‘The Most Dangerous Woman on Earth’: Sexuality in British Spy Literature During World War I
Historian Susan Kingsley Kent made the assertion that ‘Victorian ideology finally offered only two possible images for women. They might be either the idealised wife and mother, the angel in the house, or the debased, depraved, corrupt prostitute.’ Female characters in British spy literature during World War I are for the most part divided between those seen as being good and those seen as being bad. While the heroines of the literature did not challenge outright the ideal of women being pure, they did modify it to suit the needs of the war effort. In contrast to one type of woman whose feminine qualities were questioned in spy stories of the period is the highly sexual and foreign woman. These women are depicted as corrupting influences in British society. This representation paralleled with wartime legislation such as the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) in 1914 and its consequent amendments that in part were aimed at restricting venereal diseases by focusing on women. Overall the depiction of women in spy stories helps to reinforce the Victorian stereotypes of two different women: ‘the angel in the house, or the debased, depraved, corrupt prostitute’.