In Arnold Bennett’s 1927 novel, The Strange Vanguard (or in America, just The Vanguard), a forthright multi-millionaire talks about his immense wealth:
People call me one of the new Huns, because I’m so darned rich. Well, I can’t help it. What could I do? I couldn’t refuse my royalties or the interest on my investments. Silly! I couldn’t burn the money [….] I do a bit of charity, because I’m afraid not to. But I hate it. I don’t believe in it. It only does harm. Some of the New Huns spend their money on social schemes and charity because they’re ashamed of being rich and they want to dope their consciences. I haven’t a conscience…
This phrase ‘the New Huns’ is new to me. I’ve come across (mostly immediately postwar) texts in which war profiteers are compared to Huns, but Bennett’s character seems to be appealing to a well-known set phrase of the time. The online OED doesn’t help. Has anyone else come across ‘Hun’ used in this way during the twenties?
The Strange Vanguard is subtitled ‘A Fantasia’ and is one of the entertainments in which Bennett indulges his fondness for luxury hotels, big yachts and improbable stories. It’s my homework this month for the Reading 1900-1950 group, and I’m rather enjoying it. The text is available on the Canadian Project Gutenberg website.