“The Only Task For A Man”: Men and Manhood In John Buchan’s Richard Hannay Novels

Back in June John Crompton gave a talk about John Buchan’s novels for our event on the ‘Sagas, Serials and Sequels’ of the early twentieth century. Many thanks to John for sending me his full script to post here.

From John’s talk:

Why did I choose the topic of “men and manhood”?

In the 1950s I was taught by First World War veterans, real life, though younger, contemporaries of the fictional Hannay.  One was briefly my English master, whose lessons often consisted of his just reading John Buchan aloud.

Such was my resistance to the regime of that public school, however, that I could not read Buchan for many years. My assumption was that the values expressed by Hannay,  were those inculcated in such institutions and therefore unpalatable to me.

There is, though, a nice  irony in that the probable model for Hannay, Colonel, later Field Marshall and Lord, William Edmund Ironside (1880-1959), was an old boy of that very establishment, Tonbridge School.

Hannay’s youthful African exploits are partly those of Ironside, who fought in the Second Boer War (1899-1901), stayed on to spy on the Germans and escaped from them when captured.

Buchan even tones his hero down in relation to the model. Ironside was six feet four and spoke seven languages fluently. Hannay is five feet eleven and speaks, as we discover in Greenmantle, four tongues learned in Africa: Dutch, German, Portuguese and Sesutu. These lingos are vital to his and Peter Pienaar’s survival and success. He adds French to his quiver in Mr Standfast.

So, after 55 years, my aim in discussing this theme is to answer two questions:

  1. Are those Hannay values actually what I assumed them to be?
  2. Am I now ready to any extent to change my estimate of them?

Download John’s full talk here: John Buchan by John Crompton

2 thoughts on ““The Only Task For A Man”: Men and Manhood In John Buchan’s Richard Hannay Novels

  1. Pingback: Classic crime in the blogosphere, September 2013 | Past Offences

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