Emma Orczy: Biography

Emma Orczy

23 sep 1865

Emma Orczy was born Baroness Emma Magdolna Rozalia Maria Jozefa Borbala ‘Emmuska’ Orczy de Orci, in Heves County, Hungary in 1865. She was a British playwright, novelist and artist, famous for her novels starring the Scarlet Pimpernel.

After having lived in Budapest, Brussels and Paris, the Orczy family moved to London in 1880, when Emma was 15. She attended art school in England and it was here that she met her husband, Montague MacLean, whom she married in 1894. They were a poor artistic couple, and Orczy began to work as a translator shortly after their marriage in order to supplement her husband’s income.

Her first novel, The Emperor’s Candlesticks, was published in 1899 and was a disastrous failure. She managed to gather a small following of fans following a series of detective stories which were published in the Royal Magazine after this first attempt. Her second novel, In Mary’s Reign, was considerably more successful, but was still not popular enough to sustain the couple.

Her most famous character, The Scarlet Pimpernel, first featured in a play which she co-wrote with her husband. Orczy adapted the stage play into a novel and sent it out to different publishers. It was published in 1906 and became a huge success. Her following novels also did well and she began to make a name for herself. Eventually, her books had earned her enough money to buy an estate in Monte Carlo. As well as becoming a renowned author, she was also very successful as a painter, having had some of her works exhibited at the Royal Academy.

Emma Orczy died in Oxfordshire, England in 1947.