“We seek him here, we seek him there.
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere!
Is he in heaven, is he in hell?
That damned elusive Pimpernel.”
Knowing that my roots were in Hungary the idea of visiting the locale filled me with enthusiasm. With the lights on the medieval architecture radiating as night fell, my coffee was soon forgotten as the scene became more like the setting for a romantic fairy tale. Naturally I wondered if much had changed since the time of my great grandmother, Baroness Orczy. It was twilight and I was sitting in a café on the Pest side of Budapest on the banks of the Danube. The lights of the Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion and the Chain Bridge increased in luminosity as the evening sky darkened giving me the notion that I was in a “Fairy Tale City”.
Baroness Emmuska Orczy was born in Tarna-Örs, 80 kilometres east of Budapest in 1865 as Emma Magdalena Rosalia Maria Josefa Barbara Orczy, now that is a mouthful. She was the only daughter of Baron Felix Orczy, a noted composer and conductor, and his wife Emma. Her father was a friend of such composers as Wagner and Liszt. Emmuska moved with her parents from Budapest to Brussels and then to London, learning to speak English at the age of fifteen. She was educated in convent schools in Brussels and Paris. In London she studied at the West London School of Art and married Montague Barstow in 1894, whom she had met while studying at the Heatherby School of Art. Together they started to produce book and magazine illustrations and published an edition of Hungarian folktales.
She is best remembered as the author of “The Scarlet Pimpernel” but she was also an artist and her works were exhibited at the Royal Academy, London.
Baroness Orczy’s first detective stories appeared in magazines. As a writer she became famous in 1903 with the stage version of the Scarlet Pimpernel. The dramatized version of Pimpernel, starring Fred Terry and Julia Neilson, was produced in Nottingham and finally given a London run in 1905. Her first venture into fiction was with crime stories. Among her most popular characters was The Old Man in the Corner, who was featured in a series of twelve British movies from 1924, starring Rolf Leslie. In the late 1910s Baroness Orczy and her husband moved to Monte Carlo, where they stayed during the Nazi occupation. Her husband died in 1942 and after World War II she spent her remaining years in England. Baroness Orczy was a prolific writer of over 60 books and worked actively until her eighties. Her autobiography, “Links in the Chain of Life”, was published in 1947. After her death in November 1947 a film, “The Elusive Pimpernel” starring David Niven and Margaret Leighton was first shown in 1950. This was the fourth movie that had been produced based on the Pimpernel. In 1982 and 1998 television series were produced based on the “The Scarlet Pimpernel”.
Now I reminisced what Budapest was like and meant to Emmuska in her time here. Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in Europe. Its history dates back 2,000 years when the Romans founded the outpost Aquincum in the area. Today it is a city of festivals, museums and spas and a rich cultural heritage situated in the Carpathian Basin in the heart of Europe.
On our last day in Budapest my mind wandered back to my great grandmother’s time as Farida and I sat and listened to a wonderful classical orchestra conducted by a young Hungarian conductor who was only in his late twenties. The concert was held in the magnificent Science Academy building, which would have been here during the Baroness’s period As time was not on our side we did not manage to go to Tarna-Örs to look for my roots. Not knowing the local language added to my difficulties for me to ascertain whether Orczy Park and Orczy Avenue were named after my great grandmother. To confirm that obviously I will have to return to the “Fairy Tale City” of Budapest.