Monday, February 4, 2013

Dissection of a Character: Marguerite Blakeney

(This is Part 2 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. You can see part 1 here and the original post on Jo's blog here.)

scarlet pimpernel merle oberon
I loved Merle Oberon as Marguerite… she was stunning! From the 1934 movie version.
Marguerite is arguably the most conflicted and relatable character in the story. Her terribly rent heart when forced to choose between saving her brother and protecting the Scarlet Pimpernel. The deep love she thought had died toward her husband, yet still flows as strongly as ever through her veins. Her fierce sisterly love and protection for Armand.

The most terrible decision she must make, in the short time we are acquainted with her, is the choice between the life of Pimpernel and that of her brother. A man she does not know yet has saved the lives of many others… or her own dear brother? Did she choose wrong, when she chose to give the life of the Pimpernel in exchange for the life of her brother?

Whilst she did not see [Chauvelin], there still lingered in her heart of hearts a vague, undefined hope that “something” would occur, something big, enormous, epoch-making, which would shift from her young, weak shoulder this terrible burden of responsibility, of having to choose between two such cruel alternatives.

Close upon eleven! The hands of the handsome Louis XV. Clock upon its ormolu bracket seemed to move along with maddening rapidity. Two hours more, and her fate and that of Armand would be sealed. In two hours she must make up her mind whether she will keep the knowledge so cunningly gained to herself, and leave her brother to his fate, or whether she will willfully betray a brave man, whose life was devoted to his fellow-men, who was noble, generous, and above all, unsuspecting. It seemed a horrible thing to do. But then, there was Armand! Armand, too, was noble and brave, Armand, too, was unsuspecting. And Armand loved her, would have willingly trusted his life in her hands, and now, when she could save him from death, she hesitated. Oh! It was monstrous; her brother’s kind, gentle face, so full of love for her, seemed to be looking reproachfully at her.
You might have saved me, Margot!” He seemed to say to her, “and you chose the life of a stranger, a man you do not know, whom you have never seen, and preferred that he should be safe, whilst you sent me to the guillotine!”

This short time is, perhaps, a defining moment in her life, reflecting such a moment in the lives of the readers as well. What would I do, one is caused to wonder, in the face of such a situation? Would I assist in the certain demise of an innocent man, or would I say no, knowing that another innocent man, my only brother, would certainly be killed in his stead?

Jane Seymour as Marguerite was phenomenal and completely gorgeous. From the 1982 movie version.
She chooses her brother, we know, though it does not appease her conscience. Little does she know at the time that as she unwillingly betrays the Scarlet Pimpernel, she betrays the very man she loves; heart and soul… her own husband, Percy Blakeney! She finds out soon enough, and just as quick sets out to rescue him from the certain death Chauvelin will deal him.

One of the scenes I appreciated the most from the 1982 film adaption (which was not in the book) is when Marguerite sneaks to the library to warn the Scarlet Pimpernel that she has betrayed him to Chauvelin, and the beautiful interchange between them, in which Percy finally realizes her intentions were never to have the Marquis de San Cyr killed, and that she was used, just as she was being used in that moment to save the life of Armand.

The Scarlet Pimpernel 1982
(This from the book, in a similar but not identical conversation.)

You thought I meant to deceive you about it all – that I ought to have spoken before I married you: yet, had you listened, I would have told you that up to the very morning on which St. Cyr went to the guillotine, I was straining every nerve, using every influence I possessed, to save him and his family.
But my pride sealed my lips, when your love seemed to perish, as if under the knife of that same guillotine. Yet I would have told you how I was duped! Aye! I, whom that same popular rumour had endowed with the sharpest wits in France! I was tricked into doing this thing, by men who knew how to play upon my love for an only brother, and my desire for revenge. Was it unnatural?”

She reveals a strength within herself, a strength he had overlooked for so long. She is the woman he’d loved from the start, fiercely loyal, compassionate, willing to take any risks for those she loves. Which she proves twice over in seeking him out after he leaves for the last time, vowing to either save his life, or die with him.

And if he failed – if indeed Fate, and Chauvelin, with all the resources at his command, proved too strong for the daring plotter after all – then at least she would be there by his side, to comfort, love and cherish, to cheat death perhaps at the last by making it seem sweet, if they died both together, locked in each other’s arms, with the supreme happiness of knowing that passion had responded to passion, and that all misunderstandings were at an end.

Marguerite Blakeney is a woman of strength, of great character. Certainly not without flaws, for none are flawless. Yet, it is through her flaws that we see her as she really is – a woman who, much like any of us, puts the life of her brother and her husband above those of anyone else. She would and does go to any lengths to save the lives of those she can, and especially those dear to her heart.

That is Lady Marguerite Blakeney.

What do you think of Lady Blakeney? Does her character resound with you?


Madeleine Durand said...

Wonderful! I think you captured her character and her struggle perfectly! I have always loved Marguerite. I do think some of her problems are self imposed (if she had just come out and explained the situation to Percy right away, a lot of grief would have been avoided), but no one is perfect, and it may be that very fact that makes her so lovable! Besides, if these events had not occured, we wouldn't have those beautifully heart rending examples of their unrealized/passionately suppressed love for eachother! ;)

Jo M. Coleman said...

I definitely agree! Also, despite how incredibly aggravating their misunderstanding (and resultant anger/disappointment with each other) was, it was very true to life, I thought, for how people in real relationships interact... misunderstandings so easily can drive a wedge between people!

Nicole said...

Maybe you can answer my question: I have searched everywhere on the Internet and can't seem to find this answer. I read the scarlet Pimpernel back when I was in high school. Now fast forward almost 20 years and I am hosting book club and we are reading the scarlet pimpernel. But as I read it it seems to be a different version from what I remember. I remember the book I read being written from the viewpoint of Marguerite. Can you shed some light on this?