Safe as Houses: The Spy and Domestic Space
Popular and critical assessments of espionage fiction alike associate the genre with international action and threats to the nation’s global political interests. However, spy fiction is also attuned to the character of urban space, including the importance of the domestic sphere. As a consequence of the disruption caused by the Second World War, but also exacerbated by continued Cold War tensions, the symbolic significance of domestic space and the house intensified during the post-war period. After the destruction of the war, the feeling of safety and sanctuary created by house and home became more important than its physical construction. Moreover, in an era in which British-controlled territory shrank at an exponential rate around the globe, the desire for stability, fixity, and permanence within the domestic space of Britain grew in reflection of this uncertainty. Constructions of the house and the home act as unifying images within spy fiction, as well as in a wider cultural sense during a period of growing post-war popularity; imaginings of home are both particular and universal, common within a particular society but also intensely personal. In this respect, espionage fiction shapes the popular concerns of its audience and is shaped by them in the process, reflecting and stressing the importance of home in its many forms. Notions of ‘home’ can conjure images of both the house and the nation at the same time, and domestic space encompasses the intimate environs of the house as well as the British Isles.1 However, rather than supporting the popular conception of the house as the ‘Englishman’s castle’ of popular aphorism, the spy fiction of Greene, Fleming, Deighton, and le Carré demonstrates that the house, and by extension the nation, is constantly vulnerable to attack from outside forces.2 The house becomes a shelter that provides protection in exchange for protection itself; the house constructs a physical limit between the inside world and the outside world and is a barrier that must be defended.