• Revision:Spies by Michael Frayn

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“The third week of June, and there it is again: the same almost embarrassingly familiar breath of sweetness that comes every year about this time.”

“Glimpse of different things flash into my mind, in random sequence, and are gone. A shower of sparks…A feeling of shame…Someone unseen coughing, trying not to be heard…A jug covered by a lace weighted with four blue beads…”

“Spoken quite casually, like the most passing of remarks, as light and insubstantial as soap bubbles. And yet they changed everything.”

“There were things that no one ever explained. Things that no one even said. There were secrets. I should like to bring them out into the daylight at last. And I sense the presence still, even now that I’ve located the source of my unrest, of something at the back of it all that remains unresolved.”


“We’re socially colour-coded for ease of reference.”

“He was the leader and I was the led. I see now that he was only the first in a whole series of dominant figures whose disciple I became.”

“She spoke softly and smilingly, with a kind of calm amusement at the world and no excessive movement of her lips.”

“Auntie Dee and even the untidiness itself glowed with a kind of sacred light, like a saint and his attributes in a religious painting, because they reflected the glory of Uncle Peter.”

“He often seemed like some mild-natured furry animal.”

“What I remember, when I examine my memory carefully, isn’t a narrative at all. It’s a collection of vivid particulars. Certain words spoken, certain objects glimpsed. Certain gestures and expressions. Certain moods, certain weathers, certain times of day and states of light. Certain individual moments, which seem to mean so much, but which mean in fact so little until the hidden links between them have been found.”

“I think now that most probably Keith’s words came out of nowhere, that they were spontaneously created in the moment they were uttered. That they were a blind leap of pure fantasy. Or of pure intuition.”


“I have private reservations about the spelling, but keep them to myself, as I do all the other small occasional reservations I have about his authority.”

“She’s pretending to be part of some innocent children’s game. And all the time she’s a stranger in our midst, watching us with alien eyes.”

“Like Keith’s mother he’s putting on a performance; he’s trying to conceal his true nature.”

“Everything that we’d once taken for granted now seems open to question.”

“Whatever this inconspicuous symbol means, it’s plainly something that’s not meant to be read or understood by anyone else. We’ve stumbled across something that’s actually secret.”

“And everything in the world has changed beyond imagination or recall.”

“Keith’s eyelids have come down. His face is set and pitiless. He looks like his father. He looks as his father must have looked one grey dawn in the Great War when he fixed his bayonet to the end of his revolver for the battle that lay ahead.”

“In any case, the sense of it is plain enough – that we’re commencing a long journey on a lonely road where no one else can follow.”


“There’s something sad about our life, and I can’t quite put my finger on what it is.”

“The world has become one of those dreams where you feel you’ve lived it all before.”

“We’re there among all the others, transfigured like them by the golden light from the buttons, proud beneath the haughty stare of the eagle…”

“Even the first disappearance, that we both witnessed, has drifted back into that realm of the past where inexplicable things no long seem surprising, or in any urgent need of an explanation.”

“She’s a fine one to talk about spying, when she’s been spying herself.”

“And with a dreamlike inevitability she does indeed emerge”

“The dark of the moon’s coming, and it’s going to be more frightening than we thought.”


“Everything is as it was; and everything has changed.”

“And beyond the surfaced streets, in the pockets of land left between this new settlement and all the others appearing at the same time around other stations along the various railway lines, the old world continued.”

“The familiar world has reached out, and sealed the underworld away beneath the well-drained and well-lit surfaces. Light has joined up with light, and the haunted darkness between them has been abolished.”

“The dark and shifting dreams will resolve themselves into the familiar secret passageways and underground headquarters.”

“I know that it must be one of those things like bosoms and sheenies that ambush you when you least expect it, so that you suddenly find yourself surrounded by jeering enemies who know what they are when you don’t.”

“I seem to be trapped between those two smiles – this one so large and unruly, that one so small and discreet, and yet as sharp as the edge of a sharpened blade.”

“‘Thank you for having me,’ she says.”


“And the full moon, pouring softly down from somewhere above the roof of the house, smoothing out all the muddle of the garden and the blemishes of weathered render on the houses opposite, washing away all the shame and confusion of the day, leaving only this perfect white stillness.”

“One single heroic deed, to lay at Ketih’s feet”

“The huge reverberations of the water plopping from the wet blackness overhead into the black water beside me merge into suites of scutterings and splashings trailed by unseen nocturnal creatures fleeing before the long echoes of my panicky breathing.”

“The Close, as I come running blindly round the corner, is full of wildly swinging torch beams and demented figures running back and forth. The torches swing at once towards me and stab at my eyes. A storm of frantic clutching and whispering bursts over me.”

“I can’t look at her. I know my face is in a bad way again.”

“I feel the choking obstruction growing in my throat, then the shameful tears beginning to obstruct my vision. It’s the sheer unfairness of his accusation that undermines me, his grotesque concentration on my one moment of weakness after I’d demonstrated so much courage, his cruel rejection of the hard-won tribute I’d laid at his feet.”

“He’s scared. Scared of Keith, scared of me. He’s that low in the table of human precedence. At once, after all my cowardice in the Lands, I’m brave.”

“I can’t help laughing at the thought. I can’t wait to see the comical terror on the old man’s face as he finally comes rushing out and we run off into the Lanes.”

“I feel a sudden chill finger of anxiety touch my heart.”


“So how much did Stephen understand at this point about what was going on?”

“I imagine that it’s a shifting and comfortless tangle of recollection and apprehension.”

“I’m not sure, now the question’s been raised, if I really understand even what it means to understand something.”

“the heir to Stephen’s thoughts”

“The game’s not over. It’s simply become a more terrible kind of game.”

“Her pale summer dress is streaked with green slime, and her white summer sandals squelch muddily at every step. I’ve tried to preserve her secret, and I’ve written it all over her.”

“‘Thank you, Stephen,’ she says humbly.”


“Now she’s trying to supplant Keith as the one who makes the plans and projects! And the plans and projects are actually directed against Keith!”

“smiling his father’s little thin smile of embarrassment to find his home besieged”

“For a moment our eyes meet, and I see his eyelids come down in the familiar curtain of contempt. I’ve ceased to be his friend; I’ve become one of the mob.”

“I have a sense of freedom, as if I’m no longer bound by the rules and restrictions of childhood. I can open locked boxes and break meaningless oaths with impunity. I’m on the verge of understanding mysteries that have been closed to me. I’m emerging from the old dark world of tunnels and terrors, and coming to a broad upland where the air’s bright, and remote blue horizons open all around.”

“Lamorna. A distant land across the sea, blue on the blue horizon. The sighing of the trees. The name of a song I once heard. There’s just a little of the terror of the Lanes in it, too, and the silence under the elders.

“The guileless sweetness of the limes and the honeysuckle has been overlaid by a sweetness of a different kind, harsh, coarse, and reckless, with just a touch of the catty stink of elder in it.”

“‘Stephen,’ says Keith’s mother quietly, ‘now you’re alone… I want to ask you to do something for me. May I come in?’”


“What’s unthinkable can’t in its nature be exactly anything.”

“‘Stephen, darling, listen,’ she says, as softly as the silken rustle of the parachute.”

“I realise that the very things that seemed so simple and straightforward then are not simple and straightforward at all, but infinitely complex and painful.”

“Once again I feel the locked box beginning to open and reveal its mysteries. I’m leaving behind the old tunnels and terrors of childhood – and stepping into a new world of even darker tunnels and more elusive terrors.”

“It comes to me that he finds this conversation as difficult as I do, and for a moment I glimpse a more general and more surprising truth – that adults are not after all members of some completely different species from myself. Even Keith’s father belongs to a branch of the animal kingdom that has some kinship with my own.”


“Did Stephen understand at last who it was down there in the darkness, when he heard his own name spoken?”

“‘Nothing to see but that little patch of green at the top of the steps. Nothing to do but think. Funny view you get of the world…’”

“‘You start playing some game, and you’re the brave one, you’re the great hero.’”

“‘You’re up there in the darkness five hundred miles from home and suddenly the darkness is inside you as well. In your head, in your stomach.”

“Something, I know, is being locked away into the past, the way Keith and I lock our secret possessions away inside the trunk, the way I shall be shut away myself one day inside my own narrow box.”

“He smiles his father’s thin smile.”

“That the crime he’s punishing in me is not mine at all, but one that’s being committed inside his own house. And even in the extremity of my terror I suddenly realise where he learnt to practise this particular form of torture with this particular instrument, and why his mother, in the heat of summer, has taken to wearing that cravat pinned high around her neck.”

“And there in the darkness, I suppose, he missed his footing. At once the terrible secret force hidden in the live rail leaped out at him, and the passing trains cut him in pieces.”

“The game’s finally over.”


“Everything in the Close is as it was; and everything has changed.”

“From that night on I was in a different corridor of my life. A door had closed behind me, and I never opened it again.”

“this old man, treating slowly and warily in the footsteps of his former self”

“Less than a year later I felt a great restlessness stirring in me – the converse of the restlessness that’s brought me back now to the Close. It’s the longing to be elsewhere that in Germany we call Fernweh, which is in my case also Heimweh, a longing to be home – the terrible pull of opposites that torments the displaced everywhere.”

“I think of the uncontrollable terror seizing him, ten thousand feet up there in the dark emptiness, and five hundred miles from here. And I think of the terror that must have seized my aunt and her children, too, as the unbreathable gases from the burning house filled their dark cellar ten thousand feet below him, or someone like him.”

“Time to go. So, once again – thank you, everyone. Thank you for having me.”

“And, on the air as I turn the corner at the end of the street, a sudden faint breath of something familiar. Something sweet, coarse, and intimately unsettling. Even here, after all. Even now.”

Themes

Themes

Identity

Names

Family

Friendship

Self Identity and Value

Appearance

Age

Nationality

Class

Masculine

Feminine

Belonging

Role and Place of Women

Englishness

Sexual Awakening

Perception

Memory

Privacy

Betrayal

Secrecy

Deception- Loyalty

Bullying

Power

Male identity

Childhood

Germs

Male heroism

Relationships

Loss of innocence

Senses

Rites of passage

Opposites

Spying and Observation

Knowledge



Contrasts

German and English

Boy and Girl

Young and Old

Past and Present

Poor and Rich

Parents and Children

Childhood and Adulthood

Keith's School and Stephen's School

Close and Lanes

Hayward and Wheatley

Innocence and Experience

Kindness and Cruelty

Light and Dark

Fact and Fantasy

Influence and No Influence

Normality and Abnormality

Barns and Keith's House

Lawful Love and Real Love

Honour and Shame

Clean and Dirty

Moral and Immoral

Keith's Father and Stephen's Father

Keith and Stephen

Repression and Expression

Heroes and Cowards

Respectability and Disrespectability

Safety and Danger

Helping and Hindering

Love and Hate

Private and Public

Loyalty and Disloyalty

Auntie Dee and Keith's Mother

Rank and Sweetness

Privet and lamorna

Heimweh and Fernweh

Continuity and change

Sameness and difference

Reality and Illusion


Characters

  • Stephen Wheatley
  • Keith Hayward
  • Barbara Berrill
  • Mrs Hayward
  • Mr Hayward
  • Mr Wheatley
  • Uncle Peter
  • Auntie Dee


Past Questions

  • Explore the ways Frayn presents uncertainty and threat during war time
  • Consider the ways Frayn presents Keith’s mother
  • Explore the changing relationship between Stephen and Keith
  • Explore how Frayn presents there being "something not quite right" about Stephen's family

Comments

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