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A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II
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January 2020 > Woman of No Importance

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Kath | 200 comments Mod
Hey All –
Sorry for the delay in getting our meeting notes online; we had a great conversation and I tried to gather some thoughts and topics that we discussed. Please feel free to add comments and continue the discussion!

All in attendance really enjoyed this book and found it gripping, especially for a non-fiction history book.

Lori shared some information from an interview with the author:
• This book took 3 years of detective work and was made difficult by the use of so many code names. There were no available shortcuts, just had to do the research.
• Virginia helped change spycraft. MI6 had been in existence but operationally they spied and reported back and did not get involved. This method would be no match for the brutality of the Nazis and Vichy France.
• Authors favorite moments:
--Virginia’s love of tea and the SOE making sure to include some in her deliveries.
--Chokes the author up that after years of being alone, Virginia fell in love with Paul; he lightened her life, made her laugh.

Scattered thoughts I tried to capture during our conversation:

Interesting how splintered the resistance was, especially earlier on between supporters of Communism vs. DeGaulle.

Found the supply drops incredible in their efficiency, having only like 12 minutes to move/hide literally tons of stuff.

Found the stress and risks the radio operators took also extraordinary. How creepy it was with the Gestapo circling in on the wireless signals and how today it is similar-ish with triangulating wifi signals for locations.

Amazing, all that Virginia accomplished in the face of sexism and a prosthetic leg! Did her innate independent nature make the isolation easier for her? Make it easier to take all the risks she took?

Virginia was championed by some men who saw her potential and recognized her value but was also kept down by so many others who felt threatened by her or underestimated her experience and worth as a woman. Conversely, the fact that people underestimated her likely aided her in being effective at her job.

We discussed her skill in seeing the big picture, how to maintain security, and her supreme attention to detail; for example, the differences in how British/Americans sew on buttons vs. the French way.

Interesting all of the women she drew in to help; madam, women in the brothels, the nuns, older local women. French people in the Resistance appreciated that Virginia suffered along with them under the Vichy and Nazi regimes.

Interesting how independent she was but still deferred to her mother’s disapproval of her relationship with Paul; they lived apart for a time and then later she kept their living arrangements hidden from her. Was it partially guilt at the worry she caused her mother by putting herself in such danger?

Discussed the difficulties working in a constantly shifting landscape where you are never sure who you can trust; the effects of the stress. Kath struck by the one agent who ate meals in front of a mirror to feel less alone because he couldn’t trust anyone else.

Marlies brought up how awful it was to see the OSS protecting Klaus Barbie and what a slap in the face it must have been to Virginia and all of the agents who were tortured (and killed).

Lori mentioned that when her choral group went over to France there is still so much gratitude and respect afforded to Americans for how they aided/liberated France during the war.

We never even discussed all of the Benzedrine use!


Kath | 200 comments Mod
Additional reading recommendations:
Resistance by Anita Shreve
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
Wearing the Letter P by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab
Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini


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