The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville
Clare Mulley, 2012
St. Martin's Press
The Untold Story of Britain’s First Female Special Agent of World War II
In June 1952, a woman was murdered by an obsessed colleague in a hotel in the South Kensington district of London. Her name was Christine Granville. That she died young was perhaps unsurprising; that she had survived the Second World War was remarkable.
The daughter of a feckless Polish aristocrat and his wealthy Jewish wife, Granville would become one of Britain’s most daring and highly decorated special agents. Having fled to Britain on the outbreak of war, she was recruited by the intelligence services and took on mission after mission. She skied over the hazardous High Tatras into occupied Poland, served in Egypt and North Africa, and was later parachuted behind enemy lines into France, where an agent’s life expectancy was only six weeks.
Her courage, quick wit, and determination won her release from arrest more than once, and saved the lives of several fellow officers—including one of her many lovers—just hours before their execution by the Gestapo. More importantly, the intelligence she gathered in her espionage was a significant contribution to the Allied war effort, and she was awarded the George Medal, the OBE, and the Croix de Guerre.
Granville exercised a mesmeric power on those who knew her. In The Spy Who Loved acclaimed biographer Clare Mulley tells the extraordinary history of this charismatic, difficult, fearless, and altogether extraordinary woman. (From the publisher.)
• Where—Luton, England, UK
• Education—M.A., University of London
• Currently—lives in Saffron Walden, Essex
Clare Mulley is a British biographer, known for documenting the life of Eglantyne Jebb, the founder of Save the Children, and has received the Daily Mail Biographers' Club Prize for The Woman Who Saved the Children: A Biography of Eglantyne Jebb (2009).
In 2012 her biography of World War II SOE agent Krystyna Skarbek, aka Christine Granville: The Spy Who Loved: the Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville, Britain's First Female Special Agent of World War II was published to critical acclaim.
Clare Mulley was born in 1969 in Luton, England. In 2006 she graduated from the University of London with a Masters degree in Social and Cultural History. She lives in Saffron Walden, Essex, England, with her family.
Mulley has worked with Save the Children and Sightsavers International, raising charitable donations on behalf of the organizations. She has also served as a member of the financial advisory board of the World Development Movement, a membership organization in the UK that campaigns on issues of global justice and development in southern countries identified according to the global north-south divide. She was most recently a trustee of the national charity, Standing Together against Domestic Violence.
Mulley is a public speaker, with experience making presentations and lecturing in academic conferences, literary festivals and museums throughout the UK. She continues to serve as a Campaigns Ambassador with Save the Children.
• Eglantyne Jebb
In 1999, while working with Save the Children, Mulley was introduced to the life of Victorian-era British social reformer Eglantyne Jebb, and became intrigued with her life and career. When Mulley took a maternity leave of absence, in order to have her first child, she began researching the life of Jebb, compiled her notes, and began writing the biography, The Woman Who Saved the Children: A Biography of Eglantyne Jebb.
Jebb was an unlikely children's champion; she privately confessed that she was not fond of children, once referring to them as "the little wretches" and laughing that "the dreadful idea of closer acquaintance never entered my mind." She never married or had children of her own. She was a noted humanitarian whose visionary ideas permanently changed the way that the world regards and treats children.
Jebb had soon won huge public support. Motivated by humanitarian compassion, the belief in the need to invest in the next generation to secure international peace, and her very personal, spiritual, Christian faith, Jebb quickly grew the one-off fund into an international development organization, supported by the Pope and the miners, the British establishment and the Bolshevik Government, European royalty and the fledgling League of Nations in Geneva.
Five years later, Jebb wrote the pioneering statement of children's human rights that has since evolved into the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most universally accepted human-rights instrument in history. She noted:
It is not impossible to save the children of the world. It is only impossible if we make it so by our refusal to attempt it.
The biography was published in 2009 to coincide with the 90th anniversary of Save the Children and the 20th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. As noted on the copyright page of the book, all of the author's royalties are donated to Save the Children's international programs.
• Christine Granville
In 2012 Mulley published the biography The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville. Granville was Britain's first female special agent of World War II. The book has received solid reviews in the British press and in 2013 was released in the U.S. (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 6/5/2013.)
Compulsively readable… Clare Mulley has done a dogged piece of detective work piecing together Christine’s ultimately tragic life… She has written a thrilling book, and paid overdue homage to a difficult woman who seized life with both hands
Sunday Telegraph (UK)
Brings alive a glamorous, swashbuckling heroine
Sunday Times (UK)
Engrossing biography details the high-voltage life of one of Britain's most remarkable female spies... Fascinating
Mail on Sunday (UK)
Mulley's fastidiously researched tome provides the most detailed picture yet.
Sunday Express (UK)
(Five stars.) The brutal end of Christine Granville’s short life—told with terrific élan and mesmerising detail by Clare Mulley—came when the last of a multitude of spellbound lovers stabbed her through the heart in the bedroom of a Kensington hotel…. [a] splendid book… [a] captivating female version of the Scarlet Pimpernel… Christine Granville remains as alive, well and compelling as ever: a figure of radiant magnetism, ruthless determination and a courage that—as several of them attested—could make a strong man shudder.
Drawing on an unprecedented range of sources, Clare Mulley’s The Spy Who Loved is a fine account of Christine Granville’s extraordinary war, told with skill and care... Mulley succeeds in making her human... What is quite clear from this inspiring biography is that Granville was as charismatic as she was courageous.
Roderick Bailey - Literary Review
This is the first book about [Granville] for more than 30 years—and it painstakingly disentangles her complex story and equally complex character. Clare Mulley has made a fine and soberly thrilling addition to the literature of the undercover war—the sort that does not exaggerate or mythologize.... Christine did not want a normal life: all she cared for was freedom, independence and adventure—the more dangerous, the better. This book, massively researched and excitingly told, brings an extraordinary heroine back to life.
Daily Mail (UK)
This is a meticulously researched but also highly readable account of [Granville’s] heroic but unfulfilled and deeply tragic life, without any attempt at gloss. It is one of the most exciting books I’ve read this year.
Alistair Horne - Spectator (UK)
Assiduously researched, passionately written and highly atmospheric biography… Not just the story of a uniquely brave and complicated patriot, but also a scholarly and tautly written account of secret operations in occupied Europe.
Apocryphally dubbed Churchill’s favorite spy and possibly the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s Vesper Lynd, Warsaw-born Christine Granville (1908–1952) was the “willfully independent” daughter of a charming but dissolute and caddish Polish aristocrat and a Jewish banking heiress. In England, following Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939, Granville, armed with “her gift for languages, her adroit social skills, formidable courage and lust for life,” volunteered for the British Secret Intelligence Service and hatched a bold plan to ski into Poland from Hungary, via the Carpathian mountains, in order to deliver British propaganda to Warsaw and return with intelligence on the Nazi occupation. In other heroic feats, Granville parachuted into occupied France to join a Resistance sabotage network, bribed the Gestapo for the release of three of her comrades just two hours before their execution, and persuaded a Polish garrison conscripted into the Wehrmacht to switch allegiances. Getting short shrift from Britain after the war, Granville supported herself with odd jobs before becoming a stewardess on an ocean liner, where she met the man who would fall for her and become her murderer. Mulley (The Woman Who Saved the Children) gives a remarkable, charismatic woman her due in this tantalizing biography.
1. What did you learn from the book, and how much did you find surprising?
2. It has been argued that history, more than most subjects, is required to have modern resonance, to give it value. Do you think this story helps to enlighten us today? Do you think that this is important?
3. How valid are biographies as a way of learning about our past? What are the advantages and limitations of this genre?
4. The author wrote that Christine "lived boundlessly, as generous as she could be cruel." What were Christine’s great strengths, and what were her weaknesses?
5. Do you think the way we judge Christine has changed over time?
6. What motivated Christine?
7. What do you think Christine would have done with her life, had WWII not taken place, and what do you think she would have gone on to do with the rest of her life, were it not for her untimely death in 1952?
8. Does Christine deserve a place in history?
9. How readable did you find the book?
10. How does it manage the balance between telling a thrilling story and presenting well-researched history?
11. Did you read the appendices at the end of the book? What did they add? Why were they not included in the main chapters, and do you think this was the right decision?
12. Would the story make a good film or TV series? Who would play the part of Christine Granville?
13. Watch Clare Mulley talk about Christine Granville in this YouTube film.
14. Find the Wikipedia entries for Christine Granville, and other female SOE agents. How do they compare?
15. Use Googlemaps with Streetview to see some of the locations mentioned in the book.
(Questions from the author's website.)
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