Real Name: A.J. Raffles
Identity/Class: Normal human
Occupation: Gentleman thief
Affiliations: Harry "Bunny" Manders
Enemies: Inspector MacKenzie of Scotland Yard
Known Relatives: Sherlock Holmes (possible brother-in-law, as suggested by author Sean Levin and Win Scott Eckert)
Aliases: The Amateur Cracksman; Mr.Maturin
Base of Operations: The Albany, London, England, 1890's.
First Appearance: The Ides of March (Cassell's Magazine, June 1898)
Powers/Abilities: Skilled amateur burglar. Excellent at slight of hand, master of disguise.
History: A.J. Raffles was a gentleman, an ex-public school lad who had continued into London's High Society as an adult, living in the Albany (Albany Court, St.James' in London), being a member of the best clubs, and playing cricket for England. However a trip to "the Colonies" changed the direction of his life forever. Finding himself broke, he overcame whatever moral qualms he might have had and engaged in some larceny to survive, only to find the excitement of theft addictive: "Id tasted blood, and it was all over with me. Why should I work when I could steal? Why settle down to some humdrum uncongenial billet, when excitement, romance, danger, and a decent living were all going begging together."
Having returned to England, he continued his new career as an "amateur cracksman", eventually gaining an accomplice in the form of an old school friend Harry "Bunny" Manders, now a penniless journalist. Bunny admitted to Raffles that he had written cheques to pay gambling without having the money to cover them, and was now considering suicide rather than face the dishonour; Raffles suggested to him a different course, and had him assist in the burglary of a jewelry shop. From then on the two would be partners, with Bunny acting as Raffles unofficial biographer as well.
While a thief, Raffles always remained a gentleman as well, a staunch patriot and lover of the monarchy, who would sometimes use his larcenous skills in the cause of moral justice, to right some wrong. However he was honest enough to admit that he usually stole for personal gain, and he wasn't above abusing Bunny's trust in him in pursuit of a profit. His ego also played a factor - making sure the public knew of his skillful (if illegal) activities was also important to him.
Raffles met his end after enlisting in the British Army to help fight the Boer War. He used his skills to unmask a spy, but only at the cost of his own life. He died admitting regret for introducing his friend Bunny to a life of crime.
Comments: Raffles was created by Ernest William Hornung, who was brother-in-law to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (through marriage to Doyle's sister Constance) - which means that the creator of England's greatest Victorian thief was brother-in-law to the creator of England's greatest detective, Sherlock Holmes. Hornung paid tribute to his famous relation by dedicating his first collection of stories, "The Amateur Cracksman", to him; for his part, Doyle was worried about the book's potential effect on the public's morals by making a criminal the hero, but admitted to appreciating the dedication "I think I may claim that his famous character Raffles was a kind of inversion of Sherlock Holmes, Bunny playing Watson. He admits as much in his kindly dedication. I think there are few finer examples of short-story writing in our language than these, though I confess I think they are rather dangerous in their suggestion. I told him so before he put pen to paper, and the result has, I fear, borne me out. You must not make the criminal a hero."
After an initial outing in Cassell's Magazine, most of Raffles early stories made their debut in The Strand during the latter part of the 1890s. They were then collected in The Amateur Cracksman (1898), The Black Mask (1901; published in the States. as "Raffles: Further Adventures of the Amateur Cracksman"), and A Thief in the Night (1905; published in the States as "A Thief in the Night: Further Adventures of A.J. Raffles, Cricketer and Cracksman"), with an additional full-length novel Mr. Justice Raffles being added a few years later. Later authors who have continued Raffles adventures include Barry Perowne, Peter Tremayne and Philip Jose Farmer.
A play of the original story was written by Hornung, and for two years, until it's close, Sir Gerald du Maurier portrayed the part on the London stage. In 1905 Raffles made his cinematic debut, with Gilbert M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson in the role. Raffles returned to the screen time and again, played by Ford Sterling (1913), Jon Barrymore (1917), Gerald Ames (1921), House Peters (1925), Ronald Coleman (1930), George Barraud (1932), David Niven (1940), Anthony Valentine (1975 and a 1977 tv series), and Nigel Havers (2002).
Thanks to Zoe Bremer for additional information on this character.
Any Additions/Corrections? Please let me know.
Back to Literary Heroes
Back to General UK Heroes
All images and characters depicted on this site are copyright their respective holders, and are used for informational purposes only. No infringement is intended and copyrights remain at source.