John le Carré Additional Biography


John le Carré (luh kah-RAY), the pseudonym of David Moore Cornwell, was born in the town of Poole in Dorsetshire, England, on October 19, 1931, the son of Ronald Thomas Archibald Cornwell and the former Olive Glassy. His mother deserted the family when John was a little boy; his father had numerous mistresses who created emotional confusion in the boy’s life by serving as unreliable transient mothers. The early loss of his mother may explain why betrayal is the major theme of all le Carré’s fiction. Le Carré’s semiautobiographical novel A Perfect Spy (1986) paints a picture of a lonely, hypersensitive boy whose father was a philanderer, a heavy drinker, and a flamboyant con artist who once served a term in prison for fraud. Le Carré was sent to prestigious English boarding schools but felt out of place because he did not belong to the same social class as the majority of the students. His father caused him humiliation by paying the tuition with bad checks. His precarious situation left him with ambivalent feelings toward the upper class; he was taught to share their values but did not identify with them. These feelings are evident in many of his novels, but particularly in A Perfect Spy.

Le Carré attended Berne University in Switzerland for a year, where he perfected his knowledge of German. He has stated that “the strongest literary influence was all that German literature that I devoured either compulsorily or voluntarily.” Because he was fluent in German, he spent his obligatory period of military service as an intelligence officer in occupied Austria in the aftermath of World War II. Le Carré became a retiring and secretive man, reticent about his activities as...

(The entire section is 699 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

John le Carré s early experiences fitted him for a career as a spy novelist. He had the creative genius to see that the spy, living from day to day in paranoid terror, was the ideal symbol of the alienated modern individual living in the shadow of nuclear annihilation. Le Carré elevated the spy thriller to the level of enduring literature. His best novels will outlive many more pretentious contemporary literary works and will reveal to future readers more about the psychological and moral issues of the Cold War than any number of scholarly history books. His post-Cold War novels have not been as popular, neither among general readers nor among most critics.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The engrossing espionage thrillers of John le Carré (leh kuh-RAY) are in reality complex character studies disguised as spy novels, a fact that has won him a degree of critical acclaim quite rare in a field dominated by plot and action rather than moral complexity. Le Carré was born David John Moore Cornwell, the son of Ronald and Olive (Glassy) Cornwell. His father was a charming swindler and confidence man who sometimes used his young son as a front for his illegal schemes; this childhood experience would form the basis for le Carré’s highly autobiographical novel A Perfect Spy. Like Magnus Pym, the novel’s troubled central character, le Carré was reared by his father in a world of limousines, private schools,...

(The entire section is 1332 words.)