John Buchan’s most famous fictional character; Major General Richard Hannay, isn’t well known today, but if you had asked the same question only a few decades ago you would have received a very different response. For Richard Hannay was the early twentieth century answer to James Bond.
Indeed Hannay was in many respects the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond, but Hannay is from a different era. He is deeply Presbyterian; as was Buchan himself, and for the kind of British public school values of honesty, fair play plus King and country that seem a quaint anachronism to the modern reader. Hannay, as Bond was and is, is a rather two dimensional character and Buchan’s writing to the modern eye, like Fleming’s, is rather lacking in subtly and variety, although it would have appeared very differently to a reader of the time when adventure stories of this type were the equivalent of a popular sitcom today.
Hannay, as I have intimated, was very much a product of his time and held somewhat conventional views, but he also exhibits some rather unorthodox ones for his time, particularly his stance on jewish question as well as the roles that jews play in the five John Hannay novels. It is perhaps amazing for a modern reader to realise that in these five novels a jew is never once a positive character and is actually, if not the primary antagonist, one of the main enemies that Hannay faces in ‘Greenmantle’, ‘Mr. Standfast’ and ‘The Three Hostages’, which are the second to fourth novels respectively. In the first ( ‘The Thirty Nine Steps’ ) and the fifth ( ‘The Island of Sheep’ ) the jews are more incidental to the plot. However, in ‘The Thirty Nine Steps’ in particular the jew is directly cast as an enemy of civilisation and the cause of the war.
In ‘The Thirty Nine Steps’, Franklin Scudder, a free agent working with the British Secret Service Bureau, remarks to Hannay that in Europe there was a ‘big subterranean movement going on, engineered by dangerous people’ and that this movement was composed of ‘educated anarchists’ who Scudder openly identifies as being jews. (1)
Indeed Scudder talks about how the jews seek to achieve two things: jewish rule through anarchism/socialism, and making the maximum amount of profit as capitalists through the war and the revolution (particularly between Germany and Russia). The eerie parallel with the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion does not end there, as Buchan makes Scudder say the following prophetic paragraph:
‘Everything would be in the melting-pot, and they looked to see a new world emerge. The capitalists would rake in the shekels, and make fortunes by buying up wreckage. Capital, he said, had no conscience and no fatherland. Besides the Jew was behind it, and the Jew hated Russia worse than hell.’ (2)
Indeed Scudder points out that the reason for this hatred of Russia was the pogroms of the 1880s and early 20th century. Scudder clearly identifies the jewish nation as being the puppet masters of what Nesta Webster famously called ‘the cause of world unrest’. Scudder goes on to declare that ‘The Jew is everywhere, but you have to go far down the backstairs to find him.’ (3)
Scudder them summarises his point rhetorically as follows:
‘If you’re on the biggest kind of job and are bound to get to the real boss, ten to one you are brought up against a little white-faced Jew in a bath-chair with an eye like a rattlesnake. Yes, sir, he is the man who is ruling the world just now, and he has his knife in the Empire of the Tsar, because his aunt was outraged and his father flogged in some one-horse location on the Volga.’ (4)
These words were published in 1915 so they manage to anticipate the words of the Protocols of Zion (in their English translation as far as I know Buchan was not able to read Russian) by two years!
Hannay himself comments in response that ‘the Jew-anarchists seems to have got left behind a little’ in Scudder’s thought, (5) but this should not be taken as a counter-point but rather as Hannay feeling that Scudder had not sufficiently explained the connection as yet. We may take it this way largely because Scudder has elucidated the point by alluding to the monopolistic nature of socialism and what that means for capitalists: i.e. a captive monopoly that they can exploit should they so wish. Hannay has just not understood the common themes that unite these two apparently disparate groups, although he clearly understands and identifies with Scudder’s ideas later.
It is also clear that Scudder is by far Hannay’s intellectual superior, given that he is responsible for actually uncovering the German plot to start the First World War; while Hannay tends to foil his opponents more through his dogged pursuit and physical endurance, plus general British values, than by startling deductions.
Indeed Hannay doubts Scudder’s deductions about the jewish role in the German plot later; calling it ‘eyewash’ (6) and mere ‘bias’ on Scudder’s part, (7) only to discover that Scudder was actually right in the first place. (8)
Perhaps even more ironically, Hannay himself, some pages before calling Scudder’s thoughts on ‘jews and high finance’ ‘mere bias’, actually confirms he implicitly agrees with Scudder’s essential point when he declares:
‘When a Jew shoots himself in the City and there is an inquest, the newspapers usually report that the deceased was “well nourished”.’ (9)
This is rather at odds to the simplistic interpretation that Buchan is making Hannay question and undercut the sentiments that Scudder expresses precisely because in ‘Greenmantle’ (published in 1916) we find it stated quite overtly that the Ottoman Empire had been driven into war by jewish and gypsy leaders. (10) In addition, Hannay’s close friend Peter Pienaar, who is later revealed to be a South African fighter ace, comments that jews are usurious capitalists which take their most noxious form in the form the ‘Polish-Jew pedlar’. (11) This is hardly a challenge to Scudder’s sentiments as expressed at the beginning of ‘The Thirty Nine Steps’ , but rather a reinforcement of them!
Hannay also observes that one can tell a jew from mere sight (12), that a jewish left-wing novelist named Aronson was ‘the worst kind of blighter’ (13) and some of the jews working for world revolution were ‘academic anarchists’ (many of whom were pro-Bolshevik Freemasons) (14) who were working against the Allied war effort. (15) It is also worth noting that Hannay once again; in ‘Mr. Standfast’ (published in 1919), confirms he believes that Scudder was right when he notes that jewish ‘international finance-touts’ were working both to continue the war in the name of profit and bring about a ‘melting-pot’ scenario from which would arise a new jewish-dominated world. (16)
One of these agitators; associated with the then widely-known anarchist-syndicalist group ‘Industrial Workers of the World’, (17) was named Gresson and was a red-haired Polish jew. (18) Gresson, of course, is named as an agent of Bolshevik Russia and an active agitator of stopping the First World War so that the ‘working classes of the world’ could unite and massacre the hated non-jewish bourgeois. (19)
One of the facilitators of Gresson’s activism on behalf of Bolshevik Russia and his general incitement to class war is nicknamed ‘the Portuguese Jew’ (20) by Hannay, and as Buchan never elucidates whether he is or is not jewish, we must take Hannay’s observation at face value. Hannay, however, discovers that ‘the Portuguese Jew’ is actually a Professor of Celtic Languages at a Welsh College and this is clearly meant to convey to the reader that ‘the Portuguese Jew’ was looking to stir up sectarian and separatist sentiments in Wales (21) in much the same way that Arthur Lane later asserted was the case. (22)
‘The Portuguese Jew’, whose real name was Ehrlich, (23) is latter revealed to be the second-in-command of the German intelligence network (24) and a consummate agent of the jewish Bolsheviks and Capitalists that Buchan places in Hannay’s way.
In ‘Mr. Standfast’, Hannay returns to the role of jewish high finance in helping German espionage circles to fight the Allies when he recounts how an Austrian jew made fifty thousand dollars profiting from an Allied invention by selling it to the Germans. (25) This role of jews in high finance is most emphatically brought to light in Buchan’s fourth Hannay novel: ‘The Three Hostages’ (published 1924). This in spite of the confirmation by Hannay again of the connection between the jews and communism when he states:
‘All the places with names like spells – Bokhara, Samarkand – run by seedy little gangs of Communist Jews. It won’t go for ever. Someday a new Genghis Khan or Timour (26) will be thrown up out of the maelstrom. Europe is confused enough, but Asia is ancient Chaos.’ (27)
This affirmation of the jewish role in communism is appositely placed (28) just before the introduction of a representative of jewish high finance; Julius Victor, who Buchan tells us held sway over even the most powerful of governments. (29) Julius Victor is trying to get his daughter back from a man of indeterminate origin called Solomon Medina, who I would argue is actually based directly on the famous jewish British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (who he is directly compared to), (30) so that she can marry into the family of a penniless French aristocrat: the Marquis de la Tour du Pin. (31)
Victor does receive a positive mention in that he is regarded as preferable; although not by much, to Medina: (32) all this does however is reinforce the sense of ‘other’ than it is clear that Hannity; and many other characters, feel when perceiving jews in their midst. Indeed Hannay discovers a degenerate dancing club where European women are drugged by a largely jewish clientele and then sexually exploited. (33) Julius Victor’s jewish daughter has been brought there by Medina to be exploited, according to him, as an exercise in his ‘occult powers’ of hypnotism. (34)
The secret entrance to this club for jews seeking to bed drugged non-jewish women is found in a shop owned by a jewess who is also acting as the keeper of Julius Victor’s daughter, Adela. (35) We also discover that Solomon Medina’s manservant, Odell, is actually a ‘black-bearded jew’ and has been Medina’s primary agent in the kidnappings he has undertaken. (36) Hannay even suggests that Solomon Medina’s ‘occult powers’ are a communist device caused by the reawakening of ‘Shamanism’ in the Soviet Union (37) of which Medina is later discovered to be an agent as a ‘Jacobite Count’ . (38)
This is hardly compatible, as the simplistic and apologetic philo-Semitic interpretation tries to suggest, with Buchan making Hannay undercut Scudder’s thoughts on the jewish relation to both anarchism/socialism and capitalism. In fact, Buchan here is actually stressing quite the opposite: that upon careful examination of the facts of the matter one cannot but help see said jewish relation to left-wing politics and capitalism. Indeed Buchan’s posturing of Hannay in ‘The Thirty Nine Steps’ to dismiss Scudder’s revelations of the jew as the proverbial puppet master behind the curtain as ‘mere bias’ only to have that ‘mere bias’ turn out to be true situation in ‘Greenmantle’ , ‘Mr. Standfast’ and ‘The Three Hostages’ is arguably an attack on those who simply dismissed the connection of jews to world events because they couldn’t believe it could be true.
Thus one cannot but help seeing that the idea that Buchan intended to undercut the ‘prejudices’ and ‘biases’ of his day about the jews is quite unfounded and in fact the converse is actually far more arguable on the basis of Buchan’s own words in the novels that chronicle the adventures of his most famous character: Major General Richard Hannay.
- John Buchan, 1992, ‘The Complete Richard Hannay’ , 1st Edition, Penguin: London, p. 8
- Ibid, p. 9
- Ibid, p. 33
- Ibid, p. 75
- Ibid, pp. 167; 544
- Ibid, p. 52
- Ibid, pp. 113-114; 244
- Ibid, p. 205
- Ibid, pp. 224-225; 405; 435
- Ibid, p. 374
- Ibid, pp. 387; 843
- Ibid, p. 385
- Ibid, pp. 387; 518
- Ibid, p. 402
- Ibid, p. 405
- Ibid, pp. 435-437
- Ibid, p. 509
- Arthur Lane, 1935, ‘Aliens in Wales’ , The Patriot, Vol. 29, No. 717, p. 374
- Buchan, ‘The Complete Richard Hannay’ , p. 607
- Ibid, pp. 576-577
- Ibid, pp. 535-535
- Buchan here means the Mongol conqueror and equal of Genghis Khan: Tamurlane.
- Buchan, ‘The Complete Richard Hannay’ , pp. 664-665
- Ibid, p. 676
- Ibid, pp. 671; 767
- Ibid, p. 706
- Ibid, p. 705
- Ibid, p. 742
- Ibid, pp. 748; 824-825
- Ibid, p. 811
- Ibid, pp. 816-821
- Ibid, pp. 824; 879-881
- Ibid, p. 869
- Ibid, p. 886