One of literature’s first, greatest, and most dastardly gentleman rogues finally joins the Penguin Classics crime list
First published in 1900, A Prince of Swindlers introduces Simon Carne, a gentleman thief predating both E. W. Hornung’s A. J. Raffles and Maurice Leblanc’s Arsène Lupin. The British Viceroy first meets Carne while traveling in India. Charmed, he invites the reclusive hunchbacked scholar to London, little suspecting that his guest is actually an adventurer and a master of disguise. Carne—aided by his loyal butler, Belton—embarks on a crime spree, stealing from London’s richest citizens and then making fools of them by posing as a detective investigating the thefts. Now back in print after over a century, Guy Boothby’s tale promises to delight a new generation of crime fans.
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Guy Boothby (1867–1905) was born to a prominent Australian political family. He wrote more than fifty books before his death at age thirty-seven.
Gary Hoppenstand is a professor of English at Michigan State University and wrote the introduction to Penguin Classics edition of An African Millionaire. He lives in East Lansing, Michigan.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle attempted to kill Sherlock Holmes in the 1893 story “The Final Problem,” the proposed demise of Holmes was perhaps also a symbolic death knell for the amateur detective in popular crime fiction. At that moment, the amateur detective hero was undergoing some substantial formulaic revision and was being split into two different narrative directions.
The first of these narrative directions landed in the gothic supernatural genre, where the amateur detective became the amateur occult detective. The early source of this transformational development began in the work of the Irish-born gothic writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, in his collection of tales In a Glass Darkly (1872), published as the posthumous files of the fictitious occult investigator Dr. Martin Hesselius. Irish author Bram Stoker sculpted Le Fanu’s reflective Dr. Hesselius into a fearless vampire killer in his novel Dracula (1897), which features an occult professor named Abraham Van Helsing, who functions as Stoker’s rational voice in the story by explaining and justifying the supernatural powers of Dracula both to other characters and to the reader. English writer Algernon Blackwood continued this trend in John Silence, Physician Extraordinary (1908), a short story collection containing an assortment of tales that highlight a consulting occult physician as an interconnected framing device for the stories. British-born William Hope Hodgson contributed his own version of the ghost hunter in his collection Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder (1913), thus completing the conversion of Conan Doyle’s pragmatic, hyper-rational amateur detective into the “supernatural sleuth.” This character type continued through the twentieth century in the American pulp fiction magazines to the contemporary writers of urban fantasy, arguably reaching its cultural zenith in the comic mode with the 1980s film franchise Ghostbusters, and remaining popular today in films like The Conjuring.
The second narrative direction resulted in the creation of the gentleman thief protagonist, a culmination of the hero-turned-villain. Indeed, as reader interest heightened through the second half of the nineteenth century for the villain-as-protagonist, the brilliant sleuth who made fools of the professional police was no longer the detective hero, but instead the gentleman thief. While the late-Victorian occult detective was essentially a product of Irish and British writers, the gentleman thief possessed a French readership in addition to a British and American audience. The most important of the French gentleman thief protagonists was Arsène Lupin, penned by the prolific French novelist Maurice Leblanc, while the most famous, or infamous, of these British and American gentleman thief protagonists included Grant Allen’s Colonel Clay, E. W. Hornung’s Raffles, Frederick Irving Anderson’s Infallible Godahl, and, of course, Guy Boothby’s Simon Carne.
The origins of the gentleman thief protagonist in popular crime fiction began in a series of interconnected short stories featuring the master crook Colonel Clay, written by author Grant Allen and appearing in The Strand Magazine from June 1896 through May 1897. These stories were later collected in a book entitled An African Millionaire, published in 1897, interestingly the same year that Bram Stoker’s Dracula appeared. Canadian-born Grant Allen (1848–1899) began a career as a full-time writer in 1876. Most of his early work was in the sciences, but he eventually turned to writing fiction, and between 1884 and 1899 he wrote prolifically. The only novel (or more correctly, collection of interconnected short stories) Allen wrote that continues to be read today is An African Millionaire. His seminal character, Colonel Clay, in addition to being a gentleman thief, was also a master of disguise (hence his professional sobriquet). He could alter his face and manners at will, fooling both the authorities and his intended target, Sir Charles Vandrift. Sir Charles, the reader quickly learns, is the African millionaire of the book’s title, an obtuse man housing the capitalistic character faults of greed and stupidity, faults that, of course, left him at the mercy of the trickster Colonel Clay. Each short story in the series recounted a new scheme of Clay’s to relieve Vandrift of his great wealth, employing disguise and Vandrift’s greedy ambition to his successful advantage. Colonel Clay was a robber stealing from a “robber baron” figure, in essence stealing from one who steals from others.
British-born Ernest William Hornung (1866–1921), a literary contemporary of Grant Allen’s in England, was a successful and prolific writer of gaslight-era melodrama and thrillers. He began his writing career as a journalist and a poet, and then later became a popular novelist. Though the majority of Hornung’s literary efforts are forgotten today, the adventures of his gentleman thief protagonist, A. J. Raffles, continue to be read (and imitated in a number of pastiches by authors such as Graham Greene, Peter Tremayne, and Barry Perowne). Raffles appeared in three collections of short stories—The Amateur Cracksman (1899), The Black Mask (1901), and A Thief in the Night (1905)—as well as in one novel, Mr. Justice Raffles (1909). During the course of his ten-year career in crime, Raffles evolved from an “amateur” thief, to a professional thief, to a war hero who dies in battle during the Boer War. Hornung intended to kill off Raffles at the conclusion of The Black Mask, but reader demand seemingly compelled Hornung to resurrect his popular gentleman thief in the novel Mr. Justice Raffles, a story set before the Boer War. Raffles is thus similar to Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes: both characters appeared to be killed by their creators, and then were brought back to life for additional adventures by the influence of their distraught readers when economic pressure was exerted on the authors. However, unlike Raffles, who remained buried the second time around, Sherlock Holmes was revealed not to have perished at the conclusion of the tale “The Final Problem” and—following the interlude of a previous adventure recorded in The Hound of the Baskervilles—reappeared alive and healthy in the story “The Adventure of the Empty House.”
George Orwell saw a certain virtue in Raffles. In his essay “Raffles and Miss Blandish,” Orwell offers a comparison between the Raffles stories by E. W. Hornung and the James Hadley Chase novel No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1939). The latter does not compare favorably in Orwell’s view, because it embraces the “sadistic” and “masochistic” elements found in the American pulp magazines of that era, even though Chase was a British author writing for a British audience enduring the London Blitz. Specifically, Orwell objects to the morally equivocal representation of crime in the story, where “being a criminal is only reprehensible in the sense that it does not pay.” The police employ criminal methods in Chase’s novel, Orwell explains, so that there is little moral difference between crook and cop. Orwell states: “This is a new departure for English sensational fiction, in which till recently there has always been a sharp distinction between right and wrong and a general agreement that virtue must triumph in the last chapter.” Indeed, Raffles, along with many of the gentleman crooks and con artists coexisting with Hornung’s creation, decidedly avoided the hearty strain of violence typically found in the British pulp fiction periodicals of the period, as well as in the nineteenth-century American dime novels and early twentieth-century pulp magazines that featured crime fiction.
While Grant Allen’s Colonel Clay and E. W. Hornung’s Raffles plundered England’s elite, Frederick Irving Anderson’s Infallible Godahl was the only significant American gentleman thief to appear in crime fiction in the years prior to World War I. Perhaps an American audience was less inclined to accept a morally ambivalent American protagonist in crime fiction, while simultaneously having no difficulty in reading the adventures of British and French gentleman thieves. No doubt the American readership perceived the older European culture as being more decadent, and subsequently was inclined to accept their rogues and thieves as heroes. Anderson’s Infallible Godahl was featured in just six stories published in the so-called slick periodical The Saturday Evening Post from 1913 to 1914, which were subsequently collected in a single volume entitled The Adventures of the Infallible Godahl in 1914. Though relatively unknown to today’s reader, during his lifetime, American-born Frederick Irving Anderson (1877–1947) was one of the more popular authors of thriller and detective fiction to appear in The Saturday Evening Post. He wrote extensively and successfully for the slick magazine markets, publishing more than fifty stories in The Saturday Evening Post alone. He published only three volumes of crime fiction: The Adventures of the Infallible Godahl (1914), The Notorious Sophie Lang (1925), and The Book of Murder (1930), which the mystery writing team of “Ellery Queen” ranked as number 82 in their “Queen’s Quorum” of the 125 most important detective/crime fiction books published.
Anderson’s importance as a contributor to crime fiction that featured the gentleman thief can be found in the complexity and sophistication of his plotting of the Godahl stories. The author’s touch is often subtle and complex in the series, and Godahl’s exploits may require several readings to appreciate fully the author’s self-critique of literary creation, and the broader critique of American social class, wealth, and vanity that frequently parallels the depiction of Godahl’s amazing thefts. Anderson’s work is distinguished by its descriptive evocation of Manhattan and its surrounding environs and by its leisurely narrative pacing, but perhaps what makes his body of crime fiction most intriguing is his attraction to, and celebration of, the gentleman (and gentlewoman) thief. Two of his three published books of fiction featured criminal protagonists, and he was one of the first crime fiction writers to create a female master thief with his charismatic rogue, Sophie Lang. Occasionally, Anderson would have his series detective heroes, Oliver Armiston and Deputy Parr, pursue his two series villains, Godahl and Sophie Lang. But, unlike Conan Doyle having his Sherlock Holmes ultimately triumph over Professor Moriarty, Anderson’s heroes never seem to defeat their more clever villains.
Nestled securely among these notorious gentleman and gentlewoman thief protagonists is the equally infamous Simon Carne, the charming villain protagonist of Guy Boothby’s A Prince of Swindlers (1900), originally serialized in Pearson’s Magazine in 1897. Boothby was quite adept at employing villains in his fiction, and featured several in his body of work. His most famous villain protagonist was Dr. Nikola, a nefarious genius and master of the occult who appeared in a series of novels, including A Bid for Fortune: or, Dr. Nikola’s Vendetta (1895), Dr. Nikola (also titled Dr. Nikola Returns, 1896), The Lust of Hate (1898), Dr. Nikola’s Experiment (1899), and “Farewell, Nikola” (1901). Nikola is a visually striking and aesthetically sophisticated character, and is an important model for the cultured literary gentleman thief that soon followed. Perhaps an even more fascinating Boothby villain is Pharos, the Egyptian, featured in the 1899 novel of the same title. Pharos is, in actuality, the mummy Ptahmes, possessing magical attributes that he puts to appropriately evil use in his wicked schemes. As a prototype, Pharos, the Egyptian anticipates the classic Universal Studios 1932 horror film The Mummy, directed by Karl Freund and starring the iconic Boris Karloff (resurrected in 1999 starring Brendan Fraser). Despite this impressive cabinet of entertaining creations, Simon Carne remains Boothby’s most ingenious villain, and A Prince of Swindlers remains one of Boothby’s finest books.
As biographer Paul Depasquale notes, Guy Boothby “remains perhaps South Australia’s most neglected successful author, except by antiquarians and book collectors.” On October 13, 1867, in Adelaide, South Australia, Guy Newell Boothby was born to a father who served in the South Australian Legislative Assembly. After moving to England with his mother, he was educated at the Priory School in Salisbury and at Lord Weymouth’s Grammar School in Warminster, Wiltshire (some sources also cite Christ’s Hospital in London as another school Boothby attended). At sixteen, he returned to Australia, and with his father’s and grandfather’s political connections, he was hired as the private secretary to the mayor of Adelaide, Lewis Cohen, in 1890. Boothby once wrote plays, including comic operas, but although a few of these plays were produced, he failed to discover the type of success in the theater that he would eventually find as a highly prolific and popular writer of melodramatic fiction. Around 1891, Boothby traveled extensively with his friend Longley Taylor around the Pacific Islands and in the Far East.
In 1892, Boothby voyaged across the Pacific Islands region, and journeyed from Northern Queensland to Adelaide. He used these experiences in his first book, entitled On the Wallaby; or, Through the East and Across Australia, published in 1894. The following year, he married Rose Alice Bristowe. Also in 1895, Boothby published A Lost Endeavour and The Marriage of Esther: A Torres Straits Sketch. Besides the five Nikola adventures, Guy Boothby eventually penned more than fifty books during his brief lifetime, many of them—including The Beautiful White Devil (1897), Love Made Manifest (1899), and The Curse of the Snake (1902)—sensational potboilers intending to do nothing more than satisfy a voracious readership. Of his writing habits, an obituary published in the Advertiser noted:
In answer to a request made by an interviewer of the London Weekly Sun, some time ago, Mr. Guy Boothby explained his methods of work. They were somewhat paralyzing. He got up at a fearful hour in the early dawn, when Londoners were just going to bed. His two secretaries had to be there at 5:30 a.m. He talked his novels into a phonograph, and when he had talked enough his secretaries transcribed it direct on the typewriter. (“Obituaries Australia”)
Boothby’s last book, In the Power of the Sultan, was published in 1908, three years after his death. His literary efforts brought him financial success (his earnings perhaps as high as twenty thousand pounds a year), which allowed him a well-to-do gentleman’s life that involved horse breeding and book collecting. On February 26, 1905, Boothby died from influenza at the tragically young age of thirty-seven, survived by his wife, two daughters, and a son. He was buried at Bournemouth, England.
A New York Times obituary covering Guy Boothby’s death printed this backhanded compliment about the author:
Books from his pen appeared with bewildering frequency, and among English authors it has been a standing joke that he invented a machine by which he turned them out. But, what is more to the purpose, they all sold well. The critics sneered and superior persons jeered, but the public read Boothby’s novels eagerly and were always ready for more.
Though the majority of Boothby’s literary efforts are forgotten by modern readers, his stories rank among the best popular crime ficti...
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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2015. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Revised ed.. Language: English . Brand New Book. The adventures of one of literature s first, greatest, and most dastardly gentleman rogues. First published in 1900, A Prince of Swindlers introduces Simon Carne, a gentleman thief predating both E. W. Hornung s A. J. Raffles and Maurice Leblanc s Arsene Lupin. The British Viceroy first meets Carne while traveling in India. Charmed, he invites the reclusive hunchbacked scholar to London, little suspecting that his guest is actually an adventurer and a master of disguise. Carne - aided by his loyal butler, Belton - embarks on a crime spree, stealing from London s richest citizens and then making fools of them by posing as a detective investigating the thefts. Now back in print after over a century, Guy Boothby s tale promises to delight a new generation of crime fans. Bookseller Inventory # APG9780143107224
Book Description Penguin Books Ltd, United Kingdom, 2015. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Revised ed.. Language: English . Brand New Book. The adventures of one of literature s first, greatest, and most dastardly gentleman rogues. First published in 1900, A Prince of Swindlers introduces Simon Carne, a gentleman thief predating both E. W. Hornung s A. J. Raffles and Maurice Leblanc s Arsene Lupin. The British Viceroy first meets Carne while traveling in India. Charmed, he invites the reclusive hunchbacked scholar to London, little suspecting that his guest is actually an adventurer and a master of disguise. Carne - aided by his loyal butler, Belton - embarks on a crime spree, stealing from London s richest citizens and then making fools of them by posing as a detective investigating the thefts. Now back in print after over a century, Guy Boothby s tale promises to delight a new generation of crime fans. Bookseller Inventory # APG9780143107224
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Book Description Penguin Classics. 1 Paperback(s), 2015. soft. Book Condition: New. The British Viceroy first meets Simon Carne while traveling in India. Charmed, he invites the reclusive hunchbacked scholar to London, little suspecting that his guest is actually an adventurer and a master of disguise. Carne—aided by his loyal butler, Belton—embarks on a crime spree, stealing from London's richest citizens and then making fools of them by posing as a detective investigating the thefts. First published in 1900, A Prince of Swindlers introduces a gentleman thief predating both E.W. Hornung's A.J. Raffles and Maurice Leblanc's Arsène Lupin. Finally back in print, one of literature's first, greatest, and most dastardly gentleman rogues promises to delight a new generation of crime fans. 167. Bookseller Inventory # 71636
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