Sunday, May 22, 2022

Fortnightly Book, May 22

 Emma Magdolna Rozália Mária Jozefa Borbála Orczy de Orci was born in Tarnaörs, Hungary, in 1865, the daughter of Baron Félix Orczy de Orci and Countess Emma Wass de Szentegyed et Cege. Political troubles and the possibility of revolution led to the family leaving Hungary eventually and arriving in England, where Emma eventually studied at London art schools. It was in the course of her art training that she met her future husband, the illustrator, Henry George Montagu MacLean Barstow. They were quite poor, and both had to work to maintain their household. Baroness Orczy found that she had some talent at writing, although her early work had an uneven success, her detective-fiction short stories originally doing better than her historical-fiction novels.

One of the short stories she had written blended her writing interests, being a historical fiction story about the French Revolution that had detective fiction elements. She and her husband worked together to compose a play based on it and sold it; at the same time, Baroness Orczy worked on a novelization. The play had a weak start, but the producer to whom she had sold it was a fan, and so, with parts of it rewritten, he took it to another theater, where it lasted for four years, and by the end of that time had broken theater records and was one of the most popular plays in Britain. The novel was published just as the play was taking off, and as the play's popularity took off, so did the novel's. The play and the novel were, of course, titled, The Scarlet Pimpernel. The combination of the two made Baroness Orczy very wealthy.

But Orczy did not stop with that novel. She created what we would think of today as a literary universe -- she wrote a large number of related works (novels and short stories, mostly), both new Scarlet Pimpernel stories and spin-offs about various characters met by the hero, including the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, who worked with the hero to save people from murderous revolutionaries. In addition, by the time of Orczy's death in 1947, there had been movies and new adaptations into stage plays, and she only just missed by a few years the introduction of the Scarlet Pimpernel into television.

For the fortnightly book, I will be reading A Scarlet Pimpernel Collection, which contains four of the Scarlet Pimpernel books:

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905)
I Will Repay (1906)
The Elusive Pimpernel (1908)
The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1919)

The fourth of these is itself a short story collection with eleven short stories:

"Sir Percy Explains"
"A Question of Passports"
"Two Good Patriots"
"The Old Scarecrow"
"A Fine Bit of Work"
"How Jean-Pierre Met the Scarlet Pimpernel"
"Out of the Jaws of Death"
"The Traitor"
"The Cabaret de la Liberté"
"Needs Must--"
"A Battle of Wits"

So off we go in a game of espionage and secret identities, as the Scarlet Pimpernel saves aristocrats and their families from the murderous guillotine of the French Republic!