It's probably going too far to call Code Name Verity a funny book, but what's unique about it is that the author has managed to create a character, Julie, who maintains a sense of humor in the middle of a terrible situation. We can't think of many other Nazi-themed books in which the protagonist always seems to be laughing at her captors, and even at herself, despite her impending doom.
She describes an exchange between Engel and Thibaut as "a truly hilarious moment" (1.22.XI.43.29), which is hard for us to wrap our brains around, but so it goes—we've also never had to navigate the Gestapo. Julie's sense of humor is a huge part of her strength and what keeps her alive long enough to finish her story.
In both parts of the book, there's a sense of urgency, a sense that we are building toward a climax (Julie's death), but also a sense that something needs to be accomplished. We don't find out what that something is until we discover that Julie's true mission was not to be a wireless operator, but to blow up the Ormaie Gestapo building. Throughout both parts, the narrators are trying to accomplish this goal.
There's also a hopeful tone in the book. While Julie knows she will probably die very soon, she's still hopeful that she can complete her mission before she goes, and she's sure that the Nazis will eventually be defeated. Even after Julie's death, Maddie finds hope in Julie's writing and in her relationships with Julie's mother and brother. Maddie writes of Julie's narrative:
And this, even more wonderful and mysterious, is also true: when I read it, when I read what Julie's written, she is instantly alive again, whole and undamaged. With her words in my mind while I'm reading, she is as real as I am. [...] She's right here. Afraid and exhausted, alone, but fighting. Flying in silver moonlight in a plane that can't be landed, stuck in the climb—alive, alive, ALIVE. (2.20.6)
Julie might be dead, but her legacy lives on—and though her death is a major bummer, there's something hopeful about that.
Code Name Verity is a young adult historical fiction novel set during World War II. We know it's historical fiction and war drama because it deals with themes and issues that come up in war, all within the context of a real historical event (a.k.a. World War II)—as Maddie would say, easy peasy.
But how do we know it's a young adult novel, other than the fact that it's marketed as one? First, let's look at the age of the protagonists. We know Julie left secondary school (a.k.a. high school) and went to college a year early because of the war, and Maddie's about the same age, which places both characters at the traditional age for college students. In other words, we know this is a novel for young adults because it's about young adults. Of course, this doesn't mean not-so-young adults can't read and enjoy it—because they totally can.
We're just glad our study abroad didn't include a trip to Nazi-occupied Europe.
Code Name Verity refers to Julie Beaufort-Stuart's code name, Verity. We know—that's pretty obvious. However, why might the author have decided that Julie's code name is important enough to get top billing on the cover of the book?
First, as we've already discussed, this is really Julie's story. Second, Julie's code name is extremely important for what it tells us about her—verity, or truth, is important to her. She lies her head off to the Ormaie Gestapo, but as she and Maddie both comment, her story is true overall. It's the last thing she says, over and over, as she's waiting for execution.
The very end of Code Name Verity is a letter from Julie's mother to Maddie. Structurally, it mirrors the letter at the end of Part 1, which is from SS-Sturmbannführer Nikolaus Ferber calling for Julie's execution. The final letter also mentions Julie's death, assuring Maddie that she did the right thing. It provides significant closure for the text, letting us know where Julie and Maddie's stories—and Maddie's Eterpen—end up. Further, readers can take consolation in the fact that Julie's mother feels some of Julie lives on in Maddie.
We'll admit we went a bit broad in our description of setting here, but that's because the narrators give us so many settings to work with. Worry not, though—we'll take it in parts.
Part 1, which Julie narrates, is set in the headquarters of the Ormaie Gestapo in occupied France between November 8 and November 30, 1943. She writes her entire story during this span of time. However, Julie's own setting and story serve as a frame for the story she's telling, which is about her and Maddie's friendship. And to tell this story, Julie flashes back to 1938, when Maddie started flying, and follows Maddie and Queenie through multiple locations in England and Scotland between 1938 and 1943.
Part 2, which Maddie narrates, is set in Ormaie and the surrounding area between October 11 and December 11, 1943, and then at the undisclosed location of an SOE airfield in England in late December 1943.
Both settings in France are places neither Maddie nor Julie were supposed to end up: it certainly wasn't Julie's goal to be taken prisoner, and Maddie never should have been in France at all. Because of this, these settings remind us that war is unpredictable. France and England are often contrasted throughout, with France representing death and danger and England representing life and safety. Of course, this is a historic reality: anywhere not occupied by the Nazis (England and Scotland) is a lot safer than anywhere that is.
"Passive resisters must understand that they are as important as saboteurs."—SOE Secret Operations Manual, "Methods of Passive Resistance"
SOE stands for Secret Operations Executive, a British intelligence organization that existed from 1940-1946. The SOE's job was sabotage and subversion of the German war effort, which made both passive resisters and saboteurs necessary.
Initially, Julie's mission is to be a saboteur: she's supposed to help blow up the Ormaie Gestapo headquarters. When she's captured, though, her goal changes. No longer able to actively fight the Germans from the outside, she resists interrogation from the inside by lying to them while letting them think she's giving up key information. And in the end, Maddie switches from passive resistance to sabotage when she completes Julie's mission.
Like many books where a character serves as the narrator by writing the story down or recording it on 8-track tapes or texting it to a friend, Code Name Verity often veers into stream-of-consciousness territory, which means we're hearing the narrator's thoughts as she's thinking them. Think about your own thoughts: do they go in a straight line, or do they jump around from the essay you're supposed to be writing to what you're going to have for dinner tonight to a random memory of the time you fed zebras at the zoo in third grade?
Add in the fact that we've got not one but two narrators here, each of whom sees different parts of a whole, and we have a recipe for potential confusion. Like the spy in the title, Code Name Verity is not a book that gives up its secrets easily, but when we pay attention to what our narrators are telling us, the secrets that are revealed are totally worth waiting for.
This is something both Julie's and Maddie's narratives have in common. Whatever comes into the narrators' heads goes down on the page, which they both admit is maybe not a great idea when your head is full of official secrets. After writing some choice observations of von Linden, Julie worries:
Oh my God, why do I do it—again and again? I HAVE THE BRAIN OF A PTARMIGAN HEN. HE WILL SEE ANYTHING I WRITE. (1.20.XI.43.86)
While Maddie frets:
If I am caught writing this I will be in trouble, whoever catches me—German, French, British. Even American. I shouldn't write anything down. COURT-MARTIAL. (2.1.14)
In other words, Julie and Maddie just can't seem to keep their minds from wandering—and their hands from putting it all down on the page. Oops. And speaking of wandering, both narrators weave in and out of what's happening in the moment (or at least very recently), bringing up memories and random observations. It's a job to stay on top of what's happening now, what they're remembering, and what's just commentary—but it also makes for a richly layered story.
So you've probably figured out by now that Code Name Verity is about spying and flying, but did you realize that it's also about reading and writing? Or perhaps we should say it's about writing and reading. This is because each of the narrators, Julie and Maddie, is writing her story for an unknown and shifting audience—and each of them comments quite a bit on the kinds of paper and pen she's using.
Let's compare the different types of paper and pen each character uses. Julie writes on scraps of paper given to her by her captors at the Ormaie Gestapo—in the mix are hotel stationery, recipe cards, flute music, and prescription pads. She doesn't talk much about her pen and ink, mainly because there's nothing super special or different about them. She's using the standard ink pen that was in use in 1943, with ink from an inkwell. Writing used to be a really messy process—let's just say we're thankful for our computers.
Maddie's paper is a bit more uniform—she writes in her pilot's notebook and in an old notebook she finds in Etienne Thibaut's childhood bedroom, but her pen is something special. It's an Eterpen, a brand new, super special pen that carries its own ink. And here we thought smartphones were exciting.
What does all this mean, though? First, we think it's kind of cool to point out that Julie has the special paper and Maddie has the special pen—together then, they make a "sensational team" (1.16.XI.43.2).
To be a bit more serious, though, Julie's paper and Maddie's pen symbolize something different to each of them. Julie says, "Like an opium addict, I'll do almost anything for more paper" (1.16.XI.43.11). And every time Julie looks at the paper she's writing on, she sees something the war wiped away, whether it's the former beauty of the Chateau de Bordeaux or the people who owned the sheet music and prescription pads. Julie writes:
They have given me a Jewish prescription pad to use until they find something more sensible. [...] Presumably he is no longer practicing (presumably he has been shipped off to break rocks in a concentration camp somewhere), which is why his blank prescriptions have fallen into the hands of the Gestapo. (1.11.XI.43.20)
We are reminded through these references to the various former owners of the paper she uses that hers is only one of many tales about the war—both being told (here we can think of Nazi propaganda) and being silenced (like the Jewish doctor whose prescription pad she is given). In the end, Julie finds hope in her mismatched pages:
This pile of paper doesn't stack together very well—pages and pages of different widths and lengths and thicknesses. I like the flute music that I had to write on at the end. I was careful with that. Of course I have had to use both sides and write over the music, but I wrote very lightly in pencil between the notes, because someone may want to play it again someday. Not Esther Lévi, whose classically biblical Hebrew name is written neatly at the top of each sheet; I'm not stupid enough to think she'll ever see this music again, whoever she is. But perhaps someone else. When the bombing stops.
When the tide turns. And it will. (1.28.XI.43.4-5)
Her paper calls our attention to the larger war outside Ormaie.
For Maddie, the Eterpen represents her personal philosophy—the Aerodrome Drop-off Principle—which basically says pay it forward. Julie writes about when Maddie receives it:
[A] grateful RAF officer recently smuggled out of France had given one of the samples to Peter, who'd given it to the sergeant, who gave it to Maddie. The sergeant told her to pass it on to someone else when she had successfully completed her mission. [...]
Maddie was ridiculously pleased with her pen [...] She also liked the idea of passing it on as a gift after a successful operation—a variation on the Aerodrome Drop-Off Principle. (1.24.XI.43.49-50)
Maddie receives the Eterpen as a favor, then she passes it on to Julie's mother, along with all the paper she and Julie recorded their stories on. Julie's paper and Maddie's pen end up together in Craig Castle, "a house that absorbs secrets like the damp" (2.27.4)—in other words, a place where the girls and their friendship can live on, no matter what's going on in the world.
Julie doesn't fly alone in the back of Maddie's plane the night she's dropped in France—there are eleven wireless sets with her. Eleven decoy wireless sets, to be exact, designed to trick the Germans into thinking the plane is there to drop off wireless sets and operators. Right off the bat, then, the wireless sets represent deception—instead of serving as clear lines of communication, they are simply a cover story. Julie later uses them for the red herrings they are, convincing her captors that she's a wireless operator and has eleven sets of code to give them.
Julie also tells us that she herself is a wireless set, and that von Linden thinks of her as such. She writes: "the wee Scots wireless set, I mean operator, is still nursing small, hidden, nasty short circuits got during her savagely inhuman interrogation" (1.20.XI.43.42). And when she does, the comparison between herself and a machine highlights the inhuman treatment she's receiving, and also the fact that the Nazis have reduced her to the information they think they can get from her—information that, say, might be transmitted across a wireless. She says plainly:
I'm a wireless set. (1.20.XI.43.71)
And when she says this, we understand just how much information Julie does have and that, positioned as she is between the Allies and the Nazis, she is poised to communicate it. But she doesn't—so she's really more like one of the decoys she came into the country with.
She also admits that she was as much a wireless operator as von Linden is, working on people instead of machines as Eva Seiler:
It is ridiculous that you have not already guessed the nature of my intelligence work, Amadeus von Linden. Like you, I am a wireless operator.
Like you, I am bloody good at it.
Our methods differ. (1.22.XI.43.141-143)
Shifting gears from being the machine to being the machine's operator, Julie speaks to the fact that, as Eva Seiler, she and von Linden perform the same sort of work: getting people to share information. Their methods are quite different, but that they work people, convincing them to communicate things they aren't supposed to, is something these two have in common.
As we do elsewhere in this learning guide, we're going to take this one in parts because the narrator changes between Part 1 and Part 2.
In Part 1, Julie is telling two stories, both from the first person point of view. She is the central narrator of her own story, in which she writes about what is happening to her day to day in the Ormaie Gestapo—but when she tells Maddie's story, she becomes a peripheral narrator. She still speaks in first person, but she removes herself from the story. Von Linden observes:
The English flight officer has studied the craft of the novel [...] [S]he is employing the literary conceits and techniques of a novel. (1.11.XI.43.4, 7)
Julie herself describes her narration as third person, but it's really first person peripheral because she continues to comment as herself. She says:
He wanted to know, then, why I was choosing to write about myself in the third person. Do you know, I had not even noticed I was doing it until he asked.
The simple answer is because I am telling the story from Maddie's point of view, and it would be awkward to introduce another viewpoint character at this point. It is much easier writing about me in the third person than it would be if I tried to tell the story from my own point of view. (1.11.XI.43.14-15)
This can get a bit confusing because the narrator splits herself into many people, so she is writing about her old self, Queenie, in the third person, but the narrator who is imprisoned in the Ormaie Gestapo is still in first person. Make sense? We promise it's not too hard once you get into the rhythm of reading.
Plus, if you can hang in there through Part 1, you'll be rewarded in Part 2, which is much more straightforward. Maddie writes this entire part in first person as the central narrator. She tells her own story, and she does so completely from her own point of view—there's nothing tricky about it.
As the novel opens, Julie Beaufort-Stuart, a British spy, has been captured and interrogated by the Nazi Gestapo in Ormaie, France. She begins to write a full report of her wartime activities for her captors in exchange for more time and better treatment. Believing her best friend, Maddie Brodatt, the ATA pilot who dropped her in France, died when the plane she was flying crashed, she launches into the story of their friendship. This sets the scene, letting us know where we are… and possibly where we're headed.
The rest of Part 1, narrated by Julie, describes how Maddie became a pilot and how she came to be friends with Julie and drop her in France. Meanwhile, Julie is designated a "Night and Fog" prisoner, so we know the Nazis plan to make her disappear. Not good.
The biggest complication comes at the beginning of Part 2, when Maddie picks up the narrative and we realize she's not dead. Like Julie, Maddie has to try to stay alive in occupied France, while looking for Julie. Rising Action is all about building suspense and conflict and setting us up for the climax, and things get really complicated really fast when no one is using their real names, loyalties are questionable, and the bodies are piling up.
The climax is unforgettable: it's when Maddie shoots Julie in the head to keep her from being tortured by her Nazi captors any longer. You read that right: Maddie kills her best friend, the best friend who spent the first half of the book writing about their friendship and making us care about it. She shoots Julie so that at least her inevitable death will be quick and on her own terms. Sob.
We guess that isn't really surprising in a spy novel, but Julie left behind some work to do, and it's Maddie's job to finish her best friend's mission, which is exactly what she does. We know that this is the falling action because the task is really just to mop up the mess—it's an awfully big mess, but Maddie is up to the challenge.
Maddie's been trying to get out of France since she crashed there two months ago, and she finally gets picked up by a plane piloted by Julie's brother, Jamie. Back in England, she goes through some debriefing. The last part of the novel is a letter from Julie's mother asking Maddie to visit. This part of the novel is the tying up of loose ends, where we find out what happens to all the characters and finish their stories.