Baroness Orczy (1865-1947), whose full name was Emmuska Magdalena Rosalia Marie Josepha Barbara, Baroness Orczy, was born in Hungary, and was educated in Brussels, Paris, and London. Her father, Baron Felix Orczy, once managed the family estates in Hungary, but gave up after his attempt to introduce his peasants to modern farming techniques ended in revolt and the destruction of his crops. He was a well known composer and conductor, and introduced young Emma to famous composers such as Wagner and Liszt. The family settled in London when Emma was only fifteen years old, and she attended art school there. It was at the art school that she met the illustrator Montagu Barstow and they were married in 1894.
Emma began writing in the 1890's and even though she did not speak English before moving to London, she wrote all of her books in that language. She wrote contributions to magazines and several children's books before turning to historical fiction in 1899 with The Emperor's Candlesticks. Her great fame, however, rests on The Scarlet Pimpernel. Its protagonist, Sir Percy Blakeney, is one of the most well known characters in English popular fiction. Indeed, years later, the baroness's son wrote under the pseudonym John Blakeney.
The Scarlet Pimpernel did not, however, have an easy passage to publication: it was rejected by every publisher who saw it. The baroness and her husband then turned it into a play, and its success on stage captured the publishers' attention. The story finally appeared in book form in 1905, several years after Emma had written it. A number of sequels (some of which can be found for free online) then followed, and the baroness continued to turn out historical novels at the rate of one or two a year. During her lifetime, her style of melodramatic romantic fiction was very popular, but among her many titles only The Scarlet Pimpernel has securely stood the test of time.
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