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Ernest William Hornung

Ernest William Hornung (1866-1921) was an English writer most famous for his A.J. Raffles stories.

Brief biography

He was born in Middlesbrough, the son of John Hornung and Harriett Armstrong. His father was born in Transylvania in Hungary, moved to Hamburg where he worked for a shipping firm and then to England, where he became a coal merchant. At school, E.W. Hornung developed a fascination for cricket which never left him. Always of poor health, he moved to Australia when he was 17. Although he stayed there for only 2 years, he was profoundly marked by the experience and began writing his first novel.

Back in London, he started working as a journalist and a story writer. Interestingly, this was exactly during the period Jack the ripper was active in East London. This undeniably influenced him and piqued his interest in criminal behaviour.

He published “A bride from the bush” in 1890, a novel with Australia as a backdrop.

In 1891 he joined various cricket clubs, including one that had Arthur Conan Doyle and Jerome K. Jerome as members.

He later married Arthur Conan Doyle's sister, therefore becoming his brother-in-law. He cooperated with Doyle on several projects and works, but it must be said they did not always get along. He published more novels, always set in Australia.

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The first Raffles story was published in 1898 in Cornhill magazine.

The character was inspired from George Cecil Ives, a criminologist and cricketer, who also happens to be a resident of the Albany in Mayfair. Hornung reverses the traditional Holmes-Watson pair into Raffles and Bunny Manders. Manders tells the story in the first person like Watson, and like Watson he represents the normal, moral view of the English gentleman of the time.

The first story ever published was “The ides of March”. Once enough stories had been published, they were compiled into a volume called “The amateur cracksman”. Then followed “Black mask” and “A thief in the night”.

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It is very clear Hornung's posterity was not the one he wished for. He carried on writing Raffles short stories because he found it amusing to do so and because the public was buying them. However, he seemed to have desired for his more “serious” work to become famous.

As mentioned before, he was very influenced by his time in Australia, and wrote numerous books set down under: “A bride from the bush”, “Old offenders”, “A few old scores”. Most of his books carried Australian themes. Even Raffles starts his life of crime in Australia.

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Cricket was Hornung's passion. Although he never displayed any exceptional skills, cricket is found everywhere in his life, and defines Raffles probably as much as crime does: “Old Raffles may or may not have been an exceptional criminal, but as a cricketer I dare swear he was unique. Himself a dangerous bat, a brilliant field, and perhaps the very finest slow bowler of his decade.

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Social themes

Doyle was a typical conservative. Hornung was a more complex character. Social themes are omnipresent. Raffles can be viewed as an expression of revolt of the middle classes against stale Victorian society.

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Hornung's son Oscar was killed at the battle of Ypres in June 1915. Although a patriot, Hornung never recovered. He travelled to France during the war, and in 1917 he published numerous poems, including a collection of war poetry titled “Ballad of Ensign joy”. He also published an account of his experience in wartime France, “Notes of a camp-follower”.

©2016-Les Editions de Londres

Livres publiés

  • A thief in the night

    par Ernest William Hornung

    ISBN : 978-1-910628-86-7
    Date de parution : 31 juillet 2016
    Nombre de pages : 223 pages

    A thief in the night” is a collection of short stories published in 1905 by E.W. Hornung and features the gentleman thief Arthur J. Raffles and his sidekick Harry “Bunny” Manders. This is the third and last of the Raffles collections of short stories, following “The amateur cracksman” (...)

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