February’s book club reading was The Cat with Two Faces by journalist Gordon Young (who wrote for the Daily Mail). The biography tells the story of WWII spy Mathilde Carré, who worked as a double-agent for both Allied and German sides. Carré was born in France, and came to be known as The Cat. In November, 1941 she was arrested by Nazi officer Hugo Bleicher, who gave her the choice: die or turn double-agent. For about two months, Carré worked with the Germans, which lead to the arrest (and, in multiple cases, eventual death) of a number of her former friends and contacts. Eventually, she met a man named Lucas, who helped her to leave France for London. At this point she flipped sides again and provided information on Bleicher and the Germans. After the war she was tried and convicted of treason in France, though was ultimately released from prison in 1954.
Young’s biography presents The Cat as an enigmatic figure, and suggests a number of possible reasons for turning coat: a “vaulting ambition,” fear of death, passion (focusing on her relationship with Bleicher), and more. At the end of the work, Young interviews Carré, who was by this point in the 1950’s, living a quiet life in France. She told Young that she wanted the world to forget The Cat–but that did not stop Young from publishing his biography.
Young strives to present a neutral and thorough account of The Cat, but he does discuss her in ways I think would be analyzed differently were it written today. There is a continual interest, both from the author and from people he interviewed, in The Cat’s sex life–particularly in her relationship with Bleicher. A historian working on the subject today would need to consider carefully how to approach this particular topic, as Bleicher continually made it clear to Carré that he could have her executed at any time. Was it passion, as Young implies, or was it coercion and a fear of death?
What might Marilyn Monroe have thought of the book, and Mathilde Carré? The book was published in 1957, when Marilyn Monroe was married to Arthur Miller, and had begun seeing Freudian psychoanalyst Marianne Kris–who I bring up only because of the Freudian focus on sexuality in human behavior. When it comes to fiction, Marilyn Monroe was drawn towards women characters whose fatal flaw pertained to sexual activity (the disloyal Madame Bovary, and prostitute Nana Coupeau). Though a historical figure, I would argue that Young’s focus on Carré’s sexual relationship with Bleicher presents The Cat (as described in The Cat with Two Faces) as having a fatal flaw similar to the fictional characters Marilyn read.
I wonder also if Marilyn would have thought of her own experiences during World War Two. It was during this time that she first began pin-up modeling, against the wishes of her first husband James Dougherty. Marilyn—then known as Norma Jeanne—married Dougherty at 16, and it was not long before she realized they were not suited to one another. Finding more satisfaction out of her modeling career, Marilyn divorced Dougherty in 1946. Thus, while The Cat was sitting in prison awaiting her trial—an inglorious end to her life as a double-agent embroiled in a sex scandal—Marilyn found herself free to begin her life as a sex icon.