The ‘double standard of ageing’ (Sontag, 1973) offers ideal cover for any spy; older women are ignored, perceived as unthreatening and obsolete. Older women who work in espionage can travel below the radar of enemy secret services, as evidenced by the story of a real spy, Melita Norwood, a Soviet agent who was exposed – but not prosecuted – in 1999, after forty years undercover in the British nuclear industries. Norwood was pre-empted by a fictional character. Dorothy Gilman’s popular novels featuring Mrs Emily Pollifax, a retired widow from New Brunswick, New Jersey, present espionage as a logical late-life career choice for any resourceful woman. Connie Sachs in John Le Carré’s Smiley novels has a marginal but pivotal role, while Beryl Reid’s performance in the BBC adaptations offers a powerful vision of an ageing female agent. Academic work on gender and ageing has noted how the process of growing old can be understood in relation to queer theory, unravelling stable notions of selfhood and challenging discourses which present identity as immutable (Sandberg 2008). With reference to these and other examples, this chapter examines the older female spy in conjunction with work on queer identities, proposing that such figures disturb the ontological certainties of Fleming’s famous agent and gesture toward a more productive understanding of ageing femininities.
|Title of host publication||Sexuality and Gender in Fictions of Espionage|
|Subtitle of host publication||Spying Undercover(s)|
|Place of Publication||London|
|Number of pages||18|
|ISBN (Electronic)||9781350271371, 9781350271388|
|Publication status||Accepted/In press - 31 Oct 2023|