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.