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Reviewed by:
  • Double Agents: Espionage, Literature, and Liminal Citizens by Erin G. Carlston
  • Beth C. Rosenberg
Double Agents: Espionage, Literature, and Liminal Citizens. Erin G. Carlston. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013. Pp. xii + 332. $89.50 (cloth); $29.50(paper).

Erin G. Carlston's book is an interdisciplinary study of the Jews, homosexuals, and communists who were engaged in or suspected of espionage in twentieth-century France, England, and America. There is a refreshing sense of dimension to Carlston's version of modernism during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries; her narrative about liminal citizens does not rely on stereotype or image hunting to reveal how "invisible Others" in the modern west are perceived as marginal to the nation. Instead, Double Agents creates rich historical and cultural contexts by juxtaposing close readings of Marcel Proust's novels, W. H. Auden's poetry, and Tony Kushner's play Angels in America against the Dreyfus affair in France, the defections of Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean from Great Britain, and the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg case in the United States.

The first chapter, "Citizens, Aliens, and Traitors," offers an overview of historical constructions of Jewishness and sexual deviance as "Other"; the Jew is the iconic figure who is potentially "incompatible with citizenship in the modern Western nation-state" (2). Carlston argues that Jewish emancipation during the nineteenth century epitomized the problems of defining citizenship. Though the ethos of liberalism that dominated the second half of the nineteenth century affirmed the rights of Jewish citizens, Jews were always considered un-assimilateable because of their religious and cultural differences. During this same time, this characterization of Jews as anomalous aliens was informed by scientific and pseudoscientific theories of race and by explicit associations of Jews with treason, particularly in the internationally popular Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Jews were associated with sexual deviancy, and like religious or cultural difference, sexual difference "threatened the liberal concept of the nation as a contract between publicly identical individuals" (33). The Jewish male and his masculinity were often associated with femininity, and therefore the (Jewish) men who were perceived as feminine became the focus of anxiety about the nation.

One chain of associations has particular significance for Carlston's argument, the one that links together "the patriarchal family with national affiliation, describes Jews and homosexuals as interrelated threats to both familial and national integrity, and consequently assigns to both an overdetermined relationship to Communism" (40). Homosexual men were characterized as immature about their social and civic capacities because they shirked the duties of the bourgeois husband and father. Excluded from participation in family and nation, Jews and homosexuals were assumed to be without national loyalty; as both transgressed national borders, they were accused of favoring internationalist, left-wing political movements and of promoting the goals of social egalitarianism or of communism.

It is in the second chapter, "The Dreyfus Affair," that the story of espionage really begins. Carlston writes that it was the affair that crystallized the anxieties of the French national consciousness, solidifying the conflict between Jews' "ideological status as aliens" and "their legal status as citizens" as well as the split between the "two Frances" of nationalists and liberal republicans (52). The chapter outlines the history of the secret dossier associated with the affair. Dreyfus was accused of writing the infamous bordereau, a note found in a German attaché's trash can that listed classified documents. Also found with the bordereau were salacious notes between the German officer and his male lover. Carlston's brilliant exegetical history of these texts shows how the discourses of sex and gender deviance were more encrypted, more subterranean than the discourses of Semitism (75). After the dossier completed its purpose of establishing a court-martial for Dreyfus, it continued to circulate among government and military personnel [End Page 789] and provided "a textual connection between the homosexual military attachés and the exiled Dreyfus" (77). We find in the Dreyfus Affair that "homosexual practices and effeminacy circulate alongside heterosexual promiscuity, a taste for sadomasochism, racial or religious deference and so on as nearly equivalent signifiers of unreliability" (77).

The emphasis on textual analysis of the Dreyfus Affair continues...


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