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Literature / The Scarlet Pimpernel

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"We seek him here, we seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven? Is he in hell?
That demmed, elusive Pimpernel."

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a classic action-adventure story written by Baroness Emmuska Orczy and turned into a play in 1903-05. This wildly popular tale is set during The French Revolution, an era when peasants rose up against the aristocracy and began slaughtering them wholesale. (Madame la Guillotine was a very busy woman at this time.) It seemed there would be no hope for the French Nobs, until a dashing hero arrived on the scene to snatch those destined for death from the hands of the bloodthirsty and fanatical Revolutionary government. This hero was a mysterious masked figure known only as The Scarlet Pimpernel (a small flower with five petals), and together with his small band of followers, he managed to spirit many a doomed aristocrat safely to England.

But who is this "Scarlet Pimpernel"?

The beautiful expatriate French actress, Marguerite Blakeney, doesn't know. But she has recently discovered that her brother, Armand, is one of his band of followers. Unfortunately, Armand has been revealed to the Revolutionaries. And if Marguerite doesn't help Citizen Chauvelin, the slimy agent of the French Republic, discover the Pimpernel's true identity, Armand will be executed.

To whom can Marguerite turn for help? Certainly not her foppish, empty-headed dandy of a husband, Percy. He barely has the brain cells to choose what outrageous outfit he will wear to their next social function. He surely couldn't be of any use in finding out who the Pimpernel really is.

Or could he...?

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a notable work of Western literature, which would go on to influence popular culture throughout the generations. It is an early precursor to the Spy Drama genre of fiction, and the Pimpernel himself can be counted as a Proto-Superhero. The book arguably created the modern concept of the Secret Identity. Like Batman (or that other early "superhero", Zorro), the Pimpernel is a wealthy personage who hides behind a foppish face by day and performs dashing and heroic deeds under the cover of darkness. Like Superman, he hides his intellect and intentions behind a mask of clueless ignorance. He also uses an iconic symbol (the Pimpernel flower) to denote his identity. Truly, modern-day movies and comic books owe a lot to this character. Even Anime seems to have been influenced a bit by him, judging by the number of series (like Trigun and Trinity Blood) which feature seemingly dorky — yet secretly competent — heroes who often wear red.

The Scarlet Pimpernel would go on to spawn a series of sequel books, operettas, musicals, movies and TV adaptations. The third sequel novel, Eldorado, has often been drawn on to spice up adaptations of the original novel, as it has a high-stakes plot in which the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel goes to the aid of a surviving member of the French royal family.

The Pink Carnation book series by Lauren Willig features characters who took up where the original Pimpernel left off (i.e. the Carnation, and prior to that, the Purple Gentian). In 1941 the lore was even updated and remade as "Pimpernel" Smith to be about rescuing Jews from Nazi Germany.

    Novels and collections by Baroness Emuska Orczy 
Listed by publication order. The chronological order of the series is a bit more complex.
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905)
  • I Will Repay (1906)
  • The Elusive Pimpernel (1908)
  • Eldorado (1913)
  • The Laughing Cavalier (1913). Set in the 17th century, it covers the adventures of Percy Blake, the Laughing Cavalier. He is an ancestor to the Pimpernel.
  • Lord Tony's Wife (1917)
  • The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1919)
  • The First Sir Percy (1920). A direct sequel to the Laughing Cavalier.
  • The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1922).
  • Pimpernel and Rosemary (1924). Set in the 1920s, it follows the adventures of Peter Blakeney, a descendant of the Pimpernel.
  • Sir Percy Hits Back (1927)
  • Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1929)
  • A Child of the Revolution (1932)
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel Looks at the World (1933). The Pimpernel offers his views on the world of the 1930s.
  • The Way of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1933)
  • Sir Percy Leads the Band (1936)
  • Mam'zelle Guillotine (1940)

Adaptations with their own pages:

The original novel provides examples of:

  • Agent Peacock: Sir Percy, in this and just about every adaptation ever made except the A&E miniseries. Special note is taken of his hands, which are lily white and slender enough to pass as a woman's hands (on multiple occasions), and which the ladies at court fawn over.
  • Almost Kiss: Sir Percy desperately wants to kiss Marguerite after she asks him to save her brother, but he doesn't trust her, so he stops himself.
  • Alternate History: Minor, but the Dauphin ends up escaping France to Holland instead of dying in prison like in real life.
  • Arch-Enemy: Chauvelin to the Scarlet Pimpernel. Nearly as cunning, Chauvelin is able to manipulate members of the Pimpernel's inner circle and get closer to him than anyone else, even learning his Secret Identity, and stays close on his heels up to the end of the novel.
  • Aristocrat Team: Sir Percy Blakeney aka The Scarlet Pimpernel, who saves the French (mostly aristocrats) from the guillotine during the Revolution, recruits members of his secret League from the British nobility.
  • Artistic License History: Baroness Orczy was not particularly interested in presenting an accurate, well-researched portrayal of the French Revolution. One example — the beginning of the first novel is set in September 1792, and it is clearly stated that the Committee of Public Safety is responsible for the executions of the aristocratic class. Except that the Committee wasn't formed until April 1793. Furthermore, while the Revolution had not been free of bloodshed up to that point, the description of hundreds of aristos being beheaded on daily (even hourly) basis was a heavy exaggeration.
  • The Atoner: Marguerite regrets betraying the Pimpernel the moment she's forced to do it, and spends the rest of the novel working to save him.
  • At the Opera Tonight: Chapter 10. Marguerite is attending the opera when Chauvelin pays a visit to her box to propose an arrangement of mutual benefit.
  • Author Catchphrase: Read the unabridged version and count how many times Chauvelin's "fox-like face" is mentioned. Or Marguerite Blakeney's "tiny" feet and hands.
  • Batman Gambit: The Scarlet Pimpernel is fond of these. No, seriously. The entire final rescue of the first book hinges on the French's hatred of the Jews.
  • Big Good: The Scarlet Pimpernel is in charge of the League's rescue operations and a figurehead to those looking to aid the French aristocrats.
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: When Chauvelin blackmails Marguerite into spying on her peers to learn the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel:
    "Well!—and you would now force me to do some spying work for you in exchange for my brother Armand's safety?—Is that it?"
    "Fie! two very ugly words, fair lady," protested Chauvelin, urbanely. "There can be no question of force, and the service which I would ask of you, in the name of France, could never be called by the shocking name of spying."
  • Blue Blood: The protagonists are English and French nobility who work to rescue other aristocrats from the mobs of the French Revolution.
  • Bound and Gagged: Well, Percy gets bound, and Marguerite gets gagged in the climax.
  • Burn Baby Burn: One of the Pimpernel's associates tries to burn his instructions to prevent Marguerite reading them. It doesn't work.
  • Calling Card: After a French aristocrat makes good his escape, the Revolutionary authorities will often find a note bearing the symbol of a small red star-shaped flower. The note might as well say "The Scarlet Pimpernel strikes again!"
  • Camp Straight: Percy is effiminate even by the standards of the time, but he's also got a reputation as a rake. Many aristocratic male characters also qualify, but Percy stands out the most.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Chauvelin's snuff habit. The Pimpernel distracts and impairs him later by sneaking some pepper into it.
  • Clark Kenting: Percy's exceptional height should make it more difficult for him to disguise himself, but often a mere stoop is enough to fool those chasing after him. He often resorts to other tactics as well, including voluminous rags and playing to prejudices.
  • Color Character: Not just any pimpernel: the Scarlet Pimpernel.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Unless he's disguised, Chauvelin always wears black ("sable"), even in the sequels.
  • Dating Catwoman: Sir Percy, leader of the aristocrats' proverbial Secret Service, marries a French republican. He distances himself from his wife when she confesses her (unwitting) contribution to the execution of the Marquis de St. Cyr.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Percy Blakeney, for all his supposed dullness, can be cutting now and again. Once he stops pretending he isn't the Scarlet Pimpernel, he really lets it shine; a most notable example comes at the end of the novel, when he's complaining about how badly Chauvelin's men beat him while also mocking them for their failure to notice who he really was.
  • Determinator: Marguerite, once she understands the full consequences of her betrayal of the Pimpernel, stops at nothing to reach him in time to rescue him.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: A ruse often used by the Pimpernel and his associates.
  • Evil Gloating: Chauvelin indulges a lot in the last act of the first book... and he pays for it.
  • Evil Laugh: Bibot and Chauvelin love indulging in these; the phrase "evil laugh" is even used once.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Marguerite denounces the Marquis de St Cyr as revenge for attacking her brother; as a result, the Marquis and his entire family are sent to the guillotine, to Marguerite's horror.
  • Gratuitous French: Just to remind the reader that the scene is laid in France, Orczy sprinkles the dialogue with phrases like ci-devant, citoyen, and Sacres aristos! even when the rest of a given Frenchman's speech is translated.
  • Grande Dame: The Comtesse de Tournay is a stiffly dignified old lady, implacably opposed to Marguerite — but forced by the Prince Regent to acknowledge her nonetheless.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: Chauvelin has his men so scared to disobey him, they ignore common sense in favor of following his orders to the letter.
  • Heel Realization: Marguerite and her brother, just prior to the start of the novel.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Marguerite is a redhead, shading towards strawberry blonde.
  • The Hero's Journey: For Marguerite, complete with "Night Sea Voyage."
  • Hidden Depths: Both Marguerite and her husband, which they both wish they'd discovered long ago.
  • Historical Domain Characters: Robespierre; Lord Grenville; the Prince of Wales; the Dauphin...
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Chauvelin is loosely based on a real French politician of the time.
  • I Didn't Mean to Kill Him: Marguerite with the Marquis de St. Cyr, in her Backstory.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: Chauvelin's treatment of Marguerite at the Opera and when he captures her on the beach.
  • I Have Your Wife: The French have Marguerite's brother. She frequently finds herself on the other end of this trope in the sequels, being taken hostage by Chauvelin to force Sir Percy's hand.
  • I Want Them Alive!: Which, naturally, proves to be Chauvelin's undoing. Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!
  • Innocent Innuendo: Chauvelin claims he has the remedy to Marguerite's boredom and disappointment in her marriage... helping him track down the Scarlet Pimpernel.
  • It's All My Fault: Marguerite and her husband while reconciling, natch.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: While the author can hardly be accused of being too favourably disposed to the French revolutionaries, there are several passages where the narration does acknowledge that the aristocracy could be needlessly cruel and oppressive. In particular, both Marguerite and her brother Armand are committed (albeit more moderate) Republicans who are nevertheless treated sympathetically, and their backstory involves a nobleman who ordered the low-born Armand viciously beaten after he dared express romantic interest in one of the nobleman's daughters. The point is clear that it's not exactly a mystery why the French lower classes had enough and decided to rebel, even if they took it a bit too far.
  • Loves My Alter Ego: Marguerite swoons over the Pimpernel while unhappy in her marriage with Percy. Most of England falls in this trope, too, loving the daring and romance of the mysterious Pimpernel.
  • Machiavelli Was Wrong: The Pimpernel's men follow him out of devotion, Chauvelin's out of fear.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Throughout the series, Percy enjoys calling his enemy "Chambertin" just to mess with him.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Chauvelin, even moreso in the sequels.
  • Master of Disguise: The Pimpernel himself. Even his own wife can't recognise him when he's dressed up. His wife?! Not even Chauvelin recognises him, more than once!
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Marguerite feels bad about selling out the Pimpernel, but once she realizes he is in fact her own husband, she nearly goes catatonic before determining to right her wrongs.
  • No Accounting for Taste: The world can't understand why the intellectual Marguerite St. Just fell for the ditzy Sir Percy.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Ordered by Chauvelin on their Jewish prisoner after the Scarlet Pimpernel escapes their surveillance. Sir Percy had to let them do it so they would leave him behind with his wife afterwards.
  • Not What It Looks Like: When Marguerite and Sir Andrew show up in disguise at the Fishermen's Rest inn, Mr. Jellyband and his daughter naturally assume they're running away together.
  • Number Two: Sir Andrew seems to be the closest and most trusted of the Pimpernel's followers.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Part of Percy's method of Clark Kenting involves appearing slow-witted and lackadaisical.
  • Opposites Attract: Pondered by Armand — the graceful, witty Marguerite and her husband, the ditzy dandy. Of course, his ditzyness is all just an act, turning this into Birds of a Feather.
  • Pepper Sneeze: During a confrontation with Chauvelin, the Pimpernel sneaks some pepper into his snuff box; the consequent sneezing fit gives the Pimpernel an opportunity to escape.
  • Phantom Thief: The Scarlet Pimpernel. Master of Disguise? Check. Calling Card? Check. Performs great heists right under the noses of law enforcement, even when they're prepared for him? Check. Commits his rescues for greater reasons than personal gain? Check. Witty, flamboyant and audacious personality? Double check. The only significant contrast between the Pimpernel and this trope is the Pimpernel being portrayed as purely heroic, while other phantom thieves tend to be antagonists or morally-ambiguous.
  • Play-Along Prisoner: The Pimpernel, at one point, to be in position to aid another prisoner.
  • Proto-Superhero: The Scarlet Pimpernel's Phantom Thief qualities in contrast to Sir Percy's heavy use of Clark Kenting model the dynamic between superheroes and their alter egos that would be mimicked for years to come. Additionally, his status as a Terror Hero to the villains, his alter ego being an Upper-Class Twit who does Crimefighting with Cash, and Master of Disguise tendencies almost certainly inspired Batman.
  • Pseudo-Crisis: It seems many times that the Pimpernel or the people he's rescuing are on the verge of capture, but many of these "crises" were actually built into his rescue plans.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Marguerite's pride won't let her give Percy a full explanation of her 'betrayal' of the Count of St. Cyr putting their marriage on ice for years leading to her inadvertant betrayal of Percy.
  • Redemption Quest: Marguerite spends the final act of the book on one, desperately trying to catch up to Percy to warn him of the peril she put him in.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Percy wins at the end of the original novel by... dressing up as a Jew and relying on the French's rampant anti-Semitism to make them overlook him. It comes as quite a surprise to modern students who have to read the book for English class...
  • Right in Front of Me: Marguerite has trouble processing that her husband was the Pimpernel and she never had the faintest idea.
  • Sadistic Choice: Chauvelin gives one to Marguerite — either your brother or your husband. He specializes in his "either — or" tactic.
  • Secondary Character Title: Adaptations would do well to remember that Marguerite is the protagonist here.
  • Secret Identity: Percy disguises his activities as the Scarlet Pimpernel by adopting the persona of the most foppish possible socialite.
  • Secret-Keeper: The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, as well as Percy's butler Frank, all know his Secret Identity.
  • Sexless Marriage: Marguerite and her husband have apartments as far apart in their mansion as possible.
  • Shut Up and Save Me!: Yeah, Margot, honey, I'm glad to see you, too, but how about we talk after you untie me?
  • The Summation: Percy explains exactly what he did to save everyone as he sits on the beach with Marguerite after it's all over.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: In his Backstory, Armand St. Just fell in love with the aristocrat Angèle de St. Cyr. He ended up beaten within an inch of his life as punishment for sending her a love letter.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Blink and you'll miss it — Sir Andrew tries to dissuade Marguerite from chasing after her husband because "this is man's work." And that one sentence is the first and last time he tries.
  • Stern Chase: For most of the book, Marguerite is following Sir Percy's trail, trying to catch up with him and warn him that Chauvelin is onto him.
  • The Stoic: Sir Percy's mask of choice for when alone with his wife.
  • Swashbuckler: Hovers near the edge of this genre. The Pimpernel tends to use his wits rather than weaponry.
  • Terms of Endangerment: Chauvelin towards Marguerite; adaptations have run with this and promoted him to a past love interest.
  • This Is Reality: Chauvelin tells himself this at one point, when he catches himself speculating that the Pimpernel's ability to evade capture may have some supernatural source.
  • Together in Death: Marguerite constantly steels herself for this fate. Fortunately, they both Earn Your Happy Ending.
  • Two Aliases, One Character: The Scarlet Pimpernel and his everyday identity are treated as two separate characters until Marguerite realises who the latter is, a considerable distance into the novel.
  • Violently Protective Wife: Marguerite.
  • Well, Excuse Me, Princess!: Lady Marguerite "smartest-woman-in-Europe" Blakeney
  • What Does She See in Him?: Everyone wonders, what did the smartest woman in Europe see in the foppish Sir Percy Blakeney?
  • You Don't Want to Catch This: The Pimpernel's first appearance is in disguise as an elderly woman driving a cart. When the guards attempt to search it, 'she' warns them that her grandson is inside and has smallpox. The guards wave the cart through without checking.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: The revolutionists hail Marguerite as a heroine for turning in the Marquis de St. Cyr.

Orczy's sequels provide examples of:

  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Sir Percy lists the methods of Chauvelin and his colleagues: "Murder, outrage, abduction... and wearing breeches the cut of which would provoke a saint to indignation!"
  • Baddie Flattery: Chauvelin towards Marguerite, particularly in Eldorado.
    Chauvelin: Just now you taunted me with my failure in Calais, and again at Boulogne, with a proud toss of the head, which I own is excessively becoming...
  • Bad-Guy Bar: The Cabaret de la Liberté in the short story of the same name. Sir Percy, in his persona of Citizen Rateau, is a frequent drinker there.
  • Blackmail: The McGuffin of The Way of the Scarlet Pimpernel is a packet of letters, the publication of which would compromise three of Danton's political allies. Various characters attempt to use them for blackmailing purposes.
  • Been There, Shaped History: In The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel, it's Sir Percy who brings about the arrest of Theresia Cabarrus, thus starting the chain of events leading to the fall of Robespierre.
  • Berserk Button: Threatening Sir Percy's wife is not a good idea, Chauvelin...
  • The Caligula: Carrier in Lord Tony's Wife is obsessed with mass executions, and paranoid about assassination attempts.
  • Call-Back: In The Way of the Scarlet Pimpernel, Josette Gravier is eating at an inn, with Chauvelin at another table. Then, to her bewilderment, a tall sailor wanders over to Chauvelin and offers him a pot of pepper. She's astonished at Chauvelin's horrified reaction; but then, she doesn't know it's a reference to the Pepper Sneeze by which Sir Percy escaped from Chauvelin in the first book.
  • Cassandra Truth: In The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel, Theresia has the vanishingly rare ability to recognise Sir Percy when he is disguised. She spots him while being dragged away by Chauvelin's men, and points him out as the Pimpernel. Nobody believes her.
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: Apparently an English thing that the French Armand at first finds unnerving in Eldorado.
  • Chekhov's Gun: In Lord Tony's Wife, Carrier's habit of having a fast coach on 24-hour standby in case he needs to make a quick getaway.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: In The Way of the Scarlet Pimpernel, Bastien de Croissy is found dead in his ransacked office, an iron bar lying beside his body. Since no money is missing, and the police chief doesn't want to consider any political motive, he closes the case as an obvious suicide.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Even the Committee of Public Safety think Carrier's mass executions at Nantes are taking things a bit far.
  • Everyone Looks Sexier if French: English gentlemen seem to have a thing for Parisian beauties and are very eager to marry them. Poor English gals, they are doomed to die old spinsters at that rate.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Chauvelin is repeatedly guilty of this. Prime examples are Eldorado, where he believes his current Sadistic Choice plot has been foiled because he doesn't in the least expect the Scarlet Pimpernel to consider giving his life or honor for the "friend" who betrayed him, and Sir Percy Hits Back, where he thoroughly believes his daughter is doomed because surely the Scarlet Pimpernel wouldn't lift a finger to save his Arch-Enemy's daughter.
  • Evil Laugh: Inverted — Sir Percy's laugh is perfectly pleasant, but it gives Chauvelin an Oh, Crap! moment whenever he hears it.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Planned by Chauvelin in The Elusive Pimpernel, to Collot d'Herbois' chagrin.
  • Forceful Kiss: When Pierre Adet is introduced in Lord Tony's Wife, he has a legitimate grievance against the Duc de Kernoghan. But to make sure the reader has no sympathy with him, Orczy has him forcefully kiss the Duc's teenage daughter, gloating about how she'll never be able to forget it.
  • Heroic BSoD: Armand in Eldorado, when he learns that his love interest has been imprisoned for harbouring aristocrats.
  • Hijacked by Ganon: For the first sixteen chapters of Eldorado, it looks as if Citizen Héron, the head of the Committee of General Security, will be the only antagonist. Then, just as Armand reaches the end of his tether, an old acquaintance makes his entrance:
    "Citizen St. Just!" said a quiet voice at his elbow.
    Then, as he looked round dazed, feeling a firm, pleasant grip on his arm, the same quiet voice continued calmly:
    "Perhaps you do not remember me, citizen St. Just. I had not the honour of the same close friendship with you as I had with your charming sister. My name is Chauvelin. Can I be of any service to you?"
  • Historical Domain Character:
    • Baron de Batz, a real-life royalist agent of the time, in Sir Percy Leads the Band.
    • Jean-Baptiste Carrier in Lord Tony's Wife.
    • Jean-Lambert Tallien and Theresia Cabarrus in The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Robespierre, though he didn't need too much alteration to make him into a larger-than-life Evil Overlord.
  • Honey Trap: The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel — Theresia first asks her would-be employers if they're not worried about her Becoming the Mask.
  • It's All My Fault: Percy's guilt over what Marguerite suffers as the Scarlet Pimpernel's wife features prominently in Eldorado.
  • Karmic Death: Sir Percy predicts that as one of Robespierre's henchmen, Chauvelin will share the fate he inflicted on so many others: a show trial followed by the guillotine.
  • Legacy Character: The Pimpernel is the descendant of a hero of The Cavalier Years, as shown in The Laughing Cavalier and The First Sir Percy. His own Identical Grandson appears in Pimpernel and Rosemary.
  • Loved I Not Honor More: Comes up in just about every one but is discussed most prominently in Eldorado.
  • Love Makes You Evil:
    • The residents of Laragne attribute "citizen Armand's" sudden change in personality to the death of his wife in childbirth. This is most likely not true, given that the narrator calls his daughter the only person he's ever loved.
    • Devinne in Sir Percy Leads The Band is infatuated with an aristocrat's daughter, and turns traitor in the hope of sending his rival for her to the guillotine.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Sir Percy constantly deliberately mispronounces Chauvelin's name as things like "Chaubertin" and "Chambertin."
  • Master Actor: The Pimpernel impersonates several known French people, authority figures, civil servants and grimy tramps alike. At one point, he reflects that he plays the part of Rateau (a coal-heaver he often impersonates) more convincingly than Rateau himself.
  • Missing Mom: Sir Percy Hits Back states that Fleurette's mother is dead. No more information about her whatsoever is shared, not even her name.
  • Not My Driver: In The Way of the Scarlet Pimpernel — the substitute driver is, of course, the Pimpernel.
  • Not-So-Safe Harbor: The port area of Nantes in Lord Tony's Wife, with warehouses repurposed by the authorities as disease-ridden prisons, and unpaved streets where hollow-eyed urchins roam. Plus the delightfully-named Bad-Guy Bar, the Rat Mort.
  • One-Steve Limit: Marguerite's brother and Chauvelin share the first name Armand, but Chauvelin's first name is very infrequently mentioned (and if Armand St Just is in the book, never).
  • Perspective Flip: Several novels focus more on the rescuees than on the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel.
  • Plucky Girl: Josette Gravier in The Way of the Scarlet Pimpernel.
  • Police Are Useless: The Paris police in The Way of the Scarlet Pimpernel — see The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much.
  • Poor Communication Kills: In The Elusive Pimpernel, Marguerite bids Sir Percy a tearful farewell as he heads to France on his latest mission. Despite ample opportunity, she neglects to mention the important conversation she's just had with Desiree Candeille, and therefore falls straight into Chauvelin's latest trap.
  • Promotion to Parent: After being hinted in The Scarlet Pimpernel, established in Eldorado, which reveals that Armand's name for Marguerite is "little mother."
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Chauvelin, a coldly intellectual patriot, often has to team up with a passionate revolutionary such as Collot d'Herbois or Martin-Roget. They invariably can't stand each other.
  • Replaced with Replica: Twice in The Way of the Scarlet Pimpernel. Chauvelin surreptitiously makes a copy of the vital packet of letters, substitutes it for the original, and opens the original... only to find that he's got a copy Sir Percy had previously substituted, and all it contains is the Scarlet Pimpernel's signature rhyme.
  • Rescue Romance: Armand and Jeanne both decide they're in love (less than 24 hours after they first met) after Jeanne saves him from Héron.
  • Save the Villain's Daughter:
    • Sir Percy Hits Back
    • Sir Percy seems almost tempted to try it with Chauvelin himself: "But no one will free you from the guillotine when the time comes, unless I myself... a pleasant conceit—what? I'll think on it, I promise you!"
  • Secret Identity: The original novel is quite possibly the Trope Maker.
  • Sleep Deprivation Punishment: Sir Percy withstands 17 days' worth in Eldorado when the French authorities are trying to break him.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: On a national level: Scruffy revolutionary France against well-ordered, aristocratic England. There's also an element of it among the French government:
    Martin-Roget was the personification of sans-culottism, of rough manners and foul speech — he chafed against the conventions which forced him to wear decent clothes and boots on his feet — he would gladly have seen every one go about the streets half-naked, unwashed, a living sign of that downward levelling of castes which he and his friends stood for, and for which they had fought and striven and committed every crime which human passions let loose could invent. Chauvelin, on the other hand, was one of those who wore fine linen and buckled shoes and whose hands were delicately washed and perfumed whilst they signed decrees which sent hundreds of women and children to a violent and cruel death.
  • Stating the Simple Solution:
    • Chauvelin's Hypercompetent Sidekick Collot d'Herbois wonders why they don't just shoot the Pimpernel in The Elusive Pimpernel.
    • In Lord Tony's Wife, it's Chauvelin who points out to Martin-Roget that it would be simpler to have the de Kernogans quickly executed than put them through an elaborate Fate Worse than Death, followed by death. The longer they're alive, he reasons, the more chance the Pimpernel has to rescue them.
  • Tap on the Head: Subverted in Lord Tony's Wife, two separate characters attempt to use this method to put someone briefly out of action. One victim ends up in hospital, the other in the cemetery.
  • That's What I Would Do: In The Way of the Scarlet Pimpernel, Sir Percy and Chauvelin both come up with the idea of making a copy of the McGuffin and substituting it for the original. Sir Percy notes the similarity:
    In fact, you will observe, Sir, that my process was identical to the one employed by our mutual friend Chambertin when he stole what he thought was the precious packet of letters from little Josette Gravier and substituted for it another contrived by himself to look exactly similar. I am very fond really of Monsieur Chambertin; for a clever man he is sometimes such a silly fool, what?
  • Ultimate Job Security: Chauvelin's persistent failure to catch the Pimpernel would have had him dismissed from his job if not executed — were it not that he's the only man in the French government who knows the Pimpernel's secret identity. He's careful to keep things that way.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment:
    • In Eldorado, Marguerite smuggles letters from the Scarlet Pimpernel to his League out of prison in her kerchief... or, as her husband puts it, "... on your exquisite bosom where I so love to pillow my head."
    • In Sir Percy Hits Back, the Scarlet Pimpernel sends a secret message to Fleurette, his latest rescuee, by slipping it into her Victoria's Secret Compartment... while disguised as her prison warden, which freaked the poor girl out.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Two in Eldorado. First, Armand accuses Percy of not understanding what it means to love; Percy thoroughly agrees with him (Marguerite, however, doesn't) and spends a good subsequent portion of the novel condemning himself for what he puts his wife through. Later, Percy sends Armand a letter to this effect after his brother-in-law betrays him.
  • You Can't Thwart Stage One: In Lord Tony's Wife, the Pimpernel knows the antagonists' plan from the beginning, but still doesn't manage to stop them taking their intended victim to France.
  • You Have Failed Me:
    • Robespierre gives Chauvelin this ultimatum in The Elusive Pimpernel.
    • Inverted at the end of The Way of the Scarlet Pimpernel. Chauvelin is theoretically under Citizen Chabot's command, but by the end it's Chauvelin who has Chabot sent to the guillotine for his bungling.

Other adaptations provide examples of:

  • Adaptation Name Change: In Jonathan Holloway's adaptation for Radio 4, Chauvelin has the forename Henri, rather than Armand (as in the books) or Bernard-François (the historical figure).