A small study. The walls are covered in antique books and a happy fire burns in the hearth. An armchair sits in the middle of the room where a fuddy-duddy sits reading a novel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy about the adventures of the dashing and imitable Scarlet Pimpernel. The F.D. puts down his book, picks up a wrought iron tool, and fiddles with the fire absentmindedly; then, with infinite grace, the F.D. produces pen and paper to write out the following thoughts for the local newspaper.

Mixed feelings for sure, but I love the stories for the joy of life presented. How wonderful that someone somewhere at some time in human history commanded himself with such power as does Percy Blackney. He smells great all the time—unless he is in disguise—and he is never drunk. This man is a hero; he has no vice: he is generous and noble and only drinks or says Damn in the utmost good taste at the end of a superhuman effort—and women readily forgive him these small pleasures.

Naturally, a few enormous problems do arise for me in reading the stories: namely, the antisemitism inherent in most of Orczy’s plots; towards the end of many of her novels, an evil Jew appears and, to quote Orczy, is a descendant of the despised race and religion. One can see how a genocide is upon the horizon if such an attitude pervades the ruling class of an age.

And, there’s another issue: a ruling class. The class warfare and, furthermore, the national warfare of the stories would naturally dovetail nicely into a couple horrible world wars. Does Orczy really believe that there are inherently better people and they are grouped in nations? And those nations have an upper crust of society who are, well, just genetically and financially better than everyone else? Yeah, I guess she does.

Just look around Emmuska, damn it. Just read some history. Humans have thought this before and it doesn’t work; these better people do not behave better when they have all the money and power.

And about class: Percy is allowed to don the disguise of the poor and lowly, but, God forbid one of the poor and lowly dons a disguise, too, and parade about as a noble and confuses Percy! Well, in fact, Emmuska does write a plot to this effect in which a French farmer turned revolutionary obtains wealth and moves to England to seduce and destroy a duchess. But, of course, Percy knows the French farmer is in disguise—although no one else does. How does he know? Percy is just that kind of guy.

And, about the way in which Percy parades around, too: can one human man obtain perfection of will and physical power like that of Percy? Can one man’s strength of body, mind, and spirit be so marvelous, so powerful that he can escape, evade, elude all others? Percy is ALWAYS in perfect physical form and uses his strength of body to climb a gutter while carrying three helpless virgins on his lavender-scented back. I mean, come on. Wouldn’t it be interesting to write a story in which Percy’s strength of body is removed and he must out think his enemies?

The fuddy-duddy pauses to scratch his face and leaves ink marks across his cheek and forehead.

In fact, Orczy does write such a plot as I’m describing in the above: El Dorado. Unfortunately, at the end of the story, Percy physically dominates everyone and literally punches his way to freedom by knocking out his enemies with his fists, which, to my thinking, is why every Hollywood movie fails as a story. This emphasis on physical power does communicate to us why The Scarlet Pimpernel has been remade eight times by Hollywood. El Dorado was interesting to me because Percy didn’t have physical strength and had to use his wits to solve his problem—until the end. Orczy should have maintained Percy in a state of physical weakness and had him use only his noodle at the end, too; but, instead Orczy has Percy eating and sleeping in enormous quantities for a week in order to gain physical strength so that he can physically dominate his enemies this coming Friday night at the end of the plot.

Furthermore, Percy’s physical strength and his gorgeous noodle really aren’t all that impressive unless Orczy has heavily stacked the cards in Percy’s favor. One of my least favorite plots in all the stories is from The Elusive Pimpernel in which Chauvelin forces Percy to write a letter condemning himself as a spy working for the new French revolutionary government. Such a confession would destroy Percy’s honor and he would have no choice but to kill himself. Chauvelin laughs an evil laugh. Percy, of course, must write this letter in exchange for freeing himself and his wife from jail; the idea is that Chauvelin will print the letter internationally and so destroy the honor of Percy and his gang of merry men. How will Percy free himself from this trap?

Well, Percy sits to write the letter and then, suddenly, he extinguishes the light by which he was writing and, in the darkness, switches the letter with one he already wrote earlier in the day! Clever! Chauvelin, of course has the wrong letter wrestled out of Percy’s hand. And, why would Chauvelin confirm the contents of the letter before sending it to Paris for printing? No, no, no. Of course he isn’t going to do that because for Percy to be so amazing, Percy needs the people around him to be kind of stupid. It is this general stupidity of everyone around Percy that makes Percy so able to dazzle. Oh, well; such is a hero story, I suppose. It must be easier to write the plot if the enemy is stupid, and, after all, Orczy did think that most of the world’s population was stupid, low class, poor, if not Jewish, and unable to don a disguise and befuddle others.

One of the charms of the books is this: one isn’t always sure where Percy is hiding. He is probably in disguise at the beginning of the story somewhere and this is a neat game for the reader to attempt to discover where Percy is hiding if one is in to this kind of thing.

Another charm of the stories is that Percy never makes a mistake. His judgment is perfect every damn time. He knows what everyone will do and uses them all like tools to exert his perfect will, but that perfect will is a generous one free of vice, so all is well.

Which reminds me of the other charm of the story: although Percy suffers from psychosis, his psychosis is helpful to everyone around him and he doesn’t have to take medication to regain contact with reality. Percy smiles all the time and, if you punch him, he laughs and makes a pun. When his car breaks down by the side of the road, he just laughs and says, Sink me, and with superhuman elan, orchestrates a bank heist while refitting a new engine into the broken car—and all the while never has a spot of oil on his hands unless he is in disguise and needs to have oil on his hands as part of the ruse. He will have the perfect amount of oil on his hands if he needs, but not too much. And, of course, he can remove the oil easily and tie a blameless, lavender-scented scarf at his neck soon afterward as is his want.

While reading these novels, I hear Mozart playing in the background: emotionally satisfying, but not overly so in the way that Mozart hints at the deep passions evoked by Beethoven, say, but the music—and one’s life—goes on with a merry tra-la-la. I do love Mozart, and I love hearing it in my head while reading, and I would never take medication for correcting this condition.

So, yeah, mixed feelings for sure.

The fuddy-duddy reaches for a plate of scones but realizes that he doesn’t have a plate of scones near his armchair. He curses like a sailor and rings a silver bell with a frown on his face. His wife enters the room some moments later.

Fuddy-duddy: Where are my scones?

Wife: Get your own bloody scones, Nigel.

Fuddy-duddy: Beatrix, we’ve had a longstanding, thirty-year, understanding about scones and tea!

Wife: Well, get your own bloody scones today, Nigel.

Fuddy-duddy: I’m trying to WRITE, Beatrix; do you honestly expect me to produce great literature, brew my own tea, AND bake my own scones? Huh?

The end.