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I'm pretty sure the foreward was in the copy of my library here in the US. I seem to remember that there were other Asheden spy stories. They were extremely close to actual events and Maughm was not sure he should publish them.
He sent them to Winston Churchill who told him to burn them. He did. That may be not actually be true, but I wonder what was in the stories. Yes, I've seen multiple mentions online of there originally being 31 stories, but Churchill insisted 14 be burned as they breached the Official Secrets Act. No idea how apocryphal that is though.
Anyone else know? Working in a library does have its occasional perks: I briefly scanned three Maugham biographies including the most recent from , and all mention this episode--there seems to be no real controversy over whether it happened, but there is also understandably little in the way of corroborative evidence.
Obviously neither Churchill nor Maugham would have been eager to discuss it. In Maugham's case, embarrassment over having possibly violated national security would be joined with personal pain over having to destroy his own work. It makes perfect sense that he'd have done it at Churchill's suggestion--what I read seems to indicate that's all it was, though. They were pretty good friends, and held each other in high regard. All Churchill would have had to was mention their impropriety.
Maugham would have likely needed no further prodding. Different times. And if anybody ever understood the need for discretion in these matters, it would be a gay man working in the field of espionage in the early 20th century. In England, yet. Note that he puts a little unstated question mark on the story, whose only source is footnoted rather cryptically as "Alan Searle to Patrick O'Higgins". The other two bios just treat it as holy writ, and offer no sources at all.
It was not his practice, however, to let that may stories accumulate without offering them for magazine publication and one can only wonder at this uncharacteristic destruction of salable material.
And no, we probably don't know the whole story. Chris, thank you for that bit of research. How far have you got? It's a shame there wasn't a Snowden back in the days of Ashden to save the 14 stories that were destroyed because of the Official Secrets Act.
I can't imagine what was in them that necessitated their destruction or that it was necessary. Especially since Morgan thinks Maugham had offered them to magazines for publication. And I suppose researchers have looked through the archives of the magazines Maugham used to be published in for copies of the 14 lost stories?
If not, there's a book project for someone. It is most certainly a shame they were destroyed, but I can't help but think Maugham would have regarded a figure like Snowden with a mixture of horror and distaste--and perhaps fascination, as a potential subject for a book. But I doubt it would have been a flattering portrait.
Not taking sides, just trying to see things from his POV. His patriotism was not naive, but it was heartfelt. One can't see him seeking refuge with the likes of Putin, somehow. There could possibly have been scattered bits of information in the stories that could have been useful to people on the other side--those who knew how to read between the lines. Hardly any big secrets, but the spy game is not often about getting big secrets--more about getting lots of little bits of intel, each useless in itself, that ultimately piece together into something dangerous.
Each side looks for the tiniest advantage over the other. Anybody who worked in intelligence will tell you that we have Official Secrets laws for very good reasons. He's one of the most studied writers of the modern era--the tale of these burned manuscripts has been out there a long time. I think if they had survived in any form, we'd have them by now. Yes but in the long run all those little secrets are usually not important, especially years after the fact.
I'll give you that real-time disclosure could have been bad. No reason they couldn't have stashed them in a vault for 50 years.
Maugham wasn't some unimportant little scribbler, nor was he a dolt who would publish the keys to the kingdom. Living in Washington, I see firsthand all the time people who are obsessed with official secrecy and much of it is complete BS.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote a really good book about this. There is always hope that copies are hidden away somewhere. As intriguing as that blog article you refer to may be, it dates from year before last, and I can't find any other reference to the stories in question being found--the Wikipedia article on Ashenden makes no mention of any of this.
I note the term 'allegedly found' is used. One would think that if they really had surfaced they'd have gone on the auction block by now. The only explanation I can think of for that not happening would be if the stories were somehow still politically sensitive, which is hard to believe. So rather than resolving the mystery, you've deepened it. Which is pretty cool. I have since heard that the recovered stories have been taken to a safe house in East Sussex for further study and review.
There's a guy up the road from you in Piltdown who specializes in digging up old things - it's probably him. Maugham supposedly destroyed them because they were considered too politically sensitive and violated England's Official Secrets Act. All of that made us want to take this further. They came up empty-handed. So, Pirie did his own detective work. He decided to research the secret service during Maugham's period to 'dig up material that way,' but he found that all pertinent material also was covered by the Official Secrets Act.
Maugham's last work for the British Secret Service that we know of was in They really like to cover the bases. Spies are spies, from generation to generation. Anyway, I don't know what to think now. If Maugham's activities were still covered by the Official Secrets Act over 70 years later, might they still be covered today? But then why was he allowed to publish any stories at all? What was so different about the 14 he had to burn? And why does Ashenden's spymaster recruit him by saying he'll find the work a great source of background material for his writing?
He's so crestfallen when Ashenden informs him that the story he tells of a foolish French diplomat and a seductive blonde spy has been old hat since before either of them were born. Either somebody's being overly cautious and bureaucratic which is not that hard to believe of 'intelligence' in this day and age or else Maugham may have been overly modest about his contribution to the service.
Necessarily modest, in fact. Despite my having become interested in spy fiction well over three years ago, and despite Ashenden being arguably the most important work in the field, I only encountered it earlier this year when I read two of the connected stories which make up the book in two different spy fiction anthologies — Alfred Hitchcock's Sinister Spies and the Eric Ambler-compiled To Catch a Spy , both published in the mids. The story in the former was "The Traitor" actually comprising two stories from Ashenden : "Gustav" and "The Traitor" ; I described it in my review — if I may be so gauche as to quote myself — as "one of the best pieces of spy fiction I've ever come across — almost languorous in pace and yet packing an emotional punch that's uncommon in the field of espionage writing", adding for good measure: "It's a beautifully judged, wonderfully written tale.
Eric Ambler alluded to this preface in his introduction to To Catch a Spy when he wrote that "Ashenden was based, as Mr Maugham has told us, on his own experiences as a British agent in Switzerland and Russia during the —18 war. As it turned out, that wasn't as straightforward a task as I'd hoped, because there are in fact two versions of the preface. The first version appeared here:. Labels: Ashenden , book collecting , Eric Ambler , espionage , literary , publishing , spy fiction , W.
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I'm pretty sure the foreward was in the copy of my library here in the US. I seem to remember that there were other Asheden spy stories. They were extremely close to actual events and Maughm was not sure he should publish them. He sent them to Winston Churchill who told him to burn them. He did. That may be not actually be true, but I wonder what was in the stories.
Book Review: Ashenden; or, the British Agent by W. Somerset Maugham
Jump to navigation. Videos, interviews, and audio recordings of previous Signature Events at the Library. Ashenden; or, the British Agent , by W. Somerset Maugham is not the first secret agent novel in English. There is a lot of the British Public School in Ashenden — he is well read, always polite, and has a wry way of looking at the world. The information Ashenden gets, however, is not clear and the Mexican kills a man entirely innocent.
Ashenden by W. Somerset Maugham (1928)
FP now includes eBooks in its collection. Book Details. Like Ian Fleming, Somerset Maugham had himself been a secret agent! Limit the size to characters. However, note that many search engines truncate at a much shorter size, about characters. Your suggestion will be processed as soon as possible.