War, Espionage, and Masculinity in British Fiction

Susan L. Austin (Ed.)

by Pierre Dumont (American University), Dennis S. Gouws (Springfield College), Elizabeth Carroll (St. John’s University), Adrienne Major (Landmark College), Li Chen (Beijing Foreign Studies University), Susan L. Austin (Landmark College), Patrick Thomas Henry (University of North Dakota), Roxana Oltean (University of Bucharest, Romania), Dany Jacob (Michigan Technological University), Jonathan Readey (Brown University)

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“War, Espionage, and Masculinity in British Fiction” is an enjoyably sprawling study that spans from Kipling’s 1891 novel “The Light that Failed” to Susanne Bier’s 2016 television adaptation of John Le Carré’s “The Night Manager.” The breadth of its inquiry is matched by the depth of its essays, which move in a broadly chronological fashion from narratives about the British involvement in the Mahdist War of the 1880s and 1890s, through both world wars and the Cold War, to post-9/11 London. This study, as a whole, analyzes how men navigate both political landscapes (fraught with physical danger, spying, surveillance, and double agents) and the terrain of heteronormative masculinity, with its insistence on male invulnerability, sexual dominance, unlimited agency, and compulsory aggression. This volume explores a compelling range of writers (R. C. Sherriff, Dorothy Sayers, Graham Greene, Ian Fleming, Ian McEwan) who interrogate the contours of a hegemonic masculinity that damages whatever comes into its orbit, including men themselves. At a time of increased media attention paid to the toxic behaviors of entitled men (be they politicians, entertainers, corporate leaders, or clergy), this study offers an engaging and highly readable examination of a British literary/cultural tradition that has, for more than a century, been scrutinizing masculinity.
Some standout essays in this collection are the two historically rich studies of Ian McEwan’s “The Innocent” (1990), set in the context of “Operation Gold,” a joint spying initiative of the MI6 and CIA; the gracefully careful reading of Graham Greene’s “The Heart of the Matter” (1948); and the critically observant comparison of Bond-style masculinity in John Glen’s 1987 film “The Living Daylights” and its Ian Fleming source material.
This book will make a significant contribution to the fields of genre studies, cultural studies, British modernism, and masculinity studies.

Dr. Paul M. Puccio
Professor of English
Bloomfield College

The essays in the edited volume “War, Espionage, and Masculinity in British Fiction” describe the myriad ways that works of fiction defined and redefined British masculinities through the 20th C and into the first decades of the 21st. Each essay is impressively well-grounded in scholarship across several disciplines, yet each also offers new ideas and fresh perspectives. Seen as a whole, this collection acknowledges earlier scholarship that focused on narratives of masculinity, war and espionage composed during WW1 and its aftermath, re-examines their questions and provocations, and carries them forward to the present day. In so doing, it deftly traces themes of patriotism, duty and self-doubt as they responded to (and against) ever-shifting cultural currents and cross-currents. The result is a collection that breaks much new ground and suggests intriguing directions for further study. I imagine this book would be of interest to fields of literary studies, literary history, cultural studies, gender studies and military studies.

Dr. David Toomey
Dept of English
South College
University of Massachusetts

'War, Espionage, and Masculinity in British Fiction' explores the masculinities represented in British works spanning more than a century. Studies of Rudyard Kipling’s 'The Light That Failed' (1891) and Erskine Childer’s 'The Riddle of the Sands' (1903) investigate masculinities from before World War I, at the height of the British Empire. A discussion of R.C. Sherriff’s play 'Journey’s End' takes readers to the battlefields of World War I, where duty and the harsh realities of modern warfare require men to perform, perhaps to die, perhaps to be unmanned by shellshock. From there we see how Dorothy Sayers developed the character of Peter Wimsey as a model of masculinity, both strong and successful despite his own shellshock in the years between the world wars. Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter (1948) and The Quiet American (1955) show masculinities shaken and questioning their roles and their country’s after neither world war ended all wars and the Empire rapidly lost ground. Two chapters on 'The Innocent' (1990), Ian McEwan’s fictional account of a real collaboration between Great Britain and the United States to build a tunnel that would allow them to spy on the Soviet Union, dig deeply into the 1950’s Cold War to examine the fictional masculinity of the British protagonist and the real world and fictional masculinities projected by the countries involved. Explorations of Ian Fleming’s 'Casino Royale' (1953) and 'The Living Daylights' (1962) continue the Cold War theme. Discussion of the latter film shows a confident, infallible masculinity, optimistic at the prospect of glasnost and the potential end of Cold War hostilities. John le Carré’s 'The Night Manager' (1993) and its television adaptation take espionage past the Cold War. The final chapter on Ian McEwan’s 'Saturday' (2005) shows one man’s reaction to 9/11.



Chapter 1
Desire, Deception, and the Dulcibella: Courtship and Romantic Love in the Spy Novels of Childers, Fleming, and le Carré
Pierre Dumont
American University

Chapter 2
Kipling’s Modern Chivalry: Masculinity and War in The Light that Failed
Dennis S. Gouws
Springfield College

Chapter 3
“Put Up a Good Show:” Performing Masculinity in the Trenches in R.C. Sherriff’s Journey’s End
Elizabeth Carroll
St. John’s University

Chapter 4
“Towards a New Masculinity: Sayers, Shellshock, and a Wimsical Imagination”
Adrienne Major
Landmark College

Chapter 5
War, Espionage, and Masculine Anxiety in Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter
Li Chen
Beijing Foreign Studies University

Chapter 6
Conquest, Competition, and Masculinity in Graham Greene’s The Quiet American
Susan L. Austin
Landmark College

Chapter 7
“Covert Innocence: The Cold War, Suspicion, and the Failures of Masculinity in Ian McEwan’s The Innocent”
Patrick Thomas Henry
University of North Dakota

Chapter 8
“We’re Supposed To Have A Special Relationship.” Cold War Men and Espionage Narratives of Operation Stopwatch/Gold in Ian McEwan’s The Innocent
Roxana Oltean
University of Bucharest

Chapter 9
Masculinity in The Living Daylights: The Story, the Film, and a Dream of a Man
Susan L. Austin
Landmark College

Chapter 10
Fragile Masculinities in The Night Manager: How “The Worst Man in the World” Brings Out the Best
Dany Jacob
Michigan Technological University

Chapter 11
The Man at the Window: Ian McEwan’s Saturday as a Narrative of Contemporary Masculinity
Jonathan Readey
Brown University


Susan L. Austin is Professor of Literature at Landmark College, the premier college for neurodiverse students. As a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, she read extensively in the field of feminist criticism, but as she settled into scholarship, she found that while her feminist background was useful, it was also limiting; that if traditional masculine views of women were often objectifying and oppressive, those masculine views were also shaped by often-oppressive societal pressures.

Masculinities, Masculinity, British Fiction, Spy fiction, war novels, Cold War, World War I, British Empire, British Identity, British Gentleman, Chivalry