E. W. Hornung


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E.W. Hornung (1866-1921), author of Dead Men Tell No Tales (1897) and creator of Raffles The Amateur Cracksman (1899).

Ernest William Hornung was born 7 June 1866 at Cleveland Villas, Marton, Middlesbrough, England. As a child he was quite sickly--he developed severe asthma and due to short-sightedness needed to wear glasses. He was the eighth child of Hungarian ironmaster and timber and coal merchant John Peter Hornung (1821–1886). His mother, Harriet née Armstrong, was English (1824–1896).

Young Willie, as he was called by his family, attended the Uppingham School in Rutland, England. He would soon start plying his craft by writing articles for the school's magazine. He would be an avid supporter of the public school system in later years and would often visit Uppingham to speak to the students. His ill-health caused him to leave school in 1883 before finishing his Upper Sixth level. As a curative for the next two years, Hornung travelled around Australia where he tutored and worked on sheep farms. His experiences in Australia would be a prime topic for some of his future stories which were first published in newspapers and magazines. His first book, a comedy of manners A Bride From The Bush (1890) was followed by a number of other titles including Under Two Skies (1892), Irralie's Bushranger (1896), and Dead Men Tell No Tales (1897).

While living in London's Marleybone district where he would live for the majority of his life, Hornung became acquainted with many other writers of the time and would soon name humorists Jerome K. Jerome, J.M. Barrie, George Gissing, and Rudyard Kipling among his friends. He was a member of the Society of Authors and the Reform Club, and although usually quite shy and wary of public life, he was highly regarded by many for his kindness and keen sense of humour. An enthusiastic sportsman, he was also a member of The Marylebone Cricket Club, although his capacity to participate was limited due to his asthma. On 27 September 1893 Hornung married the sister of author Arthur Conan Doyle, Constance Doyle. Doyle would become the godfather to the Hornung's son Arthur Oscar Hornung (b. 24 March 1895).

While the tale of a disgraced clergyman Peccavi was published in 1900, Hornung was busy developing his dashing and handsome cricket-playing character A. J. Raffles. Sardonic and witty burglar at night, the cautionary tales of Raffle's adventures were a hit with The Amateur Cracksman published in 1899 and dedicated to Arthur Conan Doyle. Raffles appears again in The Black Mask (1901) and A Thief in the Night (1905). Some compare the 'on the wrong side of the law' duo Raffles and Bunny to Arthur Conan Doyle's pair of sleuths Holmes and Watson, but it is also said that they drew parallels to the lives of Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas. The Raffles stories would be adapted for the stage and screen including a popular television series in the 1970s.

Hornung's character Stingaree (1905), gentleman bushranger, did not attain the popularity of Raffles. A Thief In The Night (1905), Fathers of Men (1912), regarded as one of his better novels and Witching Hill (1913), which largely went unnoticed followed. During World War I, Hornung's only son Arthur was killed in action in France in 1915. Hornung would in turn join the Anti-Aircraft Corps where he would write war poetry including Wooden Cross (1918), Bond And Free (1917), and The Young Guard (1919). He also assisted troops home on leave with the YMCA, and served in their canteen in Arras in 1917.

While in the south of France with his wife Constance, E.W. Hornung died at St. Jean de Luz of pneumonia on 22 March 1921. He is buried at Saint Jean Pied de Port, Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France, nearby to where his friend George Gissing is buried.

Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc 2005. All Rights Reserved.

The above biography is copyrighted. Do not republish it without permission.

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