Episode 15: The Scarlet Pimpernel & Baroness Orczy

Ep15 Scarlet Pimpernel (Words To That Effect)

The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a character now long disconnected from his origins in a 1903 novel. The Pimpernel is a mysterious Englishman who uses elaborate disguises to heroically rescue French aristocrats from the guillotine during the French Revolution. Naming himself after a small red flower, the enigmatic hero’s identity is known only to a select few. In reality, he is a wealthy English aristocrat, Sir Percy Blakeney.

The Scarlet Pimpernel has appeared in films, TV series, stage plays, spin-offs and parodies. He is, in fact, the original masked hero – the prototype for Batman, Zorro, the Lone Ranger, or any number of other superheroes with secret identities.


Baroness Orczy

Yet the Scarlet Pimpernel was, originally, the creation of Baroness Orczy, a fascinating figure in literary history. A Hungarian aristocrat who found fame as an English novelist; a conservative who was nevertheless very progressive in her depiction of female characters; a novelist remembered for a single character but who produced a huge body of work.

Detective Fiction

Orczy was an accomplished writer of detective fiction. Her Old Man in the Corner stories harked back to Edgar Allan Poe’s Auguste Dupin, while anticipating the Miss Marple tales of Agatha Christie. Orczy was also the creator of Lady Molly, one of the earliest examples of a female detective. Lady Molly is a detective in the Holmesian mould, with her Watson-like sidekick, solving crimes in her capacity as a detective for Scotland Yard.

In this episode I explore the life and writings of Baroness Orczy, following her journey from her childhood home in Hungary to international fame and fortune. I’m joined by Dr Clare Clarke to assess her impact on detective fiction and popular literature more widely. We talk Victorian periodicals, Sherlock Holmes, feminism, and a mysterious murder in Dublin.


Guest Profile

Shadows of Sherlock Clare Clarke Words To That Effect Podcast (Scarlet Pimpernel)Dr Clare Clarke is Assistant Professor in 19th-Century Literature in Trinity College Dublin. Her main research area is in the field of late-nineteenth century popular fiction, particularly crime and detective fiction. She is the author of Late-Victorian Crime Fiction in the Shadows of Sherlock (Palgrave Macmillan: 2014). Her second monograph, British Detective Fiction 1890-1900: The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, is forthcoming in 2018/19.

Her full bio can be found here

Check out Late-Victorian Crime Fiction in the Shadows of Sherlock here



The music this week was by Paddy Mulcahy. You can find lots more great music on his website

Tracks Heard on the Episode:

On the Steps (The Words She Said)

Arp-a-play (Nowhere to Be)

Brother Walks In (The Words She Said)

Clicktracks on Mars (The Words She Said)

Paddy Mulcahy WTTE Weird Fiction Ep

Other Music

Franz Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 In C Sharp Minor Liszt (used courtesy of F.M. Free Music)

Sound Effects were from Freesound.org


Works & Authors Mentioned

Scarlet Pimpernel OUP Nicholas Daly Words To That EffectMany of Orzcy’s works are out of copyright and available free online.Lots of them are here, on Project Gutenberg

I used the Oxford edition of The Scarlet Pimpernel with an excellent introduction by Nicholas Daly (who you may remember from Episode 9 on fictional countries)

Baroness Orczy: The Scarlet Pimpernel (Oxford World’s Classic, Intro & Edited by Nicholas Daly)

Baroness Orczy: The Old Man in the Corner Stories

Baroness Orczy: The Lady Molly Stories

Baroness Orczy: Links in the Chain of Life



Looking for more popular literature of this period? This episode is on the imaginary country of Ruritania

Or this episode looks at the fears of invasion which lurk behind The Scarlet Pimpernel


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