Book and Film

The Scarlet Pimpernel – A viewpoint from empathy

“They seek him here, they seek him there, the Frenchies seek him everywhere”.

My most favorite film of all time, The Scarlet Pimpernel is important in understanding the turmoil and dynamics of human emotions. I see it not as a comedic artistic film full of exceptional 18th century diction and phrasal verbs, but as a lesson about sympathy and empathy or lack of there of amongst the classes. Understanding noblesse oblige was explicitly presented throughout the film. Here empathy was not only for the poor but also for the rich. It is my belief that films must not be dealt as mere cinematic leisure, they must be understood and a lesson should be learnt, taken home and spread to others.

Sir Percy Blakeney portrays the wealthiest man in all of England and lives by a self chosen lifestyle “noblesse oblige” in which he considers it his moral and social responsibility as a person heavily privileged from birth to help those in need. He displays an empathy towards the bureaucracy of 18th century France at the time of the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution. This comes to serve an important lesson that empathy must not only be felt for the poor, it must be felt for the rich too. To be kind means to extend kindness irrespective of economic class. He feels the pain of a tragic end of many bureaucrats who were wrongly implicated during the revolution. His dismay at finding out the execution of the Marquis de St. Cyr and his whole family vividly shows the highest empathic inclination.

However simultaneously one must not forget the ignorance of the aristocracy towards the peasantry. They lived in immense extravaganza with frivolously embellished attire, palaces, carriages and unnecessary luxury. One could blame the superfluous wealth and riches which gave them a heavenly atmosphere to live in. But can money solely take the blame? What actually caused the French revolution? The answer is that the fact that they just didn’t know how the poor were living. Majority of the elite had absolutely no inkling regarding the plight of the poor! Their crime was infact ignorance. The few who actually did indeed know about the conditions of the peasantry showed no sympathy and nonetheless no empathy towards them. From where I see history it was the absence of empathy in the French aristocracy which led to their downfall.

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Marie Antoinette instead of commissioning her rural cottage retreat she should have actually retreated to a real village and lived amongst the peasants and artisans if she wanted a break from Royal intricacies. Had she done that, she would have experienced something far more valuable than anything she ever possessed. She would have been showered with approval from the public and she would have had an absolutely drastic change in her psychology and attitude towards her subjects. Had this been the case probably she would have been amongst the list of figures like Florence Nightingale, Princess Diana and Mother Teresa. Empathy is a strong word and the most powerful emotion in this universe. The lack of empathy could be the first and possibly sole reason for the French Revolution.

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