The Spy Who Loved
The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville
St. Martin's Press 2013
It’s almost a clichÃ© by now to say that we need stories of strong women, but that doesn’t lessen the fact that we do. And biography is a field uniquely poised to transmit such stories- of compelling, complex and, at times, contradictory female characters- to a broad audience. Case in point: Clare Mulley‘s The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville (St. Martin’s, 2013).
Yes, she loved and had a number of love affairs but, as Mulley makes clear, the significance of Granville’s life isn’t that she was, to all appearances, pathologically alluring to men. Rather, her life is riveting- it has meaning in the present day- because she seems not to have craved men nearly so much as she craved adventure, challenging work that put her at great risk.
This was not simply adventure for adventure’s sake either, but adventure in service to a greater good, especially that of her homeland of Poland. For all her efforts as a secret service agent during World War II were in aid of her country, which is, in part, why the British government seemed never quite to know what to do with her and why this brilliant, imaginative woman was left to constantly lobby for a greater, more challenging, role.
‘Intrepid’ is perhaps the best word to describe Granville as Mulley portrays her here. She kicked off her career as a spy by infiltrating Poland from Hungary on skis. Another time, arrested by the Gestapo, she talked her way out of imprisonment. Still later, when her comrades were arrested by the Gestapo, she swooped into the local office, demanding and securing their release.
For her bravery, she was awarded the George Medal, the OBE, and the Croix de Guerre but there was, sadly, little room in the world after the World Wars for a Polish, female spy, and Granville slid into reduced circumstances that culminated in a tragic end: murdered by an obsessive admirer at a hotel in South Kensington.
It’s a good story of a charismatic and difficult woman, a story that was nearly forgotten and one which Mulley is pulling from obscurity, rightfully so.