British journalist Carter limns the complex life and fascinating times of the eminent art historian best known for being exposed in 1979 as a former Soviet spy.
Entering Cambridge in 1926, Blunt (1907–83) gravitated to the rebellious, esthetic Bloomsbury group that dominated university intellectual life between the wars. Art, not politics, preoccupied him, and his work won plaudits. During the 1930s, the rise of poverty and fascism converted many in Blunt's circle to communism. While a major literary influence, their numbers were small, and their impact on history would have been modest if they hadn’t become spies. Never an activist, Blunt's conversion first showed itself in a temporary switch to Marxist art criticism. (The author devotes fully half her text to his art career.) During the war he worked in MI5, passing thousands of documents to his Soviet handler. Carter has assimilated the massive and often unreliable literature on espionage to produce an authoritative and often hilarious account of this period. Eager British spies deluged Moscow with secret documents; Soviet officials assumed it was too good to be true, but eventually they realized they had a gold mine. The workaholic Blunt continued his art studies during the war and wrote several important books. Afterward, he drifted away from espionage, but a faint cloud of suspicion dogged him, especially after Burgess and Maclean defected in 1951. When his secret was revealed nearly three decades later, he became a pariah. Besides passing information, he was accused of being a predatory homosexual and a pedophile, plagiarizing from students, authenticating forgeries for profit, cheating friends out of priceless paintings. He consulted his lawyer about suing for libel and was told his actions had defamed his name so badly that no further defamation was possible.
Many books recount Blunt's espionage; this one is a complete biography that does him justice. (16 illustrations)