Honesty in Marriage and ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’

Last year I wrote a post based on The Scarlet Pimpernel, but I found the book so rich there was another theme I wanted to discuss aside from the one I handled in that previous post. I figured in this “month of love”, it’d be appropriate to write about it now. That said, I will also spoil some major plot points of the book.

While on the surface The Scarlet Pimpernel is an adventure tale about a husband and wife usurping the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, underneath the ground level is a moving story about a husband and wife trying to piece their marriage together.

When Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney first met and married, they were passionately in love. But a terrible mistake on the Lady’s part sent an entire family to the guillotine, and the horrid rumors of her role reached Sir Percy, putting a wedge in their union. He wanted an explanation, she wanted to test his love and asked him to simply believe the best about her. As a result, Sir Percy created a facade to mask his disappointment and Lady Blakeney grew contemptuous. She becomes enamored by the brave Scarlet Pimpernel who foils French authorities and wishes that he were her husband.

Both tried to move on from the past, but they could not escape it. When the Revolution follows Lady Blakeney across the waters to England, she finds herself forced to be a tool for its bloody reign again. She reluctantly helps and immediately regrets it.

In a crucial turningpoint of the book, Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney arrive at their country home late in the night. Both wander apart from each other across the grounds and eventually Lady Blakeney finds her husband and stops him for a conversation aimed at rekindling the love she once knew. It’s a tense and passionate exchange with Lady Blakeney humbling herself and Sir Percy remaining cold and rigid. Though he softens by degrees, in the end his pride wins out and he cannot bring himself to embrace her; she has burned him once, she won’t do it again. As for Lady Blakeney, she wants to tell him everything but can’t find the courage to do so.

The irony of the situation, as we learn a couple chapters later, is that Sir Percy is the Scarlet Pimpernel on the side and is the most aptly equipped man to help her if she would only be honest. The tragedy of their moonlight conversation overall is that their lack of honesty toward each other is the very thing crushing their marriage.

Today it’s easy in a marriage to separate our lives. Men retreat to their “man caves” and women to their “girlfriends” and in these respective refuges they allow themselves to be who they truly are. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with either retreat, a lack of honesty in a union can cause it strain and sorrow. It may not break the marriage, but it will certainly wound it.

By the end of The Scarlet Pimpernel, the loving couple love each other deeply once again. Honesty is seen as the golden wisdom that it is and the Blakeney’s are reconciled. Perhaps in our own marriages we should re-evaluate our level of honesty and strive to be as open as possible with our significant other. It may make for unexciting fiction, but it will be an exciting marriage!

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