Early Women Writers: Baroness Emmuska Orczy

The Scarlet Pimpernel is the ingenious work by Hungarian born Baroness Emmuska Orczy. Though a relatively unknown work of fiction, the Scarlet Pimpernel is the ancestor of the modern superhero. A would be hero disguises his true identity, confounds evil doers, rescues the afflicted from certain death, and wins the heart of his true love, all the while maintaining his honor and sense of fair play. This story incorporates all of the swashbuckling tropes we have come to expect from adventure stories; daring escapes, sword fights, clever disguises, and true love.

Written first as a stage play in 1903, the unprecedented and unexpected success of the stage production encouraged Orczy to write out a novelization of the script in 1905 and over the years added many sequels.  While always returning to her favorite character of Sir Percival Blakeney, Orczy also wrote many other novels and detective stories. Her character Lady Molly of Scotland Yard was one of the first professional female detectives in fiction. In her short story collection Old Man in the Corner, she creates one of the earliest armchair detectives, who solves crimes from afar using logic. Orczy was very popular during her life time, today the Scarlet Pimpernel is her most well-known work.

Baroness Emmuska Orczy was born in Hungary in the mid-nineteenth century to an aristocratic family. After attending schools in Paris and Brussels the family moved to London where Orczy would fall in love with England’s land and culture. There she met her British illustrator husband Montague MacLean Barstow, who would edit and review her writings. Orczy started seriously writing stories at the start of the twentieth century to supplement her husband’s meager income as an artist. The success of The Scarlet Pimpernel play launched Orczy into the literary world. Focusing mainly on historical fiction, she would publish over fifty novels, nine collections of short stories, five plays, and translated several Hungarian texts with her husband. Her autobiography Links in the Chain of Life was her last work published in 1947. Orczy died on November 12 1947. As an early female author, Orczy has greatly influenced modern genres but is practically unrecognized for her creativity and efforts by readers and scholars.

In the Special Collections. The University of Tulsa Special Collections has several early editions of Orczy’s works, including a first edition of her novel I Will Repay, one of the Pimpernel sequels.  Many of her novels are now in the Public Domain and may be accessed electronically on different websites such as Project Gutenberg or Blakeneymanor.com. One of the collecting goals of the Tulsa Special Collections is early women writers. Along with Orczy’s books, TU has the personal papers of Edith Nesbit, and works by Aphra Behn, a seventeenth century British playwright and poet. The Special Collections also has the “19th century women’s literature collection” consisting of 169 items. This collection was established by former TU professor Germaine Greer.



“Baroness Emmuska Orczy.” Britannica Academic, Encyclopædia Britannica, 29 Dec. 2015. academic.eb.com.ezproxy.lib.ou.edu/levels/collegiate/article/Baroness-Emmuska-Orczy/57305. Accessed 7 Apr. 2017.

Orczy, Emmuska O. Links in the Chain of Life. London: Hutchinson, 1949. Print.

Robb, Brian J. A Brief History of Superheroes. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press, 2014. Print.

“The Scarlet Pimpernel.” Britannica Academic, Encyclopædia Britannica, 21 Jul. 2011. academic.eb.com.ezproxy.lib.ou.edu/levels/collegiate/article/The-Scarlet-Pimpernel/486520. Accessed 7 Apr. 2017


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