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Espionage and Exile

Fascism and Anti-Fascism in British Spy Fiction and Film

Phyllis Lassner

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Analyses mid-twentieth century British spy thrillers as resistance to political oppression

Espionage and Exile demonstrates that from the 1930s through the Cold War British writers Eric Ambler, Helen MacInnes, John le Carré, Pamela Frankau and filmmaker Leslie Howard combine propaganda and popular entertainment to call for resistance to political oppression. Their spy fictions deploy themes of deception and betrayal to warn audiences of the consequences of Nazi Germany’s conquests and later, the fusion of Fascist and Communist oppression. With politically charged suspense and compelling plots and characters, these writers challenge distinctions between villain and victim and exile and belonging by dramatising relationships between stateless refugees, British agents, and most dramatically, between the ethics of espionage and responses to international crisis.

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Exile: The Heart of the Secret World
1. Eric Ambler: Espionage Chronicler of the 1930s
2. Double Agency: Women Writers of Espionage Fiction
3. Leslie Howard: Propaganda Artist
4. John le Carré’s Never Ending War of Exile

About the Author

Phyllis Lassner is a Professor in The Crown Center for Jewish and Israel Studies, The Gender Studies and Cook Family Writing Programs at Northwestern University. She is the author of Anglo-Jewish Women Writing the Holocaust: Displaced Witnesses (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), Colonial Strangers: Women Writing the End of the British Empire (Rutgers University Press, 2004), British Women Writers of World War II: Battlegrounds of their Own (St. Martin's, 1998), Elizabeth Bowen: A Study of the Novels (Macmillan, 1990), The Short Fiction of Elizabeth Bowen (G.K. Hall, 1991) and the co-editor of Rumer Godden: International and Intermodern Storyteller (Ashgate, 2010) and of Antisemitism and Philosemitism in the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries: Representing Jews, Jewishness, and Modern Cultury (U Delaware P, 2008). Professor Lassner is also the series editor of Cultural Expressions of World War II: Interwar Preludes, Responses, Memory (Northwestern University Press).


Lassner offers a compelling case for recognizing the political and literary complexity of espionage fiction.

- Erin G. Carlston, University of Auckland, Modernism/Modernity

Lassner's central argument is original, productive, and persuasive...

- Toby Manning, Jewish Film & New Media, Vol 5, No 1

Espionage and Exile is set to advance scholarship in the field of spy fiction. It is original, daring, carefully arranged and argued. Lassner offers a new understanding of espionage literature, one that moves interpretation far beyond the preoccupation with genre, formulae, masculinity, or realism.

- Allan Hepburn, McGill University
This is a timely critical work in an age of resurgent fascist nationalisms. Scholars and students of modern British fiction and film will benefit from the ethical lines of questioning strongly established by Lassner throughout her oeuvre and which continue in this book.
- Judy Suh, Duquesne University (Pennsylvania), Cercles

While I can imagine scholars reading selectively, choosing one chapter or another for specific attention, the Conclusion shows how well the book works as a whole, and I would recommend it strongly.

- Mary McGlynn, Baruch College, CUNY, Literature & History 26:1
...wide-ranging study of twentieth-century spy fiction.
- Oliver Buckton, Studies in the Novel, Vol 49, No 1

Espionage and Exile is a perceptive and welcome addition to the field, especially in its movement away from the more familiar analytical approaches to the genre, and towards much-needed fresh ground.

- Sam Goodman, Bournemouth University, The Modern Language Review, September 2017
...a valuable and interesting study, which amply succeeds in bringing to prominence the more subaltern figures of the genre – characters and authors.
- Andrew Glazzard, Royal United Services Institute , George Orwell Studies 1:2

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