John le Carre

John le Carré
Hamburg, 2008
Born David John Moore Cornwell
(1931-10-19) 19 October 1931 (age 82)
Poole, Dorset, England
Occupation Novelist, former intelligence officer
Language English
Nationality British
Genres Spy fiction
Notable work(s) The Spy Who Came in from the Cold,
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,
The Honourable Schoolboy,
Smiley's People, The Constant Gardener
Spouse(s) Alison Sharp (m. 1954–1971)
Valerie Eustace (m. 1972–present)
Children 4 sons

David John Moore Cornwell (born 19 October 1931), pen name John le Carré /lə ˈkɑrˌ/, is a British author of espionage novels. During the 1950s and the 1960s, Cornwell worked for the British intelligence services MI5 and MI6, and began writing novels under a pen name. His third novel The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) became an international best-seller, and remains one of his best-known works. Following the novel's success, he left MI6 to become a full-time author.

Le Carré has since established himself as an important writer of espionage fiction. In 1990, he received the Helmerich Award which is presented annually by the Tulsa Library Trust.[1] In 2008, The Times ranked Le Carré 22nd on its list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945".[2] In 2011, he won the Goethe Medal, a yearly prize given by the Goethe Institute.

Early life and career

On 19 October 1931, David John Moore Cornwell was born to Richard Thomas Archibald (Ronnie) Cornwell (1906–75) and Olive (Glassy) Cornwell, in Poole, Dorset, England. He was the second son to the marriage, the first being Tony, two years his elder, now a retired advertising executive; his younger half-sister is the actress Charlotte Cornwell; and Rupert Cornwell, a former Independent newspaper Washington bureau chief, is a younger half-brother.[3][4] John le Carré said he did not know his mother, who abandoned him when he was five years old, until their re-acquaintance when he was 21 years old.[5] His relationship with his father was difficult, given that the man had been jailed for insurance fraud, was an associate of the Kray twins[5] (among the foremost criminals in London) and was continually in debt. A biographer reports,

"His father, Ronnie, made and lost his fortune a number of times due to elaborate confidence tricks and schemes which landed him in prison on at least one occasion. This was one of the factors that led to le Carré's fascination with secrets."[6]

The character 'Rick Pym', the scheming con-man father of protagonist 'Magnus Pym' in his later novel A Perfect Spy (1986), was based on Ronnie. When Ronnie died in 1975, le Carré paid for a memorial funeral service but did not attend.[5]

Cornwell's formal schooling began at St Andrew's Preparatory School, near Pangbourne, Berkshire, then continued at Sherborne School; he proved unhappy with the typically harsh English public school régime of the time, and disliked his disciplinarian housemaster, Thomas, and so withdrew. From 1948 to 1949, he studied foreign languages at the University of Bern in Switzerland. In 1950 he joined the Intelligence Corps of the British Army garrisoned in Austria, working as a German language interrogator of people who crossed the Iron Curtain to the West. In 1952, he returned to England to study at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he worked covertly for the British Security Service, MI5, spying upon far-left groups for information about possible Soviet agents.[7]

When Ronnie declared bankruptcy in 1954, Cornwell quit Oxford to teach at a boys' preparatory school; however, a year later, he returned to Oxford and graduated, in 1956, with a First Class Honours Bachelor of Arts degree. He then taught French and German at Eton College for two years, afterwards becoming an MI5 officer in 1958; he ran agents, conducted interrogations, tapped telephone lines, and effected break-ins.[8] Encouraged by Lord Clanmorris (who wrote crime novels as 'John Bingham'), and whilst an active MI5 officer, Cornwell began writing Call for the Dead (1961), his first novel. Lord Clanmorris was one of two models – Vivian H. H. Green[9] being the other – for George Smiley, the spymaster of the Circus. As a schoolboy, Cornwell had first met Green when he was the Chaplain and Assistant Master at Sherborne School (1942–51), and then later as Rector at Lincoln College.

In 1960, Cornwell transferred to MI6, the foreign-intelligence service, and worked under 'Second Secretary' cover in the British Embassy at Bonn; he later was transferred to Hamburg as a political consul. There, he wrote the detective story A Murder of Quality (1962) and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963), as 'John le Carré' ('John the Square', in French [8]), a pseudonym required because Foreign Office officers were forbidden to publish in their own names. Cornwell left the service in 1964 to work full-time as a novelist, as his intelligence officer career was ended by the betrayal of British agents' covers to the KGB by Kim Philby, a British double agent (of the Cambridge Five).[7][10] Le Carré depicts and analyses Philby as the upper-class traitor, code-named Gerald by the KGB, the mole George Smiley hunts in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974).[11][12] Credited by his pen name, Cornwell appears as an extra in the 2011 film version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, among the guests at the Christmas party seen in several flashback scenes.

In 1964, le Carré won the Somerset Maugham Award, established to enable British writers younger than thirty-five to enrich their writing by spending time abroad.

Personal life

In 1954, Cornwell married Alison Ann Veronica Sharp; they had three sons - Simon, Stephen and Timothy - and divorced in 1971.[13] In 1972, Cornwell married Valérie Jane Eustace, a book editor with Hodder & Stoughton.[14] They have one son, Nicholas, who writes as Nick Harkaway.[15] Le Carré has resided in St Buryan, Cornwall, UK, for more than forty years where he owns a mile of cliff close to Land's End.[16]

In 1998, he was awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Letters) from the University of Bath.[17]

In 2012, he was awarded the Degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa by the University of Oxford.[18]

Writing style

The genre of le Carré's first two novels – Call for the Dead (1961) and A Murder of Quality (1962) – is mystery fiction in which the hero George Smiley (of the SIS, the Circus) resolves the riddles of the deaths investigated; the motives are more personal than political.[19]

The spy novel œuvre of John le Carré stands in contrast to the physical action and moral certainty of the James Bond thriller established by Ian Fleming in the mid nineteen-fifties; the le Carré Cold War features unheroic political functionaries aware of the moral ambiguity of their work, and engaged in psychological more than physical drama. They experience little of the violence typically encountered in action thrillers, and have very little recourse to gadgets. Much of the conflict they are involved in is internal, rather than external and visible.[20]

Unlike the moral certainty of Fleming's British Secret Service adventures, le Carré's Circus spy stories are morally complex. They emphasise the fallibility of Western democracy and of the secret services protecting it, often implying the possibility of East-West moral equivalence.[20]

A Perfect Spy (1986), which chronicles the boyhood moral education of Magnus Pym and how it leads to his becoming a spy, is the author's most autobiographical espionage novel, reflecting the boy's very close relationship with his con man father. Biographer Lynndianne Beene describes the novelist's own father, Richard Cornwell, as 'an epic con man of little education, immense charm, extravagant tastes, but no social values'; le Carré reflected that 'writing A Perfect Spy is probably what a very wise shrink would have advised'.

Most of le Carré's novels are spy stories set amidst the Cold War (1945–91); a notable exception is The Naïve and Sentimental Lover (1971), an autobiographical, stylistically uneven, mainstream novel of a man's post-marital existential crisis. Another exception from the East-West conflict is The Little Drummer Girl that uses the Israel-Palestinian conflict--and which offers one of the most poignant and insightful treatments of the two conflicting sides in that interminable struggle. And Le Carré is able to carry this feat off without once resorting to moralism or preaching.

With the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, le Carré's œuvre shifted to portrayal of the new multilateral world. For example, The Night Manager, his first completely post-Cold-War novel, deals with drug and arms smuggling in the murky world of Latin America drug lords, shady Caribbean banking entities, and look-the-other-way western officials.

As a journalist, he wrote The Unbearable Peace (1991), a non-fiction account of Brigadier Jean-Louis Jeanmaire (1911–92), the Swiss Army officer who spied for the USSR from 1962 until 1975.[21] In 2009, he donated the short story 'The King Who Never Spoke' to the Oxfam 'Ox-Tales' project, which included it in the project's Fire volume.[22]

Politics

In January 2003 The Times published le Carré's article "The United States Has Gone Mad",[23] which condemned the approaching Iraq War. He observed in this essay, "How Bush and his junta succeeded in deflecting America's anger, from Bin Laden to Saddam Hussein, is one of the great public relations conjuring tricks of history".[24] In 2006, he contributed the above article to a volume of political essays entitled "Not One More Death". The book is highly critical of the war in Iraq. Le Carré's contribution was entitled "Art, truth and politics". Other contributors include Harold Pinter, Richard Dawkins, Michel Faber, Brian Eno, and Haifa Zangana.[25]

He is the author of a testimonial in The Future of the NHS (2006) (ISBN 1858113695) edited by Dr. Michelle Tempest.

Last television interviews

On Monday 13 September 2010 he was interviewed on Channel 4 News by journalist Jon Snow at his house in Cornwall. The conversation involved a few topics: his writing career generally and processes adopted for writing – specifically about his current book, Our Kind of Traitor, involving Russia and its current global influences, financially and politically; his SIS career, reasoning why, both personally and more generally, one did such a job then, as compared to now; and how the fight against communism then has now conversely moved to the hugely negative effects of certain aspects of excessive capitalism.

During the interview he made it clear that it would be his last television interview ever. While reticent as to his exact reasons, those he was willing to cite were that of slight self-loathing (which he considered most people feel), along with a distaste for showing off (he felt that writing necessarily involved a lot of this anyway) and to breaching what he felt was the necessarily solitary nature of the writer's work. He was also wary of wasting writing time and dissipating his talent in social success, having seen this happen to many talented writers, to the detriment of their later work.[26] A week after this purportedly final television appearance, however, le Carré was interviewed on television in the United States, on the programme Democracy Now!.[27] Cornwell's explanation aired on Democracy Now! on Monday 11 October 2010.[28]

AMY GOODMAN: Now, we were interested because Channel 4 just said "the last interview" with John le Carré, and yet here we are. Why did you change your mind?


JOHN LE CARRÉ: I didn’t change my mind. The full text with Channel 4 was that that was my last interview in the UK. And this is the last book about which I intend to give interviews. That isn’t because I’m in any sense retiring. I’ve found that, actually, I’ve said everything I really want to say, outside my books. I would just like—I’m in wonderful shape. I’m entering my eightieth year. I just want to devote myself entirely to writing and not to this particular art form of conversation.

Le Carré was interviewed on the 27 February 2011 episode of the CBS program Sunday Morning, and once again announced that it would be the last interview he would grant.[29] Le Carré was interviewed at the Hay on Wye festival 2013.

Best novels list

In an interview with John le Carré, broadcast 5 October 2008 on BBC Four, Mark Lawson asked him to name a Best of le Carré list of books; the novelist answered:

  • The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • The Tailor of Panama
  • The Constant Gardener

Adaptations

Film

Television

Radio

  • The 1994 BBC radio adaptation of The Russia House features Tom Baker as Barley Blair.
  • The Complete Smiley is an eight radio-play series, based upon the novels featuring George Smiley, that commenced broadcast on 23 May 2009 on BBC Radio 4, beginning with Call for the Dead, with Simon Russell Beale as George Smiley, and concluding with The Secret Pilgrim, in June 2010.[30]
  • Damian Lewis has recorded a radio adaptation of A Delicate Truth for BBC Radio 4's Book at Bedtime to be broadcast in May 2013.[31]

Bibliography

Novels

Non-fiction

Short stories

  • Dare I Weep, Dare I Mourn? (1967) published in the Saturday Evening Post 28 January 1967.
  • What Ritual is Being Observed Tonight? (1968) published in the Saturday Evening Post 2 November 1968.
  • The Writer and The Horse (1968) published in The Savile Club Centenary Magazine and later The Argosy (& The Saturday Review under the title A Writer and A Gentleman.)
  • The King Who Never Spoke (2009) published in Ox-Tales: Fire 2 July 2009.

Omnibus

  • The Incongruous Spy (1964) (containing Call for the Dead and A Murder of Quality)
  • The Quest for Karla (1982) (containing Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley's People) (republished in 1995 as Smiley versus Karla in the UK; and John Le Carré: Three Complete Novels in the U.S.)

Screenplays

  • End of the Line (1970) broadcast 29 June 1970
  • A Murder of Quality (1991)
  • The Tailor of Panama (2001) with John Boorman and Andrew Davies

Executive producer

Actor

Archive

In 2010, le Carré donated his literary archive to the Bodleian Library, Oxford. The initial eighty-five boxes of material deposited included handwritten drafts of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Constant Gardner. The library hosted a public display of these and other items to mark World Book Day in March 2011.[33][34]

Awards and honours

References

Further reading

  • Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, Vol. 33, pp. 94–99.
  • Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 3 (1975); Vol. 5 (1976); Vol. 9 (1978); Vol. 15 (1980); Vol. 28 (1984).
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 87: British Mystery and Thriller Writers Since 1940, First Series, (Detroit: Gale, 1989).
  • LynnDianne Beene, John le Carré (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992).
  • The Spy Novels of John le Carre: Balancing Ethics and Politics by Myron J. Aronoff. Published by Palgrave ISBN 0-312-21482-0 (HB) - 0-312-23881-9 (PB)
  • Smiley's Circus: A guide to the Secret World of John le Carre by David Monaghan. Published by Orbis Book Publishing ISBN 0-85613-916-5
  • The Spy Who Liked Me; on the set with Richard Burton and Martin Ritt, by John le Carré, The New Yorker magazine, April 15, 2013, pages 28–32. (contains a 1965 photograph of actor Richard Burton and author John le Carré sitting together on the movie set of "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold")
  • Snyder, Robert Lance. The Art of Indirection in British Espionage Fiction: A Critical Study of Six Novelists. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011. ISBN 978-0-7864-6379-4.
  • Snyder, Robert Lance. "Secrecy's Genesis: John le Carré's Our Kind of Traitor." South Carolina Review 45.2 (Spring 2013): 113-19.

External links

  • Discogs
  • 1966 BBC TV interview with Malcolm Muggeridge
  • ABC Radio National, on A Most Wanted Man, 19 November 2008
  • Interview, People Magazine, issue 13 September 1993
  • TLS by Michael Saler, September 2006
  • BBC George Smiley site
  • The Mission Song Reviews at Metacritic.com
  • John le Carré biography on Books and Writers
  • 1989 NPR Interview of le Carré
  • ", NPR story, October 8, 2010.
  • 1964 Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Interview of le Carré
  • Democracy Now!
  • Le Carré interviewed on Part 2
  • John le Carré interviewed on Charlie Rose

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