Among avid readers of spy novelist John le Carré’s suspenseful tales, professional archivists and historians ought to be the most loyal. The complicated plots of many le Carré novels turn on uncanny exploitations of British Secret Service documentary records stored away in well-organized and heavily classified agency archives. (1)
One such case features le Carré’s “memory man,” Leo Harting, a temporary archivist at the British Embassy in Bonn and the principal focus of a fascinating manhunt in A Small Town in Germany. (2) In a later novel, le Carré’s popular professional spy, George Smiley, flushes out a Soviet mole inside the Service through meticulous researches in agency records - inquiries which also stimulate sometimes unpleasant personal memories. Nevertheless, Smiley’s investigations and recollections in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy demonstrate an important intuition of archivists. The records prod the memory, and vice versa, until Smiley is able at last to identify and snare the traitor. (3)
While John le Carré’s plots are famous for their labyrinthine convolutions, they are perhaps not so well known for an even more striking trait. The master key to all of his spy novels is a question which doubles as a vital clue to their realism: “What has to happen before something happens?” (4) Le Carré’s answer is historical research, a resort to the archives. It is also what he means by secret intelligence.
There have been some thoughtful criticisms of le Carré’s plots, but none that comes to grips with his archival motifs. In a broad survey of the history and tendencies of the practice of strategic intelligence, one of le Carré’s severest critics points out that “neither the ‘national technical means of verification,’ involving satellites, sensors and computers . . . nor the desk-bound work of intelligence analysts offers much intrigue, romance, or human drama”. Another appraiser of le Carré’s works, Sir John Hackett, postwar chief of British military intelligence in Austria, agrees that le Carré “inserts a great deal of drama into what is really a lot of homework and analysis”. (5) There is literal truth in these evaluations, but an important virtue of le Carré’s brand of spy drama is its vital relation to the “homework and analysis” so diligently performed by his cast of fictional protagonists. The heightening tensions and the complicated resolutions of most of le Carré’s plots depend directly upon what he has called “good paperwork”. (6) There are spies and there are spies, but le Carré’s secret agents are far from being the flamboyant, incredible products of Ian Fleming’s imagination.
In fact, it was le Carré’s creation of Alec Leamas in The Spy Who Came In From The Cold that launched what may be called the contemporary realist school of spy novels. (7) Even then, critical attention centered on the novel’s dreary plot and its gloomy anti-hero, Leamas. This characterological approach to the story, while certainly valid as far as it goes, obscures an important clue to the author’s method. Surely, Leamas’ story is a painful tale of human weaknesses and longings for sympathetic affection in a spy’s grubby world of emotional isolation. No one who reads the book is likely to forget its fatalistic conclusion. But critics who fasten on Leamas’ personal tribulations and on the Secret Intelligence Service’s amoral duplicities may miss le Carré’s carefully crafted documentary background to the dramatic sequences which bring Leamas to his miserable demise.
The urgent quest that leads Leamas to his own undoing is, on reflection, similar to the imaginary search for a missing coal bill concocted by historian Carl L. Becker more than sixty years ago to show us how Everyman, in the course of his daily life, becomes his own historian. (8) In much the same way, Leamas’ particular need is to identify the secret source of drafts of minutes of meetings among the East German regime’s Praesidium. He has been receiving these documents from his agent, one Karl Riemeck, for some time; but Leamas has never known their original provenance. Le Carré’s opens the story on the scene of Riemeck’s murder by Communist border guards as the elusive agent attempts to escape into West Berlin. (9)
Leamas’ method of solving the mystery of the source of Riemeck’s purloined minutes is identical to the technique devised by Professor Becker’s Everyman in quest of his mislaid coal bill. Le Carré simply has Leamas employ archival research in a meticulous and hopeful process of elimination. Leamas combs the political personality files of the Service’s archives to try to eliminate known Praesidium members who lack access to the valuable minutes before their formal distribution. Since the minutes that Riemeck supplied are in draft form - no pagination, no security stamps - the source must belong to the Praesidium’s secretariat, Leamas reasons.
Unknown to Leamas, his superiors in London are already aware of the source’s identity. They are not above using Leamas in a twisted scheme to bring about the destruction of the lone Communist intelligence chief in East Berlin who has caught on to the betrayal of the regime by Riemeck’s secret source inside the Praesidium. Leamas is sent by his British handlers into East Berlin with the hazardous objective of getting himself captured and interrogated in such a manner that his unwitting honesty will cause the ruin of the loyal Communist security chief and the elevation of the traitor inside the East German regime.
Le Carré’s plot in The Spy is intense and complicated. So much so that readers may easily lose sight of the vital proposition that Leamas’ credibility in the eyes of his Communist interrogators depends directly upon his demonstration of personal access to historical case files of London’s Secret Intelligence Service. One may go so far as to say that, from both London’s and East Berlin’s perspectives, Leamas’ cover - his legend, as they say - is plausible chiefly on account of his access to secret archives. Leamas’ very survival, then, depends on his verifiable relation to documentary records. It is this fact that gives le Carré’s gripping spy tale its practical verisimilitude.
During his interrogation in East Berlin, his Communist interlocutor grills Leamas about an earlier British operation of consequence. The scene serves as a clear demonstration of le Carré’s original employment of archival devices in this novel. Leamas at first feigns ignorance of the operation; but his questioner, Fiedler, like any good researcher, wants to judge for himself the genuineness of his source. Fiedler tests Leamas by inquiring about his access to the file on an operation called Rolling Stone. “The file - the actual file on Operation Rolling Stone. What color was it?,” he asks Leamas. Eventually, Leamas admits that the folder was “gray with a Red Cross on it - that means limited subscription”. Next, Fiedler wants to know whether there was “anything attached to the outside” of the folder. “Yes, the Caveat,” Leamas replies. “That’s the subscription label.” (10)
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold is a short novel in which le Carré’s tight, sparse style serves to rivet the reader’s attention to the manipulated fate of Alec Leamas. Within a few years after his success with The Spy, however, le Carré’s early employment of a kind of archival bona fides for his tales blossomed into his use of archival research as a major device to set up his novels’ plots and to resolve their tense, sometimes esoteric mysteries. Many scenes from his novels could be presented here to make the point that, as le Carré once wrote, “intelligence moves on its archives”. (11) In addition to the analysis of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, this paper limits itself to three major examples of le Carré’s archival motif as demonstrations of its essential role in the construction of his popular novels.
Photographic evidence is, of course, a mainstay of many historical publications. It is doubtful that any professional photo-archivist will ever produce a monograph on the utility for research of photographic records which combines the dramatic power and didactic clarity of a certain scene depicted in another gripping le Carré tale, Smiley’s People. (12) In this novel, the second exhibit of le Carré’s archival realism, we find George Smiley of the Secret Intelligence Service, frequently “drawing upon his memory as if it were an archive,” trying to track down a minor Soviet operative in Germany. The small-fry Soviet agent is also the key to Smiley’s plan to bait and trap his Russian archrival, Karla. (13)
Smiley’s chief clue in the case is a grainy photograph
clandestinely snapped with the complicity of one of the Service’s old Cold
War sources in Germany, a refugee with the most unlikely name of Otto Leipzig.
The photograph depicts Leipzig and a small-time Soviet agent, Oleg Kirov,
closeted together in a Hamburg brothel while sporting with a couple of
young, female prostitutes. Smiley’s problem in this scene is that
he does not immediately recognize Kirov. He therefore determines
to study the photograph in depth to stir his memory. Le Carré’s detailed
description of his scholarly spy, bent in total concentration over his
photographic clue in a purposeful effort to connect physical evidence to
the chords of memory, affords his many readers a classic statement of the
importance of photographic records:
Several years ago, Melvyn Bragg wrote up his notes of a conversation with John le Carré and charged the spy novelist with “making fictions out of the forked and coiling tongues of institutional life”. (20) At that point in his account of the interview Bragg may have been thinking of le Carré’s Rawley Bradfield, fictional head of chancery in Her Majesty’s embassy in Bonn. (21) An embassy head of chancery is a kind of general manager across whose desk flow all official communications. It is a vitally important diplomatic position and one which, in his case, Rawley Bradfield esteems more highly than he cherishes his wife.
It is on the head of Bradfield’s avidity for position, which is nowadays derived from administrative power, that le Carré makes a subtle yet impressive statement about the degeneracy of contemporary public institutions. For it is less and less possible to sustain the integrity of private relationships in conjunction with the often imperious demands and, for some, heady temptations of many public careers. (22) In Bradfield’s case, le Carré depicts the upshot of this diplomat’s delusion as being just short of disastrous for British negotiations looking towards membership in what was then called the European Common Market. In a word, Bradfield knowingly abets the irregular embassy career of his wife’s lover the more fully to attend to his own role in the impotent politics of Britain’s fading imperial grandeur. A Small Town In Germany is not a delightful tale, but it is exceedingly well told and its message is unmistakable. (23) Perhaps its bleak honesty helps explain the book’s poor sales record compared to le Carré’s later novels. In any case, let us put the story to work as the third example of le Carré’s archival realism in the world of fictional secret intelligence.
The tale opens on a scene of irksome anxiety for Arthur Meadowes, the frowsy chancery archivist at the British Embassy in Bonn. Meadowes supervises “a political archive . . . in the hottest crisis any of them could remember”. “It was tougher still,” he avers rather guiltily, “for those who had to track down the files, enter up the loose papers, mark in the new entries and get them back into circulation again.” (24) Meadowes’ particular colic on this day is owing to the fact that, in the midst of the diplomatic turmoil, he has lost track of an archives trolley and forty-three file folders. It is later found that the missing records include a valuable Personalities Survey of West German politicians, and a top secret Green File of diplomatic conversations regarding Britain’s Common Market application. But it is not until the librarian of the British Library in Hanover, West Germany, is murdered by a mob clamoring for a voluble neo-Nazi demagogue that London dispatches Alan Turner of the Security Service to Bonn to investigate.
Almost immediately Turner discovers the loss of the chancery files and, soon afterwards, he connects the event with the disappearance of a temporary embassy second secretary, “the unpromotable, unpostable, unpensionable” lover of Rawley Bradfield’s spouse. Turner’s expert interrogations of embassy personnel produce a fascinating history of Leo Harting’s long association with the embassy reaching back to his first employment there as a gemütlich German national who smoothly handles local claims against British occupation forces. It is not long before Harting makes himself the chancery’s indispensable man for odd jobs and inconvenient public assignments - “missing persons, petitions to the Queen, unannounced visitors, official tours, the Anglo-German Society, letters of abuse, threats, all the things that should never have come to chancery in the first place,” Bradfield tells Turner. (25)
For a time, Bradfield annually renews Harting’s tenuous contract with the embassy without much thought. After he discovers Leo’s romantic affair with his wife, however, Bradfield presses him on the initially unwilling Arthur Meadowes in order to get Harting out of his sight. So it comes about that the convenient German is all but ordered to prepare the Personalities Survey, “another of those chores which interfere with our official duties,” says Bradfield; but also a duty which, it becomes clear, has given Leo Harting “a laissez-passer to any part of the embassy”. (26) One of the oddments in chancery that falls to Harting during the current diplomatic round is the archival deaccessioning program - what le Carré has Meadowes call the Destruction program for discarding records. “It sounds,” says Bradfield, “a somewhat academic project, and in many ways it is.” However, it is also an essential task, Bradfield explains to Turner, since “a clearly defined limit” exists on “the amount of paper Registry can handle, and the amount of paper it will hold”. (27) At this point in his relation, le Carré has the close attention of historians and archivists everywhere.
To Arthur Meadowes’ mind Leo Harting turns out to
be a deuce of an archivist. “I don’t know how he managed it,” Meadowes
confides to Turner. “He knew nothing about archives, not our kind
anyway. . . .” Yet, Meadowes continues, “by mid-February that Personalities
Survey was drafted, signed off and away and the Destruction program was
back on the rails again”. (28)
It is also clear to Meadowes that Harting genuinely liked his new work.
Le Carré has Meadowes tell Turner:
Le Carré’s use of archival records as the principal device to establish the plot structures of many of his novels sometimes turns to almost mystical evocations of the power of the past in the lives of his characters. In places he goes so far with an archival motif that the effect is an identification of the significance of documentary records with the deeper meaning of his characters’ personal lives. His point may be prophetic. (37)
In his l986 novel, A Perfect Spy, our final example of le Carré’s archival realism, he has devised a plot which seems to drive his now practiced theme of binding present acts to past events to its ultimate logical conclusion. (38) The story moves forward through a series of Magnus Pym’s memorable evocations of the dependence of his own illusive past on his deceased father’s double-dealing career. (39) Magnus’s recollections take the form of a long letter to his son, while the action sequences in present time occupy only a secondary place in the relation.
“Our own lives,” writes A. N. Wilson in Incline Our Hearts, “that is, as remembered by ourselves, are probably fictions, but they are more reliable fictions than other people’s reconstructions of our lives”. (40) At the apex of a seemingly successful career as a British intelligence officer, Magnus Pym suddenly disappears from London and takes refuge at a rooming house “in a south Devon coastal town that seemed to have been deserted by its inhabitants”. (41) It is his opposite number in the C.I.A.’s London station - the bureaucratic, suspicious, quietly Anglophobic Grant Lederer - who notices Pym’s peculiar absence from the usual round of professional enterprise. Lederer’s anxiety rises over the possibility that Pym’s disappearance may signal a major defection in the Kim Philby manner with similarly injurious consequences for the security of American intelligence operations and Lederer’s own career prospect. However, it is Pym’s Circus recruiter and early professional mentor, the ironically named Jack Brotherhood, who is detailed by le Carré to track Pym down. In doing so, Brotherhood comes face-to-face with the duplicitous nature of his recruitment of Pym far in the past.
Initially, Pym’s diary is the sole clue to his recent behavior that le Carré permits to Brotherhood. Curiously, the diary has been kept in his wife’s hand the better to confound probing eyes. “Magnus keeps everything inside something,” she blithely confides to Brotherhood. “Everything must wear a disguise in order to be real.” (42) Everything, that is, except Magnus’s epistolary memoir to his son. For it is inside this meticulous missive, which serves as a structure for the allegory imagined by le Carré, that Pym reveals his continual betrayals of Britain over many years as a secret agent. More importantly, though, Magnus’s letter also makes it clear to his child that the underlying, psychological root of his treachery is the morally insupportable burden of his own father’s shady past. For Magnus, his father, Rick Pym, has been a nearly insurmountable impediment to honorable pursuits, whose density materializes in the story as “an old chipped green filing cabinet . . . which like a traveling icon had come to mark the centre of Rick’s migrant faith”. (43)
Thus it happens that Magnus’s first betrayal is of his own father. Pym’s final betrayal in this schizophrenic history, whose ironic symbol is a confession to his son, is made by le Carré to be identical with Pym’s first deception. Magnus’s secret flight to the Devon coast amounts to a conscientious affirmation of his moral freedom after many years of its denial. He makes no attempt to escape England. Instead, he employs his brief period of liberty from his disingenuous past to disburden himself of his father’s weighty legacy to him as represented by the green filing cabinet. In composing his avulsive autobiography, le Carré makes Pym rely on Rick’s records as his principal authoritative references. “One by one, with a red pen,” le Carré writes, “Pym numbered each document in the top right corner, then entered the same numbers in the appropriate points in his text by way of reference. With a bureaucrat’s neat manners he stapled the exhibits together and inserted them in a file marked ‘Annexe’.” (44)
The history that Pym relates to his son begins with his early years. It is an allegory for our times worthy of the critical intuition of a Dickens. As a youngster Magnus follows his father’s frequent moves from place to place, from confidence trick to political scandal, in constant quest after the perfect swindle. As a result, the boy inherits a life of pure improvisation. He becomes an urban nomad. The perfect spy is also the perfect opportunist.
Pym’s first encounter with his father’s green filing cabinet, stuffed with the organized records of Rick’s many personal and financial betrayals, nevertheless quickens the boy’s native conscience and determines him upon an effort to bring Rick’s illicit career to an end. When the scheme comes to naught on account of his father’s superior talent for duplicity, Magnus’s conscience suffers a terrific blow from which it recovers only after a lifetime of his own treacherous acts. Later in the tale, Pym’s Communist controller, Axel, recognizes the moral tension in his agent motivated by Pym’s repressed conscience in continual friction against his peculiar, secret worldliness. At one point Axel says to Magnus, “Even when you are telling the truth, you lie. . . . Yet you also have morality. You search. . . . for once nature has produced a perfect match. You are a perfect spy. All you need is a cause.” (45)
Le Carré’s provocative point in this novel is, perhaps, prophetic of a mounting condition of contemporary life. For the first time in several centuries - at least in the West - it may be happening that one’s past is inescapable in what may be called the psycho-archival terms le Carré has employed to forge Pym’s chains to his father’s many deceptions. If this literary artifice of le Carré’s is a valid clue to the future, we may expect to see personal freedom reduced to individual acts of secret rebellion. In other words, liberty of conscience and, more importantly, a solid sense of personal integrity, may become possible luxuries only as the effects of duplicitous behavior.
In A Perfect Spy Pym’s conscience does recover from
the damage inflicted upon it because, as le Carré has Magnus observe, “There
is no such thing as a life which does not return.” (46)
In the end, Magnus’s long-festering bitterness and rebellion is evidence
of his essential decency. He may as well be describing himself, rather
than his father, when he writes for his son’s eyes:
In these circumstances, le Carré’s story seems to be asking
whether it can really matter that Magnus Pym has betrayed his country.
After all, the essential psychological and - through Jack Brotherhood’s
puissant lies - occupational conditions of Pym’s lifelong treachery is
the original corruption of culture spawned by his country’s secret institutions.
John le Carré’s perfect spy forces us to confront ourselves and to inquire:
just what is one’s country? How should this rivuleted and translucent
background of one’s consciousness be defined and understood in our own
personal lives? If it is Magnus’s formative experiences of his father’s
avidity, licentiousness and betrayals, we are hardly surprised to find
Magnus reacting as he has done. (49)
Rather, the surprise is Pym’s honorable confession to his son. By
this act of reconciliation and liberation, we are brought to understand
- as Magnus has come to understand - that life, like secret intelligence
and, at times, the past itself, is for many people “an institutionalized
black market in perishable commodities.” Le Carré’s A Perfect Spy
is a bleak vision of the tricks we the living sometimes play upon the future.
Unfortunately, many among his millions of readers may not have the option
of fictionalizing their actual circumstances. If le Carré’s intuition
of the future, and his prophecy about the past, are true bills, it may
soon be unavoidably true for us also that only the file, the record, the
archive - “the organized memory of a large department” - defines our lives. (50)
1. Besides the novels analyzed in this paper, elaboration of le Carré’s plots in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (l980), The Looking Glass War (1966), The Honorable Schoolboy (l978), and The Little Drummer Girl (1984) depend on what professional archivists, in and out of intelligence services, would likely call expert appraisal of highly specialized records.
2. John le Carré, A Small Town In Germany.
NY: Dell, l969
3. John le Carré, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. NY: Bantam, l980. An official of the Central Intelligence Agency has commented on this matter. “An awful lot of what we have to do is slugging though file cards and computer print-outs. Poor George Smiley, that’s us.” Quoted in Stefan Kanfer, “The Spy Who Came In For The Gold,” Time 110 (October 3, 1977), p. 68.
4. John le Carré, “In England Now,” New York Times Magazine (October 23, 1977), p. 86. More recently, le Carré has rendered the question as, “What else has to happen to you before something happens to you?,” in The Tailor of Panama. NY: Ballantine Books, 1996, p. 54.
5. Walter Laqueur, A World of Secrets. NY: Basic Books, l985, p. 5. Mark Abley, “John le Carré’s Trail of Terror,” MacLean’s 96 (March 7, 1983), p. 51. Laqueur charges le Carré with harboring a degree of anti-Semitism for his romanticized portrayals of Palestinian nationalists in The Little Drummer Girl. In his critical essay, Laqueur reviews the development of the spy novel since the last quarter of the nineteenth century and claims that the early conventions of the genre are observed to this day: silky seductresses, double agents, imposters, technological gadgetry. Unfortunately for Laqueur’s argument in this case, there are few femmes fatales and rocket guns in le Carré’s novels. More to the point, though, le Carré’s sleuths substitute patient research into agency archives for a reliance on technology in solving their mysteries. Walter Laqueur, “Le Carré’s Fantasies,” Commentary 75 (June, 1983), pp. 62-67.
6. “. . . for awhile I was a part of that world, and saw more done through good paperwork than was ever done by romantic operations.” John le Carré to author, August 18, 1986.
7. John le Carré, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. NY: Bantam, 1975. Regarding the fidelity of his plots to actual historical events, le Carré has said, “I invent most of it”. Tony Chou, “John le Carré,” New York Times Book Review (January 16, 1980), p. 30.
8. Carl L. Becker, “Everyman His Own Historian,” American Historical Review 37 (January, 1932), pp. 221-236.
9. In 1970, Frau Liane Linder and Frau Irene Schultz were arrested in West Germany for espionage. The charges against them included passing minutes of the government’s Cabinet meetings to East German and Russian intelligence agencies. Richard Deacon, A History of the Russian Secret Service. NY: Taplinger, 1972, pp. 526-527.
10. The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, p. 137. In this novel a brief appearance is also made by a character called Dr. Adolf Fechtmann of St. Gallen, Switzerland, who is the Service’s resident agent at Helsinki. Fechtmann is a professional archivist.
11. John le Carré to author, August 18, 1986.
12. John le Carré, Smiley’s People. NY: Bantam, 1980.
13. The insightful line equating Smiley’s prodigious memory to an archive is in ibid., p. 91. In this story Smiley, now retired from the Circus, invents a plausible reason to gain entry to the archives, a prospective in-house history of the Service. Once inside the archives, “he read all night” into “old buff files bound together with green string,” le Carré tells us. He hardly stirred. . . . When he had done with Karla, he drew the files on Kirov, on Mikhel, on Villem, and on the group at large, if only to give, in retrospect, a solid documentary heart to all he had heard and remembered of the Leipzig-Kirov story”. Ibid., p. 290. Professor Elizabeth F. Loftus of the University of Washington at Seattle says that “memory is a fragile, elusive thing that is less like a videotaped recorder that can capture an event for repeated playback than an interpretive process of putting together information when it is called for”. Warren E. Leary, “Novel Methods Unlock Witnesses’ Memories,” New York Times (November 15, 1988), p. C-1.
14. Smiley’s People, pp. 142-143.
15. Ibid., p. 145.
16. Ibid., p. 148.
17. Ibid., p. 151.
18. Ibid., p. 153.
19. Michael Wood, “Spy Fiction, Spy Fact,” New York Times Book Review (January 6, 1980), pp. 16-17.
20. Melvyn Bragg, “A Talk with John le Carré,”
New York Times Book Review (March 13, 1983), p. 1. “His interest
in espionage,” George Grella wrote, “is clearly an interest in the way
government departments, institutions, civil servants, members of a ruling
class behave in the twilight of honor”. “Murder and Loyalty,” The
New Republic 175 (July 31, 1976),
p. 24. Perhaps. It may be pertinent to add that le Carré has confessed to a certain imaginative randomness in the construction of his novels. “I have known very few writers,” he stated in 1965, “but those I have known, and whom I respect, confess at once that they have little idea where they are going when they first set pen to paper”. John le Carré, “What Every Writer Wants,” Harper’s 231 (November, 1965), p. 144.
21. Le Carré served in Bonn in the late 1950s and early 1960s and became familiar with the city. “Bonn was the hot seat,” he recalled in l977. “There was the Berlin Wall . . . Adenauer . . . De Gaulle . . . Kennedy’s ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ . . . the Bay of Pigs. I had a wonderful worm’s eye view of the Cold War.” Arnold W. Erlich, “PW Interviews: John le Carré,” Publisher’s Weekly 212 (September 19, 1977), p. 56
22. Peter Prescott once alluded to the violence to personal life through dedication to a profession as a main theme of le Carré’s work. Smiley’s unfortunate marriage to Lady Ann Sercomb is a typical example. Peter Prescott, “In the Theater of the Real,” Newsweek 101 (March 7, 1983), pp. 72-73. In The Russia House (NY: Knopf, 1989, p. 45), le Carré characterizes the successful career of an intelligence chief as “his prudent little journey to power”. The remark also suits le Carré’s Rawley Bradfield. Le Carré makes some effective uses of archival motifs in The Russia House, but the mystery and its resolution do not depend directly upon archival researches.
23. A Small Town In Germany, op. cit. “We are in the hands of a writer of great powers,” wrote William F. Buckley in a review of The Little Drummer Girl. “Terror and a Woman,” New York Times Book Review (March 13, 1983), p. 1. To George Grella, le Carré is “not only a distinguished and literate novelist of espionage, but simply one of the best living English writers”. “Murder and Loyalty,” op. cit., p. 24. Le Carré is aware that he possesses a modest talent for prose. Referring to his time abroad in diplomatic labors, le Carré explained that “The ambassador would have to make a report, and the first draft was usually done by the youngest secretary. You tried to put yourself into the ambassador’s way of thinking. Then the senior officers would make their marginal notes and the draft would come back to me. Some of the best things in English literature are in the archives of the Foreign Service.” Joseph Wechsburg, “John le Carré: Will Success Spoil David Cornwell?,” Ladies Home Journal 82 (April, 1965), p. 126.
24. A Small Town In Germany, pp. 13-14.
25. John le Carré, A Small Town In Germany. NY: Dell, 1969, p. 68. Leo Harting’s variegated usefulness in Bonn seems to have inspired le Carré’s much later occupational description of “young Simon Pitt,” in another British embassy, in The Tailor of Panama, p. 116.
26. Ibid., p. 70.
28. Ibid., p. 71.
29. A Small Town In Germany, loc. cit., p. 102.
30. Ibid., pp. 101-102.
31. Ibid., p. 105.
33. Ibid., p. 249.
34. Franz Schonhuber, sometime chairman of the Republican Citizens Party of West Germany, bears a more than passing resemblance to the subject of Leo Harting’s nocturnal archival burrowing, Klaus Karfeld, whom le Carré describes as “a decent man decently concerned about the fate of Germany,” who “is obliged, out of a sense of honor, to address a few words”. Ibid., p. 263. Serge Schmemann, “West German Rightist Boasts of Nazi Service,” New York Times (February 9, 1989), p. A-11.
35. A Small Town In Germany, loc. cit., pp. 267-268.
36. Ibid., p. 113.
37. In The Little Drummer Girl, p. 292, for example, the actress, Charlie, believes that the letters carefully written for her to her fake Arab lover “were not a mere sideshow in the relationship,” but “were the only place you could think aloud. . . . “ Years before, in The Looking Glass War (NY: Dell, 1966, pp. 205-206), le Carré used an index card in a Circus agent’s files as a pneumonic device to hypostacize the major character’s inner life and personality as he would have liked to see them Another instance of le Carré’s revelatory contrivances which link historical records to the states of mind of his characters appears in Smiley’s People, p. 290, after Smiley has pieced together the Leipzig-Kirov story to his satisfaction. Le Carré’s narrator comments: “For there was yet another part of Smiley, call it pedant, call it scholar, for which the file was the only truth and all the rest a mere extravagance until it was matched and fitted to the record.”
38. John le Carré, A Perfect Spy. NY: Knopf, 1986.
39. Le Carré’s own father, Ronald Cornwell, who died in 1975, left behind two automobiles, sumptuous offices at Jermyn Street, an apartment in Chelsea, a country house near Maidenhead, and two race horses - all of them in the names of bogus companies - and no assets. The Cornwell family also inherited a large, green filing cabinet full of Ronald’s records. According to le Carré, after Ronald Cornwell’s death, the office staff practically attacked his father’s papers in search of evidence of liquid assets, “but they never found a thing”. Joseph Lelyveld, “Le Carré’s Toughest Case,” New York Times Magazine (March 16, 1986), p. 91. There is a scene similar to that described by Lelyveld at the end of A Perfect Spy, on p. 448. Le Carré seems to look upon his father’s somewhat disreputable behavior with equanimity. Unlike Magnus Pym, he appears to have avoided the temptation to become what is erroneously called a double agent. Like Scaramouche, one reporter says, le Carré “was born with the gift of laughter and the sense that the world was mad”. T. D. S. Greenway, “Travels With le Carré,” Newsweek 90 (October 10, 1977), p. 102.
40. Quoted in Michiko Kakutani, “In the English Gulag,” New York Times (January 10, 1989), p. C-16.
41. A Perfect Spy, p. 3.
42. Ibid., p. 50.
43. Ibid., p. 75.
44. Ibid., p. 159.
45. Ibid., p. 432. “He was a sailor. I was a sailor. He was a private investigator, and so was I. . . . And the bottom line was I turned out to be a spy just like him,” said Michael L. Walker of his father’s influence on his theft of classified documents from the USS Nimitz. “John Walker’s Son Says He Became Spy Because of Close Parental Ties,” Los Angeles Times (April 8, 1987), I, p. 17.
46. A Perfect Spy, p. 266.
47. Ibid., p. 303.
48. For instance, there is the attitude of le Carré’s Russian traitor, Goethe: “Because anything we see is a State secret. Also, if it’s an illusion it’s a State secret. Even if it doesn’t work and never will, it’s a State secret. And if it’s a lie from top to bottom, then it’s the hottest State secret of the lot.” The Russia House, p. 85.
49. Here is Magnus Pym as a youth working secretly in his father’s files: “He turns to the final page first and reads the judge’s summing up, verdict, sentence, the immediate disposition of the prisoner. In calm ecstacy he turns back to the beginning and starts again. No camera in those days, no tape recorders. Only what you can see and hear and memorize and steal. He reads for an hour. . . . I am following my vocation. Divine service is in progress.” A Perfect Spy, p. 365. On a similar theme, the mysterious narrator of The Russia House, p. 73: “Some people, I reflected, are cursed with too much loyalty, for a day could come when there was nothing left for them to serve.” Three examples from the novel will suffice: First, le Carré’s Russian-populist-scientist-traitor, Goethe, on the nineteenth century Russian poet and mystic, Vladimir Pecherin: “Pecherin showed there was nothing disloyal in betrayal provided you betrayed what you hated and fought for what you loved.” Second, later in the story, le Carré’s interrogator, Sheriton, to his subject, Mr. Brown: “Mr. Brown, will you let me spell it out for you a little? There is no longer the space in life to take each humble member of the human family on his merits, okay? So everybody who is anybody has a record.” Finally, le Carré’s narrator on his anti-hero, Barley: “As to his loyalty to his country, Barley saw it as a question of which England he chose to serve. His last ties to the imperial fantasy were dead. The chauvinist drumbeat revolted him. He would rather be trampled by it than march with it. He knew a better England by far, and it was inside himself.” The Russia House, pp. 87, 235, 286.
50. “Your father, however, has only his secrets. They’re his provenance and his curse.” A Perfect Spy, p. 22.
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