Students from the University of Edinburgh’s Fiction and Espionage course join graduate and postdoctoral students to showcase their work on spying, secrecy and literature. From Game Theory to Queer Theory—find out what our students are investigating!
- Secret Sexualities: Homoeroticism, Deception and the Double in Joseph Conrad’s ‘The Secret Sharer’ (Alice Kelly)
- John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) and the abstraction of identity in the context of the Great War (Hilary Clydesdale)
- The Game is Afoot: An Interrogation of the Game Theory Found in Fictions of Spy and Espionage Literature (Emma Nance)
- Queer Spies in Britain: Spy Fiction and Male Homosexuality (Saori Mita)
Secret Sexualities: Homoeroticism, Deception and the Double in Joseph Conrad’s ‘The Secret Sharer’ (Alice Kelly)
In this paper, I will be considering the way one of the most canonical espionage writers of all time, Joseph Conrad, deployed the themes that occupied his spy fiction – secrecy, deception, doubling – elsewhere in his work, in order to write about homosexuality. In ‘The Secret Sharer’ (1910), intense and intimate bonds between men structure the plot in both overt and covert ways, manifesting in a complex web of concealment and suspense. I argue that Conrad’s emphasis on secrets in this short story points to not just a homoerotic subtext, but a nuanced exploration of passion, love and shame in a hypermasculine world.
Alice M. Kelly completed her English Literature PhD at the University of Edinburgh in 2018. Her thesis, entitled ‘Breathing Spaces and Afterlives’, looked at Joseph Conrad’s female characters and their place in the colonial literary canon. Her focus on the divide between high- and low-brow art, as well as her interest in postcolonial, queer and feminist readings, has inspired her latest research on lesbian fanfiction.
John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) and the abstraction of identity in the context of the Great War (Hilary Clydesdale)
John Buchan first serialised the ‘shocker’ The Thirty-Nine Steps in Blackwood’s Magazine between July and September 1915. In Britain, the espionage and detective genres of fiction had become increasingly popular amongst the reading public during the final two decades of the nineteenth century. Indeed, characters borne out of this fin de siècle popular fiction, such as Sherlock Holmes, have retained their popularity into modern-day art and entertainment. I seek to locate The Thirty-Nine Steps in its immediate, contemporary context of the Great War (1914-1918). I will present the way in which the noveldeconstructs and alienates national British identity. Globalised war brings a culturally destructive network of subversive international espionage which crosses national boundaries and penetrates the fundamentals of identity. The markers of British identity collapse and are revealed to be insubstantial and subject to manipulation. The novel intermingles the factual and fictional in order to present a deterministic national history in which British actions are rendered utterly passive and reactionary. Indeed, agency in the novel is only available to characters who are ‘othered’ by their comparative foreignness. This also acts to introduce the complex relationship between individualised action and global consequence portrayed by Buchan. These central assertions will be substantiated through exploring the role of determinism and chance; geographical alienation; and translation in the Thirty-Nine Steps. Finally, it will be highlighted that Buchan presents Britain’s degenerating global position through the motif of reverse colonisation in which the frontier of ‘otherness’ uncomfortably reacts against a pre-war expansionist British identity.
Hilary Clydesdale graduated with a First Class MA Honours degree in English Literature and History from The University of Edinburgh in 2018. At present, she is studying for my Master’s degree, MSc Literature and Society, at The University of Edinburgh and specialise in British literature from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Hilary’s current research project aims to trace the development of the nineteenth-century historical novel in Scotland and its engagement with contemporary political and economic theory.
The Game is Afoot: An Interrogation of the Game Theory Found in Fictions of Spy and Espionage Literature (Emma Nance)
I will be discussing two applications of game theory to two famous pieces of espionage literature: Casino Royale by Ian Fleming and The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad. This combination of game theory and the humanities is a perhaps unorthodox but nonetheless thought-provoking way to experience classic popular spy literature in a new light. I will employ two of the most popular games, the Prisoner’s Dilemma and Chicken (also known as Swerve) to better understand the motivations of specific characters in two-person games. What options do both parties have? What does the protagonist think are the motivations of the antagonist? In Casino Royale, what do the classic spy hero, James Bond, and his first nemesis, le Chiffre, have in common? To what lengths are they willing to go? In The Secret Agent, what can the dichotomy between the anarchist, the Professor, and the authority, Chief Inspector Heat, teach us about our society? How effective is “propagande par le fait” (propaganda by the deed) in influencing outcomes?
No prior experience in economics, math, or game theory necessary!
Emma Nance is a fourth-year student currently studying English Literature at the University of Edinburgh. She is interested in the interdisciplinary approach to the humanities, looking specifically at how fields such as linguistics, mathematics, history, and law apply to the English literature canon and beyond. Emma is currently writing her dissertation on the portrayal of the doctor-patient relationship, using the framework of narrative ethics, medical ethics, and postcolonial and feminist critique to better understand the intersection of medicine, philosophy, and literature.
Queer Spies in Britain: Spy Fiction and Male Homosexuality (Saori Mita)
Same sex desire among men has always existed in the spy genre since the beginning of the 20thcentury, although it has not received a lot of scholarly attention. Homosexuality is a constant theme in this genre, but it is simultaneously hidden and marginalised. This presentation will investigate this sexual undercurrent and how it has changed through time across different media (film, TV and novel).
Saori Mita is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh (Film Studies). Her research focuses on gender studies and the relationship between literature and film. Currently she is working on her PhD thesis on the representation of male homosexuality in spy fiction.