In his essay, The Ethics of the Detective Story from Raffles to Miss Blandish (1944), George Orwell argues that, ‘In making Raffles a cricketer as well as a burglar, Hornung was drawing the sharpest moral contrast he could possibly imagine.’ It is certainly true that in the 21st Century, a hundred and twenty years after Raffles first appeared, it is hard to imagine what a bold step Hornung had taken. In Victorian and Edwardian England, ‘playing the game’ and ‘good sportsmanship’ was valued above success, and a public school man who stole from his peers was letting the side down in a way that would not be forgiven.
During his time in England, Wodehouse was a passionate cricket lover, indeed his first piece of paid writing was Some Aspects of Game Captaincy, which was published in the Public-School Magazine. What is more, the name Jeeves was that of a Warwickshire bowler, killed in the First World War. At Dulwich College, Wodehouse was a successful bowler, but he was prevented from going to Oxford by the collapse of his father’s business, and he was forced to enter the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. Wodehouse drew on this experience for Psmith in the City, where Mike’s father has lost his money and Mike has to enter the New Asiatic Bank. Cricket is a continual theme through Mike at Wrykin, Mike and Psmith and Psmith in the City, indeed in the last book cricket neatly bookends the story, providing the reason at the beginning for Mike’s disagreement with the bank’s manager, and at the end for his dismissal from the bank.
decreed that the pitch is treated as something close to sacred land and the whole village is horrified when a man has the temerity to be murdered there during the game.
experience had taught their calves to skirt round it in their goings and comings from the meadows; and now a dead man had planted himself there.’ (Murder Isn’t Cricket, 1946.)
Until 1962, the two-tiered social hierarchy of cricket was enshrined in the structure of the game. The professional cricketers were men who have to earn their living by playing and coaching cricket; usually they would be paid to play for their county during the cricket season and in the winter, they would seek other employment. The amateurs were gentlemen, who were in a position to devote their lives to playing cricket. In reality, the main difference between professionals and amateurs was social status. Most high-ranking amateurs were produced by the major public schools and universities and were upper or middle class. The team captain was always an amateur.
At the end of the match, Wimsey’s brother-in-law, Chief Inspector Parker, pretends to arrest Wimsey for his own protection. The intrinsic belief that the great cricketer is also morally irreproachable is voiced by old Mr Brotherhood, the owner of the firm whose team has just been defeated by Wimsey’s skill as a batsman. ‘“Well,” he said again, “his name may be Bredon. But he’s innocent. Innocent as day, my good fellow. Did you see him play? He’s a damned fine cricketer and he’d no more commit murder than I would.”’ The faith in the moral probity of the great cricketer clearly lives on into the 1930s.
There are other detective books that feature cricket matches but I discovered only one novel featuring women’s cricket, and that was just after the Golden Age. Death Before Wicket by Nancy Spain is a comedy crime novel, published in 1946. Unfortunately, it is now out of print.
E.W. Hornung - Mr Justice Raffles
Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher. She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames. Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and
Victorian times. The Terminal Velocity of Cats the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.