Follow us on twitter and on Facebook

‘Marthe Richard’s Guerre Secrète (Secret War): Interwar Representations of Heroism behind the Lines’

Leeds University

Philippa Read is a Leeds University White Rose doctoral candidate, who has recently submitted her PhD entitled ‘Female Heroism in First World War France: Representations and Lived Experiences’. Philippa is also a secretary of the National Network of First World War Postgraduate/Early Career Researchers.

This paper is concerned with the ways in which the wartime heroism of French counterespionage agent Marthe Richard was both conveyed in her own auto fiction, and represented by others who interpreted her role. Between 1915 and 1917, Richard was employed by the French deuxième bureau as an undercover agent charged with surveying a German naval attaché in northern Spain. In the 1930s, she began publishing energetic accounts of her life, including her experiences of espionage, and by 1974 she had released six popular auto-fictional books. In response to the emergence of her own narrative, Richard’s wartime mobilisation was also appropriated in the French imaginary from the 1930s onwards and was framed, in a variety of representations, as an infamous tale of heroism, myth, espionage and sin. Along these lines, her role was interpreted in the same way as other wartime female archetypes: she was exalted by some commentators as heroic and patriotic, and was discredited by others as potentially treacherous, untrustworthy and undeserving of an ‘alternative’ veteran status. This paper seeks to unpick seemingly discordant representations of her wartime and postwar roles and to present a clear analysis of the ways in which Richard herself published personal writings as a means of responding to, and relating to, wider discourses of female heroism behind the lines.