Mulley (The Woman Who Saved the Children: A Biography of Eglantyne Jebb, 2010) delivers a biography of the first woman to serve as a field operative for British intelligence during World War II.
The author examines the life of Christine Granville (1908–1952), daughter of a marriage of convenience between a Polish nobleman and a Jewish heiress. A free spirit from birth, the loss of her family’s fortune and Poland’s freedom propelled her into a life of adventure and danger throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Gifted with a magnetic personality that gave her power over men (and dogs), Granville provided valuable intelligence to the Allies and, late in the war, support to the French Resistance, despite seemingly having to fight her superiors at every step to be given the chance to serve. In addition to the difficulty of unraveling the secrets of spies and the passing with time of most of the primary sources, the author faces a major problem in the near-total absence of the voice of her subject, who famously hated to write letters and was known to embellish her war stories. What Mulley lacks in access to Granville’s inner thoughts, she tries to make up for with meticulous research, though the level of detail occasionally slows the narrative momentum. Even after Granville began her service, much of her time was spent dealing with political infighting between various intelligence factions. Beginning with her assistance to France in 1944, Granville accomplished extraordinary feats, including freeing several of her colleagues from captivity on the eve of their scheduled executions. Following the war, Granville struggled to adapt in the face of what many Poles felt was the betrayal of their country by its supposed ally, Britain, and her abandonment by the postwar government. On June 15, 1952, she was stabbed to death by a rejected suitor.
A worthwhile biography of an unsung heroine of World War II, but its subject remains elusive.