There Were British Spy Novels Before James Bond
From The History of Literature Podcast with Jacke Wilson
For tens of thousands of years, human beings have been using fictional devices to shape their worlds and communicate with one another. Four thousand years ago they began writing down these stories, and a great flourishing of human achievement began. We know it today as literature, a term broad enough to encompass everything from ancient epic poetry to contemporary novels. How did literature develop? What forms has it taken? And what can we learn from engaging with these works today? Hosted by Jacke Wilson, an amateur scholar with a lifelong passion for literature, The History of Literature takes a fresh look at some of the most compelling examples of creative genius the world has ever known.
The British spy novel was well established long before Ian Fleming’s creation of James Bond in the 1950s. And while it came to be identified with the Cold War, thanks to Fleming and subsequent writers like John le Carré, thriller aficionados continued to look back to earlier authors for novels with a different set of stakes. In this episode, Jacke talks to scholar and journalist Juliette Bretan about the issues at work in the spy novels of the 1930s. With Europe in flux, what were the protagonist spies busy doing? And how did those reflect the passions and fears of their creators?
Authors discussed include Graham Greene, Christopher Isherwood, Rex Warner (The Wild Goose Chase, The Professor), Eric Ambler (The Dark Frontier, Uncommon Danger, A Coffin for Dimitrios) and Geoffrey Household (Rogue Male).
Juliette Bretan is a freelance journalist covering Poland and Central and Eastern Europe. She has contributed to the BBC World Service, and written for The Sunday Times, The New Statesman’s CityMetric, The Independent, and Euronews, among others.