Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Samson, yes … but Delilah? [Guest post]

What are the parallels, if any, between Bernie Samson and his biblical namesake?

[This is a guest post by first-time contributor Seymour Maddison]

Caveat: While I’ve tried to avoid spoilers, a piece like this inevitably poses a risk for any of you still enjoying the Samson trilogies for the first time.

As much as I appreciate Len Deighton’s non-fiction and earlier novels, I experience an especial thrill every time I return to the Bernard Samson books, not least because of how they have influenced my own mystery writing. 

Not only do the three trilogies [Berlin Game, Mexico Set, London Match; Spy Hook, Spy Line, Spy Sinker; Faith, Hope, Charity] and Winter showcase a fiction writer at the peak of his craft: I’d suggest they conceal a heavy dose of intrigue. 

This post is therefore an invitation to join me in trying to make sense of what lies below the surface.

In particular, I’d like to propose that the series contains some rarely-if-ever-discussed theories, capable of challenging Deighton novices and aficionados alike. Inspired by an earlier post, the first of these I’ve come to christen ‘The Samson & Delilah Hypothesis’ – and anyone squeamish should be warned that we’re going to need a copy of the Old Testament!

Have you ever pondered: why ‘Samson’?

The only association with the name Samson that I have is through the Bible story. You remember :
Strong man loses his powers when his hair is shorn while he sleeps … his missus is betraying him because … something to do with him continually beating up the Philistines … and then there was this lion … and he goes blind (Samson, not the lion) yet still manages to shove over a temple, in the process killing heaps of baddies … and so on.

Hopefully you paid more attention as a kid than I did! Which is why I was motivated to revisit the Book of Judges recently, in the process discovering multiple versions of the tale. And naturally, that was just some of the English language interpretations.

So … about that Samson & Delilah Hypothesis.

And I mean, in particular, this one: vested interests work to neutralise the significant threat that is (Bernard) Samson.

Sounds pretty straightforward.

Yet apparently, it’s not something discussed elsewhere. But if the theory holds water – and I’m claiming that not only does the Samson tale go to the heart of Deighton’s choice of the name, but can be mapped across the entire plot – does this not suggest a new lens through which you can view the series?

Doubtless you as a reader can recall more of the original story than I could. 

But on reflection, then, to what extent do you agree that a clear parallel seems to exist between Bernie and his biblical counterpart? That is to say: 
  • Both stride around, effortlessly taking out their opponents [Eastern Bloc intelligence or the Philistines] 
  • Yet, simultaneously, both stumble around their emotional landscape, unable to experience normal relations with the women in their lives 
  • Meantime, covert forces work to remove them from the conflict. 

So where is there crossover between the Book of Judges and Deighton’s labyrinthine plot?

To get you thinking, can I propose the following matches for some of the main locations mentioned :

  • Israel = The West
  • The Philistines = the Warsaw Pact countries [see Judges 14:4 - ‘at that time the Philistines lorded it over Israel’]
  • The camp of Dan = the British
  • Zorah = West Berlin
And for some of the supporting characters :
  • Manoah = Brian Samson [Bernard’s dad]
  • Father-in-law = David Kimber-Hutchison [Fiona’s dad]
  • Younger sister = Tessa

I’m sure readers will easily be able to suggest more … however, I’d caution against assuming, as I did, that just because Delilah always gets paired with Samson, then ‘Delilah’ must be Fiona!

You see, it turns out that in the Old Testament story (and this was exactly the kind of detail I’d forgotten or never knew), Samson was married before he met Delilah.

To the clear disappointment of his parents, he’d set his heart on ‘a woman … of the daughters of the Philistines.’ Unfortunately, this union, like all of Samson’s relationships, didn’t end too well!

Even by the time of their wedding, his bride had succumbed to coercion and was favouring her own people over him. Perhaps tellingly, the wife seems to drop out of the story before Delilah appears on the scene (we’ll return to this later I’m sure, in the comments). The account is quite salacious and only explained in part; though clearly some of the marital disharmony at least was caused by Samson’s father-in-law.

Based on the above, I’m suggesting that Fiona is synonymous with Samson’s initial wife and that, because of the role she subsequently plays in Bernard’s life, ‘Delilah’ is in fact Gloria

Witness her [Gloria's] ongoing attempts to have him succumb to domestic bliss; and remembering the explanation that ‘Forces work to remove (Samson) from the conflict,’ what finer way to yoke a family (and man’s) man than by creating a home so inviting that it overrides all urges which would otherwise keep drawing him outdoors?

Did somebody order a haircut?

So far so good, although I’d also not rush to judgment about who ‘the lords of the Philistines’ are; they are regularly mentioned as pulling the strings which oppose Samson.

During his November 2012 interview with Len Deighton, you may have read Rob Mallows [Deighton Dossier editor] alluding to Silas Gaunt as ‘the mastermind behind everything.’

According to the transcript, however, the author didn’t confirm this assertion outright. Rather, as he went on to explain his planning process before beginning to write:

'I started off with a wall chart outlining a series of twelve [sic] books … In the chart Silas was the master-mind. At the end of writing Berlin Game I wasn't sure if it would all work out as planned.’

So if Uncle Silas isn’t necessarily the ultimate puppet master, who else can you think of who may be in the frame?

I myself have one idea to share, however, I would be very interested to hear other readers’ perspectives at this point: either something you’ve discerned from one or more of the books or, in the spirit of scientific endeavour, maybe you have evidence which blows out of the water my starting hypothesis, perhaps one of the identifications, etc?

But hang on, that’s right. You were promised more than one thought-provoking theory, weren’t you?

Well. What if Deighton’s plotting goes deeper still?

What if the enemy isn’t only running defensive operations ‘to neutralise the significant threat that is Samson’? What if the author has helped them penetrate London Central itself?

We can of course get into these and other mysteries in the comments section. But I would set out a challenge Deighton Dossier readers: what’s your reading of my Samson & Delilah Hypothesis?

What impacts would you say the biblical story has had on Deighton’s series?

The Deighton Dossier thanks Seymour for his contribution. So, what do you think, Dossier readers? Carry on the discussion either in the comments section, or on the Dossier Facebook page.



3 comments:

  1. Okay, you’ve been asked for reactions to the premise that the Old Testament story of Samson and Delilah didn’t merely inform the choice of last name for Bernard, but overlays the plot of all three of the trilogies. Now I’d like to develop the suggestion that ‘covert forces work to remove (Bernard) from the conflict’ and see what this sparks for you. And what finer place to begin than with the words of the author himself, here discussing the Samson books :

    ‘I decided that I wanted to use the theme of domestic and professional betrayal at some length … I’d planned to begin my story after the betrayal … but as my planning continued it became obvious that more description of the betrayer was needed’ (initial quotes here taken from the preface to the Game, Set & Match omnibus, published 1986 so prior to the second trilogy)

    But which was ‘the’ betrayal that Deighton referred to?

    Handily, the writer went on to pinpoint this event as occurring at ‘the beginning of Mexico Set’. However this centres on the possible defection of Erich Stinnes, seemingly just a sub-plot and so presumably not what we seek here.

    Perhaps, then, we can identify who ‘the betrayer’ is?

    Well all of Dicky, Werner, Zena, Bret, Fiona & Gloria are referenced at the start of Mexico Set (in addition to Bernard naturally). Or was Deighton indicating another of the principal, but largely-behind-the-scenes characters such as the Director-General or Silas? What we do know is that he continued as follows ‘I decided that the story needed a prologue. The ‘prologue’ draft got longer and longer and eventually became Berlin Game’.

    So maybe identifying who in that first novel benefitted from ‘more description’ will lead us to the answer?

    The simplest thing of course would be to nominate Fiona, the lead character who Bernard can’t help but love. However you’ve already read an argument that ‘Delilah’ was in fact Gloria – and Gloria is someone we can definitely eliminate from the list, courtesy of not featuring at all in Berlin Game. You, naturally, may marshal evidence to point in a different direction but at this stage my own No.1 fit for ‘the betrayer’ is … Werner!

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  2. Think about it for a moment – Bernard is hardly the type to hand out many free passes, but does anyone receive more than his lifelong friend? If it weren’t for Bernard regularly badgering both London Central and Frank in Berlin, poor old Werner’s burning need for even a peripheral secret life would have remained a pipe dream … in his own heavy-framed, rose-tinted view at least.

    Except readers observing Werner’s silent satisfaction at concealing what he does for Fiona know different, don’t we? And what if Werner’s still waters run even deeper? As impossible as Bernard finds the concept, what if need-to-know extends way beyond him? For starters who else could fail to see that Werner’s business dealings, constantly taking him behind the Iron Curtain, would not have long before piqed the interest of Allied intelligence?

    A further blind spot – in Bernard though also, I’d contend, created in us by the author – is Werner’s relationship with Zena. Through Bernie’s eyes she is the archetypal, grasping female to Werner’s doe-eyed male. Yet, in Berlin Game, who is it that rushes to collect Zena from Frank’s love-nest after Bernard has put the wind up her? Just denial by a weak-kneed, cuckolded husband – or an unexplained, nevertheless significant reaction after a scheme has been disrupted? Ditto, who is really pulling the strings ‘at the beginning of Mexico Set’? During his jaunt to Mexico City Bernard explains ‘Werner didn’t spot Erich Stinnes … Werner’s wife spotted him.’ What goes unexplained is how someone supposedly permanently on the outer with the department would have known of any urgent alerts issued. When Zena raises the possibility of receiving a spotter’s fee, Bernard surmises Werner is exploiting her venality. Not long afterwards we read it wasn’t even Zena who approached Stinnes but the other way around so, all in all, it’s difficult to conclude that the start of Mexico Set exists as anything other than a device to place Bernard into the orbit of Paul Biedermann and therefore Stinnes, with Werner at the heart of arrangements: ‘Biedermann is approachable,’ said Werner … ‘He has an office in town and a house on the coast’ … ‘There you are, then,’ said Dicky.

    To the bitter end Bernard maintains, openly at least, that Werner is just another cog in the chain – this despite intel. from both the Swede and the barman at Rudi’s club near Tegel Airport that placed Werner at the heart of the operational planning which led to Tessa’s death. To Bernard, could anything be worse than a realisation he has been betrayed by Werner?

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  3. I have just finished reading Faith; Hope; and Charity, having just re-read the first six books. I found the end of Charity difficult to accept, but maybe someone could enlighten me. Surely the Russian and East German intelligence services know that Fiona is alive and with Bernard. They would look for vengeance. Putting whole family back in Berlin would be an opportunity fulfill their need for vengeance.

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