E. W. Hornung Hornung, E. W. - Essay


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.

Principal Works

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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 Cracksman (short stories) 1906

Stingaree, the Bushranger (novel) 1908

Mr. Justice Raffles (novel) 1909

A Visit from Raffles [with Charles Sansom] (drama) 1909

The Camera Fiend (novel) 1911

Fathers of Men (novel) 1912

The Thousandth Woman (novel) 1913

Witching Hill (novel) 1913

The Crime Doctor (novel) 1914

Trusty and Well Beloved: The Little Record of Arthur Oscar Hornung (memoirs) 1915

The Ballad of Ensign Joy (poetry) 1917

Wooden Crosses (poetry) 1918

Notes of a Camp-Follower on the Western Front (reminiscences) 1919

The Young Guard (poetry) 1919

Old Offenders and a Few Old Scores (short stories) 1923

E. W. Hornung and His Young Guard, 1914 (poetry and prose) 1941

Frank Wadleigh Chandler (essay date 1907)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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 as special qualities,—"his high spirits, his iron nerve, his buoyant wit, his perfect ease and self-possession." His cleverness and breeding are meant to blind admirers to his moral disadvantage; but the whole question of right and wrong is blinked. Though he dies as a patriot in the Boer War, he is still the rogue and adventurer, and all his creator's attempts to portray him as a hero, rather than an anti-hero, deservedly fail.

Raffles himself holds to the theory propounded by Fielding. Human nature is a chess-board, a thing of alternate black and white. "Why desire to be all one thing or all the other," he asks, "like our forefathers on the stage or in the old-fashioned fiction? Let us know all squares of the board and enjoy the light the better for the shade." As a matter of fact, he does not know what...

(The entire section is 937 words.)

E. Morris Miller (essay date 1940)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1293 words.)

George Orwell (essay date 1944)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1549 words.)

Colin Watson (essay date 1971)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 2894 words.)

William Vivian Butler (essay date 1973)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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....

(The entire section is 3191 words.)

Further Reading

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)


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.

(The entire section is 71 words.)