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John Le carré, pseudonym of David John Moore Cornwell Biography

(1931– ), pseudonym of David John Moore Cornwell, Call for the Dead, The Deadly Affair

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Mary Lavin Biography to Light Shining in Buckinghamshire

British writer of spy fiction, born in Poole, Dorset, educated at Sherborne School, Berne University, and Lincoln College, Oxford; he taught briefly at Eton before joining the Foreign Office in 1959. His first novel, Call for the Dead (1961; filmed by Sidney Lumet as The Deadly Affair, 1967; republished with this title), introduced the British intelligence agent George Smiley, who also features in A Murder of Quality (1962), a more traditional detective story. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963; filmed by Martin Ritt, 1965), a harsh, bleak cold War novel of loyalty and betrayal, written as a reaction to the then fashionable James Bond spy novels of I. Fleming (which le Carré has stigmatized as ‘candyfloss’), was an immense success, enabling the author to leave the Foreign Office and devote himself to writing. It was followed by The Looking-Glass War (1965), A Small Town in Germany (1968), and an unsuccessful novel, The Naive and Sentimental Lover (1971). Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974), his best work, reintroduced the figure of Smiley; his duel with the Russian spymaster Karla, which ends with Smiley's victory, is the subject of this novel and its two successors, The Honourable Schoolboy (1977) and Smiley's People (1980). In these novels he constructs a new vocabulary to describe the technical details of intelligence operations: many of its terms have since passed into the jargon of real life intelligence agencies. Later works are The Little Drummer Girl (1983), in which he turns from the Cold War to Palestinian terrorism; The Perfect Spy (1986); The Russia House (1989), set in postglasnost Russia; and The Secret Pilgrim (1991), in which Smiley returns once more. Together with Deighton, le Carré has revolutionized the spy story; both devote much attention to departmental intrigues within the intelligence service, but le Carré, whose work has been much imitated, combines grim and realistic detail with Byzantine elaboration of plot. His novels deal with conflicts of loyalty, between that owed to the individual and that owed to the country, and the divergent claims of morality and duty. The collapse of the Soviet Union seemed to deprive him of his main subject, and later novels—The Night Manager (1993), Our Game (1995)—though bestsellers, were critically less well received. See D. Monaghan, The Novels of John le Carré: The Art of Survival (1985), and A. Bold, The Quest for le Carré (1988).

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