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Ashenden, or, The British Agent (edition 2000)

by William Somerset Maugham

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5561217,948 (3.73)60
Member:BartGr.
Title:Ashenden, or, The British Agent
Authors:William Somerset Maugham
Info:Vintage (2000), Editie: New Ed, Paperback, 326 pagina's
Collections:Your library, 2012
Rating:****
Tags:stories, english literature, british literature

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Ashenden by W. Somerset Maugham

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“To drink a glass of sherry when you can get a dry Martini is like taking a stage-coach when you can travel by the Orient Express.” (p. 225-226)

Few literary sources are mentioned to explain Ian Fleming's creation of James Bond, although Eric Ambler's spy novels, published in the late-30s and onwards are sometimes mentioned. Another worthy contender would be Ashenden, or, The British agent by W. Somerset Maugham.

The truth behind the story is astonishing enough. In 1914, W. Somerset Maugham was recruited by the British Secret Service to stay in Switzerland, posing to work on a play, and in this disguise execute his work a a liaison and spy. The stories in Ashenden, or, The British agent are based on Somerset Maugham's own experience as an agent. The main character, modeled on the author, is an aristocratic, suave gentleman, ruthless enough to face blackmail, interrogation and murder, in the service of the Motherland.

Somerset Maugham cleverly borrowed Conan-Doyle's formula of a collection of loosely connected stories that each form an episode around the main character on an ongoing mission, similar to the The adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
John Ashenden might as well be the model for James Bond, perhaps a bit more aristocratic. Another similarity, is that, like in the James Bond novels, the chief of the secret service is never named other than merely by the use of an initial, thus Colonel R.

Ashenden, or, The British agent breathes the atmosphere of Conrad's Under Western eyes, in which foreign operatives, with long, foreign-sounding names meet in obscure hostels, plotting and conspiring to do mischief. The stories are not as exciting as later spy novels in the genre, but Maugham does bring an intriguing cast of characters together, Russian, Mexican and Indian, with characters such the hairless Mexican, The dark woman, or Giulia Lazzari.

Ashenden, or, The British agent was written and published in 1928, but based on Somerset Maugham experience during the Great War. It is a book that offers a different perspective of the First World War. ( )
1 vote edwinbcn | Jan 1, 2015 |
The writing is excellent but the stories conveyed very little. The television mini-series was in some ways more interesting...but also more casually plotted. Also, while the stories didn't struggle to link individual events the episodes did, making them, at some points, a bit preposterous.

The book is interesting for its portrayal of the static nature of WWI. People travel in Europe, indeed in France, with no real apprehension that any armies will show up or that they will be shot up. Meanwhile, the war in the trenches goes on, killing everybody of the appropriate age. In contrast, tt seems that WWII more or less saturated all Europe with its violence. ( )
  themulhern | Jul 28, 2013 |
I was in the earlier years of high school when I read this book and I did not find it memorable. ( )
  Schmerguls | Jun 19, 2013 |
This is the best spy book I have read. And it is deemed to be the best spy book by more authors and book lists than I can count. It is a quiet book about a spy-master around WWI (written by an ex-spy), so don't go into it expecting James Bond. Go into it expecting a more true-to-life depiction of what it is (or was) like to be a spy. But if you are not put off by quiet books, and can separate real life from fiction, you will probably love it. Highly recommended. ( )
  tnilsson | Jan 25, 2013 |
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It was not till the beginning of September that Ashenden, a writer by profession, who had been abroad at the outbreak of the war, managed to get back to England.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0099289709, Paperback)

2000 Vintage(Random House Group) trade PB, 7th printing, British Import. Read Somerset Maugham?(The Razor's Edge,Of Human Bondage) Tremendously popular in his day as play-write and author, he was sent to Switzerland as an agent by the British Secret Service when WW I broke out. This collection of stories, in all their brutality and absurdity, is based on his experiences.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:45:52 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

A celebrated writer by the time the war broke out in 1914, Somerset Maugham was dispatched by the Secret Service to Lucerne - under the guise of completing a play. An assignment whose danger and drama appealed both to his sense of romance and of the ridiculous. The stories collected in ASHENDEN are rooted in Maugham's own experiences as an agent, reflecting the ruthlessness and brutality of espionage, its intrigue and treachery, as well as absurdity.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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