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Anthony Blunt: His Lives    by Miranda Carter order for
Anthony Blunt
by Miranda Carter
Order:  USA  Can
Picador, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Wesley Williamson

This is the truly astonishing story of a lover of art; an accepted and admired critic and historian of painters; a friend and advisor of royalty; a homosexual and friend of homosexuals; a spy and friend of spies; a traitor to his country; and above all a traitor to himself.

It is very difficult for a North American, (or indeed any British citizen not born to that particular time, and place, and position in life), to fully understand the motivations of the group of communist sympathizers at Oxford University in the 1930's. Largely, it would appear that they were more 'anti everything' than 'pro anything': revolting against the establishment in the arts, in government, in morals and in society.

It was a time too, when the only opposition to German Naziism seemed to be Soviet Russia, a conclusion brought to a sharp focus by the Spanish Civil War. It is not too difficult to understand why, at that time, many ordinary people strongly sympathised with the Communist International, some even to the extent of providing secret information to Russia. It is much more difficult to understand why a few continued to actively help Soviet Russia, even if it meant betraying their own country, after it became obvious that Stalinist Russia had betrayed all of the ideals they had once held.

The author of the biography examines Blunt's career in the exhaustive detail necessary to gain some understanding of this complex man. She examines as well his friends and fellow spies Guy Burgess, Kim Philby and others in the intelligence community, as well as sympathisers on the fringe such as his long-time friend, the poet Louis MacNiece. It is astonishing how Blunt made and kept friends, such as MacNiece and many others who were certainly neither homosexual nor even truly communist sympathisers, when it was generally agreed that none of them had ever penetrated through the surface to the real man beneath.

This book should be required reading for anyone who is interested in English history of the thirties and forties, not just for the light it casts on Blunt and his fellow traitors, but to get the true flavour of the time and the society.

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