Baroness Emma ("Emmuska") Orczy (September 23, 1865 – November 12, 1947) was a British novelist, playwright and artist of Hungarian origin. She was most notable for her series of novels featuring the Scarlet Pimpernel. Some of her paintings were exhibited at the Royal Academy in London.
Born Emma Magdalena Rosalia Maria Josefa Barbara Orczy in Tarnaörs, Hungary, she was the daughter of composer Baron Felix Orczy and his wife, Countess Emma Wass. Family friends at their Hungarian estates included Charles Gounod, Franz Liszt, and Richard Wagner.
Her parents left Hungary in 1868, fearful of the threat of a peasant revolution. They lived in Budapest, Brussels, and Paris, where Emma studied music without success. Finally, in 1880, the family moved to London where they lodged with their countryman Francis Pichler at 162 Great Portland Street. Orczy attended West London School of Art and then Heatherley's School of Fine Art, where she met her future husband, Montague Maclean Barstow, whom she married in 1894.
They had very little money, and Orczy started to work with her husband as a translator and an illustrator to supplement his low earnings. John Montague Orczy-Barstow, their only child, was born February 25, 1899. She started writing soon after his birth but her first novel, The Emperor's Candlesticks (1899), was a failure. She did, however, find a small audience with a series of detective stories in the Royal Magazine. Her next novel, In Mary's Reign (1901) did better and in 1903 she and her husband wrote a play based on one of her short stories about an English knight who rescued French aristocrats from the French revolution: The Scarlet Pimpernel. She submitted her novelisation of the story under the same title to 12 publishers. While waiting the decision of these publishers, Fred Terry and Julia Neilson accepted the play for production in the West End. Initially it drew small attendances but the play ran four years in London, broke many stage records, was translated and produced in other countries, and underwent several revivals. This theatrical success generated huge sales for the novel.
She went on to write several sequels featuring Sir Percy Blakeney and his family, of which the first, I Will Repay (1906), was the most popular. None of her three subsequent plays matched the success of The Scarlet Pimpernel. She also wrote popular mystery fiction and many adventure romances. Her Lady Molly of Scotland Yard was an early example of a female detective as the main character.
Orczy's novels were racy, mannered melodramas and she favoured historical fiction. In The Nest of the Sparrowhawk (1909), for example, a malicious guardian in Puritan Kent tricks his beautiful wealthy young ward into marrying him by disguising himself as an exiled French prince. He persuades his widowed sister-in-law to abet him in this plot, in which she unwittingly disgraces one of her long lost sons and finds the other murdered by the villain. Even though this novel had no link to The Scarlet Pimpernel other than its shared authorship, the publisher advertised it as part of 'The Scarlet Pimpernel Series'.
Asked how to say her name, she told The Literary Digest "Pronounced or'-tsey. It is a pure Hungarian name, the double consonant cz being equivalent to an English ts. Emmuska (accent on the first syllable—the s equivalent to our sh), thus, em'-moosh-ka." (Charles Earle Funk, What's the Name, Please?, Funk & Wagnalls, 1936.)
Her work was so successful that she was able to buy an estate in Monte Carlo.
She died in Henley-on-Thames on November 12, 1947.
Her son, John Montague Orczy-Barstow, was a writer under the name John Blakeney, the surname taken from that of his mother's most famous fictional character.
Her grandson, Michael Felix Orczy-Barstow, was a British aviator and an early computer systems analyst. He died in Corpus Christi, Texas.