(This is Part 3 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, part 2 here and the original post on Jo's blog here.)
In the same situation, what would I do? Would I risk my life and possibly reputation to save other people, some of whom I may not even know?
The Pimpernel and his band were not evading the clutches of merely anyone… they were defying the orders of a new government. They perhaps had a dilemma; to respect the rulings of the new government even to the point of not looking twice at the many deaths they caused (as most aristocrats in England certainly did), or defy the new government to save the lives of many, risking their own in the process.
They were not against the coming of a new government, but they were opposed to the methods it chose to employ. As we know, they did defy the new government, for saving the lives of others was more important to them than saving their own necks and simply turning a blind eye.
In those days one denunciation was sufficient: Marguerite’s few thoughtless words anent the Marquis de St. Cyr bore fruit within twenty-four hours. He was arrested. His papers were searched: letters from the Austrian Emperor, promising to send troops against the Paris populace, were found on his desk. He was arraigned for treason against the nation, and sent to the guillotine, whilst his family, his wife and his sons, shared in this awful fate.
They certainly had the option to do nothing… they were required to do nothing. As members of high society, their lives were preferable, were “set”. Being Englishmen, they would not be touched by the atrocities of France, except perhaps to lose some good friends (not to say that is minor!). But they could have stayed, in their comfort, in peace.
And yet… they chose not to. Perhaps a part of it WAS simply for sport, for the rush of adrenaline it surely brought. But another part, a greater part, was strong enough to choose to defy a new government, to put their lives on the line. Perhaps the greater moral dilemma is not “should I defy this government on behalf of those they are trying to kill for no reason?” but instead “Can I sit back and do nothing while innocent people are slaughtered like animals in a meat-house?”
The answer to that second question, by the Scarlet Pimpernel and his band was, decidedly, NO.
[Marguerite, thinking of the Scarlet Pimpernel] Ah! There was a man she might have loved, had he come her way: everything in him appealed to her romantic imagination; his personality, his strength, his bravery, the loyalty of those who served under him in that same noble cause, and, above all, that anonymity which crowned him, as if with a halo of romantic glory.