Charlotte Gray (novel)
First edition cover
|Publisher||Random House Trade|
|Media type||Print (Hardback)|
|Pages||399 pp (first edition, hardback)|
|ISBN||0-375-50169-X (first edition, hardback)|
Charlotte Gray is a 1999 novel by Sebastian Faulks. Faulks completes his loose trilogy of books about France with this story of the adventures of a young Scotswoman, Charlotte Gray, who becomes an agent of Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE) assigned to work with the French Resistance in Vichy France during World War II. The story and title character are thought to be based on the exploits of SOE agents Nancy Wake and Pearl Witherington.
In 1942, a young Scot, Charlotte Gray, travels to London to take a job as a medical receptionist for a Harley Street doctor. On the train she talks to two men sharing her compartment, and one of them - who works for the secret service - gives her his card. Despite the war, social life in London is in full swing and the attractive, intelligent girl soon meets up with an airman, Peter Gregory. The temporary nature of life at the time is epitomised when she quickly loses her virginity and then falls in love with him. The romance is heightened when Gregory is sent on a mission over France and news comes back to Charlotte that he is missing in action. Charlotte spent much of her childhood in France and speaks the language fluently - a talent that the secret service wishes to exploit in its effort to support the French Resistance. Charlotte decides to throw in her job - which she has no talent for anyway, as the doctor informs her - and joins a Special Operations Executive (SOE)* training course. Once the SOE has grilled her on methods of interrogation, dyed her hair a mousy brown, and replaced her fillings, Charlotte is parachuted into France to complete a specified mission. But instead of doing her job and heading home, she sets out to find Gregory's whereabouts.
The SOE in France included a number of women. Most of these women were made members of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. F Section alone sent 39 female agents into the field, of whom 13 did not return.
The character of Charlotte Gray was based on a New Zealand born Australian woman called Nancy Wake who worked with the French Resistance near a village called Verneix in the Auvergne region. Married to a wealthy French industrialist, she was living in Marseille when war broke out. Instead of escaping she became a courier for the resistance but had to eventually flee to Spain and then England where she was trained by the SOE. She was parachuted back into France on 29 April 1944 and went on to lead a 7,000 strong resistance group in the Auvergne region. Her husband, Henri Fioca, was tortured and killed by the Gestapo for failing to reveal her whereabouts.
The author received the Bad Sex in Fiction Award 1998 for this book.
- Charlotte Gray, Random House (1999) ISBN 0-375-50169-X.
- Images of Drancy, France @ http://fcit.usf.edu/HOLOCAUST/resource/gallery/DRAN.htm
- Nancy Wake, an Australian SOE war herione
- Foot, M.R.D. (2004). SOE in France. 2, Park Square, Abingdon, Oxon.: Frank Cass Publishers. p. 48. ISBN 0-7146-5528-7.