The golden spy-masters & the devolution of the West in British espionage fiction

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


The action of espionage has a tradition historically spanning millennia, reaching its peak of its public interest in the 20th Century when the spy went from state villain to international hero. With the support of the multinational public's explosive interest in spies and their politics, the literary world heralded the entrance of the professional provocateur into the numbers of the greatest literary figures ever known. But as the wars of the 20th Century and the role of the spy changed, cracks began to show in the edifices of state political morality through the cloak and dagger heroes of espionage fiction. Between two of the genre's most eminent authors, Ian Fleming and John Le Carre, the separation of representations of the West reveals the unique presence of an unspoken contradiction between the ethics of the British state and the ethics of the Western para-global societal alliance. Utilizing the heroism and liminality of the spy figure, these two authors portray the British state diametrically differently: one staunchly avoiding the friction and disillusionment of postwar Britain as a geopolitically ambiguous Western power, and the other embracing it. The differences in their Wests characterizes a series of evolving worldviews and perspectives on Britain's place within the Western hierarchy during the Cold War, emphasizing the growing social distance within the Anglo-American alliance and the development of the secret agent as a means of both reinforcing and subverting implicit societal ideals. By bringing into question not only what the West is to Britain, but why it can still be identified as a political entity even as it changes upturned perceptions of unity for the Western facade. The upheaval of this implicit perception highlighted the difference in the needs of two different generations of authors, readers, and spies to grapple with the ubiquitous presence of the West. For as in the clandestine world of real spies and their masters, nothing sacred, not even the West, can hold.




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