The following is a summary of a discussion which we held on the AlbertCampion list in April 2009 on the subject of our eponymous hero’s motivations.

The discussion was started by Christine who asked…

>>One of the things I love about the Campion stories is the vividness of all of the characters, except perhaps Albert himself. His motivation for doing things isn’t always clear. In the early books he comes across as a bit of an adventurer. In the later books he wonders a bit why he does what he does when the police do much of it so much better. Justice isn’t a compulsion. In fact, in addition to wondering about the motivation for the villains in the books, I’d be interested to know what people think about Albert’s motivation in each of the novels. Fun, profit, duty, chivalry? It is by no means uniform. Is there a thread that takes us from the beginning to the end?

I replied….

>>Another great and fascinating question. My broad and simplistic answer is that there isn’t really any such thread – or only in terms of externals anyway. Albert as a character is almost constantly evolving and his motivations change. I think – Roger will correct me here – you could probably only argue profit in Black Dudley? Fun in lots of the early thrillers. Duty certainly – and patriotism too (Traitors Purse for instance). Intellectual fascination. But you could probably examine each book and come up with a somewhat different answer.<<

Beth added….

>>I always felt that Campion’s motivation was the subconscious need to be needed; that he slipped into a niche by being clever and found out that not only was he good at it but he liked it as well. With his connections he was always able to help one of his mother’s friends or a distant relative in a quiet way and so gained a reputation that reinforced his hobby into a way of life as opposed to a profession or job.

and Christine responded…

>>Campion is pretty clear early on that he needs to earn a living. Later in The Beckoning Lady tells Luke that he has a “private practice” of sorts, which suggests that he certainly considers himself to be a professional. I think in Pearls Before Swine he alludes to Nidd as his home (clearly an estate) and it appears that the death of his older brother somewhere along the line (can’t remember the book) left him heir to a title that is never referenced (except perhaps obscurely by Lugg at one point?). I have to admit, some of this I remember from the books and some I probably remember from articles written by folks who are probably on this list. In any event, unlike some gentlemen sleuths Campion started out with a need to earn money and may have finished as someone who could view his work as more of a hobby if he chose. All along the way, there are different things that drive him. In some cases it is love or affection. In some cases, patriotism or loyalty to old friends. In some cases, his services appear to have been engaged. Is anyone interested in trying to catalog his motivation? Collectively or individually?

Elizabeth queried…

>>I wonder whether one of his motivations is a sense of responsibility – even at his most silly ass, in Black Dudley, it seems quite evident. But perhaps that is a quality rather than a motivation.<<

and Duncan added…

>>I am still working my way through them and read them as I find them which means I have not read them chronologically, but at the beginning of Death of the Undertaker I think Campion is really quite reluctant to get dragged in and only when three moons align does he accept somehow that it is his fate. Similarly in
Coroners Pidgin he is very reluctant after his long stint abroad. According to Wikipedia these two are published 1945 and 1948 – the first two after the war.
In Death of a Ghost (1934 according to the mighty Wikipedia) I seem to remember there is never any doubt at all and there is clearly a duty involved. Does the war change something in Campion / Allingham? Probably a silly question, I’m sure it does, more to the point what effect does the war have on Campion’s motivations?<

to which I replied…

>>Oh unquestionably Duncan. Traitors Purse is an absolutely key book in Albert’s development – and the amnesiac device, the reconstruction of his identity is a brilliant coup which enables this. Albert matures in very sense – emotionally, intellectually, morally. I think he is always more hesitant in subsequent books, more self-questioning, often reluctant.<

Christine came back……

>>In Death of A Ghost, it is Campion’s sense of personal loyalty to Belle that not only motivates his involvement but drives him to take a tremendous risk to resolve the matter. I agree that Pearls Before Swine (which I think is the US title of Coroner’s Pidgin) presents a case where he doesn’t want to be involved at all. It starts out as a simple death of a woman under unsavory circumstances. It might not even be murder. But it is his flat. And it is his old retainer Lugg. So a sense of personal loyalty and a desire not to run afoul of the police keeps him in London and keeps him involved. Only then when the deeper currents reveal themselves does the patriotism angle creep in. More Work for the Undertaker, I think, finds him questioning his “job” since, post war, he has been presented with an opportunity to “go straight” and take a post fitting for a man with his family connections. It is really his curiosity and his love of the game that motivates him then.So I guess I don’t see an evolution of a motive for his detection. Rather, I see an evolution of the person. Am I agreeing with Nick and Roger?<<

and Roger summed it all up….

>>That sounds right to me, Christine! Albert Campion is one of the very few series detectives who not only age, but develop and mature.<<