Morning: Ronald Arbuthnott Knox

This morning’s surprise name was Ronald Arbuthnot(t) — which led me nowhere, until I realized that the (very British) name was just the beginning of the name of Ronald Arbuthnott Knox, who is a figure of considerable interest. (The surname Arbuthnot(t) is Scottish.) Knox leads to the fictional detective Miles Bredon and to the Golden Age of Detective Fiction.

From Wikipedia:

Ronald Arbuthnott Knox (17 February 1888 – 24 August 1957) was an English priest, theologian and author of detective stories. He was also a writer and a regular broadcaster for BBC Radio.

Knox had attended Eton College and won several scholarships at Balliol College, Oxford. He was ordained an Anglican priest in 1912 and was appointed chaplain of Trinity College, Oxford, but he left in 1917 upon his conversion to Catholicism. In 1918 he was ordained a Catholic priest. Knox wrote many books of essays and novels.

… While Catholic chaplain at the University of Oxford (1926–1939) and after his elevation to Monsignor in 1936, he wrote classic detective stories. In 1929 he codified the rules for detective stories into a “decalogue” of ten commandments … He was one of the founding members of the Detection Club and wrote several works of detective fiction, including five novels and a short story featuring Miles Bredon, who is employed as a private investigator by the Indescribable Insurance Company.

Knox singlehandedly translated the Latin Vulgate Bible into English.

… An essay in Knox’s Essays in Satire (1928), “Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes”, was the first of the genre of mock-serious critical writings on Sherlock Holmes and mock-historical studies in which the existence of Holmes, Watson, et al. is assumed.

The Ten Commandments:


On to the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. From Wikipedia:

Many of the authors of the Golden Age were British: Margery Allingham (1904–1966), Anthony Berkeley (aka Francis Iles, 1893–1971), Agatha Christie (1890–1976), Freeman Wills Crofts (1879–1957), R. Austin Freeman (1862–1943), Michael Innes (1906–1993), Philip MacDonald (1900–1980), Dorothy L. Sayers (1893–1957), Josephine Tey (1896–1952), Anne Hocking (1890–1966), and many more. Ngaio Marsh (1895–1982) was from New Zealand, but her detective Roderick Alleyn was British. Georges Simenon was from Belgium and wrote in French. Some of them, such as John Dickson Carr, Ellery Queen, and S. S. Van Dine, were American but had similar styles. Others, such as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, had a more hard-boiled, American style.

Plus, of course, Ronald Knox, under the name Miles Bredon.

The name Miles Bredon. The site Clerical Detectives “and some other crime fiction, selected by Philip Grosset”, says that the surname was suggested by a mention of Bredon Hill by Housman. From Wikipedia:

Bredon Hill is a hill in Worcestershire, England, south-west of Evesham in the Vale of Evesham. … Bredon Hill features in the works of a multitude of composers, poets, writers and artists. … The hill is immortalised in poem 21 of A. E. Housman’s 1896 anthology A Shropshire LadIn summertime on Bredon / The bells they sound so clear …

But there are other possibilities. To an enthusiast of detective fiction, the name Bredon immediaely suggests Dorothy Sayers’s detective Lord Peter Wimsey, who first appeared in Whose Body? (1923). From Wikipedia:

Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey is a fictional character in a series of detective novels and short stories by Dorothy L. Sayers, in which he solves mysteries — usually murders. A dilettante who solves mysteries for his own amusement, Wimsey is an archetype for the British gentleman detective. [He was the 2nd son of Mortimer Gerald Bredon Wimsey, 15th Duke of Denver.]

… [At one point,] Wimsey goes undercover as “Death Bredon” at an advertising firm, working as a copywriter (Murder Must Advertise [1933]).

Then there’s the personal name Miles. Here the enthusiast of detective fiction hears an echo of Miles Archer in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. From Wikipedia:

The Maltese Falcon is a 1929 detective novel by Dashiell Hammett, originally serialized in the magazine Black Mask beginning with the September 1929 issue. The story has been adapted several times for the cinema [most notably in the 1941 Warner Brothers film directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor]. The main character, Sam Spade, appears in this novel only and in three lesser known short stories, yet is widely cited as the crystallizing figure in the development of the hard-boiled private detective genre.

… {In the book, private detectives] Sam Spade and Miles Archer are hired by a Miss Wonderly to follow a man, Floyd Thursby, who has allegedly run off with Wonderly’s younger sister.


This origin of the name Miles in Miles Bredon is speculative; a lot depends on chronology. (It looks like Miles Bredon first appears in the 1928 novel The Footsteps at the Lock.) But the Bredon looks solid.


One Response to “Morning: Ronald Arbuthnott Knox”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Benita Campbell on Facebook:

    Freddy Arbuthnot is, of course, Lord Peter’s close friend. Sometimes referred to as “Buthie” in fun, he figures prominently in “Strong Poison.”

    So the name borrowing might have gone in more than one direction.

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