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as in-person classes, live-streamed Zoom sessions and video recordings

  • • This course is available in the second-half of 2024 Term 1.

  • • 4 two-hour sessions with a break

Date & Time:

Begins Wednesday 20 March 2024

  • • Our 2024 Term 1 LIT311 course meets on Wednesday mornings from 11:00am-1:00pm beginning on 20 March 2024 (New Zealand time). The course meets for 4 consecutive weeks. If you live outside of New Zealand, check for local Time Zone equivalents below.

Time Zone equivalents:

for live-streaming Zoom Sessions from New Zealand. If your Time Zone doesn't suit our live-streamed class, you can also access our courses by watching the live-recorded sessions that are posted to the course webpage each week, usually within 1-2 days.

  • Honolulu, Hawai’i: begins Tue 19 Mar 2024, 12:00-2:00pm

  • US Pacific: begins Tue 19 Mar 2024, 3:00pm-5:00pm

  • US Eastern: begins Tue 19 Mar 2024, 6:00pm-8:00pm

  • London, UK: begins Tue 19 Mar 2024, 10:00pm-12:00am

  • Paris, France: begins Tue 19 Mar 2024, 11:00pm-1:00am

  • New Delhi, India: begins Wed 20 Mar 2024, 3:30-5:30am

  • Bangkok, Thailand: begins Wed 20 Mar 2024, 5:00-7:00am

  • Singapore/Hong Kong: begins Wed 20 Mar, 6:00-8:00am

  • Tokyo, Japan: begins Wed 20 Mar 2024, 7:00-9:00am

  • Sydney Australia: begins Wed 20 Mar 2024, 9:00-11:00am


LIT311: The Golden Ages of Spy Thriller Fiction

  • Many online sources claim that the Golden Age for spy thrillers was the Cold War period, 1946/7-1991, because of the real political tensions of the time. One critic has chosen the early 1900s as a Golden Age, and another critic has chosen, within the Cold War period, the 1960s.

  • Which is the real Golden Age? We’ll look at the thrillers published in four different time periods between 1880 and 2000, each of which is already a Golden Age for different reasons, and judge for ourselves.

  • We’ll think about what makes a great fictional spy and discuss treachery in fiction.

  • We’ll look at questions such as whether the books keep to the rules of spy thriller fiction, if they show us our own social and political history, if they show us our own fears and prejudices at the time in which they were written, if they’re innovative, and if we think the characters are believable. Most importantly, are the books still genuinely exciting spy fiction?

  • Supplementary material, for instance brief readings from selected thrillers, and explanations of terms and abbreviations, will be provided

Golden Age #1, 1888 -1920: The Great Game

Wed 20 March 2024

This session will look briefly at the “Great Game”, competition between Russia and the United Kingdom, early spy thrillers, nihilism and anarchism, fictional spies as amateurs, the Secret Service Bureau, and World War 1 and its aftermath, and we’ll discuss whether the thrillers we’ve looked at contribute to a Golden Age.
from Le Queux, William. A Secret Service: Being Strange Tales of a Nihilist, 1896

Golden Age #2, 1920-1940: Fear & Anger

27 March 2024

Topics will include the effects of the First World War, poverty, the Depression, and the rise of Communism, on spy thrillers. We’ll look at women in 1920s and 1930s spy thrillers and the coming of the Second World War. We’ll note the first real professional spy thriller hero in fiction. We’ll discuss whether the thrillers we’ve looked at contribute to a Golden Age.
Outside the Kremlin Wall - Stalin in centre

Golden Age #3, 1946-1990: The Cold War

3 April 2024

We’ll look at the political background, spies and treachery, Berlin and the Berlin Wall, the divide between East and West, covert operations, new armaments, and periods of détente and their effect on spy thrillers. We’ll discuss whether the thrillers we’ve looked at contribute to a Golden Age.
Kim Philby, 1955

Golden Age #4, 1990-2000: The New Start

10 April 2024

We’ll think about great fictional spies, discuss the thrillers of the 1990s, and make our own selection of the real Golden Age.
Reagan and Gorbachev meet, 1986

Course curriculum:

New material is posted weekly throughout the duration of the course. Video recordings and PDFs from each weekly session will be posted here 1-2 days after each class.

    1. EarthDiverse Course Information

    2. EarthDiverse Zoom instructions

    3. Course Introduction (updated): Please read before the course begins

    1. Golden Age no. 1, 1888 -1920: The Great Game

    1. Golden Age no. 2, 1920-1940: Fear and Anger

    1. Golden Age no. 3, 1946-1990: The Cold War

    1. Golden Age no. 4, 1990-2000: The New Start

About this course

  • Videos and PDF content of all course material are available for a full year
  • Begins on Wed 20 March 2024
  • NZ Time: Weds 11:00am-1:00pm

Meet our Instructor:

Instructor Jillene Bydder

Jillene Bydder’s long-term interest is in spy thrillers and what they can tell us about ourselves. An academic research librarian, she has read many thrillers unavailable in New Zealand during study periods spent at the British Library in London. She has walked the line marking the path of the Berlin Wall, crossed the Bridge of Spies, and visited Russia multiple times. She has been to Siberia and seen the bullet holes in the building used as the headquarters of the White Army during the Russian Revolution and to Stalin’s birthplace in Georgia. She has visited the island in the Baltic Sea from which British agents were infiltrated into the Soviet Union. She has presented many papers to international conferences and spends much time in second-hand bookshops here and overseas adding to her own collection of thrillers.


All in-person classes are held at the EarthDiverse offices and classrooms located at 401 Anglesea Street, Hamilton Central, Hamilton (located just north of the Hamilton Central Bus Station) (entrance is located on the side of the building, see map below). Those looking for parking for our evening classes can park just in front of the building in any of the available car parks. Daytime parking can be found in our dedicated car parks, or free 2-hour on-street daytime parking can be found just in front of Anglesea Street.

Distance Learning:

This course has distance-learning options for those unable to attend the live class sessions in Hamilton. Students have three options for attending our courses once they have registered:

  • Attend in-person classes in our Hamilton classrooms at the regularly scheduled day and time.

  • Attend our live on-line classroom sessions via Zoom at the regular scheduled day and time.

  • Watch the e- livrecorded class sessions at your leisure, at a time, day and place more suited to your schedule.

Distance-Learning options:

  • • In addition to our in-person classes in Hamilton, our courses offer distance learning options for those unable to attend classes in-person. Live-streamed Hamilton classes are available via free Zoom software for those living outside the Waikato. Live-streaming allows you to participate fully in your own learning, ask questions of the instructor and participate fully in the same way as if you were in the physical classroom.

  • • Those unable to attend the scheduled date and time of the actual class sessions, or those who need to miss a class or two due to previous engagements or unexpected illness, can watch any or all of the live-recorded video sessions on their computers, laptops, tablets or mobile devices and study at their own pace and in their own time.

  • • Detailed instructions on how to access our distance learning components will be sent after completing your registration. There are no additional fees for this service. However, distance learners will need access to a desktop or laptop computer with a good quality web-camera (tablet devices and mobile phones can also access our live-streamed classes), a built-in microphone (most modern laptops have built-in microphones) or a headset with a microphone. You will also need to download and install the free Zoom software on your computer or device. Those accessing the video recordings will be able to do so with a simple web browser on any device.

Pricing Options:

• All prices are in New Zealand dollars and include GST. • Unwaged includes students, seniors, retirees and unemployed. • Prices remain the same regardless of your chosen method for accessing this course.


Those who cannot make the class meeting day and time via live Zoom sessions may consider accessing this course through the weekly recorded video sessions. Class videos are usually posted within 1-2 days of each live class session and are available for your own personal learning on a day and time of your choosing.

  • • This class has no assignments, quizzes, tests or exams.

  • • Some preparation however may be required for familiarising yourself with the short stories and texts prior to each course session.

  • • Sources for accessing and reading these are provided each week, either via PDF or web-based URL for on-line reading, downloading or printing at home.

  • • All classes encourage questions and group discussion.

  • • PDFs of class presentations and video recordings of each session will be posted 1-2 days after each session for the duration of the course. You are most welcome to come, sit back, relax, take part in and enjoy the discussions!

  • • Course fees include a short tea/coffee/snack break in the middle of each session.

  • • There are no refunds for missed class. If, however, this course is cancelled due to insufficient enrolment please note that your registration fee will either be refunded in full or you may select to receive a course credit. Your choice!


All materials are included in the course fees. These are developed by our instructors and distributed as PDF files as the course progresses.

  • • Course materials are provided to all registered students as digital materials made available to you on the course webpage for download (accessible after registration). There is no need to purchase any additional texts for this course, although you may choose to do so to supplement your learning.

  • • You will only require a pen or pencil for taking your own class notes. All PDFs are posted to the class webpage on your EarthDiverse dashboard so that you can print these out at home and add them to your own notebook if desired.


A keen desire to learn more about Spy Thriller fiction in its heyday.

  • • There are no prerequisites for this course.