Ernest Bramah

Ernest Bramah

Ernest Bramah (20 March 1868 - 27 June 1942), whose real name was Ernest Bramah Smith, was an English author. In total Bramah published 21 books and numerous short stories and features. His humorous works were ranked with Jerome K Jerome, and W.W. Jacobs; his detective stories with Conan Doyle; his politico-science fiction with H.G. Wells and his supernatural stories with Algernon Blackwood. George Orwell acknowledged that Bramah’s book "What Might Have Been" influenced his "Nineteen Eighty-Four". He created the characters Kai Lung and Max Carrados.

Bramah was a recluse who refused to allow his public even the slightest glimpse of his private life – secrecy perhaps only matched by E.W. Hornung, the creator of Raffles, and today, J.D. Salinger.

Early career

Bramah dropped out of the Manchester Grammar School at the age of 16, having been consistently close to the bottom of each class and in each subject. Despite this, he died at the age of 74 a successful and admired author with a wide and deep knowledge of chemistry, physics, law, philosophy, the classics, literature, the occult and ordnance, and was a recognised world expert in a branch of numismatics.

After leaving the Manchester Grammar School, he went into farming, first as a farm pupil and then in his own right. He was supported by his father who had risen in a very short time from a factory hand to a wealthy man. The farming enterprise cost his father over £100,000 in today’s money. It was while he was farming that he began to contribute local vignettes to the Birmingham News, which gave him his first taste for journalism and writing. Later he wrote a tongue-in-cheek book about his adventure in farming which, unsurprisingly, found few buyers and was eventually remaindered and pulped.

After the farming debacle, his father agreed to support him while he made his way in Grub Street. He was fortunate enough to obtain a position as secretary to Jerome K. Jerome and rose to edit one of Jerome's magazines. After leaving Jerome he edited other journals for a publishing firm which went into bankruptcy.


Following these unpromising beginnings, Bramah attained commercial and critical success with his creation of Kai Lung, the itinerant story-teller. He first appears in "The Wallet of Kai Lung" which was rejected by eight publishers before Grant Richards, who was published it in 1900. It was still in print a hundred years later.

With Kai Lung, Bramah invented a form of Mandarin English illustrated by the following passages:

Kai Lung rose guardedly to his feet, with many gestures of polite assurance and having bowed several times to indicate his pacific nature, he stood in an attitude of deferential admiration. At this display the elder and less attractive of the maidens fled, uttering loud and continuous cries of apprehension in order to conceal the direction of her flight.


In particular, there is among this august crowd of Mandarins one Wang Yu, who has departed on three previous occasions without bestowing the reward of a single cash. If the feeble and covetous Wang Yu will place in his very ordinary bowl the price of one of his exceedingly ill-made pipes, this unworthy person will proceed.


After secretly observing the unstudied grace of her movements, the most celebrated picture-maker of the province burned the implements of his craft, and began life anew as a trainer of performing elephants.

The Kai Lung stories are studded with proverbs and aphorisms, such as the following

* “He who lacks a single tael sees many bargains.”
* “It is a mark of insincerity of purpose to spend one’s time in looking for the sacred Emperor in low-class teashops.”
* “It has been said there are few situations in life that cannot be honourably settled, and without loss of time, either by suicide, a bag of gold or by thrusting a despised antagonist over the edge of a precipice on a dark night.”

Bramah also wrote politico-science fiction . His book "What might Have Been", published in 1907, was acknowledged by George Orwell it as one of the formative sources for "Nineteen Eighty-Four". Orwell credited a little-known Bramah dystopian novel, "The Secret of the League" (1907) with having given a considerably accurate prediction of the rise of Fascism. [ George Orwell, "Predictions of Fascism", originally published in "Tribune" on July 12, 1940, appearing in "The Collected Essays, Journalism and Lettersof George Orwell", Volume 2, p. 47-48).] In this book, a Socialist government heavily taxes the middle classes, greatly expands a civil service, and engenders a pension crisis, before being overthrown by a capital strike.

At a time when the English Channel had yet to be crossed by an aeroplane, Bramah foresaw aerial express trains travelling at 10,000 feet, a nationwide wireless-telegraphy network (e-mail?), a proto-fax machine and a cipher typewriter similar to the German Enigma machine.

In 1914 Bramah created Max Carrados, the blind detective. Given the somewhat outlandish idea that a blind man could be a detective, in the introduction to the second Carrados book "The Eyes of Max Carrados" Bramah compared his hero’s achievements to those of real life blind people such as Nicholas Saunderson, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, Blind Jack of Knaresborough the road builder, John Fielding the Bow Street Magistrate of whom it was said he could identify 3,000 thieves by their voices, and Helen Keller. Bramah’s sympathy for and understanding of the blind was both sincere and practicalFact|date=April 2008.

The Max Carrados stories appeared alongside Sherlock Holmes in the "Strand Magazine", indeed they had top billing and frequently outsold his eminent contemporary even if they never achieved the longevity of Holmes.

Interesting times

Bramah has been credited with the invention of the saying, widely quoted as an ancient Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times", along with "May you come to the attention of those in authority" and "May you find what you are looking for".cite web |url= |title=Ernest Bramah News |format= |work= |accessdate=] However, these sayings do not appear in the Kai Lung stories.


Kai Lung books

*"The Wallet of Kai Lung" (1900)
*"Kai Lung's Golden Hours" (1922)
*"Kai Lung Unrolls His Mat" (1928)
*"The Moon of Much Gladness" (1932; published in the USA as "The return of Kai Lung")
*"The Kai Lung Omnibus" (1936; includes "The Wallet of Kai Lung", "Kai Lung's Golden Hours", "Kai Lung Unrolls His Mat")
*"Kai Lung Beneath the Mulberry Tree" (1940)
*"The Celestial Omnibus" (1940; selected stories from the earlier books)
*"" (1974)

Max Carrados books

*"Max Carrados" (1914)
*"Eyes of Max Carrados" (1923)
*"Max Carrados Mysteries" (1927)
*"The Bravo of London" (1934)
*"Best Max Carrados Detective Stories" (1972)

Other fiction

*"The Mirror of Kong Ho" (1905)
*"The Secret of the League" (1907)
*"The Specimen Case " (1924), which includes a Max Carrados story [Hubin, Allen J. "Crime Fiction: 1749-1980: A Comprehensive Bibliography". New York and London: Garland Publishing (1984). ISBN 0824092198]
*"Short Stories of To-day and Yesterday" (1929)
*"A Little Flutter" (1930)


*"English Farming and Why I Turned It Up" (1894)
*"A Guide to the Varieties and Rarity of English Regal Copper Coins, Charles II-Victoria, 1671-1860" (1929)


External links

* [ The Search for Ernest Bramah] - Ernest Bramah biography
* [ Crime and Chinoiserie]
* [ Ernest Bramah Bibliography]
* [ Bramah First Editions]
* [ A Delicate Bouquet of Crime] : The Plausibility of Max Carrados, Blind Detective
* [ Ernest Bramah] - some appreciative thoughts
*gutenberg author|id=Ernest_Bramah|name=Ernest Bramah

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  • Ernest Bramah — als Ernest Brammah Smith (* 20. März 1868, in Manchester; † 27. Juni 1942 in London) war ein englischer Schriftsteller, der im Laufe seines Lebens 21 Bücher und zahlreiche Kurzgeschichten sowie weitere Werke veröffentlichte. Seine humorvollen… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • The Moon of Much Gladness — Infobox Book | name = The Moon of Much Gladness image caption = Dust jacket from the first edition author = Ernest Bramah cover artist = country = United Kingdom language = English series = Kai Lung genre = Fantasy novel release date = 1932… …   Wikipedia

  • The Secret of the League — is a 1907 dystopian novel by Ernest Bramah, which describes the overthrow of a democratically elected British Labour Party Government through a carefully prepared plot by members of the upper classes, and depicts such an overthrow as being a… …   Wikipedia

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  • Kai Lung Unrolls His Mat — Infobox Book | name = Kai Lung Unrolls His Mat image caption = Dust jacket from the first edition author = Ernest Bramah cover artist = country = United Kingdom language = English series = Kai Lung genre = Fantasy novel release date = 1928… …   Wikipedia

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