Sleeping with the Enemy (Vaughan)

Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel's Secret War
Hal Vaughan, 2011
Knopf Doubleday
304 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780307592637 

Coco Chanel created the look of the modern woman and was the high priestess of couture.

She believed in simplicity, and elegance, and freed women from the tyranny of fashion. She inspired women to take off their bone corsets and cut their hair. She used ordinary jersey as couture fabric, elevated the waistline, and created bell-bottom trousers, trench coats, and turtleneck sweaters.

In the 1920s, when Chanel employed more than two thousand people in her workrooms, she had amassed a personal fortune of $15 million and went on to create an empire.

Jean Cocteau once said of Chanel that she had the head of “a little black swan.” And, added Colette, “the heart of a little black bull.”

At the start of World War II, Chanel closed down her couture house and went across the street to live at the Hotel Ritz. Picasso, her friend, called her “one of the most sensible women in Europe.” She remained at the Ritz for the duration of the war, and after, went on to Switzerland.

For more than half a century, Chanel’s life from 1941 to 1954 has been shrouded in vagueness and rumor, mystery and myth. Neither Chanel nor her many biographers have ever told the full story of these years.

Now Hal Vaughan, in this explosive narrative—part suspense thriller, part wartime portrait—fully pieces together the hidden years of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s life, from the Nazi occupation of Paris to the aftermath of World War II.

Vaughan reveals the truth of Chanel’s long-whispered collaboration with Hitler’s high-ranking officials in occupied Paris from 1940 to 1944. He writes in detail of her decades-long affair with Baron Hans Günther von Dincklage, “Spatz” (“sparrow” in English), described in most Chanel biographies as being an innocuous, English-speaking tennis player, playboy, and harmless dupe—a loyal German soldier and diplomat serving his mother country and not a member of the Nazi party.

In Vaughan’s absorbing, meticulously researched book, Dincklage is revealed to have been a Nazi master spy and German military intelligence agent who ran a spy ring in the Mediterranean and in Paris and reported directly to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, right hand to Hitler.

The book pieces together how Coco Chanel became a German intelligence operative; how and why she was enlisted in a number of spy missions; how she escaped arrest in France after the war, despite her activities being known to the Gaullist intelligence network; how she fled to Switzerland for a nine-year exile with her lover Dincklage. And how, despite the French court’s opening a case concerning Chanel’s espionage activities during the war, she was able to return to Paris at age seventy and triumphantly resurrect and reinvent herself—and rebuild what has become the iconic House of Chanel. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Hal Vaughan has been a newsman, foreign correspondent, and documentary film producer working in Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia since 1957. He served in the U.S. military in World War II and Korea and has held various posts as a U.S. Foreign Service officer.

Vaughan is the author of Doctor to the Resistance: The Heroic True Story of an American Surgeon and His Family in Occupied Paris and FDR’s 12 Apostles: The Spies Who Paved the Way for the Invasion of North Africa. He lives in Paris. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
Too many diplomatic documents are reproduced at too much length. Contradictions are not clearly sorted out. Vaughan seems to have felt as though his rich source materials could speak for themselves, but they don’t — and he doesn’t succeed in lending authority to the accounts of contemporary witnesses who were, undoubtedly, unreliable.
Judith Warner - New York Times Book Review

[A] compelling chronicle of Coco Chanel...a different Chanel from any you'll find at the company no means the account of an emerging style but a tale of how a single-minded woman faced history, made hard choices, connived, lied, collaborated and used every imaginable wile to survive and see that the people she cared about survived with her.... Vaughan has gleaned many of the details of Chanel's collaboration from documents that were scattered for years throughout European archives.... It's an astonishing story...gripping...provocative...riveting history.
Marie Arana - Washington Post

Chanel's war years, as explored by Hal Vaughan, are as camera-ready and as neck-deep in melodrama as Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Bastards, and just as hard to forget now that they're exposed.
David Darcy - San Francisco Chronicle

[Hal Vaughan] ably demonstrates that Chanel was far from an innocent victim of circumstance during the second world war but a fully fledged Abwehr (German secret service) agent with her own number and codename: Westminster (no doubt a nod to her one-time lover, the Duke of Westminster).... Vaughan, who writes with welcome economy and flair, deserves a lot of credit for finally unraveling the strands of Chanel’s deeply deceptive personality.
Tobias Grey - Financial Times

Sleeping with the Enemy sheds new light on Chanel's dealings with the famously tight-lipped Wertheimer family.... To this day, the family refuses to discuss Coco Chanel with the media, but Vaughan still manages to paint an engrossing portrait of the dealings between the two.

[Sleeping with the Enemy] distinguishes itself from the many other Chanel biographies by tackling the dicey subject of Gabrielle Chanel’s activities during World War II.... This is a frank and unsentimental portrait of a figure that fashion writers are nearly incapable of criticizing.... While Vaughan’s discussions of Chanel’s contributions to fashion add nothing new to the extensive literature on her, he more than makes up for it with his impressive research and the never-before-seen information that he has unearthed about her wartime activities... What Sleeping with the Enemy offers is a more rounded look at a figure who has been over-studied and under-examined.
Isabel Schwab - New Republic

Hal Vaughan has done a stupendous job of research.... Vaughan draws a brilliant portrait...a terrific and fascinating story...wonderfully told, and full of great characters.... Vaughan brings her to life so vividly that we understand why no less a judge than Andre Malraux said that "from this century in France only three names will remain: de Gaulle, Picasso, and Chanel."... It is that rarest of good reads, a biography about a famous person with a surprise on every page. Nancy Mitford, I think, would have loved it, and written a wonderful letter to Evelyn Waugh about it!
Mchael Korda - Daily Beast

Tenacious digging into secret wartime records reveals a worsening case for the legendary French designer. Well rendered by Vaughan...a sorry story of war-time collaboration, exacerbated by the lack of reckoning during her lifetime.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
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Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Sleeping with the Enemy:

1. What do you make of Coco Chanel? What kind of portrait does Hal Vaughan paint of her? How does this book's view of Chanel differ from the generally accepted one ? What did you know of Chanel before reading Sleeping with the Enemy...and how, if at all, were your views altered after finishing it?

2. What other individuals stand out, as either unlikeable or admirable, in Vaughan's account?

3. Talk about Paris as Vaughan describes it during the 1920s and 30s? What kind of place was it?

4. How well did the Parisian upper classes fare during the war, as compared with Parisians at large? Were you surprised at the disparity?

5. Talk about Chanel's activities during the war. What surprised—or shocked—you most?

6. The author quotes Chanel as saying, “from my earliest childhood I’ve been certain that they have taken everything away from me, that I’m dead.” What is the author's tone as he writes about Chanel? Does Vaughan seem, in some way, to exculpate Chanel—suggesting that she acted out of concern for her nephew or because of her sense of childhood abandonment? Do these reasons justify her actions? Do you wish Vaughan were more judgmental toward Chanel...or do you appreciate his detached, more objective stance?

7. What do you make of Chanel's anti-semitism? Were her views extreme for the time? Or did they reflect the prevailing atitudes of many, if not most, Europeans? (Does that make any difference?)

8. Does Vaughan make a convincing case that Chanel was a Nazi spy? For whom did she spy...on whom was she spying...and what specific information did she turn over?

9. Some critics have claimed that Vaughan offers an over-abundance of documents and leaves too many contradictions unresolved for readers to be able to sort things out clearly? Do you agree or disagree?

10.  After the war, why was Chanel never punished for her activities? Who protected her...and why? Should she have been brought to account?

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