Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman - E.W. Hornung, Richard Lancelyn Green

~~Moved from GR 8/290 left!~~

 

Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman

by E.W. Hornung

 

The Raffles stories are basically the British version of Arsene Lupin: they feature a hyperintelligent Sherlock Holmes-like character who uses his skills to transgress the law rather than defend it. However, Raffles' adventures are rather more serious and straightforward than the often spoofy escapades of Lupin and his nemesis "Holmlock Shears."[1]

 

Like the Holmes stories, Raffles' adventures are narrated by a loyal and rather less intelligent sidekick. Narrator Bunny Manders strikes me as a "low-budget" version of Watson: Bunny's intelligence is closer to that of Poirot's Hastings than that of the clever Watson, and his affections for Raffles more reminiscent of Holmes/Watson slash fiction than the canon Holmes/Watson friendship.[2]

I love both Sherlock Holmes and Poirot, and quite enjoyed the Arsene Lupin stories, and the close similarities between the stories may perhaps make me more critical of Raffles. Unless the stories are total spoofs, I have real issues sympathizing with amoral protagonists, and I simply couldn't adopt the point of view of the rather villainous Raffles and Bunny. At least initially, Raffles becomes a thief for the joy of the challenge, but at some point, his motivations shift into monetary gain and simple hubris. To me at least, this gave the stories an unpleasant taint that I was unable to shake. I also found the Bunny-Raffles relationship far more problematic than the others mentioned above. Bunny is too adoring, too uncritical, and too stupid for my taste, and Raffles mixes sneering contempt with a tendency to take advantage of Bunny's affection. It left me feeling that Raffles was even more cold and emotionless than Holmes, but without the latter's saving moral code and eccentricity.

 

However, one of the aspects I really appreciate about the stories is how they capture the atmosphere of late-Victorian England; the undercurrents of change and uncertainty under a rigidly static surface.  I also find his nihilistic cynicism both troubling and fascinating; the jaded desire to find pleasure wherever possible in a brief and depressing life is something I associate with post-Great-War England rather than pre- Boer War. 

Overall, the Raffles stories are classics and worth reading if you are exploring the genre. If you are just interested in a taste of British sleuth stories, you can't do better than to return to The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. If you want a crime-solving upperclass twit, try A Man Lay Dead; if you want an upperclass cricket-playing twit, there's always Lord Peter Wimsey: Whose Body?. If you want to read about a charming thief, try some stories from the other side of the channel, namely, Arsène Lupin, Gentleman-Thief.

 

[1] I am not making that up--after Doyle threatened a lawsuit, Lupin's nemesis got this entertaining monniker instead.

[2] Nah, I don't read slash--actually, I don't read fanfiction.  But I read the Wikipedia article on slash-fiction and I stayed at a Holiday Inn last night. Seriously, Bunny/Raffles goes rather farther than Holmes/Watson, intentional or no. Just note Bunny's rather sensual descriptions of Raffles' appearance, then swap over to a point where there is any physical interaction between the two, and the way Raffles keeps calling him "my Bunny" and "my dearest Bunny." Not to mention that Bunny makes it quite clear that Raffles is all that gives his life meaning. Oh, and in the next book, they'll end up living together. Yeah, I know that all this was likely innocent during the Victorian times and only gives the dirty-minded of us a few giggles, but I also think the passion, for want of a better word, is problematic. It's not a healthy relationship: Raffles is a textbook abuser and Bunny the standard enabler. Raffles repeatedly abuses Bunny's trust and devotion, but Bunny lets him. Over and over and over. Grr.