A master spy's life comes out of the cold

Soviet agent Anthony Blunt regrets his biggest mistake in memoir

Anthony Blunt

The 30,000-word document was written after Blunt’s exposure as the “fourth man” of the notorious Cambridge spy ring with instructions that it should not be released until 25 years after his death, which occurred in 1984. The manuscript, given to the library anonymously, gives a fascinating picture of the political atmosphere among Cambridge students in the 1930s, though it is more reticent about whatever secrets Blunt gave away while he was working for MI5 during the second world war — not an obvious career progression for an art historian expert in 18th-century French works.

Burgess’ influence

His enthusiasm for Soviet communism was triggered by contact with Guy Burgess, the spy at the centre of the ring, who persuaded him that he would be much more valuable to the cause if he did not join the Communist party.

“I might have joined… but Guy, who was an extraordinarily persuasive person, convinced me that I could do more good by joining him in his work,” he wrote. “What I did not realise at the time is that I was so naive politically that I was not justified in committing myself to any political action of this kind. “The atmosphere in Cambridge was so intense, the enthusiasm for any anti-fascist activity was so great, that I made the biggest mistake of my life.”

Left-wing causes

Blunt said Marxism had hit Cambridge and left-wing causes had taken on an almost religious quality among most of his friends, but insisted that he was only interested in its application to art history. In the late 30s, as international tension increased, he decided “the ivory tower no longer provided adequate refuge”.

Blunt, a don at Trinity College, was attracted to Burgess, although apparently not physically, although both men were homosexual, Burgess flamboyantly so. He said he did not originally take to the undergraduate because of his indiscreet gossip, but was won over by “the liveliness and penetrating quality of his mind” and interests.

Blunt’s public exposure in 1979 came as an appaling shock, he wrote, but he decided not to kill himself: “I came to the conclusion that it would be a cowardly solution.”

The Guardian

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