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.)