Blogs > HNN > Part Nine: Constructing Cynthia

Oct 21, 2010 1:35 pm


Part Nine: Constructing Cynthia



Since her life was so brief, it appears to be bookended. Literally. There is a novella she write as a child, a coming-of-age story, when she was 12, living in Hawaii, with her father, the failing Marine chief, and her mother, the unhappy dowager with literary ambitions. That first book was entitled, Fioretta.

The second work is really left untitled. A first draft of a hybrid bodice-ripping spy memoir, it was written for cash and eventually published in two Fleet Street scandal sheets. Read unedited, the memoir, typed on onion skin for copying purposes, seems to explain what happened to the little Fioretta over the next forty years, until reality struck and she lay dying at age 53. Neither Fioretta nor the onion-skin spy story goes beyond a few thousand words. Where the juvenilia of Fioretta is plotted and neatly told Gothic, Cynthia's jadded tale of espionage and sex is episodic and short on details, like a thin entry in a casual diary. 

Both works are telling, particularly the tarty Fleet Street confession, especially because the is most exciting and dramatic when it comes to the Vichy break-in in June 1942. The articles, published in installments, do not mention the Second Washington Conference, or acknowledge that the Prime Minister was in town.

Her collaborator in this enterprise was H. Montgomery Hyde, the prolific historian, legal analyst and ex-spy in Cynthia's New York organization.

You might say, Hyde created Cynthia. Before they met, he published a book entitled, The Quiet Canadian, in 1962. In the course of his larger story, Hyde uses the name"Cynthia" as if he picked it out of the air, needed some apt name on which to pin her exploits. When the then Madame Brousse read the Hyde book at her French chateau in the Pyrenees, she instantly recognized herself. Writing about efforts to break-in to the Vichy embassy he says,"Credit for the successful accomplishment of this object belongs in large measure to a woman agent... For sheer bravado [her story] probably has no equal in the records of espionage during the last war..."

Certainly, Hyde was given to overstatement. He continues,"As her story unfolds, it will become apparent that he peculiar feminine charms were the real instrument of her success. And yet, remarkably enough, she had no very obvious sexual allure. She was neither beautiful nor even pretty in the conventional sense, although she had pleasing blonde hair...." Her husband's family recalled to this reporter, that her hair was"peroxided" an amber shade.

Hyde continues,"The worth of her services could not be assessed in monetary figures. In the event it was priceless...."

A small but interesting point, a distinction is made here, when he adds,"For the purposes of this narrative she is called Cynthia, which was not her real name." In later iterations of this same story, Hyde will use"Cynthia" as her actual code name, though no such name exists in the FBI's detailed list of her aliases.

Hyde's book offers high praise for “Cynthia,” but the work, The Quiet Canadianshould seen for what it was intended, a report and testimonial to Hyde’s boss, William S. Stephenson. The title of Hyde’s work comes from playwright and Roosevelt speechwriter Robert Sherwood. Sherwood produced the first White House tell-all, chronicling the life and times of the President's most reliable adviser in the early days of the War, Harry Hopkins. Entitled Roosevelt and Hopkins, an Intimate History, Sherwood mentions the Hyde’s super-spy boss just once, mis en scene,"There was, by Roosevelt's order and despite State Department qualms, effectively close co-operation between J. Edgar Hoover and the F.B.I. and British security services under the direction of a quiet Canadian, William Stephenson."

And at that moment in time, during the Vichy break-in, the Quite Canadian, was a conniver conniving to keep his job.

Part Ten: British Friends U/C

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