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A Short History of George Smiley

Posted November 18, 2011 to photo album "A Short History of George Smiley"

Since he appeared in John le Carré’s 1961 novel, Call For The Dead, the unassuming intelligence operative George Smiley has become the most intellectually cunning and emotionally complex spy of modern times.

Smiley Lives
Call for The Dead (1961): Enter Smiley
A Murder Of Quality (1962): Smiley on his Own
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1963): Smiley’s World
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974): Smiley’s Triumph
The Honourable Schoolboy (1977): Smiley in Asia
Smiley’s People (1982): Smiley’s Last Battle
The Secret Pilgrim (1990): Smiley Remembers
The Secret Pilgrim (1990): Smiley Remembers

The Secret Pilgrim (1990): Smiley Remembers

Set long after Smiley’s Cold War period, The Secret Pilgrim is constructed as a series of memoirs: one from Smiley, and the other, more significant one from an agent called Ned. Now an instructor for MI6, Ned has invited the long-retired Smiley to speak on the last day of his class. As Ned recounts: “He replaced his spectacles and, as I fancied, turned his smile upon myself. And suddenly I felt like one of my own students. It was the 60's again. I was a fledgling spy, and George Smiley -- tolerant, patient, clever George -- was observing my first attempts at flight.” While the book is for the most part about Ned’s observations, the tone is set, of course, by Smiley, who, in his sly way, suggests the complexity of both spying and stories about spies. In his introduction to the class, he says, “the privately educated Englishman—and Englishwoman, if you will allow me—is the greatest dissembler on earth…. Nobody will charm you so glibly, disguise his feelings from you better, cover his tracks more skilfully or find it harder to confess to you that he’s been a damned fool…. Which is why some of our best officers turn out to be our worst. And our worst, our best.” At the end of the novel, Smiley asks never to be invited back again.