Emma Orczy

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Baroness Emma Orczy
Baroness Emma Orczy by Bassano.jpg
Portrait of Baroness Emma Orczy by Bassano
Born Emma Magdolna Rozália Mária Jozefa Borbála Orczy de Orci
23 September 1865 (1865-09-23)
Tarnaörs, Heves County, Hungary
Died 12 November 1947 (1947-11-13) (aged 82)
Henley-on-Thames, South Oxfordshire, United Kingdom
Occupation Novelist
Nationality Hungarian, British
Genre Historical fiction, mystery fiction and adventure romances
Notable works The Scarlet Pimpernel
The Emperor's Candlesticks
Spouse Montagu Barstow
Children John Montague Orczy-Barstow (pen name John Blakeney)

Baroness Emma Magdolna Rozália Mária Jozefa Borbála "Emmuska" Orczy de Orci (/ˈɔːrts/; 23 September 1865 – 12 November 1947) was a Hungarian-born British novelist, playwright, and artist of noble origin. She is most known for her series of novels featuring the Scarlet Pimpernel. Some of her paintings were exhibited at the Royal Academy in London.

Early life

Emmuska Orczy was born in Tarnaörs, Heves County, Hungary, and was the daughter of composer Baron Félix Orczy de Orci (1835–1892) and Countess Emma Wass de Szentegyed et Cege (1839–1892).[1] Her grandfather, Baron László Orczy (1787–1880) was a royal councillor, and also knight of the Sicilian order of Saint George,[2] her grandmother was the Baroness Magdolna Müller (1811–1879).[3] Her maternal grandparents were the Count Sámuel Wass de Szentegyed et Cege (1815–1879), member of the Hungarian parliament,[4] and Rozália Eperjessy de Károlyfejérvár (1814–1884).[5] Emma's parents left their estate for Budapest in 1868, fearful of the threat of a peasant revolution. They lived in Budapest, Brussels, and Paris, where Emma studied music unsuccessfully. Finally, in 1880, the family moved to London where they lodged with their countryman, Francis Pichler, at 162 Great Portland Street. Orczy attended West London School of Art and then Heatherley's School of Fine Art.

Although not destined to be a painter, it was at art school that she met a young illustrator named Montague MacLean Barstow, the son of an English clergyman; they married in 1894. It was the start of a joyful and happy marriage "for close on half a century one of perfect happiness and understanding of perfect friendship and communion of thought."[6]

Writing career

They had very little money and Orczy started to work with her husband as a translator and an illustrator to supplement his low earnings. John Montague Orczy-Barstow, their only child, was born on 25 February 1899. She started writing soon after his birth but her first novel, The Emperor's Candlesticks (1899), was a failure. She did, however, find a small following with a series of detective stories in the Royal Magazine. Her next novel, In Mary's Reign (1901), did better.

In 1903, she and her husband wrote a play based on one of her short stories about an English aristocrat, Sir Percy Blakeney, Bart., who rescued French aristocrats from the French Revolution: The Scarlet Pimpernel. She submitted her novelization of the story under the same title to 12 publishers. While waiting for the decisions of these publishers, Fred Terry and Julia Neilson accepted the play for production in the West End. Initially, it drew small audiences, but the play ran four years in London, broke many stage records, was translated and produced in other countries, and underwent several revivals. This theatrical success generated huge sales for the novel.

Orczy went on to write over a dozen sequels featuring Sir Percy Blakeney, his family, and the other members of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, of which the first, I Will Repay (1906), was the most popular. The last Pimpernel book, Mam'zelle Guillotine, was published in 1940. None of her three subsequent plays matched the success of The Scarlet Pimpernel. She also wrote popular mystery fiction and many adventure romances. Her Lady Molly of Scotland Yard was an early example of a female detective as the main character. Other popular detective stories featured The Old Man In the Corner, a sleuth who chiefly used logic to solve crimes.

Orczy's novels were racy, mannered melodramas and she favored historical fiction. Critic Mary Cadogan states, "Orczy's books are highly wrought and intensely atmospheric".[7] In The Nest of the Sparrowhawk (1909), for example, a malicious guardian in Puritan Kent tricks his beautiful, wealthy young ward into marrying him by disguising himself as an exiled French prince. He persuades his widowed sister-in-law to abet him in this plot, in which she unwittingly disgraces one of her long-lost sons and finds the other murdered by the villain. Even though this novel had no link to The Scarlet Pimpernel other than its shared authorship, the publisher advertised it as part of "The Scarlet Pimpernel Series".

Later life

Orczy's work was so successful that she was able to buy an estate in Monte Carlo.

She held politically conservative views. Orczy was a firm believer in the superiority of the aristocracy,[8] as well as being a supporter of British imperialism and militarism.[7] During the First World War, Orczy formed the Women of England's Active Service League, an unofficial organisation aimed at the recruitment of female volunteers for active service. Her aim was to enlist 100,000 women who would pledge "to persuade every man I know to offer his service to his country". Some 20,000 women joined her organisation.[9][10] Orczy was also strongly opposed to the Soviet Union.[11]

She died in Henley-on-Thames on 12 November 1947.

Name pronunciation

Asked how to say her name, Orczy told The Literary Digest: "Or-tsey. Emmuska—a diminutive meaning "little Emma"—accent on the first syllable, the s equivalent to our sh; thus, EM-moosh-ka."[12]


H.M. Brock's cover of Baroness Orczy's THE OLD MAN IN THE CORNER, popular edition, Greening & Co., Ltd., London, 1910.
The Laughing Cavalier was serialized in Adventure in 1914
Short story collections
Omnibus editions
  • Links in the Chain of Life (autobiography, 1947)

See also


  1. Szluha, Márton (2012): Vas vármegye nemes családjai II. kötet (Noble families from the county of Vas, II tome). Heraldika kiadó. page 260.
  2. https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-266-12122-137523-99?cc=1542666&wc=M6WV-BM9:101520103,101722201
  3. https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-266-12122-133677-0?cc=1542666&wc=M6WV-BM9:101520103,101722201
  4. https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-267-11097-127369-82?cc=1542666&wc=M6WV-PTL:101520601,101622301
  5. https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-267-11097-128186-85?cc=1542666&wc=M6WV-PTL:101520601,101622301
  6. Orczy, Emmuska. Links in the Chain of Life, Ch. 8. London: Hutchinson, 1947.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Mary Cadogan, "Orczy, Baroness", in Twentieth-century romance and historical writers, edited by Aruna Vasudevan. London : St. James Press, 1994 (p. 499-501). ISBN 1558621806 .
  8. "In spite of her attraction to strongly chivalric ideas, she writes about the "lower orders" with a distinct air of patronage and condension, especially if they step out of line and fail to obey their "betters"". Cadogan, Twentieth-century romance and historical writers.
  9. Keep the Home Fires Burning, Propaganda in the First World War, by Cate Haste, Allen Lane, 1977
  10. See also White feather - A symbol of cowardice.
  11. Orczy, Emmuska. The Scarlet Pimpernel Looks at the World: Essays, with a Portrait, Ch. 5. London: John Heritage, 1933.
  12. Charles Earle Funk, What's the Name, Please?, Funk & Wagnalls, 1936.

External links