A. J. Raffles

A. J. Raffles

Arthur J. Raffles is a character created in the 1890s by E. W. Hornung, a brother-in-law to Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Raffles is, in many ways, a deliberate inversion of Holmes — he is a "gentleman thief," living in the Albany, a prestigious address in London, playing cricket for the Gentlemen of England and supporting himself by carrying out ingenious burglaries. He is called the "Amateur Cracksman", and often, at first, differentiates between himself and the "professors" — professional criminals from the lower classes.

As Holmes has Dr. Watson to chronicle his adventures, Raffles has Harry "Bunny" Manders — a former schoolmate saved from disgrace and suicide by Raffles, whom Raffles persuaded to accompany him on a burglary. While Raffles often takes advantage of Manders' relative innocence, and sometimes treats him with a certain amount of contempt, he knows that Manders' bravery and loyalty are to be relied on utterly. In several stories, Manders saves the day for the two of them after Raffles gets into situations he cannot get out of on his own.

One of the things that Raffles has in common with Holmes is a mastery of disguise — during his days as an ostensible man-about-town, he maintains a studio apartment in another name in which he keeps the components of various disguises. He can imitate the regional speech of many parts of Britain flawlessly, and is fluent in Italian.[1]


Plot details

The "Raffles" stories have two distinct phases. In the first phase, Raffles and Bunny are men-about-town who also commit burglaries. Raffles is a famous gentleman cricketer, a marvellous spin bowler who is often invited to social events that would be out of his reach otherwise. "I was asked about for my cricket," he comments after this period is over. It ends when they are caught and exposed on an ocean voyage while attempting another theft; Raffles dives overboard and is presumed drowned. These stories were collected in The Amateur Cracksman. Other stories set in this period, written after Raffles had been "killed off," were collected in A Thief in the Night.

The second phase begins some time later when Bunny — having served a prison sentence — is summoned to the house of a rich invalid. This turns out to be Raffles himself, back in England in disguise. Then begins their "professional" period, exiled from Society, in which they are straightforward thieves trying to earn a living while keeping Raffles's identity a secret. They finally volunteer for the Boer War, where Bunny is wounded and Raffles dies in battle after exposing an enemy spy. These stories were originally collected in The Black Mask, although they were subsequently published in one volume with the phase one stories.

Like Sherlock Holmes after his disappearance into the Reichenbach Falls, Raffles was never quite the same after his reappearance. The "classic" Raffles elements are all found in the first stories: cricket, high society, West End clubs, Bond Street jewellers... and two men in immaculate evening dress pulling off impossible robberies.


Raffles is cynical about society, but would settle down permanently if he could just make a big enough haul. At one point, he comments "we can't all be moralists, and the distribution of wealth is all wrong anyway," suggesting that he is less contented with the state of affairs in late-Victorian England than he seems to be. He is aware of the fact that many people who seem to be his friends only like him for his cricket, and he himself has lost all interest in the sport, keeping it up only for its excellent possibilities as a cover for his real occupation (which he considers far more interesting and exciting) and as mental practice. He does have scruples, despite his profession — he will not steal from his host, and he is reluctant to kill, although he does so once and plans to at another time. He also does feel badly about the way he abuses Manders' loyalty.

Despite the risks he already takes, he is sometimes still a sportsman, and some of his crimes are for motives other than pure profit. In a late story, he steals a gold cup from the British Museum on impulse: when challenged by Bunny as to how he will dispose of it, he posts it to the Queen as a Diamond Jubilee present. In another, he steals money from a tight-fisted Old Boy in order to make a donation to their former school in the name of "An Old Boy", shaming the man into making a donation after he had said he would not. His last crime, committed just before he goes off to the Boer War, is to steal a collection of memorabilia of his crimes from Scotland Yard's Black Museum.

The model for Raffles was George Ives, a Cambridge-educated criminologist and talented cricketer according to Lycett.[2] Ives was privately homosexual, and although Hornung "may not have understood this sexual side of Ives' character", Raffles "enjoys a remarkably intimate relationship with his sidekick Bunny Manders."


The Raffles stories, all by E. W. Hornung, are collected in


The story of A. J. Raffles was first performed on Broadway as Raffles, The Amateur Cracksman on 27 October 1903 at the Princess Theatre. The play moved to the Savoy Theatre in February 1904 and closed out in March of that year racking up 168 performances. It starred Kyrle Bellew as Raffles, a young Clara Blandick as Gwendolyn and E. M. Holland as Captain Bedford.[3]

Film and television adaptations


There have been numerous films based on Raffles and his adventures, including:

  • Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman (1905), with Gilbert M. Anderson
  • Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman (1917), starring John Barrymore
  • Raffles (1925), with House Peters
  • Raffles (1930), featuring Ronald Colman
  • Return of Raffles (1933)
  • Raffles (1939), starring David Niven




The Raffles character was continued by Barry Perowne. During the 1930s and early 1940s, his series featured Raffles as a fairly typical contemporary pulp adventure hero; when he picked up the series again in the 1950s, and once again during the 1970s and 1980s, the stories were set closer to the late Victorian-setting of the original stories, featuring a version of Raffles who only ever committed crimes for reasons of compassion.

John Kendrick Bangs authored a 1906 novel R. Holmes & Co. starring Raffles' grandson (and Sherlock Holmes's son, by Raffles' daughter Marjorie), Raffles Holmes. The novel's second chapter tells the story of Holmes's pursuit of Raffles and his growing affection for Raffles's daughter. Bangs also wrote Mrs Raffles, in which Raffles's sidekick Bunny Manders teams-up in America with the cracksman's hitherto-unchronicled wife.

Graham Greene wrote a play called The Return of A. J. Raffles which differs from the Hornung canon on several points.

Peter Tremayne wrote the novel The Return of Raffles.

Philip José Farmer put Raffles and Manders into a science-fictional situation in his story, "The Problem of the Sore Bridge - Among Others", in which he and Bunny solve three mysteries unsolved by Sherlock Holmes and save humanity from alien invasion.

The 1977 novel Raffles by David Fletcher[disambiguation needed ] is a fresh re-write of many of Hornung's original stories, deriving from the television series of the same year.

Adam Corres authored the 2008 novel Raffles and the Match-Fixing Syndicate,[6] a modern crime thriller in which A. J. Raffles, a master of gamesmanship, explores the corrupt world of international cricket match fixing.

Other character appearances

The character was mentioned in the 2007 epistolary graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier. Following this he recently appeared as a central character in the first chapter of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume III: Century set in 1910.

The character of Raffles appeared in the TV film Incident at Victoria Falls under the name Stanley Bullard and played by Alan Coates. He encountered Sherlock Holmes, the creation of Hornung's brother-in-law.

Raffles makes a cameo appearance in Kim Newman's Anno Dracula (1992). Although never mentioned by name, the character is described as an amateur cracksman (a reference to the title of the first short story collection), and mutters the epigram, "You play what's chucked at you, I always say."

Raffles and Bunny also make a minor appearance in Lost in a Good Book, a 2004 novel written by Jasper Fforde. They are pulled out of the literary world into the real world to help crack a safe containing the stolen manuscript of Shakespeare's Cardenio.


In one of Robert L. Fish's Shlock Homes stories, "The Adventure of the Odd Lotteries", Homes and Watney encounter a cracksman and hypochondriac known as "A.J. Lotteries". Raffles, Gentleman Thug is a strip in Viz that features a character who shares his name (plus the name of his assistant, Bunny) with the literary Raffles. He is depicted as an upper-class, late Victorian/early Edwardian version of a "chav".


The French Arsène Lupin and German Lord Lister (see Raffles (Lord Lister)) may be regarded as foreign avatars[clarification needed] of Hornung's character.


  • Rowland, Peter. Raffles and His Creator: The Life and Works of E. W. Hornung, Nekta Publications, London, 1999. ISBN 0-9533583-2-1
  1. ^ The last Laugh
  2. ^ The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes: The Life and Times of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by Andrew Lycett pages 229-230 (2007, Weidenfield & Nicolson, London & Viking, New York) ISBN 0-7432-7523-3
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ [2]
  5. ^ Greg Marshall. "Raffles on BBC Radio". Archived from the original on 2009-10-24. http://www.webcitation.org/5klUBRmtc. 
  6. ^ ISBN 978-1-906210-62-5

External links

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