JOHN LE CARRé Biography - Writers


Biography » writers » john le carr 233;


John Le Carré (born 1931)                                                                 
English writer known for disillusioned, suspenseful spy novels based on a wide           
knowledge of international espionage. Le Carré's famous hero is George Smiley, a         
Chekhovian character and shadowlike member of the British Foreign Service. In             
his works the author has explored the moral problems of patriotism, espionage,           
and ends versus means. Le Carré's style is precise and elegant, and his novels           
are noted for skillful plotting and witty dialogue. Familiarity with                     
intelligence agents connects le Carré to the long tradition of spy/writers from           
Christopher Marlowe, Ben Johnson and Daniel Defoe to the modern day writers,             
such as Graham Greene, John Dickson Carr, Somerset Maugham, Alec Waugh, and Ted           
"Beyond the trees, Smiley thought, cars are passing. Beyond the trees lies a             
whole world, but Lacon has this red castle and a sense of Christian ethic that           
promises him no reward except a knighthood, the respect of his peers, a fat               
pension, and a couple of charitable directorships in the City."                           
- Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, 1974                                                     
John Le Carré is the pen name of David Cornwell. He was born in Poole, Dorset in         
1931, as the son of Ronnie Cornwell, who engaged in swindles and was imprisoned           
for fraud. According to the author, this has been one of the factors of his               
fascination with secrets. Ronnie Cornwell also participated in politics. His             
father's chameleonic character inspired the novel A PERFECT SPY (1986). Le Carré's       
mother left the family when he was five. "I have no memory of mourning my mother         
at all," le Carré has confessed, but her absence was another secret, which               
shaped his early years. Le Carré did not meet his mother till he was 21.                 
Dissatisfied with Sherborne School, le Carré persuaded his father to send him to         
school in Switzerland. At Sherbone his relationship the rigid housemaster was             
not good and le Carré started to view institutions with growing suspicion. He             
studied at Berne University (1948-49), and after military service, which he did           
in Austria, le Carré returned to England. In Switzerland le Carré met an English         
diplomat, who possibly was attached to intelligence work, and he become                   
fascinated by espionage - it was the call for le Carré. He studied modern                 
languages at Lincoln College, Oxford, graduating in 1956. At Oxford he kept a             
very low profile. Later it has been claimed, that le Carré was already a spy. He         
was two years as a tutor at Eton, teaching French and German, and then joined             
the Foreign Service.                                                                     
In 1959 le Carré became a member of the British Foreign Service in West Germany,         
where he made friends of German politicians. Later he was consul in Hamburg. The         
most famous double agent of the Cold War, "Kim" Philby (1912-1988), betrayed le           
Carré, and gave his name among others to the Russians. During his years at the           
operational section of MI5 le Carré met John Bingham, who encouraged him to               
write and read the manuscript of his first novel. Bingham, the pen-name and               
family name of Lord Clanmorris, was one of the two men who inspired le Carré's           
famous character, George Smiley: "Short, fat and of a quiet disposition, he               
appeared to spend a lot of money on really bad clothes..." Bingham, who had               
published crime novels, never accepted the picture of the Intelligence Services           
that le Carré gave in his books. "As far as John was concerned - and many others         
too - claims of good intent were guff. I was a shit, consigned to the ranks of           
other shits like Compton McKenzie, Malcolm Muggeridge and J.C. Masterman, all of         
whom had betrayed the Service by writing about it." (Le Carré in his                     
introduction to Bingham's Five Roundabouts to Heaven, Pan Classic Crime, 2001)           
For decades Le Carré denied that his work in Germany had any element of                   
espionage, but he has gradually broken his silence and talked about this and             
other sides of his life in the BBC documentary The Secret Service (prod. 2000).           
At Lincoln College he apparently kept his eyes open for possible agents                   
recruited by the Soviet Union. Later le Carré moved from MI5 to MI6, and he was           
in Berlin when the wall was erected - "the fun had started". His own experiences         
inspired him to write a big novel which became CALL FOR THE DEAD (1961), his             
first spy thriller. Graham Greene called it the best spy story he has ever read.         
The book introduced George Smiley, but was followed by a completely different             
kind of work, A MURDER OF QUALITY (1962), a detective novel set in a boys'               
After the success of his third novel, THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD (1963),           
le Carré began to devote himself full-time to writing. His aim was to portray             
the intelligence world from a new standpoint - "When I first began writing, Ian           
Fleming was riding high and the picture of the spy was that of a character who           
could have affairs with women, drive a fast car, who used gadgetry and gimmickry         
to escape." With his breakthrough novel le Carré established an alternative form         
to the James Bond cult and a new type of hero. Graham Greene considered it the           
best spy story he had ever read and J.B. Priestley wrote that the book was "superbly     
constructed with an atmosphere of chilly hell." The novel won le Carré the               
Somerset Maugham Award.                                                                   
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is the story of a frustrated British agent,             
Alec Leamas, whose life is far from the glamour of James Bond's world: he has a           
love affair with a lonely, unpaid librarian, not with a fashion model. After his         
sub-agents in East Germany have been killed, Leamas travels behind the Iron               
Curtain to destroy the head of the East German Intelligence, who has directed             
the killings. Soon he finds out that his own people had framed him in order to           
frame Fiedler, an East German. In the world of double-crossing, Leamas has no             
way out - he is used and destroyed by his superiors. "We have to live without             
sympathy, don't we? That's impossible of course. We act it to one another, all           
this hardness; but we aren't like that really, I mean... one can't be out in the         
cold all the time; one has to come in from the cold... d'you see what I mean?" (from     
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold) The novel was filmed in 1966. The harshly             
photographed black and white film was directed by Martin Ritt, starring Richard           
Burton, Claire Bloom, and Oskar Werner.