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?