Emma Orczy – An Aristocratic Novelist

Day 139 of Colourisation Project – September 23

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

Born this day, 23 September 1865, Baroness Emma Magdolna Rozália Mária Jozefa BorbálaEmmuskaOrczy de Orczi was a Hungarian-born, British novelist, playwright and artist, more commonly known as Emma Orczy, the author of The Scarlet Pimpernel.

It was the swashbuckling adventures of the ‘elusive’ Sir Percy Blakeney, aka The Scarlet Pimpernel, first as the protagonist of a stage play in 1903 and then as the hero of a novel in 1905, that brought Orczy lasting fame. With the French Revolution as its backdrop, the novel, which had at first been rejected by publishers, captured the imaginations of her readers after the success of the stage play, which ran four years in London. It became a bestselling novel and was later adapted to many film productions, the most famous  being the 1934 Hollywood production starring Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon.

Photo: Bassano Ltd. – National Portrait Gallery – Emma Orczy 1920 – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

Orczy went on to write more than twenty Pimpernel sequels over the next thirty-five years, including I Will Repay (1906), The Elusive Pimpernel (1908), The Way of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1933) and the last Pimpernel book, Mam’zelle Guillotine, (1940) but none were as successful as the first.

Whilst the Pimpernel series came to define Orczy’s literary career, her first venture into fiction was with crime stories written for magazines. Her first collection of detective stories, The Case of Miss Elliott (1905) featured the first of her detective characters, ‘the old man in the corner,’ who solves mysteries without leaving his chair.

This was followed with another collection of short stories entitled, The Old Man In the Corner (1909) a series of twelve stories about that same ‘arm chair detective’ who employs logic to solve crimes from the safety of a little London teashop using only the clues provided in the newspaper.  This series proved very popular with readers and was later adapted to the silent screen in twelve silent movies starring Rolf Leslie in 1924. In the 1970s the character was portrayed in the Thames TV series The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, when the case of ‘The Mysterious Death on the Underground Railway’ was dramatized.

Lady Molly of Scotland Yard (1910) was another series of short stories featuring one of literature’s first female detectives from the ‘Female Department of Scotland Yard’, Lady Molly Robertson-Kirk, a pioneering female detective who regularly out-performs her male  associates.

Orczy was a prolific writer, working actively up until her eighties. She covered several genres of writing including adventure romances, historical fiction and espionage stories. In all she produced  a large body of work which included 52 novels, 5 plays and 13 collections of short stories, as well as several translations of Hungarian works. In a collaboration with her husband, Montague Barstow, an illustrator, Orczy edited and translated a series of children’s books; Old Hungarian Fairy Tales, The Enchanted Cat, Fairyland’s Beauty, Uletka and the White Lizard, which all went on to great success enabling Orczy to pursue her own writing.

She finished her autobiography, Links in the Chain of Life in 1947 just before her death in 1947, at the age of 82.


“I have so often been asked the question: But how did you come to think ofThe Scarlet Pimpernel’? And my answer has always been: It was God’s will that I should. And to you moderns, who perhaps do not believe as I do, I will say, In the chain of my life, there were so many links, all of which tended towards bringing me to the fulfillment of my destiny. And nothing can be quite so wonderful as the workings of a man’s or a woman’s destiny.”     –     Emma Orczy   –  Links in the Chain of Life (1947)

This entry was posted in Colorization, Colourisation, Literature, Women, Women in Literature, Women writers and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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