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George Orwell > Raffles and Miss Blandish > Essay

Raffles and Miss Blandish


Nearly half a century after his first appearance, Raffles, 'the amateur
cracksman', is still one of the best-known characters in English fiction.
Very few people would need telling that he played cricket for England,
had bachelor chambers in the Albany and burgled the Mayfair houses which
he also entered as a guest. Just for that reason he and his exploits make
a suitable background against which to examine a more modern crime story
such as NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH. Any such choice is necessarily
arbitrary--I might equally well have chosen ARSÈNE LUPIN for instance--
but at any rate NO ORCHIDS and the Raffles books [Note, below] have the
common quality of being crime stories which play the limelight on the
criminal rather than the policeman. For sociological purposes they can be
compared. NO ORCHIDS is the 1939 version of glamorized crime, RAFFLES the
1900 version. What I am concerned with here is the immense difference in
moral atmosphere between the two books, and the change in the popular
attitude that this probably implies.

Hornung. The third of these is definitely a failure, and only the first
has the true Raffles atmosphere. Hornung wrote a number of crime stories,
usually with a tendency to take the side of the criminal. A successful
book in rather the same vein as RAFFLES is STIUGAREE. (Author's footnote.)]

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. Even
Charles Peace in his clergyman's dog-collar, seems somewhat less of a
hypocrite than Raffles in his Zingari blazer.

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.

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. The closing
chapters of the book, when Raffles has been exposed and is living under
an assumed name, have a twilight of the gods feeling, a mental atmosphere
rather similar to that of Kipling's poem, 'Gentleman Rankers':

Yes, a trooper of the forces--
Who has run his own six horses! etc.

Raffles now belongs irrevocably to the 'cohorts of the damned'. He can
still commit successful burglaries, but there is no way back into
Paradise, which means Piccadilly and the M.C.C. According to the
public-school code there is only one means of rehabilitation: death in
battle. Raffles dies fighting against the Boers (a practised reader would
foresee this from the start), and in the eyes of both Bunny and his
creator this cancels his crimes.

Both Raffles and Bunny, of course, are devoid of religious belief, and
they have no real ethical code, merely certain rules of behaviour which
they observe semi-instinctively. But it is just here that the deep moral
difference between RAFFLES and NO ORCHIDS becomes apparent. Raffles and
Bunny, after all, are gentlemen, and such standards as they do have are
not to be violated. Certain things are 'not done', and the idea of doing
them hardly arises. Raffles will not, for example, abuse hospitality. He
will commit a burglary in a house where he is staying as a guest, but the
victim must be a fellow-guest and not the host. He will not commit
murder [Note, below], and he avoids violence wherever possible and prefers
to carry out his robberies unarmed. He regards friendship as sacred, and
is chivalrous though not moral in his relations with women. He will take
extra risks in the name of 'sportsmanship', and sometimes even for
aesthetic reasons. And above all, he is intensively patriotic. He
celebrates the Diamond Jubilee ('For sixty years, Bunny, we've been ruled
over by absolutely the finest sovereign the world has ever seen') by
dispatching to the Queen, through the post, an antique gold cup which he
has stolen from the British Museum. He steals, from partly political
motives, a pearl which the German Emperor is sending to one of the
enemies of Britain, and when the Boer War begins to go badly his one
thought is to find his way into the fighting line. At the front he
unmasks a spy at the cost of revealing his own identity, and then dies
gloriously by a Boer bullet. In this combination of crime and patriotism
he resembles his near-contemporary Arsène Lupin, who also scores off the
German Emperor and wipes out his very dirty past by enlisting in the
Foreign Legion.

[Note: Actually Raffles does kill one man and is more or less
consciously responsible for the death of two others. But all three of
them are foreigners and have behaved in a very reprehensible manner. He
also, on one occasion, contemplates murdering a blackmailer. It is
however, a fairly well-established convention in crime stories that
murdering a blackmailer 'doesn't count'. (Author's footnote, 1945.)]

It is important to note that by modern standards Raffles's crimes are
very petty ones. Four hundred pounds worth of jewellery seems to him an
excellent haul. And though the stories are convincing in their physical
detail, they contain very little sensationalism--very few corpses,
hardly any blood, no sex crimes, no sadism, no perversions of any kind.
It seems to be the case that the crime story, at any rate on its higher
levels, has greatly increased in blood-thirstiness during the past twenty
years. Some of the early detective stories do not even contain a murder.
The Sherlock Holmes stories, for instance, are not all murders, and some
of them do not even deal with an indictable crime. So also with the John
Thorndyke stories, while of the Max Carrados stories only a minority are
murders. Since 1918, however, a detective story not containing a murder
has been a great rarity, and the most disgusting details of dismemberment
and exhumation are commonly exploited. Some of the Peter Wimsey stories,
for instance, display an extremely morbid interest in corpses. The
Raffles stories, written from the angle of the criminal, are much less
anti-social than many modern stories written from the angle of the
detective. The main impression that they leave behind is of boyishness.
They belong to a time when people had standards, though they happened to
be foolish standards. Their key-phrase is 'not done'. The line that they
draw between good and evil is as senseless as a Polynesian taboo, but at
least, like the taboo, it has the advantage that everyone accepts it.

So much for RAFFLES. Now for a header into the cesspool. NO ORCHIDS FOR
MISS BLANDISH, by James Hadley Chase, was published in 1939, but seems to
have enjoyed its greatest popularity in 1940, during the Battle of
Britain and the blitz. In its main outlines its story is this:

Miss Blandish, the daughter of a millionaire, is kidnapped by some
gangsters who are almost immediately surprised and killed off by a larger
and better organized gang. They hold her to ransom and extract half a
million dollars from her father. Their original plan had been to kill her
as soon as the ransom-money was received, but a chance keeps her alive.
One of the gang is a young man named Slim, whose sole pleasure in life
consists in driving knives into other people's bellies. In childhood he
has graduated by cutting up living animals with a pair of rusty scissors.
Slim is sexually impotent, but takes a kind of fancy to Miss Blandish.
Slim's mother, who is the real brains of the gang, sees in this the
chance of curing Slim's impotence, and decides to keep Miss Blandish in
custody till Slim shall have succeeded in raping her. After many efforts
and much persuasion, including the flogging of Miss Blandish with a
length of rubber hosepipe, the rape is achieved. Meanwhile Miss
Blandish's father has hired a private detective, and by means of bribery
and torture the detective and the police manage to round up and
exterminate the whole gang. Slim escapes with Miss Blandish and is killed
after a final rape, and the detective prepares to restore Miss Blandish
to her family. By this time, however, she has developed such a taste for
Slim's caresses [Note, below] that she feels unable to live without him,
and she jumps, out of the window of a sky-scraper.

Several other points need noticing before one can grasp the full
implications of this book. To begin with, its central story bears a very
marked resemblance to William Faulkner's novel, Sanctuary. Secondly, it
is not, as one might expect, the product of an illiterate hack, but a
brilliant piece of writing, with hardly a wasted word or a jarring note
anywhere. Thirdly, the whole book, récit as well as dialogue, is written
in the American language; the author, an Englishman who has (I believe)
never been in the United States, seems to have made a complete mental
transference to the American underworld. Fourthly, the book sold,
according to its publishers, no less than half a million copies.

I have already outlined the plot, but the subject-matter is much more
sordid and brutal than this suggests. The book contains eight full-dress
murders, an unassessable number of casual killings and woundings, an
exhumation (with a careful reminder of the stench), the flogging of Miss
Blandish, the torture of another woman with red-hot cigarette-ends, a
strip-tease act, a third-degree scene of unheard-of cruelty and much else
of the same kind. It assumes great sexual sophistication in its readers
(there is a scene, for instance, in which a gangster, presumably of
masochistic tendency, has an orgasm in the moment of being knifed), and
it takes for granted the most complete corruption and self-seeking as the
norm of human behaviour. The detective, for instance, is almost as great
a rogue as the gangsters, and actuated by nearly the same motives. Like
them, he is in pursuit of 'five hundred grand'. It is necessary to the
machinery of the story that Mr. Blandish should be anxious to get his
daughter back, but apart from this, such things as affection, friendship,
good nature or even ordinary politeness simply do not enter. Nor, to any
great extent does normal sexuality. Ultimately only one motive is at work
throughout the whole story: the pursuit of power.

[Note: Another reading of the final episode is possible. It may mean
merely that Miss Blandish is pregnant. But the interpretation I have
given above seems more in keeping with the general brutality of the book.
(Author's footnote, 1945)]

It should be noticed that the book is not in the ordinary sense
pornography. Unlike most books that deal in sexual sadism, it lays the
emphasis on the cruelty and not on the pleasure. Slim, the ravisher of
Miss Blandish, has 'wet slobbering lips': this is disgusting, and it is
meant to be disgusting. But the scenes describing cruelty to women are
comparatively perfunctory. The real high-spots of the book are cruelties
committed by men upon other men; above all, the third-degreeing of the
gangster, Eddie Schultz, who is lashed into a chair and flogged on the
windpipe with truncheons, his arms broken by fresh blows as he breaks
loose. In another of Mr. Chase's books, HE WON'T NEED IT NOW, the hero,
who is intended to be a sympathetic and perhaps even noble character, is
described as stamping on somebody's face, and then, having crushed the
man's mouth in, grinding his heel round and round in it. Even when
physical incidents of this kind are not occurring, the mental atmosphere
of these books is always the same. Their whole theme is the struggle for
power and the triumph of the strong over the weak. The big gangsters wipe
out the little ones as mercilessly as a pike gobbling up the little fish
in a pond; the police kill off the criminals as cruelly as the angler
kills the pike. If ultimately one sides with the police against the
gangsters, it is merely because they are better organized and more
powerful, because, in fact, the law is a bigger racket than crime. Might
is right: vae victis.

As I have mentioned already, NO ORCHIDS enjoyed its greatest vogue in
1940, though it was successfully running as a play till some time later.
It was, in fact, one of the things that helped to console people for the
boredom of being bombed. Early in the war the NEW YORKER had a picture of
a little man approaching a news-stall littered with paper with such
headlines as 'Great Tank Battles in Northern France', 'Big Naval Battle
in the North Sea', 'Huge Air Battles over the Channel', etc., etc. The
little man is saying 'ACTION STORIES, please'. That little man stood for
all the drugged millions to whom the world of the gangster and the
prize-ring is more 'real', more 'tough', than such things as wars,
revolutions, earthquakes, famines and pestilences. From the point of view
of a reader of ACTION STORIES, a description of the London blitz, or of
the struggles of the European underground parties, would be 'sissy
stuff'. On the other hand, some puny gun-battle in Chicago, resulting in
perhaps half a dozen deaths, would seem genuinely 'tough'. This habit of
mind is now extremely widespread. A soldier sprawls in a muddy trench,
with the machine-gun bullets crackling a foot or two overhead, and whiles
away his intolerable boredom by reading an American gangster story. And
what is it that makes that story so exciting? Precisely the fact that
people are shooting at each other with machine-guns! Neither the soldier
nor anyone else sees anything curious in this. It is taken for granted
that an imaginary bullet is more thrilling than a real one.

The obvious explanation is that in real life one is usually a passive
victim, whereas in the adventure story one can think of oneself as being
at the centre of events. But there is more to it than that. Here it is
necessary to refer again to the curious fact of NO ORCHIDS being written
--with technical errors, perhaps, but certainly with considerable skill--
in the American language.

There exists in America an enormous literature of more or less the same
stamp as NO ORCHIDS. Quite apart from books, there is the huge array of
'pulp magazines', graded so as to cater for different kinds of fantasy,
but nearly all having much the same mental atmosphere. A few of them go
in for straight pornography, but the great majority are quite plainly
aimed at sadists and masochists. Sold at threepence a copy under the
title of Yank Mags, [Note, below] these things used to enjoy considerable
popularity in England, but when the supply dried up owing to the war, no
satisfactory substitute was forthcoming. English imitations of the 'pulp
magazine' do now exist, but they are poor things compared with the
original. English crook films, again, never approach the American crook
film in brutality. And yet the career of Mr. Chase shows how deep the
American influence has already gone. Not only is he himself living a
continuous fantasy-life in the Chicago underworld, but he can count on
hundreds of thousands of readers who know what is meant by a 'clipshop'
or the 'hotsquat', do not have to do mental arithmetic when confronted by
'fifty grand', and understand at sight a sentence like 'Johnny was a
rummy and only two jumps ahead of the nut-factory'. Evidently there are
great numbers of English people who are partly americanized in language
and, one ought to add, in moral outlook. For there was no popular protest
against NO ORCHIDS. In the end it was withdrawn, but only
retrospectively, when a later work, MISS CALLAGHAN COMES TO GRIEF,
brought Mr. Chase's books to the attention of the authorities. Judging by
casual conversations at the time, ordinary readers got a mild thrill out
of the obscenities of NO ORCHIDS, but saw nothing undesirable in the book
as a whole. Many people, incidentally, were under the impression that it
was an American book reissued in England.

[Note: They are said to have been imported into this country as ballast
which accounted for their low price and crumped appearance. Since the war
the ships have been ballasted with something more useful, probably
gravel. (Author's footnote)]

The thing that the ordinary reader OUGHT to have objected to--almost
certainly would have objected to, a few decades earlier--was the
equivocal attitude towards crime. It is implied throughout NO ORCHIDS
that being a criminal is only reprehensible in the sense that it does not
pay. Being a policeman pays better, but there is no moral difference,
since the police use essentially criminal methods. In a book like HE
WON'T NEED IT NOW the distinction between crime and crime-prevention
practically disappears. 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. English books glorifying crime (modern crime, that
is--pirates and highwaymen are different) are very rare. Even a book
like RAFFLES, as I have pointed out, is governed by powerful taboos, and
it is clearly understood that Raffles's crimes must be expiated sooner or
later. In America, both in life and fiction, the tendency to tolerate
crime, even to admire the criminal so long as he is success, is very much
more marked. It is, indeed, ultimately this attitude that has made it
possible for crime to flourish upon so huge a scale. Books have been
written about Al Capone that are hardly different in tone from the books
written about Henry Ford, Stalin, Lord Northcliffe and all the rest of
the 'log cabin to White House' brigade. And switching back eighty years,
one finds Mark Twain adopting much the same attitude towards the
disgusting bandit Slade, hero of twenty-eight murders, and towards the
Western desperadoes generally. They were successful, they 'made good',
therefore he admired them.

In a book like NO ORCHIDS one is not, as in the old-style crime story,
simply escaping from dull reality into an imaginary world of action.
One's escape is essentially into cruelty and sexual perversion. No
Orchids is aimed at the power-instinct, which RAFFLES or the Sherlock
Holmes stories are not. At the same time the English attitude towards
crime is not so superior to the American as I may have seemed to imply.
It too is mixed up with power-worship, and has become more noticeably so
in the last twenty years. A writer who is worth examining is Edgar
Wallace, especially in such typical books as THE ORATOR and the Mr. J. G.
Reeder stories. Wallace was one of the first crime-story writers to break
away from the old tradition of the private detective and make his central
figure a Scotland Yard official. Sherlock Holmes is an amateur, solving
his problems without the help and even, in the earlier stories, against
the opposition of the police. Moreover, like Lupin, he is essentially an
intellectual, even a scientist. He reasons logically from observed fact,
and his intellectuality is constantly contrasted with the routine methods
of the police. Wallace objected strongly to this slur, as he considered
it, on Scotland Yard, and in several newspaper articles he went out of
his way to denounce Holmes byname. His own ideal was the
detective-inspector who catches criminals not because he is
intellectually brilliant but because he is part of an all-powerful
organi--zation. Hence the curious fact that in Wallace's most
characteristic stories the 'clue' and the 'deduction' play no part. The
criminal is always defeated by an incredible coincidence, or because in
some unexplained manner the police know all about the crime beforehand.
The tone of the stories makes it quite clear that Wallace's admiration
for the police is pure bully-worship. A Scotland Yard detective is the
most powerful kind of being that he can imagine, while the criminal
figures in his mind as an outlaw against whom anything is permissible,
like the condemned slaves in the Roman arena. His policemen behave much
more brutally than British policemen do in real life--they hit people
with out provocation, fire revolvers past their ears to terrify them and
so on--and some of the stories exhibit a fearful intellectual sadism.
(For instance, Wallace likes to arrange things so that the villain is
hanged on the same day as the heroine is married.) But it is sadism after
the English fashion: that is to say, it is unconscious, there is not
overtly any sex in it, and it keeps within the bounds of the law. The
British public tolerates a harsh criminal law and gets a kick out of
monstrously unfair murder trials: but still that is better, on any
account, than tolerating or admiring crime. If one must worship a bully,
it is better that he should be a policeman than a gangster. Wallace is
still governed to some extent by the concept of 'not done.' In NO ORCHIDS
anything is 'done' so long as it leads on to power. All the barriers are
down, all the motives are out in the open. Chase is a worse symptom than
Wallace, to the extent that all-in wrestling is worse than boxing, or
Fascism is worse than capitalist democracy.

In borrowing from William Faulkner's SANCTUARY, Chase only took the plot;
the mental atmosphere of the two books is not similar. Chase really
derives from other sources, and this particular bit of borrowing is only
symbolic. What it symbolizes is the vulgarization of ideas which is
constantly happening, and which probably happens faster in an age of
print. Chase has been described as 'Faulkner for the masses', but it
would be more accurate to describe him as Carlyle for the masses. He is a
popular writer--there are many such in America, but they are still
rarities in England--who has caught up with what is now fashionable to
call 'realism', meaning the doctrine that might is right. The growth of
'realism' has been the great feature of the intellectual history of our
own age. Why this should be so is a complicated question. The
interconnexion between sadism, masochism, success-worship, power-worship,
nationalism, and totalitarianism is a huge subject whose edges have
barely been scratched, and even to mention it is considered somewhat
indelicate. To take merely the first example that comes to mind, I
believe no one has ever pointed out the sadistic and masochistic element
in Bernard Shaw's work, still less suggested that this probably has some
connexion with Shaw's admiration for dictators. Fascism is often loosely
equated with sadism, but nearly always by people who see nothing wrong in
the most slavish worship of Stalin. The truth is, of course, that the
countless English intellectuals who kiss the arse of Stalin are not
different from the minority who give their allegiance to Hitler or
Mussolini, nor from the efficiency experts who preached 'punch', 'drive',
'personality' and 'learn to be a Tiger man' in the nineteen-twenties, nor
from that older generation of intellectuals, Carlyle, Creasey and the
rest of them, who bowed down before German militarism. All of them are
worshipping power and successful cruelty. It is important to notice that
the cult of power tends to be mixed up with a love of cruelty and
wickedness FOR THEIR OWN SAKES. A tyrant is all the more admired if he
happens to be a bloodstained crook as well, and 'the end justifies the
means' often becomes, in effect, 'the means justify themselves provided
they are dirty enough'. This idea colours the outlook of all sympathizers
with totalitarianism, and accounts, for instance, for the positive
delight with which many English intellectuals greeted the Nazi-Soviet
pact. It was a step only doubtfully useful to the U.S.S.R., but it was
entirely unmoral, and for that reason to be admired; the explanations of
it, which were numerous and self-contradictory, could come afterwards.

Until recently the characteristic adventure stories of the
English-speaking peoples have been stories in which the hero fights
AGAINST ODDS. This is true all the way from Robin Hood to Pop-eye the
Sailor. Perhaps the basic myth of the Western world is Jack the
Giant-killer, but to be brought up to date this should be renamed Jack
the Dwarf-killer, and there already exists a considerable literature
which teaches, either overtly or implicitly, that one should side with
the big man against the little man. Most of what is now written about
foreign policy is simply an embroidery on this theme, and for several
decades such phrases as 'Play the game', 'Don't hit a man when he's down'
and 'It's not cricket' have never failed to draw a snigger from anyone of
intellectual pretensions. What is comparatively new is to find the
accepted pattern, according to which (a) right is right and wrong is
wrong, whoever wins, and (b) weakness must be respected, disappearing
from popular literature as well. When I first read D. H. Lawrence's
novels, at the age of about twenty, I was puzzled by the fact that there
did not seem to be any classification of the characters into 'good' and
'bad'. Lawrence seemed to sympathize with all of them about equally, and
this was so unusual as to give me the feeling of having lost my bearings.
Today no one would think of looking for heroes and villains in a serious
novel, but in lowbrow fiction one still expects to find a sharp
distinction between right and wrong and between legality and illegality.
The common people, on the whole, are still living in the world of
absolute good and evil from which the intellectuals have long since
escaped. But the popularity of NO ORCHIDS and the American books and
magazines to which it is akin shows how rapidly the doctrine of 'realism'
is gaining ground.

Several people, after reading NO ORCHIDS, have remarked to me, 'It's pure
Fascism'. This is a correct description, although the book has not the
smallest connexion with politics and very little with social or economic
problems. It has merely the same relation to Fascism as, say Trollope's
novels have to nineteenth-century capitalism. It is a daydream
appropriate to a totalitarian age. In his imagined world of gangsters
Chase is presenting, as it were, a distilled version of the modern
political scene, in which such things as mass bombing of civilians, the
use of hostages, torture to obtain confessions, secret prisons, execution
without trial, floggings with rubber truncheons, drownings in cesspools,
systematic falsification of records and statistics, treachery, bribery,
and quislingism are normal and morally neutral, even admirable when they
are done in a large and bold way. The average man is not directly
interested in politics, and when he reads, he wants the current struggles
of the world to be translated into a simple story about individuals. He
can take an interest in Slim and Fenner as he could not in the G.P.U. and
the Gestapo. People worship power in the form in which they are able to
understand it. A twelve-year-old boy worships Jack Dempsey. An adolescent
in a Glasgow slum worships Al Capone. An aspiring pupil at a business
college worships Lord Nuffield. A NEW STATESMAN reader worships Stalin.
There is a difference in intellectual maturity, but none in moral
outlook. Thirty years ago the heroes of popular fiction had nothing in
common with Mr. Chase's gangsters and detectives, and the idols of the
English liberal intelligentsia were also comparatively sympathetic
figures. Between Holmes and Fenner on the one hand, and between Abraham
Lincoln and Stalin on the other, there is a similar gulf.

One ought not to infer too much from the success of Mr. Chase's books. It
is possible that it is an isolated phenomenon, brought about by the
mingled boredom and brutality of war. But if such books should definitely
acclimatize themselves in England, instead of being merely a
half-understood import from America, there would be good grounds for
dismay. In choosing RAFFLES as a background for NO ORCHIDS I deliberately
chose a book which by the standards of its time was morally equivocal.
Raffles, as I have pointed out, has no real moral code, no religion,
certainly no social consciousness. All he has is a set of reflexes the
nervous system, as it were, of a gentleman. Give him a sharp tap on this
reflex or that (they are called 'sport', 'pal', 'woman', 'king and
country' and so forth), and you get a predictable reaction. In Mr.
Chase's books there are no gentlemen and no taboos. Emancipation is
complete. Freud and Machiavelli have reached the outer suburbs. Comparing
the schoolboy atmosphere of the one book with the cruelty and corruption
of the other, one is driven to feel that snobbishness, like hypocrisy, is
a check upon behaviour whose value from a social point of view has been

Index Index

  • Other Authors:    
> Charles Darwin
> Charles Dickens
> Mark Twain
> William Shakespeare

George Orwell. Copyright 2003,
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