The Concept of the Gentleman in British Spy Literature

  • Danny Laurie-Fletcher


This chapter focuses on the concept of the gentleman. It starts with an overview of the change in the meaning of a gentleman and attitudes regarding disguises, the police, and spies in response to the perceived need for greater security. Earlier, these occupations, organisations, or activities were looked down upon as something a gentleman should not be involved in as expressed in early novels such as The Woman in White (1860). With increased concern about internal and external threats this outlook changed as symbolised by the expansion of various British police forces to counteract various terrorists.

Secondly the chapter looks at how the concept of the gentleman varied greatly from one person to another, often depending on their social background. Whatever the interpretation, there were some general characteristics or virtues seen as important to being a gentleman. This moral gentleman was found in British spy literature in the way it depicted the British as being gentlemen indicating civilisation, in marked contrast to Germans, who were often portrayed as being barbarians. This marked contrast in representation between the Briton and the German is analysed through a focus on the public school ethos and in selected World War I British spy stories especially those by John Buchan.

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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Danny Laurie-Fletcher
    • 1
  1. 1.College of Humanities, Arts and Social SciencesFlinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia

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