Study Guide

Code Name Verity Pens and Paper

By Elizabeth Wein

Pens and Paper

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.

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