E. W. Hornung Biography


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Ernest William Hornung was born in Middlesbrough, an English manufacturing town, on June 7, 1866, the youngest son of John Peter Hornung, a solicitor. He was educated at Uppingham; there, he learned to play cricket, which remained a lifelong interest. An asthmatic, he emigrated to Australia for his health in 1884 and spent two years there as a tutor. Returning to London in 1886, Hornung became (like Bunny) a journalist and magazine writer; his first novel was published in 1890. In 1893, he married Arthur Conan Doyle’s sister, Constance, at Doyle’s home and settled near him in Sussex; Hornung’s dedication of the first Raffles collection, “To A. C. D. This Form of Flattery,” acknowledges Doyle’s influence on his work. To his great pleasure, in 1907, Hornung was elected to the Marylebone Cricket Club, the sport’s governing body.

In the years between 1890 and 1914, Hornung wrote numerous articles for journals such as Cornhill Magazine and published at least twenty-three novels and several collections of short stories. This body of work ranged from romances and adventure stories—including the bushranger novels drawn from his Australian experiences—to the novels such as Fathers of Men (1912) that were considered more serious literature. Although Hornung is best known for his Raffles stories, he also experimented with detective fiction: The Crime Doctor (1914) follows the career of John Dollar, a physician who not only solves crimes but also runs a sanatorium for potential and reformed criminals.

Despite the fact that Hornung suffered from asthma, at the beginning of World War I he volunteered for service. After two years with an antiaircraft unit, he was sent in 1916 to France to establish a YMCA library and rest hut for soldiers; he distinguished himself at the siege of Arras, leaving the front only after his library had been captured. His experiences in France and his grief over the loss of his only child, a son killed at Ypres, emerge in the poetry and memoirs published from 1917 to 1919. His already delicate health further weakened by military service, Hornung settled in Saint-Jean-de-Luz after the war; he died there on March 22, 1921.