Ideology as the basis of the English spy novel genre: "Cold" war

This work is dedicated to the analysis of works of the "Cold" war period writers, who contributed much to the forming of the spy novel genre. Analyze the development of the spy novel genre, its ideological background in the context of historical events.

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Norets Maxim Vadimovich

The Crimean Federal University

PhD in philology, associate

Professor of theory and practice of translation


This work is dedicated to the analysis of works of the “Cold” war period writers, who contributed much to the forming of the spy novel genre. This investigation is an attempt to analyze the development of the spy novel genre, its ideological background in the context of historical events, taking into account the fact that the author somehow belongs to British secret agencies. The focus of the author's analysis is concentrated on new forms of realization of the plot line and modifications of the protagonist.

Keywords: detective, dominant genre, genre code, ideological basis, plot, spy novel, spy story

spy novel genre

The end of the Second World War became a unique frontier of the new time and the new world. Writers, preoccupied with the loss of traditional values, were forced to state that the breakup process of previous ideologies, that was obvious in the beginning of the century, continued. The pathos of rebuilding society, objectively finished in the 50s (the time of the colonial system break-up, the confrontation of two camps, the attractiveness of socialistic ideology), was replaced with apprehension that the 20th century, having destroyed old gods at the very beginning, had no mercy on new ones.

The great politic changes, that occurred in Europe after the Second World War, engaging society and art, not only involved art systems changes, but promoted the appearance of their new forms. The necessity of historic events reconstruction and understanding of what happened led to the joining of belles-lettres and documentary styles of reflecting the reality, the creation of voluminous epic series and the distribution of satirics, novels where the recent past became the source of thinking about the present.

The interest to deep “roots” and national foundations causes the process of a nation's self-identity and finding its place in the global community. Just in the 60s, a problem of “Englishness” is raised in English literature, when the belles-lettres research of concepts of British consciousness and life style helps to discover and put off everything obsolete but at the same time to save democratic forms of society and inherent foundations for the British.

Realias of the “Сold” war were fitting in with their plot vector in several ways: portrait types of the eastern opponent, themes of nuclear and bacteriological war, and descriptions of politic regimes on the periphery of global world.

First of all, portrait images of spy novel protagonists were called up to serve the reinforcement of negative perception of the ideological opponent. Anthony Burgess brightly describes his heroes in the novel `Tremor of Intent' [2] in 1966, devoted to his trip to USSR. According to the historical note, Anthony Burgess visited USSR not only to learn about the life behind the “iron curtain”, but to accomplish a secret mission of Britain's Military Intelligence MI6. On return Anthony Burgess was so disappointed and bewildered because he saw nothing horrible there, that he wrote a spy novel nothing like as he planned. Instead of a pure spy novel he wrote a parody. Opposed to A. Burgess, Michael Gilbert didn't write parodies, but he created a spy novel called `Death Has Deep Roots'[3], in which a whole set of genre dominant is. As his teachers he names two English writers Margery Allingham and Graham Greene [4] - two of the best writers of this century. According to him their novels became the role models on the early stages of his work. In his interviews he also mentions many masters of the genre, whom he had a chance to learn from - Eric Ambler [11], Francis Iles, Edmund Crispin, Anthony Boucher, Jullian Simmons and Amanda Krost, and all of them evoked his true admiration. Also, one may observe a thematic similarity in the novel of the English writer Robert Tronson, in the narrative “Afternoon of a counterspy” [8], which reflected a wide-scale and meaningless fuss of numerous English intelligence agencies in the invisible battle with the Soviet intelligence service.

Norman Lewis [6] (1908-2003) once said that he is the only one among people known to him, who can enter a crowded room and leave it after a while, staying entirely unnoticed. This points not only to modesty, but to a preferred position of the famous writer - the attitude of an onlooker, who cannot be overseen. The same quality characterizes his style - which is simple, obvious, very dynamic and precise - clear.

In 1959 Ian Fleming [9], the future creator of “James Bond”, who was working for both “The Sunday Times” and MI6 at that moment, sends Lewis to Cuba to discover what were Castro's chances of victory over the Batista regime. In his essay, “Mission to Havana”, Lewis recounted two memorable meetings: the first one was with Ed Scott, the Bond's prototype itself, the man who preferred to have the office service of naked black secretaries and wore shells instead of cuff links. The second meeting was with Hemingway. “He told me nothing, - wrote Lewis, - but taught me more than I wanted to know”. The Scott and Lewis' meeting was observed by another intruder, Graham Greene [4], who used this scene in his famous novel “Our Man in Havana”. Later, when Greene was reviewing “Missionaries” where Lewis described those destructions which American fundamentalists brought on pagan tribes of the Pacific and Latin America, he will call Lewis one of the best writers of the 20th century.

Another writer, who succeeded to overcome the scope of typological limitation of a classic spy novel, was Peter O'Donnell [7]. He was born on April 11, 1920 in London. At the age of 16 he already worked as a journalist in various newspapers and magazines. He created several comic strip heroes - Tiger Tim, Chips and Captain Moonlight.

Since 1938 and during the Second World War he served as a noncommissioned officer (NCO) in the mobile radio detachment (3 Corps) of Royal Corps of Signals, which came under command of MI6 Foreign Intelligence Service, as well as he served in the 8th Army in Persia, then in Syria, Egypt, Italy, and since October 1944 in Greece. In 1965 Peter published his first novel “Modesty Blaise” [7, 3]. The book had a great success and as a result O'Donnell continued the publication of series, interchanging the publication of novels and comic strips for over 30 years.

Keeping the tradition of authors who served in intelligence agencies, Peter O'Donnell created an occasional spy novel heroine of the Modesty Blaise series. The Modesty Blaise character became widely known due to the book itself and the adapted screenplay, where Monika Vitti played the role of the almighty spy. One needs to look for a reason of such success not so much in belles-lettres values of the novel as in the originality of plot discovery. At last, after a variety of spy-men, created for over two decades, O'Donnell realized to make up a character who served in Britain's Intelligence service and who's dangerous and successful in spying not less than men.

In the given context one cannot fail to mention Adam Hall [10] (the real name - Elleston Trevor) - who was a writer of spy novels. During the War he served in Special Branch of Britain's Intelligence Service in Royal Air Force. His most famous character is Quiller. The novels about Quiller are represented as a synthesis of two concepts of the English spy novel. In his skills, education and equipment Quiller can be referred to super-agents such as James Bond. With respect to the atmosphere of secrecy, treachery and danger, the novel series about Quiller is closer to the detective style of John le Carrй [5]. For the first time ever the protagonist appeared in the novel “The Berlin Memorandum” in 1965 (“The Quiller Memorandum” in USA and Russia).


1. Аллингхем М. Преступление в Блэк Дадли / М. Аллингхем. - М.: Эксмо, 2011. - 460 с.

2. Берджесс Э. Трепет намерения / Э. Берджесс. - М.: АСТ, 2010. - 288 с.

3. Гилберт М. Внутрь они не заглядывали. Бедняга Смоллбон. После хорошей погоды. Этрусская сеть / М. Гилберт. - М.: Рипол-Классик, 2003. - 430 с.

4. Грин Г. Собрание сочинений в шести томах. / Г. Грин. - М.: Художественная литература, 1992. - 2720 с.

5. Ле Карре Дж. Шпион, выйди вон! / Дж. Ле Карре. - М.: Эксмо, 2012. - 576 с.

6. Льюис Н. Достопочтенное общество. Очерки о сицилийской мафии / Н. Льюис. - М.: Европейские издания, 2008. - 230 с.

7. О`Доннел П. Сочинения в трех томах. / П. О`Доннел. - М.: Терра - Книжный клуб, 1998. - 780 с.

8. Тронсон Р. Будни контрразведчика / Р. Тронсон [Переводчик: Н. Гвоздарева]. - М.: СП “Амскорт интернэшнл”, 1991. - 112 с.

9. Флеминг Я. Собрание сочинений в 7 томах / Йен Флеминг. - М.: Терра-Книжный клуб, 2008. - 2664 с.

10. Холл А. Меморандум Квиллера / А. Холл. - С-Пб.: Лимбус Пресс, 2001. - 208 с.

11. Эмблер Э. Эпитафия шпиону. Причина для тривоги / Э. Эмблер. - [Переводчик: Анастасьев Н., Гольдберг Ю.]. - М.: Астрель, 2013. - 544 с

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