COVID-19 update: We hope to hold Toronto Pursuits in July 2021 but are not formally opening registration yet. We will be updating our product pages as we have more information from the University of Toronto and the City of Toronto on indoor gatherings, and from the Canadian and US governments on border and travel updates. We do have a variety of online seminars running now, with new groups starting almost weekly. Thank you for your support!
Whether pulp paperbacks or modern classics (a distinction not always sharply drawn), spy stories offer special insight into the workings of superpowers in stalemate. As the world slides toward Cold War 2.0, spy fiction again provides a space to explore fears of international conflict old and new.
Until recently, spy narratives have focused almost exclusively on the powerful male operative caught between duty to his profession and adherence to his personal code of behaviour, no matter how ruthless. Women characters, from accomplices to full-fledged spies, now play a more complex and vital role. Their presence raises new questions about the connection between the personal and the political, the “right” response to conflict, and more.
In this seminar we’ll trace the development of the female spy in three sophisticated literary thrillers: John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (1963) and The Little Drummer Girl (1983) and Jennie Rooney’s Red Joan (2014). We’ll ask why women agents are portrayed as either willing or unwitting accomplices to male operatives, or as independent characters devoted to political activism.
Our investigation of the le Carré novels will centre on the moral ambiguity of male spies that both appeals to and repels the female characters drawn into a world of deception and violence. In Red Joan, heroine Joan Stanley (based on the real operative Melita Norwood) acts out her own deeply held political beliefs to become one of the most effective Soviet agents of the Cold War. We’ll consider how these narratives of women caught in—or seduced by—the dangerous game of international espionage shed light on the public’s fear of nuclear war, authoritarian governments and feminist ideas.
Learn more about Cold War spy fiction in Joyce’s article The Cold War Canadian Jewish Spies.
“This isn’t about you. Your feelings are irrelevant here. This is about saving the Revolution. It’s about saving the world.”
– from Red Joan