13 October 2007

Special Agent Maugham

During World War I, W. Somerset Maugham -- then working as an interpreter and medical assistant in France -- met an intelligence official who encouraged Maugham to put his exceptional linguistic abilities to use with the Britain's Secret Intelligence Service.

Accepting the challenge, Maugham was installed in Geneva under the cover of a French playwright. There he interacted with other agents, sending coded messages through his manuscripts, which he could transfer out of the country without being noticed by the Swiss police.

Where are these manuscripts?

The article continues:
In 1917 ... Maugham was asked to gather intelligence on the German spy network developing in the Russian capital and to support the Mensheviks by countering Bolshevik plans to pull Russia out of the war. Posing as a writer for U.S. publications, Maugham met with Alexandr Kerenski, the socialist leader. Kerenski sent Maugham to London with a desperate request to the Allies to raise an anti-Bolshevik army. Maugham sent back significant information to London and developed a plan for the SIS to maintain a group of agents in Russia to combat German influence on the Provisional Government through propaganda and spying.

Wholly interesting. Ashenden, his work based on his life as a spy -- you may not have heard of it, because it is rarely mentioned in "official" biographies of Maugham -- influenced Ian Fleming's Bond character, as well as writers Graham Greene and John le Carré.

But, you know, Of Human Bondage is really so much more interesting than international espionage encoded in handwritten Maugham manuscripts.

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