E. Phillips Oppenheim Critical Essays


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

E. Phillips Oppenheim, dubbed “The Prince of Storytellers,” was a master of the spy novel. As a longtime resident of the French Riviera, Oppenheim kept his finger on the European pulse; he located his intrigues in Poland, Russia, England, and Africa, as well as in a small, imaginary European country. He was a monarchist whose characters did not like Germany, Russia, socialism, or communism. Oppenheim boasted that he had foreseen the expansionist ambitions of Russia, Japan, and, particularly, Germany. His writing before World War I was so anti-German, in fact, that his name was on a list of British citizens to be eradicated if the Germans successfully invaded England. Ironically, when the Germans did obtain control of the Channel Islands, the Luftwaffe chose Oppenheim’s house on Guernsey as their headquarters.

In A Maker of History (1905), a young Englishman obtains a copy of a secret treaty between the kaiser and the czar detailing an agreement to wage war against England. In The Double Traitor (1915), a diplomat obtains a list of the German spies in England and is able to identify them when war breaks out. In The Kingdom of the Blind (1916), an English aristocrat proves to be a German spy. Oppenheim had little faith in the ability of the League of Nations or the United Nations to obtain a permanent world peace, and he frequently emphasized the power and importance of secret societies engaged in world trade.

Mysterious Mr. Sabin

Among the novels that established Oppenheim’s reputation as a spy novelist was Mysterious Mr. Sabin (1898), in which the protagonist steals British defense documents to sell to Germany. He plans to use the money to finance a new French revolution. Sabin’s secret society, however, orders him to burn the documents obtained through blackmail, and Sabin must convince the other characters that he meant well all along.

The Great Impersonation

Another successful novel, The Great Impersonation (1920), describes the impersonation of the German major-general Baron Leopold von Ragastein in England of his former Etonian classmate Everard Dominey. Ragastein’s intent is to influence enough British citizens to keep England from entering World War I against Germany. His attempt is frustrated by his double, Dominey, a British aristocrat who has become an alcoholic. (This novel was later adapted as a film, featuring Edmund Lowe.)

The Dumb Gods Speak and The Wrath to Come

In the prophetic novel The Dumb Gods Speak (1937), Oppenheim describes the discovery of an all-powerful weapon in the year 1947. It is not an atomic bomb; rather, it is an electrical ray that can stop fleets of warships in the ocean without any casualties. In the novel, a single American warship defeats Japan by immobilizing its entire fleet. The people of the world deplore this action so much that they legislate against any future wars. In The Wrath to Come (1924), a German-Japanese plot for a joint attack on the United States is uncovered and prevented by the appearance of a deus ex...

(The entire section is 1282 words.)