Yet had I been alone I would not have done it—I remember my state of mind to be thus at the time—alone I would never have done it.
– St. Augustine, Confessions
I learnt that the story of my connection with the Russians was known to a number of people in Fleet Street and that, though they might hesitate to publish anything while I was alive, they would undoubtedly do so the moment I was dead.
– Anthony Blunt’s unpublished memoir
It could very well be something out of a novel: four Cambridge men, Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, and Anthony Blunt, are, one by one, recruited to spy for the Soviet Union. Using their connections they obtain important positions in various governmental arenas. They spy for Russia through World War II and into the Cold War until, one by one, they are found out. Although the spies were widely reviled after their various unmaskingings, they remain beloved of authors and playwrights the world over.
This course examines the historical Cambridge Spy Ring through the literary lens provided by fictional texts. Writers (playwrights, filmmakers) have ascribed motive, sympathy, and punishment. They have softened the characters. They have judged them harshly. In this course, students will reflect on the ways privilege, patriarchy, classism, nationalism, homophobia, and other forces intersected to prevent the spies’ defection, detection, and eventual outing. What new understanding do these fictionalizations allow?
Finally, we will contemplate the nature of confession. How much untruth is required before a story becomes fiction?
- Anthony Blunt: His Lives, Miranda Carter
- Stalin’s Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess, Andrew Lownie
- A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal, Ben Macintyre
- A Spy Named Orphan: The Enigma of Donald Maclean, Roland Philipps
- “The Cleric of Treason,” George Steiner
- The Untouchable, John Banville
- Single Spies, Alan Bennett
- Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John Le Carré
- Another Country, Julian Mitchell
- Blunt: The Fourth Man, Dir. John Glenister
- Cambridge Spies, Dir. Tim Fywell
- Philby, Burgess, and Maclean, Dir. Gordon Flemyng
- Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Dir. John Irvin
Jackie Hedeman is a tea drinker and a Midwesterner. She holds a BA from Princeton University and an MFA from The Ohio State University. Her work has appeared in Electric Literature, The Best American Travel Writing 2017, Autostraddle, The Offing, 1966, and elsewhere. She is currently at work on a memoir about her lifelong preoccupation with spies. Find her on Twitter @JackieHedeman
featured photo credit: Jackie Hedeman