John le Carré
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|John le Carré|
John le Carré in Hamburg, 2008
|Born||David John Moore Cornwell|
19 October 1931
Poole, Dorset, England
|Occupation||Novelist, former intelligence officer|
|Notable works||The Spy Who Came in from the Cold,|
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,
The Honourable Schoolboy,
The Constant Gardener
|Spouse||Alison Sharp (m. 1954–1971)|
Valerie Eustace (m. 1972–present)
Le Carré has established himself as a writer of espionage fiction. In 2008, The Times ranked le Carré 22nd on its list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945". In 2011, he won the Goethe Medal, a yearly prize given by the Goethe Institute.
Early life and careerOn 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. 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. His relationship with his father was difficult, given that the man had been jailed for insurance fraud, was an associate of the Kray twins (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."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.
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.
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. Encouraged by Lord Clanmorris (who wrote crime novels as "John Bingham"), and whilst being 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 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" (le Carré is French for "the Square" ), 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). 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). 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 35 to enrich their writing by spending time abroad.
Personal lifeIn 1954, Cornwell married Alison Ann Veronica Sharp; they had three sons - Simon, Stephen and Timothy - and divorced in 1971. In 1972, Cornwell married Valérie Jane Eustace, a book editor with Hodder & Stoughton. They have one son, Nicholas, who writes as Nick Harkaway. 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.
In 1998, he was awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Letters) from the University of Bath.
In 2012, he was awarded the Degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa by the University of Oxford.
Writing styleThe genre of le Carré's first two novels – Call for the Dead (1961) and A Murder of Quality (1962) – is mystery fiction in which his hero George Smiley of the SIS (the Circus) resolves the riddles of the deaths investigated. In these first novels his motives are rather more personal than political.
The spy novel writing 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 1950s; 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 is internal, rather than external and visible.
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.
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.
With the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, le Carré's writing 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. 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.
In a TV interview, Le Carré remarked on his own writing style that, since the facts were widely known, he felt that it was his job to put them into a context that made them believable to the reader.
PoliticsIn January 2003 The Times published le Carré's essay "The United States Has Gone Mad." In 2006, he contributed it to a volume of political essays entitled Not One More Death. Other contributors include Harold Pinter, Richard Dawkins, Michel Faber, Brian Eno, and Haifa Zangana.
He is the author of a testimonial in The Future of the NHS (2006) (ISBN 1858113695) edited by Dr. Michelle Tempest.
InterviewsIn an interview with John le Carré, broadcast in 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 and The Constant Gardener.
In September 2010, le Carré 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 said that it would be his last UK television interview. 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.
A week after this appearance, le Carré was interviewed for the TV show Democracy Now! in the US. He told interviewer Amy Goodman "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." In December 2010 Channel 4 broadcast John Le Carre: A Life Unmasked, described as " his most candid television interview".
Le Carré was interviewed in February 2011 episode of the CBS program Sunday Morning, stating that it would be the last interview he would grant. Le Carré was interviewed at the Hay on Wye festival 2013.
- In 1965, Martin Ritt directed the film adaptation of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, with Richard Burton as protagonist Alec Leamas.
- In 1966, Sidney Lumet directed The Deadly Affair, an adaptation of Call for the Dead, with James Mason as Charles Dobbs (George Smiley in the novel).
- In 1969, Frank Pierson directed The Looking Glass War, with Anthony Hopkins as Avery, Christopher Jones as Leiser and Sir Ralph Richardson as LeClerc.
- In 1984, George Roy Hill directed The Little Drummer Girl, with Diane Keaton as Charlie.
- In 1990, Fred Schepisi directed The Russia House, with Sean Connery as Barley Blair.
- In 2001, John Boorman directed The Tailor of Panama, with Pierce Brosnan as Andy Osnard, a disgraced spy, and Geoffrey Rush as emigre English tailor Harry Pendel.
- In 2005, Fernando Meirelles directed The Constant Gardener, with Ralph Fiennes as Justin Quayle, set in the slums in Kibera and Loiyangalani, Kenya. The poverty so affected the film crew that they established the Constant Gardener Trust to provide basic education to those areas. John le Carré is a patron of the charity.
- In 2011, Tomas Alfredson directed Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, starring Gary Oldman as George Smiley. The film was released on 5 September 2011 at the Venice Film Festival and in the UK on 16 September 2011.
- In 2014, Anton Corbijn directed A Most Wanted Man, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2014.
- In 1979, the BBC adapted Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy for television, with Alec Guinness as George Smiley in a seven-part mini-series.
- Two years later, in 1981, Guinness reprised the role in Smiley's People. The BBC did not adapt The Honourable Schoolboy, the middle book of the Karla Trilogy featuring Jerry Westerby (Joss Ackland from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), because production in East Asia would have cost too much.
- In 1987, Peter Smith directed the television adaptation of A Perfect Spy (BBC), with Peter Egan as Magnus Pym, and Ray McAnally as Rick.
- In 1991, Gavin Millar directed A Murder of Quality (Thames Television), with Denholm Elliott as George Smiley, and Joss Ackland as Terence Fielding.
- 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.
- Damian Lewis recorded a radio adaptation of A Delicate Truth for BBC Radio 4's Book at Bedtime which was broadcast in May 2013.
- Call for the Dead (1961) ISBN 0-143-12257-6
- A Murder of Quality (1962) ISBN 0-141-19637-8
- The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) ISBN 0-143-12475-7
- The Looking Glass War (1965) ISBN 0-143-12259-2
- A Small Town in Germany (1968) ISBN 0-143-12260-6
- The Naïve and Sentimental Lover (1971) ISBN 0-143-11975-3
- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974) ISBN 0-143-12093-X
- The Honourable Schoolboy (1977) ISBN 0-143-11973-7
- Smiley's People (1979) ISBN 0-340-99439-8
- The Little Drummer Girl (1983) ISBN 0-143-11974-5
- A Perfect Spy (1986) ISBN 0-143-11976-1
- The Russia House (1989) ISBN 0-743-46466-4
- The Secret Pilgrim (1990) ISBN 0-345-50442-9
- The Night Manager (1993) ISBN 0-345-38576-4
- Our Game (1995) ISBN 0-345-40000-3
- The Tailor of Panama (1996) ISBN 0-345-42043-8
- Single & Single (1999) ISBN 0-743-45806-0
- The Constant Gardener (2001) ISBN 0-743-28720-7
- Absolute Friends (2003) ISBN 0-670-04489-X
- The Mission Song (2006) ISBN 0-340-92199-4
- A Most Wanted Man (2008) ISBN 1-416-59609-7
- Our Kind of Traitor (2010) ISBN 0-143-11972-9
- A Delicate Truth (2013) ISBN 0-143-12531-1
- The Good Soldier (1991) collected in Granta 35: The Unbearable Peace
- The United States Has Gone Mad (2003) collected in Not One More Death (2006) ISBN 1-844-67116-X
- Afterword (2014) - an essay on Kim Philby, published in A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre ISBN 0-804-19449-1
- 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.
- 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.) ISBN 0-394-52848-4
- 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
- The Little Drummer Girl (1984, as David Cornwell)
- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011, as John le Carré)
ArchiveIn 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 Gardener. The library hosted a public display of these and other items to mark World Book Day in March 2011.
Awards and honours
- 1963 British Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger for The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
- 1964 Somerset Maugham Award for The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
- 1965 Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
- 1977 British Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger for The Honourable Schoolboy
- 1977 James Tait Black Memorial Prize Fiction Award for The Honourable Schoolboy
- 1983 Japan Adventure Fiction Association Prize for The Little Drummer Girl
- 1984 Honorary Fellow Lincoln College, Oxford
- 1984 Mystery Writers of America Edgar Grand Master 
- 1988 British Crime Writers Association Diamond Dagger Lifetime Achievement Award 
- 1988 The Malaparte Prize, Italy
- 1990 Honorary Degree University of Exeter
- 1990 The Helmerich Award of the Tulsa Library Trust.
- 1991 Nikos Kasanzakis prize
- 1996 Honorary Degree University of St. Andrews
- 1997 Honorary Degree University of Southampton
- 1998 Honorary Degree University of Bath
- 2005 British Crime Writers Association Dagger of Daggers for The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
- 2005 Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters, France
- 2008 Honorary Doctorate University of Bern
- 2011 Goethe Medal of the Goethe Institute
- 2012 Honorary Doctorate University of Oxford