In Which We Talk Inspiration

scarlet pimpernel

Last week on her website, Lauren gave us the scoop on how Colin and Eloise came to be. I thought it was so interesting that they weren’t part of her original planning, seeing as how (ten books later) I can’t imagine The Secret History of the Pink Carnation without them. But how did Lauren come up with the idea for Amy and Richard? What sparked her interest in Napoleonic spies?

The simple answer is The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emma Orczy. Orczy originally wrote her story as a play, and it was such an immediate success, both in Britain and around the world, that she quickly adapted it into a novel for publication. The story follows the exploits of one Sir Percy Blakeney, a daredevil nobleman with the sword fighting skills of a soldier and a chameleon’s aptitude for disguise, who dashes around France rescuing their aristocrats from the guillotine. To protect himself, he keeps his identity a secret and masquerades by day as a dim-witted, fashion-crazed playboy. The Scarlet Pimpernel is credited by many literary critics as being the first “hero with a secret identity” story. In a way, that makes Sir Percy Blakeney Batman’s great-granddad. Sort of cool to think about.

Since we’re talking today about “where did you get that idea?”, here is an amusing excerpt from Orczy’s autobiography, Links in the Chain of Life: “I have so often been asked the question: ‘But how did you come to think of The Scarlet Pimpernel?’ And my answer has always been, ‘It was God’s will that I should.’” No arguing with that, folks.

Back in 2010, Lauren posted “The Author Bio Unabridged” on her website, sharing with her fans the story of how she developed her interest in history, why she wanted to write, and what her major influences were. It’s definitely worth a read – full of Lauren’s trademark humor, funny asides, and humble honesty. In case you don’t have time to read the whole thing, I’ve scooped the two paragraphs where she talks specifically about how The Scarlet Pimpernel got her asking herself the questions that led to Richard, The Purple Gentian, and (of course) Miss Amy Balcourt.

“The idea for the story emerged from endless years of overexposure to the Scarlet Pimpernel and his brethren (by whom I mean any dashing rogue, usually played by Errol Flynn, who delivers a witty line, jumps off a table, brandishes a sword, and defeats the perspiring villain with one hand held languidly behind his back). One would be hard pressed to find an old-fashioned swashbuckler I hadn’t watched to distraction—Robin Hood, Zorro, Ivanhoe—but the Scarlet Pimpernel received an extra boost in the dashing hero stakes when my school had the good sense to show the Anthony Andrews version as part of the eighth grade history unit. The eighth grade—forty giggly girls in plaid kilts—were enthralled. We broke into warring camps over whether Anthony Andrews was cuter, or the guy who played Armand (for the record, my vote is still in for Anthony Andrews as the Pimpernel). No sleepover party was complete without a late night viewing, and a rapturous repetition of “We seek him here, we seek him there…. Oooh! He’s so cute! Hey, that was my pillow! Give it back!”

There was, I reflected years later, after my five millionth “Scarlet Pimpernel” and Ben & Jerry’s evening, only one slight problem. The Pimpernel had it too easy. True, he had to worry over whether Marguerite was spying for Chauvelin, but he never let that seriously impede his progress. What would a spy fear most? Not an enemy, but… an unwanted ally. A man in a black cloak, and a strong-minded heroine set on unmasking him—so she can help him. Every spy’s worst nightmare. I even had a name for my spy! Back on the Chapin Varsity Badminton team (yes, I lettered in badminton, a source of much amusement to all the males in my freshman year dorm, who refused to be convinced it was a sport), I had a friend named Jen Chen, whom my best friend Nancy affectionately nicknamed Purple Gentian, because, if one says Jen Chen very quickly, it sounds like gentian, and, as everyone knows, all the best gentians are purple. It sounded right. It sounded like a spy in cloak and knee breeches. I had my hero.”

Lauren also has several “if you like” posts on her site recommending books you can read if you enjoyed The Scarlet Pimpernel. Here are a few of her suggestions:

  • The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne
  • A Lady Never Lies by Julianna Gray
  • Scaramouche by Raphael Sabatini
  • The Accidental Duchess by Jessica Benson
  • Wings of the Falcon by Barbara Michaels

Also, there are sequels, y’all. LOTS of them. I haven’t read any of them yet, but I should probably add them to my (ever-growing) TBR list.

Does anyone have “if you like” recommendations for either The Scarlet Pimpernel or Pink I?

23 thoughts on “In Which We Talk Inspiration

  1. One of the things I always loved about the Scarlet Pimpernel (which influenced my decision to read The Pink Carnation — I was introduced to Scarlet Pimpernel first through the musical, and then the book), is that it really is a story about Marguerite. The films don’t really show this as well, because the exploits of the Scarlet Pimpernel are far more interesting, perhaps, but the way I read the book it was really about Marguerite’s struggle, her discovery, and her adventure. Which made it very easy for me to ease into the Pink Carnation story 🙂

  2. Joanna Bourne’s Spymaster series (The Black Hawk is number 3) is fantastic. I’m listening to The Spymaster’s Lady (#2) at work right now. Such banter!

  3. I still really want to read the Scarlet Pimperel. I can’t believe I haven’t with all my Pink love. For those who like the Pink Carnation I also recommend Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily series.

  4. Jane and the Man of the Cloth, which is the second book in Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen mysteries has some similarities to Pink I.

    I was watching the BBC Scarlet Pimpernel again recently and was astounded that I had forgotten that Tony actually is the name of the fallen compatriot in that story as well as in Pink I. I also had forgotten that Selina Griffiths (who I adore in Cranford) is in that series as the Sans Culottes leader who captures Marguerite!

    Also, in the event that someone has somehow managed to escape ever seeing or reading The Princess Bride, that’s another swashbuckler that has the same kind of humor as the Pink series. Cary Elwes, in his younger days, would have been a great Lord Richard Selkirk (or maybe better as a Miles Dorrington?) for a film version of Pink I if Robert Redford was unavailable 🙂 I see shades of Vizzini and Count Rugen in the character of Delaroche, but can’t think of a good Fezzik or Inigo character in the Pink universe right now.

  5. I recommend Teresa/Tracy Grant’s series starring Charles (an English diplomat who also spies) and Melanie (the Frenchwoman he rescues and marries in Spain during the Peninsula War). When she changed publishers she had to change their names to Malcolm and Suzanne, but they are essentially the same people. The books cover the period from the Peninsula War through Waterloo and the peace process (one is set in Vienna during the Peace Congress there); the chronology is not the same as the dates of publication! I love these books; they’re more like Joanna Bourne’s than like the Scarlet Pimpernel, as they’re more serious and complex. But as well as being good spy/mystery stories, they’re all about relationships: between the two main characters, them and their children, Charles/Malcolm and his family, and various other characters with others.

  6. The likeness to The Scarlett Pimpernel is what drew me to “Pink” as I think I have mentioned before. Also, because of love for the Anthony Andrews movie, I bought these books for my daughter (it was one of her all time favorites) and was able to get my sister involved as well.

    I guess I never read that this was the inspiration for Lauren. Her series is really such a pleasure because of the strong female characters. Through the reread, I am reminded of the feistiness of Amy – she had a mission and wouldn’t give up. The comic relief during such a serious situation is pure joy. Don’t know whether women would have likely been so bold in this time period (I know there have probably always been spies), but it is a real attraction to the series. That is another reason I can’t understand why a publisher would want to discontinue something of this caliber, which is also a major female draw – the same thing has happened to Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia which had so many fans. In this day and age, this kind of escapism is a real plus.

    As far as other recommendations, I think I am behind the ball game – really have been intending to read several books already mentioned. I would suggest though, Daphne DuMaurier’s Frenchman’s Creek, which I reread last year and thoroughly enjoyed.

    • I’m interested in your reference to publishers wanting to discontinue Pink and Lady Julia. I wasn’t aware of that; I assumed that it was Lauren who wanted to move on to different things and felt that she’d explored the concept pretty thoroughly after 12 books.

      • I assumed that it was Lauren who wanted to move on to different things and felt that she’d explored the concept pretty thoroughly after 12 books.

        She seems pretty excited about her stand-alones right now. I hope she’ll try another series (but in a different setting, just to shake things up) in the future though. Her particular blend of chick-lit and historical romance is really fun and I don’t see very many other authors even attempting to mix those genres.

        At the Bookfest event she was at in Ann Arbor, MI this past weekend, Lauren talked a little bit about how publishers seem to be more focused on branding for series now than when The Secret History of the Pink Carnation was published. I thought her comments were interesting and couldn’t help but wonder if an increased emphasis on branding/marketing strategies would make the prospect of writing a series a little less appealing to authors. I can see how having to write in alignment with a marketing concept could feel really restrictive, especially if the author and publisher weren’t in perfect agreement about the brand.

        It’d be really interesting to know more about how Harlequin came to the decision to shelve Lady Julia. There has to be a reason that they would discontinue what seemed to me to be a pretty popular series. Maybe they didn’t feel it fit in with the types of romance they typically publish? Maybe their efforts to market the series weren’t working as well as they’d hoped?

      • Didn’t mean to cause confusion over publishers canceling or veering authors away from series they have been writing. I heard a discussion about this at an author panel and several authors chimed in regarding the fact that publishers have major control over the books their authors write and in some situations have wanted authors to switch to stand alone novels because they feel more readers are likely to read these than take the time to invest in a series. I know very well that several people can hear or read something and interpret it in many ways, so I apologize for inadvertently giving the wrong impression for Lauren. As a fan of the Pink series, it is always hard to see something end that you have so much enjoyed. However, Lauren’s stand alones are wonderful and have allowed her to go in some different directions that she and her fans are thrilled about.

        Thanks, Ashley, for including the link to Deanna’s website that explains her direction and the publisher’s input. Sometimes it is easy to link people together, and I believe in my enthusiasm to respond about Lauren’s heroines, I did that. I have another favorite author who has expressed disappointment with the way her publisher wanted her to go with her novels, and she has left that publisher for that reason. In addition, I was very involved in another historical fiction series (which shall remain nameless) and was anxiously waiting for the 4th book to be released. The author announced the release on her website, I tried to find it, but was told there was no such book. Finally, I found out that this one was only being published in the UK, so I ordered it through Amazon. Also, I am personal friends with an author who self publishes because she found that companies who were going to pick up her books wanted to make too many changes in her writing. Ironically, she is now in negotiations with a TV producer who is interested in turning one of her novels into a made for TV series.

        So it is a strange, strange world, this world of publishing, and we readers have to hope for the best regarding those authors we love.

    • I heard a discussion about this at an author panel and several authors chimed in regarding the fact that publishers have major control over the books their authors write and in some situations have wanted authors to switch to stand alone novels because they feel more readers are likely to read these than take the time to invest in a series. I know very well that several people can hear or read something and interpret it in many ways, so I apologize for inadvertently giving the wrong impression for Lauren.

      I’ll share the blame for any confusion, Betty — I see now how my post could have been perceived differently than I intended and wish I had been more clear. Sorry if anyone was misled by my previous post.

      I think 12 books is a great run! My bit about Lauren’s comments at the BookFest (which I took as general observations about what is happening in terms of marketing for series, not as being about her publisher in particular) weren’t meant to imply that I thought Pink was ending for that reason or that I thought that her publisher was pushing her in certain directions.

      If authors want to switch to writing stand alones or want to end a series so they can work on other projects, that makes perfect sense and I’m always happy for them.

      I do still stand by my comments hoping Lauren will feel the urge to write another series sometime, though 🙂

      • Agree wholeheartedly about hopes that Lauren will write another series (just like Deanna is going to do), because she does such a great job of creating characters that you want to hear more about. Am seriously envious that you got to attend the book fest in Ann Arbor – sounds like there were so many great authors!

  7. Pingback: Pink I: Inspirations « Lauren Willig – News and Events

  8. The Scarlet Pimpernel is such a good book. Marguerite is really a wonderful character. I love the film version with Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon made in 1934. It is deliciously camp. The play was performed years ago at the high school of a friend and it was terrific. Oh how we laughed!

    The Secret Passion of the Pink Carnation is the best historical female spy/heroine series I’ve ever read……whether or not it is historically accurate. It’s fiction and it’s fun!

    I never warmed to to Deanna Raybourn’s character Lady Julia. I liked many things about the series, except for the heroine. I’m not surprised that it went to the wayside. I feel the same way about Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily series. it’s hard to continue a series when I don’t like the main protagonist. Now….I really like C.S. Harris’ St. Cyr series, everyone is interesting and the last book Why Kings Confess is the best yet.

    • The St. Cyr books have a much different feel to them, I think. They have a much darker and more ominous feel to them – fewer ballrooms, more bar fights and late night run-ins with Bow Street runners. I’ve only read the first three.

      • It’s true they are not romance, but I like the evolving friendships and how his relationship with Hero overshadows the problems of the past. Read the last book for sure….it is so good!

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