Edith and Kim by Charlotte Philby

Well, if your name is Philby what better to write about than Kim Philby and Edith Tudor-Hart, although really this book is not about Philby but about Edith. The two are linked because it is generally agreed that Edith introduced Philby to his soon-to-become handler.

Edith was born in Vienna and shaped by the turmoil there in her young adult life. She hated the Nazis and so the Communists were the people that said they would support the workers, with Edith joining the party. Things became so bad in Vienna in the 30s that Edith married Alexander Tudor-Hart and moved to the UK with him but never really lived with him. You have to wonder if it was an arranged marriage by the communist party to get some of their people out of the country. Litzi, Edith’s friend, did exactly the same thing which seems like too much of a coincidence.

The book tells of Ediths life, interspersed with letters from Philby to Edith but of a later time frame than Edith’s story. As he writes, he is living in Moscow and his dacha and writes about what he is up to and the weather. Lots about the snow in winter – whether it has fallen or not – and in his later letters about memories. Edith, however, has a difficult life. Her son with Alexander, Tommy, has autism, something not really understood in those days and her search for help for him is about the only thing that emotionally pulls in the book. She lingers over a long lost affair and doesn’t really get over it, is groomed and abused by a Dr who says he will help treat her son and becomes paranoid about being watched by the secret services.

In one letter, Kim writes

I am sorry that you never made it here, Edith. But I hope you felt proud, at the end. Is it wrong to say that I envied you your freedom? You got to live your life exactly as you ought; you never had to play a part. You were always wholly you.


Such an unbelievably self-centred idea that this woman was free. She only felt free after everything had been taken from her. She had been released from prison, had no money and no one would employ her. Her son was in an institution in Surrey which she could not afford to go and visit although she still had hope there. She had no where to live and very few friends. She ended her days in an antique shop in Brighton having lost everything.

Whilst I have seen this book written about as a spy thriller it is not that at all. It is the study of a woman having a breakdown and losing everything in slow motion. Chapters and sections start with a clock with the hands at 12 o’clock but no numbers on the face and move slowly on in time until they reach 12 again at the end. The passing of time in this way does help to make it feel as if you are running out of time as you get to the end and also shows the passing of time for each event written about.

Whilst this is a fictional account, the documents used in it are real and the events are based upon those that have been found in archives. Once again, the woman is written out of the story of the four spys, ending up unseen in a seaside town scraping a living. Who has really heard of her and her story before now? And what was it all for? Because she devoted her life and gave everything she held dear to the cause. Talking about a photograph of himself taken by Edith, Kim writes

I have to admit I am surprised that you kept the photograph. After everything, I would have thought you would have got rid of it, along with any other trace of our shared past. Selfishly, I am glad that you didn’t. It is not only a reminder of that period of our lives, but a reminder of why we did it. Amidst everything that has happened since, it is easy to forget, sometimes.


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