Title:                      The Spy Story

Author:                 John G. Cawelti

Cawelti, John G. (1987) and Bruce A. Rosenberg. The Spy Story. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

LCCN:    86030716

PR888.S65 C38 1987


Date Posted:      March 9, 2015

By Dick Lochte[1]

In their study of the evolution of the espionage novel, John G. Cawelti, professor of English at the University of Kentucky, and Bruce A. Rosenberg, professor of American Civilization and English at Brown, spend most of their time focusing on the works of five authors. They tell us that John Buchan, in his The Thirty-Nine Steps[2], set the pattern for the modern heroic spy story, that Graham Greene and Eric Ambler turned the genre “from a story of adventure to one of treachery and betrayal,” that Ian Fleming shifted the emphasis back to Buchan and, finally, that John le Carré carried the Ambler-Greene themes to even more complex and disturbing psychological conclusions.

Neither these nor the majority of the author’ other observations—i.e. that Buchan and Fleming practiced clubman jingoism—should come as news to any thriller fan. And the newcomer may be dismayed to find that Cawelti and Rosenberg mention many of the surprise twists and denouements of the major works in the field. It is odd that essayists, in their effort to provide insight into a literary genre devoted to “clandestiny” (their word), should be so cavalier with its most prized secrets.

[1] Dick Lochte, Los Angeles Times (August 2, 1987).

[2] Buchan, John (1915, 1935). The Thirty-Nine Steps. London: W. Blackwood & Sons


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