the Scarlet Pimpernel and his league in the middle of the action.
Orczy went on to write more than a dozen sequels featuring Sir Percy Blakeney, his family, and the other members of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, of which the first, I Will Repay (1906), was the most popular. The last Pimpernel book, Mam'zelle Guillotine, was published in 1940. None of her three subsequent plays matched the success of The Scarlet Pimpernel.
In addition to the direct sequels about Sir Percy and his league, Orczy's related books include The Laughing Cavalier (1914) and The First Sir Percy (1921), about an ancestor of the Pimpernel's; Pimpernel and Rosemary (1924), about a descendant; and The Scarlet Pimpernel Looks at the World (1933), a depiction of the 1930s world from the point of view of Sir Percy.
Some of her non-related Revolutionary period novels reference the Scarlet Pimpernel or the League, most notably The Bronze Eagle (1915). She also wrote popular mystery fiction and many adventure romances. Her Lady Molly of Scotland Yard was an early example of a female detective as the main character. Other popular detective stories featured The Old Man in the Corner, a sleuth who chiefly used logic to solve crimes. Orczy's novels were racy, mannered melodramas and she favored historical fiction.
Scarlet Pimpernel (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) (paperback, ebook)
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy (ebook)
I prefer open reading over assignments since the pace of everyone's lives differs. So there will only be three threads: this one, no spoilers please; another for more in-depth discussion and spoilers, where I may post a question or two; and the last for favorite characters and/or quotes from the story. Most of all, enjoy yourself!