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Anthony Blunt: His Lives Paperback – 11 Oct 2002
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Astonishingly good (Daily Telegraph)
Highly impressive... sensitive and compelling... Miranda Carter has written a richly informative biography which, in the end, does not fall into the trap of tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner - not only because she is not seeking to pardon him, but also because there is something here that is still quite impossible to comprehend (Noel Malcolm, Sunday Telegraph)
A compelling biography... Miranda Carter's skill at scouring the different compartments of Blunt's life is deeply impressive (Julian Barnes, New Yorker)
Anthony Blunt, aesthete, communist, homosexual, MI5 agent and Soviet mole, was Surveyor of the King's Pictures and Director of the Courtauld Institute. Betrayed in 1963, he voted for Margaret Thatcher in 1979. Late that year, she was to expose his treachery and strip him of his knighthood. While the other Cambridge spies (Philby, Burgess and Maclean) subordinated their lives and careers to espionage, Blunt had a separate passionate existence. His reputation as an art historian was second to none: he made an enormous contribution to the establishment of art history as an academic discipline; his volumes on Poussin, French and Italian art and old master drawings are still in print and some are still set texts. At the Courtauld he trained a whole generation of world-class academics and curators. A human paradox, Blunt was a highly-regarded member of the British intelligentsia but his life as such and as a member of the British homosexual subculture of the 30s, 40s and 50s has hardly been explored. Miranda Carter's biography shows how his life vividly illustrates certain key themes and moments of the 20th century.Blunt led two totally discrete lives, he was a set of permanent contradiSee all Product description
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There is plenty here, all of it relevant when building up a picture of Blunt’s idiosyncratic Weltanschauung and complex id. One can see why such a figure was worshipped by some but disliked and reviled by others (and was probably content to be misunderstood by all?). The book however lacks continuity. It is as if a miniaturist has suddenly been given a large canvas and tried to fill it with a series of individually composed character paintings, a tapestry of Poussin-like detail.
It would have been convenient to be able to give the production 3½ stars – seven out of ten – but to round off downwards would be severely wrong.
Interestingly, Blunt was both betrayer and betrayed; his exposure, with (the recently elected) Thatcher giving a statement in the house of Common, was clearly in breach of the agreement to immunity when he confessed. The result was an early example of press villification; as Carter puts it, he "... became a kind of screen on which fiction and fantasy were projected". When he asked his lawyer about suing for libel, he was advised not on to the grounds that he had "lost his good name", and that he "had in effect so defamed himself that no further defamation was possible". Seems all too familiar now.
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