Abstract

This essay offers a transgeneric reading of Graham Greene's 1943 novel The Ministry of Fear, first tracing the emergence of spy fiction from invasion fiction at the end of the nineteenth century and then establishing William Le Queux's influence on the culture of espionage in Britain as well as in British spy fiction. Following on from this genealogy of genre, it interrogates the novel's protagonist's claim that “[t]he world has been remade by William Le Queux” in the context of the dual histories of espionage in Britain and the spy in British fiction, while attending to the novel's own reception of those histories. Focusing on the significance of the novel's intertextual and paratextual evidence in an interpretation of the novel's unconventional narrative strategies, the essay examines hybrid modes of reading the novel, as well as reading in the novel as a way of parsing its entangled narrative modes, levels, and discourses. Greene encourages transgeneric reading as a possible resolution to the epistemological uncertainty readers experience at the novel's close due to its troubling of genre expectations, its allusiveness, and, ultimately, its eschewal of narrative closure. At the same time, the essay proposes that, in attending in spy fiction to what is read and how it is read, we might better appreciate the challenges presented by the rehabilitation of a genre that also requires disentangling the many hierarchies of modernist cultural production.

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