Spies in Modern Literature: John Le Carre, Javier Marias & Graham Greene
Time: 18:00 - 19:30
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
Course Code: HLT37
Duration: 4 sessions (over 4 weeks)
What is the course about?
We will look closely at four novels, starting with Le Carré’s A Legacy of Spies (2017), a belated return to and summation, grimly valedictory but as ever formidably plotted, of the authoritative Cold War sequence that stretches back to George Smiley’s “breathtakingly ordinary” first sighting on page 1 of Call for the Dead in 1961. The awarding of the Olof Palme Prize in January 2020 for his “contribution to democracy” and Le Carré’s most recent espionage thriller, Agent Running in the Field – to which we turn at the end of the course – suggest a writer as hardwired to the zeitgeist as ever. Indeed the chorus of approval from the critical establishment that greeted Agent Running was almost unanimous in enlisting its author for the new, cannily targeted publishing phenomenon of Brexlit: we will decide with what justification.
In between the Le Carrés, we turn to another contemporary giant of the spy narrative as art form, the Spaniard Javier Marias. Marias’ thousand-page trilogy Your Face Tomorrow takes up on a labyrinthine scale the questions of identity, secrecy and betrayal deriving from his time at the Modern Languages faculty in Oxford, that annexe of British Intelligence as he conceives it, that were first seen in his Gothic noir All Souls (1992). Marias has been compared to Proust and Henry James for the richness of his evocations of memory and consciousness and the beauty of his prose style, but he can also manipulate plot and unleash atrocity like a born master of suspense. We’ll look at the first volume of his trilogy, before moving on to Graham Greene’s The Human Factor, its dour footfalls through the bureaucratic shadows and crossing of swords with South African Communism an austere rebuke to the hijinks of the Bond industry.
This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.
What will we cover?
We will allow the novels themselves to set our agenda, closely read. The dubious morality of spycraft certainly occupies a central place in all of them, but Marias’ particular blend of voyeurism and paranoia may make us want to examine our own paradoxical fascination with the seedier implications of the genre. Lurking on the horizon throughout will also be the question of just how audacious, or percipient, these writers are in their engagement with political realities, during a period when the immediate threat of the Cold War has receded, although not disappeared, and other global antagonisms – criminal and corporate – have come to the fore.
What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...
• Discuss with confidence and some literary-critical finesse the studied texts
• Place them in their immediate historical contexts, social, political, and aesthetic
• Return to the featured writers with a renewed sense of their literary prowess, and explore those writers’ other works with an informed sense of direction and personal satisfaction.
What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?
No previous knowledge is required. Anyone who enjoys close reading and is willing to take part in discussion is welcome.
How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?
There will be a variety of teaching methods, including direct tutor input, power point, video and audio clips. Small group or pair work will be encouraged and there will also be plenary feedback and discussion. There will be opportunities to express why individually we are participating on the course and what we hope to take away from it. No work outside class apart from any reading of one or more of the featured texts you are able to do beforehand.
Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?
You may wish to buy and read the following texts beforehand to facilitate discussion, however the tutor will send materials containing the most essential pages from each:
A Legacy of Spies, and Agent Running in the Field by John Le Carré (both Penguin);
Your Face Tomorrow, Volume 1: Fever and Spear by Javier Marias (Penguin Modern Classics);
The Human Factor by Graham Greene (Vintage Classics).
When I've finished, what course can I do next?
Look up Literature courses at www.citylit.ac.uk/History, Culture and Writing/literature/fiction.
Stephen Winfield has lectured in English for over thirty years. He taught Language and Literature at Richmond upon Thames College in Twickenham from 1989 to 2017, and was Coordinator of the International Baccalaureate there from 2004 to 2016. He has also lectured in English Literature at the University of Katowice in Poland and taught Business English in Paris. He has taught a range of EFL courses at Richmond College, for the Bell School of Languages, the Sinoscope Project at Kings College London and the BBC Summer School. He has taught classes in English, American and International Literature at City Lit since 2014.
Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.