Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Lasting Theme

(This is Part 1 of Jo Coleman's blog series on The Scarlet Pimpernel, relating to the original book by Baroness Emmuska Orczy, the 1934 film version and the 1982 film version.  To see the introductory post, click here.  To see the post on Jo's blog, click here.)

“Theme is a statement, or series of related observations, about some aspect of the human condition, interpreted from the unique viewpoint of the author.” – Dean Koontz

The theme of a novel is the deeper layer of meaning running beneath the story’s surface. While the surface story entertains the readers, the theme helps them to reach a new understanding of some aspect of the human condition. -Harvey Chapman


1982 Movie Adaption.
1982 movie adaptation
Theme. It can often be a hard thing to pin down, to put a name to. However, I feel that The Scarlet Pimpernel has two very strong and lasting themes, and those are:

True heroism is sacrifice: being willing to put your own life on the line to save someone else’s, and it is always worth the risk.

True love is always worth fighting for.

I will only be going into the first one in this post, and save the second for a later post. I feel the stronger and more profound of the two is the first:

True heroism is sacrifice: being willing to put your own life on the line to save someone else’s, and it is always worth the risk.

This, I think, is one of the reasons this story resounds so well, and has continued to through the years. It is a tale not just of love, not just of adventure, and not just delving into politics and war. It is a tale of men risking their lives to save those whom they have no obligation to.

Sport, Madame la Comtesse, sport,” asserted Lord Antony, with his jovial, loud and pleasant voice; “we are a nation of sportsmen, you know, and just now it is the fashion to pull the hare from between the teeth of the hound.”

Ah, no, no, not sport only, Monsieur… you have a more noble motive, I am sure, for the good work you do.”

Faith, Madame, I would like you to find it then… as for me, I vow, I love the game, for this is the finest sport I have yet encountered. Hair-breath escapes… and devil’s own risks! Tally ho! And away we go!”

It is, in a sense, a game to them, yet through it all, a true and noble heart shows through their actions. They do not stop the French Revolution. They do not get into the politics or fight in a war. However, through their brave actions, they save the lives of those that they can.

But the Comtesse shook her head, still incredulously. To her it seemed preposterous that these young men and their great leader, all of them rich, probably well-born, and young, should for no other motive than sport, run the terrible risks, which she knew they were constantly doing.

The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel. 1982 Movie Adaption.
The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel - 1982 movie adaptation
This is why they – especially the Scarlet Pimpernel himself – are so intriguing, why the story does not just end with the last page of the book or when the credits roll, but continues in your heart and mind long after. A man who rallies a group together who ravage Madame Guillotine and steal some from her cold embrace. A group of young men risking life and limb to give life back to innocents – people they have no obligation to.

[Marguerite] had told [Chauvelin] before that this mysterious hero of romance was the talk of the smart set to which she belonged; already, before this, her heart and her imagination had stirred by the thought of the brave man, who, unknown to fame, had rescued hundreds of lives from a terrible, often an unmerciful fate. She had but little real sympathy with those haughty French aristocrats, insolent in their pride of caste, of whom the Comtesse de Tournay de Basserive was so typical an example; but republican and liberal-minded though she was from principle, she hated and loathed the methods which the young Republic had chosen for establishing itself.

Then, when first she heard of this band of young English enthusiasts, who, for sheer love of their fellowmen, dragged women and children, old and young men, from a horrible death, her heart had glowed with pride for them, and now, as Chauvelin spoke, her very soul went out to the gallant and mysterious leader of the reckless little band, who risked his life daily, who gave it freely and without ostentation, for the sake of humanity.

This very well defines how I feel about the Scarlet Pimpernel and his band as well. They hate to see the deaths of others at the hands of those who have no inhibitions toward slaughtering men, women and children, guilty or not.

True heroism is sacrifice: being willing to put your own life on the line to save someone else’s, and it is always worth the risk.

This is what we aspire to, what we all imagine ourselves to be. Someone who would save the life of another – even if it cost our own. Someone noble of heart, who loves deeply, risks everything, and uses what we have not just in selfish indulgence, but to benefit others. This is who the Scarlet Pimpernel is.

What do you think about the theme of this book? Does it resound with you?

5 comments:

Alexandra said...

Brava!!! Absolutely FANTASTIC post. :)

This is definitely the most important theme of the book...and by far the reason why I absolutely adore Sir Percy...aaaaaaaaaand why he is THE BEST hero in the history of literature EVAH EVAH, EVAH.

This was soooo good. Looking forward to next week!!!

Miss Dashwood said...

Okay, LOVED THIS. Gahhhhhh. I've been suffering from a severe lack of TSP lately-- a friend is borrowing my copy of El Dorado and as soon as I get it back I'm going to delve into it again. :D

Thank you, thank you, thank you for making a big deal about the League as well as Percy himself. Because of course Percy is The Man and everyone adores him, et cetera et cetera et cetera, but the other guys who followed him faithfully need a bit of recognition too. (I have a soft spot for Sir Andrew, heehee.) Sir Percy is an amazing guy all on his own, but the fact is that he couldn't have accomplished all his noble deeds without his gallant little band, so I appreciate your use of "they" instead of just "he."

And now I've gotten completely off subject, so I'll just say that this was a superb post. Definitely looking forward to the rest! It's been too long since we've had real posts on The Day Dream... this feels like the Old Days again. :D

Miss Dashwood said...

Okay, LOVED THIS. Gahhhhhh. I've been suffering from a severe lack of TSP lately-- a friend is borrowing my copy of El Dorado and as soon as I get it back I'm going to delve into it again. :D

Thank you, thank you, thank you for making a big deal about the League as well as Percy himself. Because of course Percy is The Man and everyone adores him, et cetera et cetera et cetera, but the other guys who followed him faithfully need a bit of recognition too. (I have a soft spot for Sir Andrew, heehee.) Sir Percy is an amazing guy all on his own, but the fact is that he couldn't have accomplished all his noble deeds without his gallant little band, so I appreciate your use of "they" instead of just "he."

And now I've gotten completely off subject, so I'll just say that this was a superb post. Definitely looking forward to the rest! It's been too long since we've had real posts on The Day Dream... this feels like the Old Days again. :D

Caroline L. said...

This was lovely. I aaaalways love to read about TSP and his band, especially the content is as well-written and thoughtful as this post! Thank you very much. =]

Molly said...

This was wonderful! I just LOVE this book! I need to read it again soon! I am looking forward to next week!