Eric Ambler and the Trick of Boundaries


  • Nadia Priotti Università degli Studi di Torino


Parole chiave:

Ambler, frontier, spy fiction


One of the dominant themes of Eric Ambler's novels of the 1930s is certainly the crossing of frontiers as both a physical and symbolic element, which results not only in the living of a nightmarish adventure but also in what spy fiction expert Michael Denning defines as 'loss of innocence'. Focusing mainly on two of Ambler's novels, Epitaph for a Spy and Cause for Alarm, the essay analyses the experience abroad as a challenge both for the protagonists' worldviews and for the readers' expectations based on formula conventions.
If in Epitaph for a Spy Vadassy is misled by his preconceived ideas and deductive approach, Marlow in Cause for Alarm will have to reconsider his ideas on corruption, originally attributed to the Italians, when forced to acknowledge British involvement in arms traffic in the name of business.
At the same time, though, Ambler uses his characters and plots to force the formula conventions of espionage literature, presenting anti-heroes no longer driven by patriotic values and acting against their will; moreover, he introduces business as a new enemy with no frontiers, and moral dilemmas that defy easy good/bad distinctions.
Using suggestions of popular literature studies, we have tried to show Ambler's successful attempt at breaking the barriers between formulaic and mimetic fiction, through novels that possess escapist features and yet reveal a great deal of the real context of the 1930s, of which the author showed deep awareness.


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Biografia autore

Nadia Priotti, Università degli Studi di Torino

Nadia Priotti did her PhD at the University of Turin with a thesis on espionage literature (‘I Spy with my Little Eye’: British Espionage Literature from Le Queux to Greene). She is interested in cultural studies and in novels or films belonging to the espionage and detection genres. Her publications include “Overturning stereotypes: Ambler’s vision of Italy and Italians” (2014), “Double agents, multiple motives: Joseph Conrad’s Spies” (2015) and “Repetition and Variation in Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps” (2016).




Come citare

Priotti, Nadia. 2018. «Eric Ambler and the Trick of Boundaries». Altre Modernità, febbraio, 176-83.



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