Monday, July 16, 2018

Empire, Spies and the Twentieth Century

Studying international relations certain subjects come up again and again and again. Even when one approaches such things as the rise and fall of great powers, hegemony and hegemonic cycles, systemic wars, industrialization and deindustrialization on a principally theoretical level, Britain, its rise and subsequent decline as an economic, military and imperial powers comes up again and again and again--and does so that much more when one takes an interest in concrete history, when one considers the situation of the recent or present or future United States in which so many have seen so many parallels.

Dealing with the spy fiction genre and its history, the same theme is almost inescapable. Much as we may think of spy fiction as a Cold War genre, the truth is that it was already well into middle age when the Cold War took center stage in international life, the thread that has really run through it from its beginning to the present the passing of the British Empire that already by 1900 saw its peak behind it. Anxiety that that empire would pass, bitterness that it seemed to be passing or actually was passing, denial about what was happening, and criticism of all these attitudes, are already there at the very beginning, in such founding works as Erskine Childers' celebrated The Riddle of the Sands and William Le Queux's contemporaneous but much less celebrated Secrets of the Foreign Office. ("The name is Drew, Duckworth Drew.")

As both of these have been major interests for me for decades, thinking about one matter naturally leads back to my thinking about the other, one reason why when writing about the James Bond films and books I spent a certain amount discussing the actual history of the period--more than most such writers, I think. When I published The Many Lives and Deaths of James Bond I actually included a thirteen page essay devoted to just such historical background in the appendix (and included it again when the second edition of the book came out back in 2015). You can check it out here, reposted on this blog.

Review: Vanguard to Trident: British Naval Policy Since World War II, by Eric J. Grove
The Cult of Ian Fleming
Review: Trigger Mortis, by Anthony Horowitz
Just Out . . . (The Many Lives and Deaths of James Bond, 2nd edition)
Just Out. . . (James Bond's Evolution)
Just Out . . . (The Forgotten James Bond)

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