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Espionage in British Popular Culture of the 20th Century: Gender, Moral Ambiguity and the Inextricability of Fact and Fiction.

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

  • Kirsten Ann Smith
Publication date2015
Number of pages393
Awarding Institution
Place of PublicationLancaster
  • Lancaster University
Electronic ISBNs9780438571631
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This analysis of cultural representations of British intelligence between 1945 and 1999 explores three intertwined themes: constructions of gender identities; the representation of morality and moral dilemmas; and the relationship between fact and fiction. Cultural representations of spies are a particularly rich source of analysis of the three themes given the character of the profession, which has captured the public imagination, but about which information in the public domain is erratic and selective. The primary source base includes 89 British novels and 53 films (both cinema and television), cartoons and newspaper articles. A formalist approach to these sources is complemented by cultural materialism in order to work closely with the texts while emphasising the importance of the political and social contexts in which these sources were produced and consumed. The thesis is divided into two parts. The first identifies contrasting typologies of masculinities and femininities in popular representations. The spectrums of masculinity depend upon bisecting axes: the maverick/organisation spectrum is determined by the spy's role in and relationship to the organisation; the peacock/chameleon spectrum is determined by visibility and tradecraft and is more responsive to social change than the former category. Women fall on a singular spectrum ranging from Angel to Patriot to Whore. While these three categories are remarkably consistent over time, by the end of the period under investigation the new category of the Professional emerges who blends the three. The second section is thematic and maps these gender constructions on to two dominant themes of popular representations of espionage: betrayal and moral complexity. Part two explores the cultural circuit between the public and fictional representation of spies and the implicit and explicit explorations of gender identities thus generated in a period marked by major public scandals in the espionage world. The thesis concludes that although this is a genre which is little constrained by public knowledge of the world it depicts, it is nonetheless heavily constrained by societal norms and deeply revealing of gender roles, particularly masculine ones.

Bibliographic note

Thesis (Ph.D.)--Lancaster University (United Kingdom), 2015.