A. J. Raffles (character)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
A. J. Raffles
A J Raffles.jpg
First appearance The Amateur Cracksman
Created by E. W. Hornung
Portrayed by Kyrle Bellew
"Gentleman Jim" Corbett
John Barrymore
Gerald Ames
House Peters
Ronald Colman
George Barraud
David Niven
Anthony Valentine
Jeremy Clyde
Nigel Havers
Nickname(s) The Amateur Cracksman
Gender Male
Occupation Cricketeer
gentleman thief
Nationality British

Arthur J. Raffles is a character created in the 1890s by E. W. Hornung, brother-in-law to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Raffles is, in many ways, a deliberate inversion of Holmes – he is a "gentleman thief", living at 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]


At the start of the series, Raffles has piercing steel blue eyes, curly black hair, pale skin, an athletic build, a strong, unscrupulous mouth, and is clean-shaven.[2][3] Raffles once had a heavy moustache, but shaved it off the day after his first burglary.[4]

After the two-year time skip, Raffles's appearance is considerably aged due to his hardships abroad. His face is wrinkled and paler than before, he appears weakened, and his hair has turned completely white. His sharp eyes and strong mouth, however, are unchanged.[5] His physical strength later returns to him when he and Bunny move to live in the suburbs, where Raffles also wears clouded spectacles during the day to partially conceal his face.[6][7]


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 and donates it all to their former school, merely to spite the man. 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.[8] 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." But Raffles is also shown to have deep romantic relationships with at least two women: the Neapolitan girl Faustina (in "No Sinecure"), and an artist using the name Jacques Saillard (in "An Old Flame").


  1. ^ The last Laugh
  2. ^ Hornung, The Amateur Cracksman, chapter "Nine Points of the Law", page 160.
  3. ^ Hornung, The Amateur Cracksman, chapter "The Ides of March", page 11.
  4. ^ Hornung, The Amateur Cracksman, chapter "Le Premier Pas", page 146.
  5. ^ Hornung, The Black Mask, chapter "No Sinecure", page 17.
  6. ^ Hornung, The Black Mask, chapter "The Wrong House", page 214.
  7. ^ Hornung, The Black Mask, chapter "The Wrong House", page 215.
  8. ^ Lycett 2008, pp. 229–30.