Hornung, E. W.
E. W. Hornung 1866-1921
(Full name Ernest William Hornung) English short story writer, novelist, dramatist, and poet.
A prolific writer, Hornung is primarily remembered as the creator of A. J. Raffles, the popular and somewhat controversial protagonist of a series of crime stories who, while exemplifying British standards of conduct in many ways, was also a burglar. Delighting readers with his ingenuity in stealing from the wealthy while evading detection and capture, Raffles was initially a source of concern to many turn-of-the-century commentators, including Hornung's brother-in-law, Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote of Hornung's Raffles stories: "I confess I think they are dangerous … You must not make the criminal a hero." Nevertheless, the popular appeal of the character has endured, as evidenced by Raffles's many reappearances in literature, film, and drama throughout the twentieth century.
Hornung was born in Middlesborough, Yorkshire, and attended Uppingham School. Afflicted with asthma, he left England after graduation for the warmer climate of Australia, where he worked as a tutor and wrote for the Sydney Bulletin. Two years later he returned to England and began writing articles and stories for various London journals. It was during this period that he became acquainted with Doyle; the two soon became close friends, and a few years after their first meeting Hornung married Doyle's sister Constance. During the 1890s Hornung wrote a series of moderately well-received novels and stories, many of them drawing upon his experiences in Australia, and in 1899 he published the first volume to feature the Raffles character, a collection of short stories entitled The Amateur Cracksman. The popularity of the character gained immediate fame for Hornung, and Raffles reappeared in a novel and eighteen subsequent stories, which were collected in various configurations and under different titles. In addition, Hornung wrote crime stories and novels that did not feature the Raffles character, and, after serving in World War I, he published poetry based on his wartime experiences as well as a volume of reminiscences of his son, who had been killed in battle at Ypres. After the war, Hornung moved to southern France, where he died of pneumonia in 1921.
The Raffles stories are similar to Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, with the obvious difference that Raffles is involved in committing rather than solving crimes. Like Holmes's adventures, Raffles's exploits are narrated by an admiring and significantly less perceptive friend, allowing the author to maintain an element of surprise as events unfold: the reader learns along with the narrator what Raffles already knows or intends. Hornung acknowledged Doyle's influence in the dedication to The Amateur Cracksman, writing: "To ACD This Form of Flattery." Many critics have praised the Raffles stories for their inventive plots and polished style, and Doyle himself commended Horning's "sudden use of the right adjective and the right phrase." Numerous commentators have discussed the source of Raffles's appeal, suggesting that in addition to his admirable aristocratic manners and his scrupulous adherence to a personal moral code, Raffles's daring exploits and fantastic adventures symbolized the growing rebellion against Victorian sensibility at the turn of the century. Critics have also interpreted Raffles as a prototype of the antihero in modern crime fiction.
A Bride from the Bush (novel) 1890
Under Two Skies (short stories) 1892
Tiny Luttrell (novel) 1893
The Boss of Taroomba (novel) 1894
The Unbidden Guest (novel) 1894
Irralie's Bushranger (novel) 1896
The Rogue's March (novel) 1896
My Lord Duke (novel) 1897
Some Persons Unknown (short stories) 1898
Young Blood (novel) 1898
The Amateur Cracksman (short stories) 1899
Dead Men Tell No Tales (novel) 1899
The Belle of Toorak [also published as The Shadow of Man] (novel) 1900
Peccavi (novel) 1900
The Black Mask [also published as Raffles: Further Adventures of the Amateur Cracksman] (short stories) 1901
At Largc (novel) 1902
Denis Dent (novel) 1902
The Shadow of the Rope (novel) 1902
No Hero (novel) 1903
Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman [with Eugene W. Presbrey] (drama) 1903
Stingaree (short stories) 1905
A Thief in the Night: The Last Chronicles of Raffles (short stories) 1905
Raffles: The Amateur...
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SOURCE: "Roguery in Recent Fiction: Raffles and Company," in The Literature of Roguery, Vol. II, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1907, pp. 515-21.
[In the following excerpt, Chandler examines the characterization of Raffles.]
The most popular literary rogue of recent times owes to the most popular of literary detectives his birth and characteristics. Hornung's Amateur Cracksman (1899), dedicated to Conan Doyle, betrays with its sequels, Raffles (1901) and A Thief in the Night (1905), the distinguishing traits of Sherlock Holmes. Raffles is secretive and taciturn, a non-professional who excels in ability those of the trade, and a gentleman when not engaged in business. He is gifted with analytic powers of no mean order. He has his fastidious specialities,—cricket and Sullivan cigarettes. His cleverness is heightened by contrast with the surprised stupidity of his associate, the narrator Bunny, who reflects Doyle's Dr. Watson. Raffles's exploits, like many of Sherlock Holmes's, are chronicled by episodes in short story form, and they make their appeal by similar devices to the same emotions.
The great difference between the two groups of fictions is the reversal of point of view. But in this reversal the rogue is at a disadvantage morally and intellectually. To offset his intellectual disadvantage, Raffles is given peculiar and difficult undertakings, as well...
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SOURCE: "Novelists and Novels, 1829-1899: E. W. Hornung—1890," in Australian Literature from its Beginnings to 1935, Vol. I, Melbourne University Press, 1940, pp. 441-43.
[In the following excerpt, Miller provides a survey of Hornung's works.]
Though domiciled in Australia for only a few years during early manhood, Ernest William Hornung preserved a close literary attachment. Nearly two-thirds of his books refer in varying degrees to Australian incidents and experiences. He was born at Middlesborough, England, in 1866, and educated at Uppingham School. Coming to New South Wales in 1884, he was engaged as a tutor by Charles Joseph Parsons, of Mossgiel Station. There he began to write his first book, A Bride from the Bush, according to Mr. C. F. Parsons, of Bloomfield, Tasmania. Some features of the station and its life appear in A Bride from the Bush, Tiny Luttrell and Irralie's Bushranger. On his return to England Hornung devoted himself to literary work. He served with the Y.M.C.A. during the war, and recorded his impressions in Notes of a Camp Follower on the Western Front, 1919. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who was Hornung's brother-in-law) quotes from this book in his preface to Hornung's posthumous work, Old Offenders, 1923. He chose a fine passage relating to the march of the Australians at Amiens:
They were marching in their own...
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SOURCE: "Raffles and Miss Blandish," in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell: As I Please, 1943-1945, Vol. III, edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968, pp. 212-24.
[In the following excerpt from a review that appeared in Horizon magazine in 1944, Orwell discusses the social implications of the Raffles character.]
At this date, the charm of Raffles is partly in the period atmosphere and partly in the technical excellence of the stories. Hornung was a very conscientious and on his level a very able writer. Anyone who cares for sheer efficiency must admire his work. However, the truly dramatic thing about Raffles, the thing that makes him a sort of by-word even to this day (only a few weeks ago, in a burglary case, a magistrate referred to the prisoner as "a Raffles in real life"), is the fact that he is a gentleman. Raffles is presented to us—and this is rubbed home in countless scraps of dialogue and casual remarks—not as an honest man who has gone astray, but as a public-school man who has gone astray. His remorse, when he feels any, is almost purely social; he has disgraced "the old school", he has lost his right to enter "decent society", he has forfeited his amateur status and become a cad. Neither Raffles nor Bunny appears to feel at all strongly that stealing is wrong in itself, though Raffles does once justify himself...
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SOURCE: "A Very Decent Sort of Burglar," in Snobbery with Violence: Crime Stories and Their Audience, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1971, pp. 41-52.
[In the following excerpt, Watson examines the Raffles character, questioning George Orwell's contention that Raffles's sense of propriety renders him superior to other lawbreakers in crime novels.]
[A. E. W.] Mason, the boy-at-heart, produced heroes of a rugged, mannish kind. His detective, Hanaud, is a big middle-aged man who is dedicatedly professional and whose very clowning intimidates. By paradox of an opposite order, E. W. Hornung created a character who was the antithesis of the 'formidable Edwardian gentleman who didn't like teenagers very much' remembered by Nigel Morland. This is how Homung, brother-in-law of Conan Doyle, conceived the exciting life:
His own hands were firm and cool as he adjusted my mask for me, and then his own. 'By jove, old boy,' he whispered cheerily, 'you look about the greatest ruffian I ever saw! These masks alone will down a nigger, if we meet one. But I'm glad I remembered to tell you not to shave. You'll pass for Whitechapel if the worst comes to the worst and you don't forget to talk the lingo. Better sulk like a mule if you're not sure of it, and leave the dialogue to me; but please our stars, there will be no need. Now, are you ready?'
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SOURCE: "In Which Robin Hood Drops His Mantle, and Raffles Doesn't Quite Pick It Up," in The Durable Desperadoes, Macmillan London Ltd., 1973, pp. 27-38.
[In the following excerpt, Butler examines Raffles as a manifestation of late-Victorian attitudes.]
[The] mantle of Robin Hood is [not] tailor-made for every outlaw thriller hero. As a matter of fact, the first really successful gentleman-crook character in English crime fiction had so little Sherwood Forest chivalry in his makeup that he should have been ashamed even to order a smoking-jacket in Lincoln Green.
His name was A. J. Raffles. He was the creation of Conan Doyle's brother-in-law, E. W. Hornung. He first appeared in the middle-to-late 1890s. And his immense popularity right through the turn-of-the-century period takes more than a little explaining, unless one makes a supreme effort to view him through late Victorian eyes.
Imagine, then, for a moment, that you are a solid citizen of the middle 1890s. You are intensely proud of Queen and Empire. You unhesitatingly accept that a public school upbringing puts a fellow a great many cuts above the rest, and that within that privileged circle sportsmen (particularly cricketers) are a super-elite. But the importance of sport and sportsmanship weren't the only things that your school impressed on you. It was a forcing-house for the ideas of an excited Empire at the...
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Penzler, Otto. Introduction to Raffles Revisited: New Adventures of a Famous Gentleman Crook, by Barry Perowne, pp. ix-xvii. New York: Harper and Row, 1974.
Examines Perowne's characterization of Raffles, determining that "Raffles as a character will be even more memorable than these superb stories themselves.…
Additional coverage of Hornung's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale Research: Contemporary Authors, Vol. 108; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 70.
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