Delicate Truth (le Carre)

Author Bio
Birth—October 19, 1931
Where—Dorset, England, UK
Education—B.A., Oxford University
Awards—Somerset Maugham Award
Currently—lives in St Buryan, Cornwall. England


David John Moore Cornwell was born to Richard Thomas Archibald (Ronnie) Cornwell (1906–75) and Olive (Glassy) Cornwell, in Poole, Dorset, England. He was the second son to the marriage, the first his brother Tony, two years his elder, now a retired advertising executive; his younger half-sister is the actress Charlotte Cornwell; and Rupert Cornwell, a former Independent newspaper Washington bureau chief, is a younger half-brother.

John le Carre said he did not know his mother, who abandoned him when he was five years old, until their re-acquaintance when he was 21 years old. His relationship with his father was difficult, given that the man had been jailed for insurance fraud, was an associate of the Kray twins (among the foremost criminals in London) and was continually in debt. A 2009 UK Guardian-Observer profile recounts:

The family swung between great affluence and bankruptcy. The boys were often called upon to help their father evade creditors during an upbringing that le Carre has referred to as "clandestine survival." He and his brother, he has said, "were conspirators from quite an early age...."

His troubled relationships with each of his parents proved instrumental in shaping his fiction. Duplicitous father figures crop up regularly in his work and, more obviously, the question of trust is at the centre of le Carre's fictional world.

The character Rick Pym, the scheming con-man father of protagonist Magnus Pym in his later novel A Perfect Spy (1986), was based on Ronnie. When Ronnie died in 1975, le Carre paid for a memorial funeral service but did not attend.

Education
Cornwell's formal schooling began at St Andrew's Preparatory School, near Pangbourne, Berkshire, then continued at Sherborne School; he proved unhappy with the typically harsh English public school regime of the time and disliked his disciplinarian housemaster so withdrew.

From 1948 to 1949, he studied foreign languages at the University of Bern in Switzerland. In 1950 he joined the Intelligence Corps of the British Army garrisoned in Austria, working as a German language interrogator of people who crossed the Iron Curtain to the West. In 1952, he returned to England to study at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he worked covertly for the British Security Service, MI5, spying upon far-left groups for information about possible Soviet agents.

When Ronnie declared bankruptcy in 1954, Cornwell quit Oxford to teach at a boys' preparatory school; however, a year later, he returned to Oxford and graduated, in 1956, with a First Class Honours Bachelor of Arts degree.

Intelligence work
He then taught French and German at Eton College for two years, afterwards becoming an MI5 officer in 1958; he ran agents, conducted interrogations, tapped telephone lines, and effected break-ins. Encouraged by Lord Clanmorris (who wrote crime novels as"John Bingham"), and while an active MI5 officer, Cornwell began writing Call for the Dead (1961), his first novel. Lord Clanmorris was the inspiration behind spymaster George Smiley.

In 1960, Cornwell transferred to MI6, the foreign-intelligence service, and worked as a Second Secretary cover in the British Embassy at Bonn; he later was transferred to Hamburg as a political consul. There, he wrote the detective story A Murder of Quality (1962) and The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (1963), as "John le Carre" (i,e., John the Square, in French), a pseudonym required because Foreign Office officers were forbidden to publish in their own names.

Cornwell left the service in 1964 to work full-time as a novelist, as his intelligence officer career was ended by the betrayal to the KGB of numberous British agents and their covers by Kim Philby, a British double agent (of the Cambridge Five). Le Carre depicts and analyses Philby as the upper-class traitor, code-named Gerald by the KGB, the mole George Smiley hunts in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974). Credited by his pen name, Cornwell appears as an extra in the 2011 film version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, among the guests at the Christmas party seen in several flashback scenes.

In 1964 le Carre won the Somerset Maugham Award, established to enable British writers younger than thirty-five to enrich their writing by spending time abroad.

Personal life and recognition
In 1954, Cornwell married Alison Ann Veronica Sharp; they had three sons—Simon, Stephen and Timothy. The couple was divorced in 1971. The following year, Cornwell married Valerie Jane Eustace, a book editor with Hodder & Stoughton. They have one son, Nicholas, who writes as Nick Harkaway. Le Carre has resided in St Buryan, Cornwall, UK, for more than forty years where he owns a mile of cliff close to Land's End.

In 1998, he was awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Letters) from the University of Bath. In 2012, he was awarded the Degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa by the University of Oxford.

Writing style
Stylistically, the first two novels—Call for the Dead (1961) and A Murder of Quality (1962)—are mystery fiction in which the hero George Smiley (of the SIS, the "Circus") resolves the riddles of the deaths investigated; the motives are more personal than political.

The spy novel œuvre of John le Carre stands in contrast to the physical action and moral certainty of the James Bond thriller established by Ian Fleming in the mid- nineteen-fifties; the le Carre Cold War features unheroic political functionaries aware of the moral ambiguity of their work, and engaged in psychological more than physical drama. They experience little of the violence typically encountered in action thrillers, and have very little recourse to gadgets. Much of the conflict they are involved in is internal, rather than external and visible.

Unlike the moral certainty of Fleming's British Secret Service adventures, le Carre's Circus spy stories are morally complex, and inform the reader of the fallibility of Western democracy and of the secret services protecting it, often implying the possibility of East-West moral equivalence.

A Perfect Spy (1986), chronicling the boyhood moral education of Magnus Pym, as it leads to his becoming a spy, is the author's most autobiographic espionage novel—especially the boy's very close relationship with his con man father. Biographer Lynndianne Beene describes the novelist's own father, Richard Cornwell, as "an epic con man of little education, immense charm, extravagant tastes, but no social values"; le Carre reflected that "writing A Perfect Spy is probably what a very wise shrink would have advised."

Most of le Carre's novels are spy stories set amidst the Cold War (1945–91); a notable exception is The Naïve and Sentimental Lover (1971), an autobiographical, stylistically uneven, mainstream novel of a man's post-marital existential crisis. Another exception from the East-West conflict is The Little Drummer Girl that uses the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

With the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, le Carre's œuvre shifted to portrayal of the new multilateral world. For example The Night Manager, his first completely post-Cold-War novel, deals with drug and arms smuggling in the murky world of Latin America drug lords, shady Caribbean banking entities, and look-the-other-way western officials.

As a journalist, he wrote The Unbearable Peace (1991), a non-fiction account of Brigadier Jean-Louis Jeanmaire (1911–92), the Swiss Army officer who spied for the USSR from 1962 until 1975. In 2009, he donated the short story "The King Who Never Spoke" to the Oxfam Ox-Tales project.

Political views
In January 2003 The Times (London) published le Carre's article "The United States Has Gone Mad," which condemned the approaching Iraq War. He observed in this essay, "How Bush and his junta succeeded in deflecting America's anger, from Bin Laden to Saddam Hussein, is one of the great public relations conjuring tricks of history." He contributed the same article to a volume of political essays entitled Not One More Death. The book is highly critical of the war in Iraq. Le Carre's contribution was entitled "Art, truth and politics." Other contributors include Harold Pinter, Richard Dawkins, Michel Faber, Brian Eno, and Haifa Zangana.  (Adapted from Wikipedia, retrieved 5/8/2012.)

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