Carter, Miranda 1965-
CARTER, Miranda 1965-
Born 1965; married; children: one son. Education: Exeter College, Oxford, B.A. (modern history), 1983.
Home—London, England. Agent—Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 19 Union Square West, New York, NY 10003.
Journalist and publisher.
Orwell Prize for Political Writing, and Guardian First Book Award and James Tait Black Book Prize shortlists, all 2001, all for Anthony Blunt: His Lives.
Anthony Blunt: His Lives, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2001.
WORK IN PROGRESS:
The Three Emperors, a study of Kaiser Wilhelm, Nicholas II, and George V, for Viking.
British historian Miranda Carter was awarded the 2001 Orwell Prize for Political Writing for her critically acclaimed Anthony Blunt: His Lives, a definitive biography of the noted art historian turned infamous Soviet spy. In her book, Carter presents vivid accounts—enlivened by interviews with Blunt's friends and colleagues—of Blunt's school days at Marlborough College, Cambridge, his early career, and his transformation from left-wing intellectual rebel and homosexual into an outwardly conforming member of the British cultural elite.
In the prologue to her book Carter writes: "Several factors have made a biography possible. One of them is that his friends and colleagues—for the most part—came to forgive or to comprehend or to put in context his spying, and became willing to talk about their memories of him. It would not have been possible to write this book without these testimonies, which I make no apology for stressing throughout my book.… Another link, helping in writing this book has been a gradual evolution in attitudes to homosexuality, which has caused friends and lovers of Blunt to speak much more openly about these sides of his life than once would have been possible. A last crucial factor has been the avalanche of material about spying which has been let loose by the end of the Cold War."
Blunt is considered a complex figure. By the early 1950s he was considered a leading authority on seventeenth-century French painting and architecture, was head of the Courtauld Institute, served as curator of Queen Elizabeth's collection of paintings, and was a member of the royal household. Blunt seemed effortlessly to ascend the social ladder, receiving a knighthood in 1956. "What gives Carter's narrative its dramatic tension," wrote Dusko Doder in a review of Anthony Blunt for the Nation, "is the make-believe existence that Blunt led for twenty-eight years, one that must have been racked with foreboding and fear."
In 1963 Blunt was betrayed by protegé Michael Straight, a British journalist then being courted by the Kennedy administration for a position in arts administration. During a routine security check Straight told the FBI that Blunt had tried to recruit him to spy for the Russians while Straight was a student at Cambridge University. The information quickly made its way to MI6, the British Secret Service. According to Carter, British authorities attempted to avoid a scandal by offering Blunt immunity from prosecution on condition that he confess and assist their investigation. Blunt may have also blackmailed the authorities by threatening to reveal proof that the duke of Windsor, the former king Edward VIII, had plotted with German Chancellor Adolf Hitler during the war. Whatever the reason, Blunt's career and social standing were undisturbed after Straight's revelation. It was not until 1979, when Margaret Thatcher publicly denounced him, that Blunt was openly revealed as a traitor to his country.
As Doder noted in his Nation review, Carter's biography "breaks new ground … in its rejection of simple explanations based on the cold war double standard.… Wedo come to understand why Blunt, who was never interested in politics, turned to Marxism and eventually became a Russian spy." Noting that Marxism was then seen as an answer to fascism and rising unemployment, Carter posits that Blunt was also influenced by Edmund Wilson's Devil Take the Hindmost, an account of the Great Depression and its human cost in America. Idealistic Cambridge students like Blunt often joined the communist party because it "offered absolution from the guilt many of them felt about being part of the privileged ruling class."
David Pitt wrote in his review for Booklist that Carter's "research appears impeccable, and her tone is evenhanded and straightforward. It is possible to read much between the lines of Blunt's life, but Carter stays away from facile explanations for his complex behavior." A contributor to Publishers Weekly added: "The biggest challenge any Blunt biographer faces is Blunt himself, a man of almost legendary emotional detachment. Blunt revealed little about his personal life, yet Carter has managed to bring readers as close to this enigmatic man as humanly possible."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, December 1, 2001, David Pitt, review of Anthony Blunt: His Lives, p. 612.
Contemporary Review, April, 2002, review of Anthony Blunt, p. 253.
Economist (UK), November 24, 2001, review of Anthony Blunt, p. 108.
Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, May-June, 2003, John Mitzel, review of Anthony Blunt, p. 42.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2001, review of Anthony Blunt, p. 1592.
Lambda Book Report, October, 2002, Walter Wadas, review of Anthony Blunt, p. 26.
London Review of Books, November 20, 2001, Nicholas Penny, review of Anthony Blunt, p. 3.
Nation, February 18, 2002, Dusko Doder, review of Anthony Blunt, p. 25.
New Statesman, November 26, 2001, Richard Gott, review of Anthony Blunt, p. 52.
New Yorker, January 14, 2002, review of Anthony Blunt, p. 84.
New York Times, January 6, 2002, Michiko Kakutani, review of Anthony Blunt, p. E46.
New York Times Book Review, January 6, 2002, Jeremy Treglown, review of Anthony Blunt, p. 13; January 13, 2002, review of Anthony Blunt, p. 22.
Publishers Weekly, November 5, 2001, review of Anthony Blunt, p. 50.
Spectator, November 10, 2001, David Pryce-Jones, review of Anthony Blunt, p. 71.
Times Literary Supplement, November 2, 2001, George Steiner, review of Anthony Blunt, p. 3.
Washington Post, January 13, 2002, Michael Dirda, review of Anthony Blunt, p. L15.
BookBrowser.com,http://www.bookbrowser.com/ (April 6, 2002), Susan Anderson, review of Anthony Blunt.
January,http://www.januarymagazine.com/ (April 16, 2002), review of Anthony Blunt.*