Abstract

A. J. Raffles—fashionable man-about-town, international cricket star, and amateur cracksman—was E. W. Hornung’s most famous and longest-lived creation, appearing in twenty-six tales between 1898 and 1909. A prolific writer of novels, short fiction, and poetry, Hornung is remembered today as Arthur Conan Doyle’s brother-in-law and Raffles as an inverted Sherlock Holmes. Throughout his criminal career, Raffles risks his life to collect forbidden objects—a disordered version of Victorian collecting culture. Through three stories that locate Raffles within various repositories of “extraordinary” objects, this article analyzes how late Victorian crime fiction engages central issues of modernity by interrogating the emotional power material objects exert over human subjects. Excavating the objects embedded in the tales and attending to Raffles’s role as a collector suggest that the adventures address more serious issues at the center of modern life, including fragmented identities, compulsive consumption, and the overlapping narratives surrounding material objects displayed in cultural institutions and pervasive media coverage. The tales are as much about collecting as about safecracking, with Raffles sharing more in common with the avid collector than with the average cracksman. The article takes special note of the parallel emotional experience of reading about collecting and collected objects.

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