British Writers and MI5 Surveillance, 1930-1960 by James Smith

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Arthur Koestler's story is the darkest and most interesting. One intelligence officer described him as "one third genius, one third blackguard, and one third lunatic", which seems about right.
-Guardian

Synopsis

Britain's domestic intelligence agencies maintained secret records on many left-wing writers after the First World War. Drawing on recently declassified material from 1930 to 1960, this revealing study examines how leading figures in Britain's literary scene fell under MI5 and Special Branch surveillance, and the surprising extent to which writers became willing participants in the world of covert intelligence and propaganda. Chapters devoted to W. H. Auden and his associates, theatre pioneers Ewan MacColl and Joan Littlewood, George Orwell and others describe methods used by MI5 to gather information through and about the cultural world. The book also investigates how these covert agencies assessed the political influence of such writers, providing scholars and students of twentieth-century British literature with an unprecedented account of clandestine operations in popular culture.
 

About James Smith

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James Smith is Lecturer in English Literature at Durham University. Author of a critical study on the work of Terry Eagleton (2008), he has published widely in journals such as New Theatre Quarterly and Literature and History. He received his PhD from the University of Cambridge in 2007.
 
Published November 30, 2012 by Cambridge University Press. 227 pages
Genres: History, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for British Writers and MI5 Surveillance, 1930-1960
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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Sam Leith on Mar 07 2013

Arthur Koestler's story is the darkest and most interesting. One intelligence officer described him as "one third genius, one third blackguard, and one third lunatic", which seems about right.

Read Full Review of British Writers and MI5 Surve... | See more reviews from Guardian

Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Sam Leith on Mar 07 2013

Here is a sober and scholarly attempt to tell the story straight, drawing on the declassified files from Special Branch and MI5 that have trickled into the National Archives at Kew since 1997.

Read Full Review of British Writers and MI5 Surve... | See more reviews from Guardian

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