The Immorally Rich and the Richly Immoral: Raffles and the Plutocracy

  • Nick Rance
Part of the Insights book series


E. W. Hornung published three volumes of the Raffles stories: The Amateur Cracksman (1899), The Black Mask (1901) A Thief in the Night (1905). A novel, Mr Justice Raffles, appeared in 1909. There have been, so far as I know, just two extended critical examinations of the fiction: George Orwell’s celebrated essay, ‘Raffles and Miss Blandish’, which appeared in Horizon in October 1944, and a chapter in Colin Watson’s Snobbery with Violence, published in 1971. Despite the time-lag between the two criticisms, they are similar in approach. Colin Watson begins his book by quoting Lady Mary Wortley Montagu on the popular fiction of her day: ‘Perhaps you will say I should not take my ideas of the manners of the times from such trifling authors; but it is more truly to be found among them than from any historian: as they write merely to get money, they always fall into the notions that are most acceptable to the present taste.’1 When Watson asks himself what notions most acceptable to taste are to be found in the adventures of Raffles, the conclusion is severe: ‘There can scarcely be excluded from any theory of why narration of his exploits sold so well the presumption that it reached some part of the reader’s mind that was ready to applaud the success of even a bully and a thug, provided he had estimable credentials.’2 Such an adaptation of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s theory seems lacking in purchase. What we learn of the taste of between 1898, in the June of which the stories began appearing in Cassell’s Magazine, and 1909 is that it compounded sadism and snobbery. This, however, anticipates how Watson accounts for the appeal of Ian Fleming’s fiction in the 1950s and 1960s, and he rather spills the beans by remarking of Hornung that he is certainly qualified ’to be considered as a precursor of Fleming’.3 So far, the slighted historian need not fear the competion.


Cricket Field Popular Fiction Black Mask Return Match Moral Ethic 
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    Colin Watson, Snobbery with Violence (London: Methuen, 1987) p.15.Google Scholar
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1990

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  • Nick Rance

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