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The Language of Espionage

Mata Hari and the Creation of the Spy-Courtesan

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Part of the Palgrave Studies in Languages at War book series (PASLW)

Abstract

In the historiography of intelligence, Margaretha Zelle MacLeod, aka Mata Hari, occupies a unique position. Her 1917 trial by French prosecutors for passing intelligence to the enemy fused notions of female sexuality and national betrayal to create an enduring myth against which later female agents would be measured. Mata Hari’s story is also remarkable because it is among the best-documented cases of a First World War espionage trial, rich in detail about how female agents were recruited and trained and how they operated. Moreover, the body of literature and the new linguistic meanings attached to this female icon offer insight into how popular understandings of the intelligence services, before and after the war, gained currency. Narratives about Mata Hari revived ancient fears of women’s erotic power, a theme that reflected concerns about women’s changing social and economic status. But the enduring interest in Mata Hari, and therefore the meaning connected to her story, formed in the crucible of the Great War, reflects on wider themes about the individual’s relationship to the state and identity. As Schirmann has written: ‘In our current language, her name is used as a symbol – a symbol of espionage, a symbol of venal female seduction’ (Schirmann 2001: 11).

Keywords

  • Female Agent
  • Intelligence Service
  • Double Agent
  • French Woman
  • Exotic Dancer

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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© 2016 Julie Wheelwright

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Wheelwright, J. (2016). The Language of Espionage. In: Declercq, C., Walker, J. (eds) Languages and the First World War: Representation and Memory. Palgrave Studies in Languages at War. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137550361_11

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137550361_11

  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, London

  • Print ISBN: 978-1-349-71547-3

  • Online ISBN: 978-1-137-55036-1

  • eBook Packages: Social SciencesSocial Sciences (R0)