Neutral Ground: A Political History of Espionage Fiction

Neutral Ground: A Political History of Espionage Fiction

Neutral Ground: A Political History of Espionage Fiction

Neutral Ground: A Political History of Espionage Fiction

Excerpt

Since its popular recognition in the early twentieth century, the spy novel has served as a vehicle to pursue the darker political imaginations of the Western world. Drawn from reality, revealing what is generally veiled, it seeks to provide a brief glimpse into society’s political underbelly through the application of international intrigues, questionable alliances, and, on not few occasions, spirited doses of sex, violence and, of course, murder. It is an arena where the moods are gray, the settings circumscribed and the heroes — if indeed there are heroes — emerge as ordinary individuals who are not much different than the people they oppose: common men following dangerous paths through uncertain times. As John Le Carré’s fictional Leamas cynically remarks of the players: “A squalid procession of vain fools, traitors too, yes …people who play cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten little lives.”

This commentary is titled Neutral Ground: A Political History of Espionage Fiction and, accordingly, it offers a brief examination of the evolution of the espionage story. In particular, it explores how, beginning with the 1821 publication of James Fenimore Cooper’s The Spy: A Tale of Neutral Ground, and continuing to John Le Carré in the present day,

1 Walker 2006.

2 Le Carré 1965, 229.

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