In the latest issue (Number 123) a brief piece in the Mystery Scene Miscellany section, written by Louis Phillips, caught my eye: “Goebbels Gobbles Up a Story by Somerset Maugham.” Who can resist the alliteration and connotation of Goebbels Gobbles? Anyway, it’s just a brief, two paragraph piece and I hope Mystery Scene won’t mind me sharing it with you here:
In 1941, Doubleday Doran and Company, Inc. reissued W. Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden: Or The British Agent, a 1928 collection of espionage stories based in part on Maugham’s work for British Intelligence during WWI.
In the preface to the book, Maugham wrote: Though twenty years have passed since these stories were written I cannot think they are entirely out of date, since till quite recently, I am told, they have been required reading for persons entering the Department, and early in this war Dr. Goebbles, speaking over the air, taking one of them as a literal statement of recent facts, gave it as example of British cynicism and brutality.
Did Goebbles actually read the book or did someone just bring it to his attention as a useful example for his propaganda? The Wikipedia entry for the book claims it as an archetype of the espionage novel.
There have also been two screen adaptations based on some of the stories. In 1991 the BBC did a four-part mini-series directed by Christopher Morahan with the same title (Ashenden) and in 1936 Alfred Hitchcock directed a movie, Secret Agent, that was based on two of the stories, “The Traitor” and “The Hairless Mexican.”
I’d never heard of the book, but all of the above has certainly stoked my curiosity. I put in an inter-library loan request for it yesterday and plan on reading it for the WWI reading challenge that I’m participating in this year hosted by Savy Wit & Verse.
Have you read Ashenden or seen either of these adaptations?