bbakerb: (Default)
[personal profile] bbakerb

Okay, so I may have pimped two people into the Raffles stories - someone in the comments to the [ profile] sherlockbbc  posting of a particular Sydney Paget illustration thought she'd read a Holmes story where Holmes cross-dressed, I felt duty-bound to point her towards 'The Rest-Cure', a story in which Bunny, the sidekick of the gentleman thief Raffles, dresses up as a lady - hair, makeup, EVERYTHING - for no apparent reason other than, I don't know, boredom? wanting to entertain Raffles? - in any case, I love Raffles enough that I will now attempt to pimp everyone into Raffles. There isn't much fic - there is some nice stuff at the AO3 -  and the stories are obviously not as good as the Holmes stories, but they're very fun and utterly utterly gay. And George Orwell liked them too. And they were written in the 1890s by Conan Doyle's brother-in-law, E.W. Hornung, almost as a kind of 'well there you go writing a detective, haha I will write a CRIMINAL' - it is important in the history of crime fiction that the Holmes stories don't just inspire people to write about detectives, they inspire writing about more complicated criminals

The first volume, The Amateur Cracksman, is, quite sweetly, dedicated 'To ACD. This Form Of Flattery.'

If you have ever read Sherlock Holmes and thought 'they're in love, it's darling - but it's a bit chaste isn't it, I wish Watson wouldn't be so coy', you will read Raffles and think 'holy hot damn what is this'; I advise skipping to the excerpt at the end of this post if you want the concrete proof of this.

It's not even that Raffles and Bunny are in love - it's that you can read it as literally (ok not literally literally) being about two gay men gaying about London and being gay in the 1890s, and also committing burglaries. And the fine upstanding man Raffles was based on - and the inspiration for Raffles's cricketing, did I mention he plays cricket? what a beautiful metaphor - was George Ives, who was an early gay rights campaigner. We don't know to what extent Hornung was aware of this side of him. But you can set against that the intimacy of Raffles and Bunny's relationship, the way Bunny is always going on about Raffles' physical beauty, Raffles 'playing the game' (both in his cricketing i.e. sportsmanship and in his participating in society) but simultaneously working as hard as he can to sabotage it. Also - I am not even kidding - Bunny fagged for Raffles at school, and covered for him when Raffles made Mysterious Night-Time Excursions. (I feel I need to provide a link that explains fagging, in case someone gets the Wrong Idea. which would in this case be pretty much The Right One.)

And (think I to myself) Bunny is already writing about a life of crime, these stories aren't ever supposed to be published, he feels much freer to talk about his and Raffles' feelings for each other than Watson does regarding Holmes.

The basic level appeal is that of seeing impeccably dressed gentlemen carrying off supposedly impossible robberies. That's what made these stories popular the first time round. But Raffles - though pretty gleeful about the burglaries he and Bunny commit - is a man with something about himself that he cannot come to terms with. In one story he says he hides inside a box when he's in his blackest most awful moods. What does this mean? Slash obviously slash he is tormented by his love for Bunny what else could it be  

There are fictional criminals who are basically well-adjusted - Arsene Lupin, who if he had really existed would have been active not too long after Raffles, is the most well-adjusted, mentally sound thief there is. He has romantic relationships, he has friends and acquaintances (though under various different names), but not one friend on whom he overwhelmingly relies to the exclusion of all others. Lupin is totally content with what he does, and is very good at it, and is explicitly and convincingly a romantic about ladies. He's not paranoid! And he has a lot of fun. My point is that Raffles - despite what George Orwell says about his attitude to his own crimes - is not like this. In some ways he's not even a very good criminal. If his primary motivation really was financial he'd be better at it - he'd have better criminal contacts for one thing. (I am getting a bit vague here because I haven't read any Raffles for a while, but I remember thinking 'he could do much much better than this.') If Raffles was happy he wouldn't hide in boxes or go through the 'come closer, now go away, I love you, no you're rubbish' routine with Bunny (sometimes he doesn't see Bunny for months.) It's clearly not because of any lack of affection, though Bunny does worry about this. (ohoho you think I'm kidding.)

The first story is 'The Ides Of March'. Go and read it if you like, I'll still be here. I'm going to paste in the incredibly romantic ending of that at the end of this post anyway, the link is for if you want to read the story from the beginning.

and now I'm going to paste in some of the Orwell essay 'Raffles And Miss Blandish' behind the cut because he anatomises very well a) the appeal the Raffles stories have, and b) their morality; the rest of the essay contrasts Raffles with a pulpy 30s crime novel.

At this date, the charm of RAFFLES is partly in the period atmosphere and partly in the technical excellence of the stories. Hornung was a very conscientious and on his level a very able writer. Anyone who cares for sheer efficiency must admire his work. However, the truly dramatic thing, about Raffles, the thing that makes him a sort of byword even to this day (only a few weeks ago, in a burglary case, a magistrate referred to the prisoner as 'a Raffles in real life'), is the fact that he is a GENTLEMAN. Raffles is presented to us and this is rubbed home in countless scraps of dialogue and casual remarks--not as an honest man who has gone astray, but as a public-school man who has gone astray. His remorse, when he feels any, is almost purely social; he has disgraced 'the old school', he has lost his right to enter 'decent society', he has forfeited his amateur status and become a cad. Neither Raffles nor Bunny appears to feel at all strongly that stealing is wrong in itself, though Raffles does once justify himself by the casual remark that 'the distribution of property is all wrong anyway'. They think of themselves not as sinners but as renegades, or simply as outcasts. And the moral code of most of us is still so close to Raffles' own that we do feel his situation to be an especially ironical one. A West End club man who is really a burglar! That is almost a story in itself, is it not? But how if it were a plumber or a greengrocer who was really a burglar? Would there be anything inherently dramatic in that? No, although the theme of the 'double life', of respectability covering crime, is still there.

Raffles, of course, is good at all games, but it is peculiarly fitting that his chosen game should be cricket. This allows not only of endless analogies between his cunning as a slow bowler and his cunning as a burglar, but also helps to define the exact nature of his crime. Cricket is not in reality a very popular game in England--it is nowhere so popular as football, for instance--but it gives expression to a well-marked trait in the English character, the tendency to value 'form' or 'style' more highly than success. In the eyes of any true cricket-lover it is possible for an innings of ten runs to be 'better' (i.e. more elegant) than an innings of a hundred runs: cricket is also one of the very few games in which the amateur can excel the professional. It is a game full of forlorn hopes and sudden dramatic changes of fortune, and its rules are so defined that their interpretation is partly an ethical business. When Larwood, for instance, practised bodyline bowling in Australia he was not actually breaking any rule: he was merely doing something that was 'not cricket'. Since cricket takes up a lot of time and is rather an expensive game to play, it is predominantly an upper-class game, but for the whole nation it is bound up with such concepts as 'good form', 'playing the game', etc., and it has declined in popularity just as the tradition of 'don't hit a man when he's down' has declined. It is not a twentieth-century game, and nearly all modern-minded people dislike it. The Nazis, for instance, were at pains to discourage cricket, which had gained a certain footing in Germany before and after the last war. In making Raffles a cricketer as well as a burglar, Hornung was not merely providing him with a plausible disguise; he was also drawing the sharpest moral contrast that he was able to imagine.

RAFFLES, no less than GREAT EXPECTATIONS or LE ROUGE ET LE NOIR, is a story of snobbery, and it gains a great deal from the precariousness of Raffles's social position. A cruder writer would have made the 'gentleman burglar' a member of the peerage, or at least a baronet. Raffles, however, is of upper-middle-class origin and is only accepted by the aristocracy because of his personal charm. 'We were in Society but not of it', he says to Bunny towards the end of the book; and 'I was asked about for my cricket'. Both he and Bunny accept the values of 'Society' unquestioningly, and would settle down in it for good if only they could get away with a big enough haul. The ruin that constantly threatens them is all the blacker because they only doubtfully 'belong'. A duke who has served a prison sentence is still a duke, whereas a mere man about town, if once disgraced, ceases to be 'about town' for evermore.

(do I need to point out the significance of Raffles feeling his crime is a social one? That first paragraph about Raffles's crimes is possibly even more applicable if the crime is homosexual activity - because it would have been in reality more likely. There were various homosexuality scandals in the 1890s involving members of the upper and upper-middle classes. )

AND NOW, the super-slashy, don't-even-need-goggles ending of 'The Ides Of March', the first Raffles story. 

Raffles has just committed a burglary. Bunny's helped him, because Bunny has Dire Gambling Debts. Raffles has just (slightly teasingly) asked him if he'd like to do it some time again. You barely need to change a word to make it about one man deciding that actually, yes, he would like to embark on a voyage of homosexuality:

"Like it?" I cried out. "Not I! It's no life for me. Once is enough!"

"You wouldn't give me a hand another time?"

"Don't ask me, Raffles. Don't ask me, for God's sake!"

"Yet you said you would do anything for me! You asked me to name my crime! But I knew at the time you didn't mean it; you didn't go back on me to-night, and that ought to satisfy me, goodness knows! I suppose I'm ungrateful, and unreasonable, and all that. I ought to let it end at this. But you're the very man for me, Bunny, the--very--man! Just think how we got through to-night. Not a scratch--not a hitch! There's nothing very terrible in it, you see; there never would be, while we worked together."

He was standing in front of me with a hand on either shoulder; he was smiling as he knew so well how to smile. I turned on my heel, planted my elbows on the chimney-piece, and my burning head between my hands. Next instant a still heartier hand had fallen on my back.

"All right, my boy! You are quite right and I'm worse than wrong. I'll never ask it again. Go, if you want to, and come again about mid-day for the cash. There was no bargain; but, of course, I'll get you out of your scrape--especially after the way you've stood by me to-night."

I was round again with my blood on fire.

"I'll do it again," I said, through my teeth.

He shook his head. "Not you," he said, smiling quite good-humoredly on my insane enthusiasm.

"I will," I cried with an oath. "I'll lend you a hand as often as you like! What does it matter now? I've been in it once. I'll be in it again. I've gone to the devil anyhow. I can't go back, and wouldn't if I could. Nothing matters another rap! When you want me, I'm your man!"

And that is how Raffles and I joined felonious forces on the Ides of March.

(on a non-slashy note: is it hilarious that Raffles persuades Bunny to join him by playing on his sense of fair play/duty/obligation? (yes it is.) that though there was 'no bargain', Raffles will still help him - so Bunny has to help Raffles as well, or else he's being ungentlemanly)

Date: 2010-12-08 09:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Some part of me wants them to make a Sherlock-y TV series of it with, IDK, some lithe young Matt-Smith-esque gentlemen, but I am pretty sure they would RUIN IT.

Date: 2010-12-08 10:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

Mark Gatiss must be a fan, it's that same kind of 1890s stuff he's keen on. I haven't read his Lucifer Box books but I assume they're along Rafflesy lines. MAYBE HE CAN DO IT

but seriously: Raffles is a pretty good candidate for a reboot! It's one of those canons that's had a huge influence but which hasn't been done for a long time.

Date: 2010-12-09 12:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oooh I must check this out

Date: 2010-12-09 08:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
yesssss you should do that! If you like handsome morally ambivalent Victorians who are surprisingly touchy-feely with their friends, and who doesn't

Date: 2010-12-09 12:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It's why I live and BREATHE man

Date: 2010-12-09 02:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

Date: 2010-12-13 03:54 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Just wanted to update you and say I have been reading the Raffles stories while I've been working on finals, and they are AMAAAZINGGGG!! They're so full of...feelings!!!

Date: 2010-12-13 10:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
THE FEELINGS, oh my god. I don't think I have EVER read anything where the two main characters are so worried about what they think of each other

also relevant perhaps to yr interests: [ profile] cicak informed me of the online version of the 1909 edition which has ILLUSTRATIONS

most notably: the guy chose to ACTUALLY ILLUSTRATE the scene where Bunny cross-dresses, also, ALSO, in this one they appear to be HOLDING HANDS

Date: 2010-12-13 05:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
HAHA! Oh my goddd YESS!! I was wondering if there were any illustrated versions! God they're absolutely gorgeous, too! What the fuck! I assume they're charcoal drawings but they totally look like paintings! Fuckk!! Thanks so much!!

Date: 2010-12-09 02:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Haha, this sounds awesome.

Date: 2010-12-09 08:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
So awesomely gay. So gay. I'm hesitant to use the word 'slashy', because it's hard to think of it even as subtext.

Date: 2010-12-09 05:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Have you seen the Cuneo illustrations of A Thief in the Night? It was the 1909 release. This one is the crossdressing bit from A Rest Cure. I think I made ridiculous seal noises of happiness when I first saw them.

Date: 2010-12-09 05:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Also, I believe Hornung was well aware of all the gay rights stuff, as he was a close friend of Oscar Wilde and named his son after him. Hornung=Awesome.

Date: 2010-12-09 07:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]




You're right, obviously - his son was called Oscar Arthur, wasn't he? Or Arthur Oscar, something like that - and I think I might have shrieked when I clicked the link to that illustration. I had no idea anyone had ever done illustrations for Raffles, let alone illustrated THAT MOMENT.

IT IS ALL SO WONDERFUL, thank you so much!

Date: 2010-12-09 07:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
ITS TRUE! Arthur Oscar. He was born around the time of Wilde's trial in 1895. I have absolutely no doubt that Hornung knew exactly what he was doing with Bunny and Raffles, they're supposed to be gay and the stories dark and twisty.
I just reread A Rest Cure and am going to dust off some half written fic I have, I forgot just how good that story is.

Oh, and the first illustration? THEY'RE HOLDING HANDS. The illustrator is also a bit of a story, he died of septicaemia at the height of his career after being accidentally stabbed by a hat pin whilst dancing at a society ball.

Date: 2010-12-09 08:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
crap, they ARE holding hands, aren't they - it's just - it is WONDERFUL, and the illustrator sounds like a fun sort of person, ALL IS YAY


bbakerb: (Default)

April 2011

     1 2
345 6789

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Sep. 20th, 2017 05:54 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios