Art Historian Anthony Blunt: Memoirs of British Spy Offer No Apology





After keeping it sealed in a steel container for 25 years, the British Library made public on Thursday a 30,000-word memoir in which Anthony Blunt, one of Britain’s most renowned 20th-century art historians, described spying for the Soviet Union, beginning in the mid-1930s, as “the biggest mistake of my life.”

The memoir offers few new insights into the details of Blunt’s spying, about which he said little in public before he died in 1983. Its main interest, according to historians, lies in Blunt’s account of his recruitment by another Soviet spy, Guy Burgess, when both were at Cambridge University in the 1930s, and in his exposition of his motives and feelings, including his disillusionment with Marxism and the Soviet Union after World War II.

The memoir, intended by Blunt as a testament to family and friends, was given to the library in 1984 by the executor of Blunt’s will, John Golding, on the condition that it be kept secret for 25 years. Frances Harris, the library’s head of modern historic manuscripts, told the BBC on Thursday that its existence was so closely guarded that even she had not read it until recently.

The memoir’s tone of regret for the price Blunt paid personally for betraying his country, coupled with the absence of any apology to those who suffered as a result of his actions, including secret agents working for Britain whose identities he passed to the Russians during World War II, contributed to harsh criticism of the document on Thursday from British historians and commentators.


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