David John Moore Cornwell (born 19 October 1931), who writes under the name John le Carré, is an author of espionage novels. During the 1950s and the 1960s, Cornwell worked for MI5 and MI6, and began writing novels under the pseudonym "John le Carré". His third novel The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) became an international best-seller and remains one of his best known works. Following the novel's success, he left MI6 to become a full-time author.
In 1990, le Carré received the Helmerich Award which is presented annually by the Tulsa Library Trust. He is a 2011 recipient of the Goethe Medal.
Le Carré has since written several novels that have established him as one of the finest writers of espionage fiction in 20th century literature. In 2008, The Times ranked le Carré 22nd on its list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945".
Early life and career
On 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, UK. 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."
Later, in the novel A Perfect Spy (1986), father Ronnie featured as 'Rick Pym' the scheming con-man father of protagonist 'Magnus Pym'. When father 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 for 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 with a First Class Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in 1956. 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 pseudonymously wrote crime novels as 'John Bingham'), and whilst an active MI5 officer, Cornwell began writing Call for the Dead (1961), his first novel. Moreover, Lord Clanmorris was one of two inspirations – Vivian H. H. Green being the other – for George Smiley, the master spy of the Circus. As a schoolboy, Cornwell 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, a pseudonym required because Foreign Office officers were forbidden to publish in their own names; in the event, Cornwell left the service in 1964 to work full-time as the novelist 'John le Carré' – 'John the Square', in French. His intelligence officer career was ended by the betrayal of the covers of British agents to the KGB by Kim Philby, a British double agent (of the Cambridge Five). Le Carré depicts and analyses Philby as 'Bill Haydon', the upper-class traitor, code-named Gerald by the KGB, the mole George Smiley hunts in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974); after publication, the novelist revealed that spymaster Smiley's model was Vivian H. H. Green.
In 1964 Le Carré won the Somerset Maugham Award, established to enable British writers younger than thirty-five to enrich their writing by spending time abroad.
In 1954, Cornwell married Alison Ann Veronica Sharp; they had three sons, Simon, Stephen and Timothy; they divorced in 1971. In 1972, Cornwell married Valérie Jane Eustace, a book editor with Hodder & Stoughton. They had 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.
Stylistically, the first two novels – Call for the Dead (1961) and A Murder of Quality (1962) – are mystery fiction wherein the hero George Smiley (of the SIS, the Circus) resolves the riddles of the deaths investigated; the motives are more personal than political.
The spy novel œuvre 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 nineteen-fifties; 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 they are involved in is internal, rather than external and visible.
Unlike the manichean moral certainty of Fleming's British Secret Service adventures, le Carré's Circus spy stories are morally complex, and inform the reader of the fallibility of Western democracy and of the secret services protecting it, often implying East-West moral equivalence.
A Perfect Spy (1986), chronicling the boyhood moral education of Magnus Pym, as it leads to his becoming a spy, is the author's most autobiographic espionage novel – especially 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 usually occurring during the Cold War (1945–91); the notable exception is The Naïve and Sentimental Lover (1971), an autobiographical, stylistically uneven, mainstream novel of a man's post-marital existential crisis. Another diversion from East-West conflict is The Little Drummer Girl, dipping into the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
With the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, le Carré's œuvre 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 January 2003 The Times published le Carré's article "The United States Has Gone Mad", which condemned the approaching Iraq War. He observed within this essay, "How Bush and his junta succeeded in deflecting America's anger, from Bin Laden to Saddam Hussein, is one of the great public relations conjuring tricks of history."
In 2006, he contributed the above article to a volume of political essays entitled "Not One More Death." The book is highly critical of the war in Iraq. Le Carré's contribution was entitled "Art, truth and politics". 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.
Last television interviews
On Monday 13 September 2010 he was interviewed on Channel 4 News by journalist Jon Snow at his house in Cornwall. 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 made it clear that it would be his last television interview ever. 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 singular 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 purportedly final television appearance, however, le Carré was interviewed on television in the United States, on the programme Democracy Now!. Cornwell's explanation aired on Democracy Now! on Monday 11 October 2010.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, we were interested because Channel 4 just said "the last interview" with John le Carré, and yet here we are. Why did you change your mind? JOHN LE CARRÉ: I didn’t change my mind. The full text with Channel 4 was that that was my last interview in the UK. And 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.
Le Carré was interviewed on the 27 February 2011 episode of the CBS program Sunday Morning, and once again announced that it would be the last interview he would grant. His longest interview may have been that recorded in 2010 by Canadian radio broadcaster Eleanor Wachtel, later a podcast at CBC.
Best novels list
In an interview of John le Carré, broadcast 5 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
- The Constant Gardener
- In 1965, Martin Ritt directed the first film adaptation of a John le Carré novel, 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.
- 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 the 5th September 2011 at the Venice Film Festival in the UK on 16 September 2011.
- In 1979, the BBC adapted Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy to television, with Alec Guinness as George Smiley. Two years later, in 1981, he reprised the role in Smiley's People. The BBC did not adapt The Honourable Schoolboy, featuring Jerry Westerby (Joss Ackland in 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 .
- 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)
- John Le Carré: Three Complete Novels (1995) (containing Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley's People)
- 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 Tailor of Panama (2001)
- The Little Drummer Girl (1984, as David Cornwell)
- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011, as John le Carré)
- Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, Vol. 33, pp. 94–99.
- Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 3 (1975); Vol. 5 (1976); Vol. 9 (1978); Vol. 15 (1980); Vol. 28 (1984).
- Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 87: British Mystery and Thriller Writers Since 1940, First Series, (Detroit: Gale, 1989).
- Lynndianne Beene, John le Carré (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992).
- ^ Staff writer (5 January 2008). "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945". Times Newspapers (London). http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article3127112.ece. Retrieved 4 March 2010.
- ^ "Rupert Cornwell". Independent News and Media (London). http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/rupert-cornwell/. Retrieved 4 March 2010.
- ^ Staff writer (25 September 1989). "Espionage: The Perfect Spy Story". Time Inc (New York). http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,958645,00.html. Retrieved 4 March 2010.
- ^ a b c Brennan, Zoe What does le Carré have to hide? The Daily Telegraph, 2 April 2011, Retrieved 5 April 2011
- ^ "John Le Carre biography, plus links to book reviews and excerpts.". BookBrowse. http://www.bookbrowse.com/biographies/index.cfm?author_number=266. Retrieved 4 March 2010.
- ^ a b Anthony, Andrew (1 November 2009). "Observer Profile: John le Carré: A man of great intelligence". Guardian News and Media. London. http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2009/nov/01/profile-john-le-carre. Retrieved 4 March 2010.
- ^ a b Garton Ash, Timothy. – Life and Letters: "'The Real le Carre'". – The New Yorker. – 15 March 1999.
- ^ Morrison, Blake (11 April 1986). "Then and Now: John le Carre". Times Literary Supplement (London: News Intl). ISSN 0140-0460. http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/the_tls/article4823222.ece. Retrieved 4 August 2011.
- ^ Brennan, Zoe (2 April 2011). "What does John Le Carre have to hide? – Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph (London: TMG). ISSN 0307-1235. OCLC 49632006. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/8422000/What-does-John-Le-Carre-have-to-hide.html. Retrieved 4 August 2011.
- ^ Staff (26 January 2005). "The Reverend Vivian Green – Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph (London: TMG). ISSN 0307-1235. OCLC 49632006. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1481995/The-Reverend-Vivian-Green.html. Retrieved 4 August 2011.
- ^ Debrett's People of Today, "LE CARRE – John (pen name of David John Moore Cornwell)," 1 November 2000
- ^ "Le Carré pays tribute to his first love," Tim Walker, Edited by Richard Eden, 5 June 2009, The Daily Telegraph
- ^ "Written in his stars: son of Le Carré gets £300,000 for first novel," Ian Herbert, 6 June 2007, The Independent
- ^ "Spy writer fights for clifftop paradise," Geoffrey Gibbs, 24 July 1999, The Guardian
- ^ Tayler, Christopher (25 January 2007). "Belgravia Cockney". London Review of Books (London: LRB) 29 (2): 13–14. ISSN 0260-9592. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n02/christopher-tayler/belgravia-cockney. Retrieved 4 March 2010.
- ^ a b Holcombe, Garan (2006). "John le Carré". British Council. http://www.contemporarywriters.com/authors/?p=auth519CDD2E13c091C28FvXuS365E36. Retrieved 4 March 2010.
- ^ "Granta 35: The Unbearable Peace". Sigrid Rausing. http://www.granta.com/Magazine/35. Retrieved 4 March 2010.
- ^ "Ox-Tales". Oxfam. http://www.oxfam.org.uk/shop/content/books/books_oxtales.html. Retrieved 4 March 2010.
- ^ le Carré, John (15 January 2003). "Opinion: The United States of America has gone mad". The Sunday Times. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article812453.ece. Retrieved 8 February 2011.
- ^ le Carre, John (15 January 2003). "Opinion: The United States of America has gone mad". The Times (UK Newspapers). http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article812453.ece. Retrieved 20 Feb. 2010.
- ^ Not one more death permalink. The Library of Congress.
- ^ Le Carré betrayed by 'bad lot' spy Kim Philby, Channel 4 News. Retrieved 3 October 2010.
- ^ Goodman, Amy (20 September 2010). "Legendary British Author John le Carré on Why He Won't Be Reading Tony Blair's Iraq War-Defending Memoir". Democracy Now!. http://www.democracynow.org/2010/9/20/legendary_british_author_john_le_carr. Retrieved 20 September 2010.
- ^ 
- ^ Goodman, Amy (11 October 2010). "Exclusive: British Novelist John le Carré on the Iraq War, Corporate Power, the Exploitation of Africa and His New Novel, "Our Kind of Traitor"". Democracy Now!. http://www.democracynow.org/2010/10/11/exclusive_british_novelist_john_le_carr. Retrieved 11 October 2010.
- ^ CBS Sunday Morning, 27 February 2011.
- ^ http://www.cbc.ca/writersandcompany/
- ^ "The Complete Smiley". BBC – Radio 4 – Drama. http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/smiley-season/. Retrieved 23 May 2009.
- ^ "Performance 2009". Pearson. http://www.pearson.com/about-us/consumer-publishing/performance-2009/. Retrieved 4 March 2010.
- Hindersmann, Jost (2005). "The right side lost, but the wrong side won: John le Carré's Spy Novels before and after the End of the Cold War". Clues: A Journal of Detection 23 (4): 25–37. doi:10.3200/CLUS.23.4.25-37. ISSN 07424248.
- Bruccoli, Matthew J.; Baughman, Judith S., eds (2004). Conversations with John le Carré. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 1-57806-669-7
- John le Carré discography at Discogs
- 1966 BBC TV interview with Malcolm Muggeridge
- Transcript of interview with David Cornwell by Ramona Koval, The Book Show, ABC Radio National, on A Most Wanted Man, 19 November 2008
- Interview, People Magazine, issue 13 September 1993
- "John le Carré's allegiances": a review in the TLS by Michael Saler, September 2006
- BBC George Smiley site
- The Mission Song Reviews at Metacritic.com
- John le Carré biography on Books and Writers
- 1989 NPR Interview of le Carré
- "Colorful Crime Boss Inspires Le Carre's Traitor", NPR story, October 8, 2010.
- 1964 Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Interview of le Carré
- John le Carré on the Iraq War, Corporate Power, and the Exploitation of Africa – video interview by Democracy Now!
- George Plimpton (Summer 1997). "John le Carré, The Art of Fiction No. 149". The Paris Review. http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/1250/the-art-of-fiction-no-149-john-le-carr.
- Le Carré interviewed on CBC Radio's Writers and Company (2010): Part 1 Part 2
- John le Carré at the Internet Movie Database