Wednesday, 18 August 2010


“For myself I hold no preferences among flowers, so long as they are wild, free, spontaneous. Bricks to all greenhouses!  Black thumb and cutworm to the potted plant!” - Edward Abbey

The scarlet pimpernel, Anagallis arvensis, is the birthday flower for today.  The generic name is derived from the Greek anagelas, “mirth”. Pliny describes taking this plant internally in order to dispel gloom.  It is often described as the “cheerful pimpernel”, but this may relate also to its use as a weather oracle: The blooms close up when bad weather is nigh. The flower symbolises faithfulness, childhood, change and an assignation.  Astrologically, it is a solar plant. The blue variant of the plant, the blue pimpernel Anagallis arvensis (ssp caerulea) has striking blue flowers and symbolises nostalgia.

Most people are familiar with (if they have not read) the classic novel “The Scarlet Pimpernel” (1905) by the Baroness Emmuska Orczy, who then proceeded to write ten sequels [“I Will Repay” (1906), “Elusive Pimpernel” (1908), “Eldorado” (1913), “Lord Tony’s Wife” (1917), “League of the Scarlet Pimpernel” (1919), “Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel” (1922), “Sir Percy Hits Back” (1927), “Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel” (1929), “Way of the Scarlet Pimpernel” (1933), “Sir Percy Leads the Band” (1936) and “Mam’zelle Guillotine” (1940)]. A full online text (and summary) of the novel can be found here.

The original novel was based on a play by Orczy, and it was inevitable that the novel then engendered several movies, a Broadway musical and a TV series, as well as several parodies! The Mecca for Pimpernel fans is Blakeney Manor, the fanciful original home of the English noble whose alias the Pimpernel was.

The first movie of the novel was the silent film “The Scarlet Pimpernel” (1917) directed by Richard Stanton and starring Dustin Farnum. Harold Young’s 1934 classic “The Scarlet Pimpernel” is good fun, with a spirited performance by Leslie Howard. The UK 1999 TV series starring Richard E. Grant  was highly praised and was popular with the public.

As far as the plot is concerned, it takes place at the time of the height French Revolution. The name of one man was a curse on the lips of the new regime and a prayer on the lips of the aristocrats who had fallen from grace: The Scarlet Pimpernel, so-called from the flower with which he signed his messages. A master of disguise, unsurpassed swordsman, and superlatively quick-witted strategist, he masterminded the rescuing of countless condemned prisoners before they could lose their heads to the guillotine, ably assisted by the League of the Pimpernel, a band of devoted followers (many of whom were young English noblemen). Though the French, personified by their sadistic agent Chauvelin, sought to unmask and capture the Pimpernel, he continued to evade their best efforts.

The Scarlet Pimpernel was the alias of Sir Percy Blakeney, one of the richest men in England, seen by his peers as a fool, a brainless fop married in a loveless relationship to Marguerite. This was of course just what Percy wanted people to think, as he and his loving wife, herself one of the “most clever women in Europe” continued to run rings round their opponents. The novel is thinly veiled propaganda for monarchy as a political system, however, it is just made entertaining and adventuresome, a perfect vehicle for advancing the cause of royalists.

royalist |ˈroiəlist| noun
A person who supports the principle of monarchy or a particular monarchy.
• A supporter of the king against Parliament in the English Civil War.
• A supporter of the British during the American Revolution; a Tory.
Giving support to the monarchy : the paper claims to be royalist.
• (in the English Civil War) supporting the king against Parliament : the royalist army.
Royalism |-ˌizəm| noun
ORIGIN late Middle English: From Old French roial, from Latin regalis ‘regal.’

1 comment:

  1. I haven't read the book, but have seen the 1934 classic film which was a typical swashbuckler. Explains the popularity I guess.
    I didn't know the scarlet and blue flowers were related!