E. Phillips Oppenheim (1866 – 1946)

8495Edward Phillips Oppenheim was an English novelist, primarily known for his suspense fiction. He was born on 22 October 1866 in Leicester, the son of a leather merchant, and after attending Wyggeston Grammar School he worked in his father’s business for almost 20 years, beginning there at a young age. He continued working in the business, even though he was a successful novelist, until he was 40 at which point he sold the business.

He wrote his first book Expiation in 1887 and in 1898 he published The Mysterious Mr Sabin, which he described as “The first of my long series of stories dealing with that shadowy and mysterious world of diplomacy.” Thereafter he became a prolific writer and by 1900 he had had 14 novels published. While on a business trip to the United States in 1890 he met and married Elise Clara Hopkins of Boston and, on return to England, they lived in Evington, Leicestershire until the First World War, and had one daughter. His wife remained faithful to him throughout his life despite his frequent and highly publicised affairs, which often took place abroad and aboard his luxury yacht. During World War I Oppenheim worked for the Ministry of Information while continuing to write his suspenseful novels. He featured on the cover of Time magazine on 12 September 1927 and he was the self-styledPrince of Storytellers’, a title used by Robert standish for his biography of the author. His literary success enabled him to buy a villa in France and a yacht, spending his winters in France where he regularly entertained more than 250 people at his lavish parties and where he was a well-known figure in high society. He later purchased a house, Le Vanquiédor in St. Peter Port, in Guernsey. He lost access to the house during the Second World War when Germany occupied the Channel Islands but later regained it. He wrote 116 novels, mainly of the suspense and international intrigue type, but including romances, comedies, and parables of everyday life, and 39 volumes of short stories, all of which earned him vast sums of money. He also wrote five novels under the pseudonym Anthony Partridge and a volume of autobiography, The Pool of Memory in 1939. He is generally regarded as the earliest writer of spy fiction as we know it today, and invented the ‘Rogue Male’ school of adventure thrillers that was later exploited by John Buchan and Geoffrey Household. Undoubtedly his most renowned work was The Great Impersonation (1920). (Gerry Wolstenholme. Goodreads)

A comprehensive list of E. Phillips Oppenheim’s books is available at Fantastic Fiction.

Further reading: Mike Grost on E. Phillips Oppenheim at  A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection

The Great Impersonation is a mystery novel written by E. Phillips Oppenheim and published in 1920. Originally published serially in Harper’s Bazaar, The Great Impersonation ranks among the most acclaimed espionage novels. For the past hundred years, readers have been captivated by the fast-moving plot, the descriptions of life among English aristocrats before the Great War, and the bold cast of characters, which includes a host of dukes, duchesses, ambassadors, German agents, and harebrained young Englishmen. This vivid, convincing thriller is one of the first great achievements of the spy genre. (Source: Dover Publications) The book has been adapted to film three times. The first was in 1921, starring James Kirkwood as Everard Dominey/Leopold von Ragastein and directed by George Melford. The second was in 1935, starring Edmund Lowe and directed by Alan Crosland. The last was in 1942, and has significant plot and name changes (mostly to set the story in World War II), Ralph Bellamy stars as Edward Dominey/Leopold von Ragastein, and it is directed by John Rawlins. (Source: Wikipedia)


Published by A. L. Burt Company, New York, 1920 Hardcover Book, First Edition, The Great Impersonation, E. Phillips Oppenheim. Source:  MountainAireVintage.

Book Description: East Africa, 1913. The disgraced English aristocrat Everard Dominey stumbles out of the bush, and comes face to face with his lookalike — the German Baron von Ragastein. Months later, Dominey returns to London and resumes his glittering social life. But is it really Dominey who has come back, or a German secret agent seeking to infiltrate English high society? As international tension mounts and the great powers of Europe move closer to war, Dominey finds himself entangled in a story of suspicion and intrigue. He must try to evade his insane and murderous wife as well as escape the attentions of the passionate Princess Eiderstrom, and will eventually uncover the secret of the ghost that haunts his ancestral home. This classic thriller was hugely popular when it was first published in 1920, selling over one million copies in that year alone, and was filmed three times. It was selected by The Guardian as one of the 1000 novels everyone must read. (Source: Poisoned Pen)

The Great Impersonation has been reviewed, among others, at Mystery File, and ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’


The Great Impersonation by E. Phillips Oppenheim is in the public domain and is available at Project Gutenberg.

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