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Ashenden, or The British Agent

3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  1,071 ratings  ·  107 reviews

A collection of stories rooted in Maugham's own experiences as an agent, reflecting the ruthlessness and brutality of espionage, its intrigue and treachery, as well as its absurdity.

Hardcover, 304 pages
Published 1941 by Doubleday (first published 1927)
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Manray9 Childers' "The Riddle of the Sands" precedes the others mentioned by quite a few years. I consider it the first true spy novel.…moreChilders' "The Riddle of the Sands" precedes the others mentioned by quite a few years. I consider it the first true spy novel.(less)
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What a gem this is! Maugham, who served in the British secret service during World War I, cleverly combines autobiography and satire in these interconnected tales of European espionage. Crisp prose, memorable (if somewhat exaggerated) characters, humour, poignancy and a subtle dig at modernist fiction make this book an absolute delight. Knowing that Ashenden inspired the creation of fictional spies such as James Bond is an added bonus, even though Ashenden and Bond could not be more different as
As a spy for the UK during WW1, MOM was based in Geneva. His cover, as a writer, was perfect and resulted some years later in this marvelous "memoir," also published as Vol 3 of his Collected Stories. In 1915 he was spying while writing a comedy, "Caroline," produced in London in 1916. His duo efforts are described herewith. Middle-brows like to put MOM down. Once you start reading him, you cant put him down.
Tim Pendry
Ashenden is a thinly disguised memoire of Maugham's own period in wartime (1914-1918) secret service work. For all his customary detachment, he is very aware of and interested in the moral issues involved in such work.

Maugham cannot write badly but this book is still (structurally) an imperfectly strung together group of short stories and novellas. It can also be rather self-consciously literary at times.

Famous as a precursor of Fleming's Bond and influencing an early Hitchcock film, it is rath
W. Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden, or the British Agent is an example of one of my favourite genres, the early 20th century espionage tale. While spy stories set during World War 2 and during the Cold War have their charms I find the earlier tales set during the First Word War or in the years leading up to that war much more appealing.

Ashenden, or the British Agent, first published in 1928, is a series of linked stories relating the adventures of a writer of comic plays who is recruited into Britis
This fascinating, and delightful, book is often regarded as the first spy story and a precursor to Smiley and James Bond. Based on W. Somerset Maugham’s real life experience working for the Secret Service in WWI, this is a collection of linked stories about his fictional alter ego Ashenden. Like Maugham, Ashenden is an author; approached by a middle-aged Colonel (later known as ‘R’) at a party in London, shortly after the outbreak of the first world war. He suggests that, as Ashenden speaks seve ...more
I was very impressed by this book. It was the first book I read by W. Somerset Maugham. Maugham's beautiful writing evokes the life of a spy and is based on his own spying experiences during World War 1.

Through a series of interrelated short stories the reader gains an appreciation of Maugham's spying experiences. He is insightful about those he meets, their motivations, and the extent to which they might be friend or foe.

In the course of these stories, Maugham's protagonist Ashenden (a self p
Dave Morris
The flipside of the 007 story. Just as they say the real life of a policeman is about slogging away at a case, not being a lucky maverick, so Ashenden's life as a secret agent is mostly taken up with watching his friends and foes and trying to tell one from the other. Action, when it comes, is unexpected and feels as though taken from life. There are no rooftop chases or gun battles here, but rather touching character studies of the people who live and die in the world of espionage.
Portia S
This is a collection of short stories ( can be treated as a collection of short stories, except there are some repeated characters, so you can't read them out of order) relaying the fictionalised conquests of W. Somerset Maugham during WW1 where he was taking in under the service of the British Secret Service.

Sounds rather exciting doesn't it? It is.

The different tales take you on a journey of the playwright only known as Ashenden Somerville ( it is insinuated that this is not his real name) w
Alexander Arsov
W. Somerset Maugham

Ashenden: or the British Agent

Vintage Classics, Paperback, 2000.*

First published by Heinemann in 1928.

* Contains the preface written in 1934 for The Collected Edition published by Heinemann between 1934 and 1969.

Table of contents:

1. R.
2. A Domiciliary Visit
3. Miss King
4. The Hairless Mexican
5. The Dark Woman
6. The Greek
7. A Trip to Paris
8. Giulia Lazzari
9. Gustav
10. The Traitor
11. Behind the Scenes
12. His Excellency
13. The Flip of a Coin
14. A Chance Acquaintance
15. Love
If you like to seep into a book while you’re soaking in the tub, I think you’ll find that W. Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden (1927) mixes well with suds and hot water. Based on his experiences as a spy during the First World War, this collection of gritty stories shows Maugham as a connoisseur of odd human temperament. The book is Maugham’s tour through a grungy world of assassins, traitors, whores, bores, contortionists, conceited nitwits, passionate revolutionaries, and other semi-savory types tha ...more
This is a collection of linked short stories rather than a novel, based on Maugham's own time as a spy during the First World War. Unfortunately the collection is unevenly written, sometimes brilliant but sometimes boring, and there's a lot of humour along the way which just isn't funny - to me, anyway.

I should say in fairness that I do really like a couple of the stories, 'Behind the Scenes', which paints a vivid picture of sexual obsession, and and the poignant last tale in the collection, 'Mr
During the First World War, Maugham with his reputation of being a relatively known writer was sent by British Intelligence to Switzerland for a series of assignments. Ashenden, though cited as a work of fiction is almost Maugham's memoirs of that period. In his inimitable style laced with razor sharp observations, the stories in this collection somehow end up focusing less on the finer aspects of espionage and more on Maugham's favourite topic - the contradictions of human nature.

To think that
Karen Mardahl
This is a rather dated book (World War I), but worth reading for the language and the time-capsule effect of the stories. It is an interesting glimpse into another time and another world. Or is it? The last story has a comment about the powers that be wanting to get major tasks done (like an assassination or a war), but don't want any trace of blood on their hands. Sounds like governments of today!

The language is quite something. It is dated, but still the eloquence is lovely to hear (audiobook
Maugham worked for the British Secret Service during WW I. These stories are based on his experiences as an agent and as it says on the back of my Vintage Classics copy, the stories reflect "the ruthlessness and brutality of espionage, its intrigue and treachery, as well as its absurdity." And there is a fair amount of the aforementioned absurdity. That, and Maugham's excellent writing, makes this a very entertaining read.
It's easy to see why this one is considered an archetype of espionage fiction. The fact that the book was first published back in the late 1920s means that some of the dialogue and narrative will appear dated and awkward by contemporary standards, but the tale of a British spy operating on the continent during World War I remains a classic. Alfred Hitchcock was behind a movie based on parts of the story, but I could just as easily see it being tackled by Orson Welles in his prime. A fun and inte ...more
Somerset Maugham is renowned for his depth of understanding of human nature, and this book certainly exemplifies that. This fictionalized account of his years as a spy during WWI presents many memorable characters: Miss King, an English governess who hates her home country, but asks for the narrator after she has a stroke, with the possible intention of confessing a change of heart or even imparting information; the Hairless Mexican, a fiery revolutionary of grotesque appearance who nonetheless ...more
David Orphal
Really fun book.

I got ahold of this after reading in Young Philby, by Robert Littell. In that book, as Kim is recruited into the British secret service he asks if there is some sort of instructions or a manual he could read. His recruiter recommends this book. About a week later I read in another soirée that MI6 really used these stories as required reading during training.

These semi-autobiographical short stories about being a spy during the First World War

What a time to be a spy!
A beautiful book! One of my favorites.
Maugham is a great writer. This is more a collection of stories than a novel, but there is some cohesion and connection between the stories. It was interesting to read about the inside workings of the agents. At times I was appalled at the rational decision making about events that cost innocent lives, but at the same time I realize that that it was a time of war and they saw themselves as a part of that. Overall, a fascinating read.
W. Somerset Maugham worked for the security services and this collection of anecdotes is based on his experiences. He probably made a good spy, he was intelligent and observant, with a gift for reading people. The everyday business of spying is not shown as glamorous however, much of it is petty, rather dull and apparently pointless. The book is none of those things.
There are a few chapters that give some background information and several cases, which take a few chapters. Not all the cases are
I have read this book before and wondered if I still would like it as much as I did the first time, and I did. It's a quietly compelling book, a page turner in a restrained kind of way. It's interesting to note that many famous spy novelists list this book as one of their major influences, most notably Ian Fleming. He claims to have based James Bond on this. Most writers think of this book as the first of the spy genre novels that have proliferated since Maugham thought of it. I think john le ca ...more
Scott Miller
I'm a big Maugham fan and for that reason enjoyed this semi-autobiographical book. It's not a classic spy genre work though, more a collection of unrelated short stories. Still, it was subimely written and a joy to read.
It starts out a bit slow. There was a preface in the beginning where Maugham writes about the trouble in making a narrative out of a real period in life, concluding that a writer ought to actually make a tight narrative than describe things as they occurred and leave it to the reader to connect everything.

I guess that's why the beginning of the novel felt separate from the rest of it. It felt like a drawn-out establishing shot, and I confess I didn't like it much. Soon enough, though, each chapt
Somewhere between linked short stories and a full-fledged novel this is first rate espionage fiction. One can see its influence on Graham Greene, Anthony Powell, even perhaps Ian Fleming.
C.W. Hawes
Ashenden is a collection of vignettes based on Maugham's own experience as a handler in WW I. The tales are filled with typically British understated humor and I found them quite enjoyable. There was also an understanded moral question regarding the work of spying and the pain and grief it can sometimes engender.

For those looking for strongly plotted stories, this isn't your cup of tea. These tales are thin on plot for the most part. They are however amazing character sketches. Being a fan of t
High time for a revisit. Haven't been in too long.
W. Somerset Maugham worked for the security services and this collection of anecdotes is based on his experiences. He probably made a good spy, he was intelligent and observant, with a gift for reading people. The everyday business of spying is not shown as glamorous however, much of it is petty, rather dull and apparently pointless. The book is none of those things.
There are a few chapters that give some background information and several cases, which take a few chapters. Not all the cases are
Ashenden is a playwright who works for the British secret service as a spy in Europe during WWI. It’s based on Maugham’s own experiences. This is billed these days as a novel, but it’s also been published as Volume 3 of the complete short stories of W. Somerset Maugham. Ashenden is detached and sophisticated. He meets with shady characters who provide information, unmasks frauds and lures enemy agents to their deaths. There’s no plot as such, except in the individual stories, or some times in a ...more
Its a wonderful book; quintessentially Maugham. More a Somerset Maugham book than an 'espionage' book; that is; the writing is more about the type of Englishman Ashenden is, than about spycraft. Filled with those great Maugham observations and gestures. Its all Written in that neat, concise, clipped style which is the English equivalent to Hemingway. There are some phrases and asides which will quite make you stop and digest; for they are so casual yet sharp.

Maugham is interested in telling us a
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William Somerset Maugham was born in Paris in 1874. He spoke French even before he spoke a word of English, a fact to which some critics attribute the purity of his style.

His parents died early and, after an unhappy boyhood, which he recorded poignantly in 'Of Human Bondage' , Maugham became a qualified physician. But writing was his true vocation. For ten years before his first success, he alm
More about W. Somerset Maugham...
Of Human Bondage The Razor's Edge The Painted Veil The Moon and Sixpence Theatre

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“Mr Harrington was a bore. He exasperated Ashenden, and enraged him; he got on his nerves, and drove him to frenzy. But Ashenden did not dislike him. His self-satisfaction was enormous but so ingenuous that you could not resent it; his conceit was so childlike that you could only smile at it.” 2 likes
“-Hay cierta elegancia en malgastar el tiempo -repuso Ashenden-. Cualquier cretino es capaz de despilfarrar dinero, pero cuando uno gasta su propio tiempo tiene el placer de tirar una cosa que no tiene precio.” 1 likes
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