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Ashenden. Ashenden was created by W. Somerset Maugham and appeared in “Ashenden; or, The British Agent” (Cosmopolitan, May-Sept. 1927); the stories were collected as Ashenden (1928).

Ashenden was based on Maugham’s experiences as an agent of British intelligence during World War One. Ashenden is a somewhat famous English writer who is recruited to work for the British Intelligence Department during World War One. Ashenden’s chief, known only as R., hires Ashenden on the grounds that his reputation and profession will allow him to move about Europe and Russia without causing suspicion. Ashenden agrees to become a spy out of a sense of patriotism, but he soon discovers that the life of a spy, though “as orderly and monotonous as a City clerk’s,” is full of moral greys and is spiritually tiring. R.’s final words to Ashenden, before sending him out on his first job, are these: "If you do well, you'll get no thanks and if you get into trouble you'll get no help." Some of Ashenden's tasks include uncovering a spy in Geneva, blackmailing a demi-mondaine into getting her Indian lover, who is a rebel against the British Empire, to go to France, contacting sympathetic elements in pre-Revolution Russia, and accompanying a charming and deadly Mexican assassin ("the Hairless Mexican") on a job. Ashenden has a healthy amount of irony, both about himself and others. He is reserved and views other people with a certain amount of dispassion and distance.

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