***2018 Summer of Spies***
If you are a feminist who is planning to read any of the James Bond books, I would highly recommend that you also read this biography of their author, Ian Fleming. Knowing his background changes nothing in the novels, but at least gives the reader some glimpse of why they contain the prejudices that they do.
Fleming’s life is an excellent example of that old adage “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.” I am hardly an apologist for Mr. Fleming, but his circumstances certainly made him into the man and author that he was. His father died when he was young and he was left with only an extremely controlling egocentric mother. If I’m reading between the lines correctly, Ian was an introvert, perfectly happy by himself, but forced by his social position and extroverted relatives to try to conform to the extrovert ideal. He loved comfortable living, with plenty of cards, cigarettes and liquor, but didn’t have the family money to rely on. Work was definitely a bore that he had to perform in order to support his desired lifestyle. The only time he really engaged was during his stint in Naval Intelligence during WWII. Finally, he had discovered a job that used his ability to make contacts across ranks, classes and nationalities.
However, if Fleming didn’t see a benefit coming to him from someone, he could be incredibly rude and cutting. I look at photos of the man and I cannot imagine how he achieved the parade of young women through his bedroom, but he must have exuded charm to them. When one hostess took him to task for his treatment of one of her friends, calling him a cad, he replied, “You’re quite right, Mrs. Leitner. Shall we have a drink on it?” Which they did and became friends. He was known to tell people that women were on parr with dogs for him.
Fleming seems to have been happiest when he was involved with other men’s wives. All of the benefits with few of the headaches of relationships. Eventually, when he married Ann, it was after a 14 year affair with her. Ann was pregnant with Ian’s child when her husband lost patience with the situation and divorced her. Although Ian initially tried hard, he had lived alone for too long and was too much a solitary man to be able to live comfortably with anyone, but particular with an extrovert like Ann. He seems to have married someone much like his mother. Ann had cheated with him for many years and when the marriage waters got rough, she repeated this pattern. Fleming was hurt, but the shoe was on the other foot and what could he say?
This is the secret sauce that produced James Bond. Bond is as misogynistic as Fleming himself. Although Fleming was chained to a desk during his Naval Intelligence years, Bond could explore all of Ian’s spy fantasies. Fleming was a card player and golfer and so is Bond. They shares tastes in liquor, cigarettes, food, cars, and general standard of living. Fleming mined his own life for the details of the books. Some of the best passages, in my opinion, are when he describes the natural environment, as in the diving scenes in Live and Let Die.
By and large, Fleming seems to have been a restless, unhappy man. His work during WWII seems to have been his happiest period, which is perhaps why he chose to write in the espionage genre. He self-medicated with alcohol and nicotine and escaped his life through golf and cards. He became the creepy old man at parties that young women warned each other about.
The continued interest in Bond would probably amaze him—he endured the scorn of his wife’s literary circle and the outrage of conservative reviewers and was continually considering terminating Bond. The enormous success of the books came largely after his death, although he had made enough money in his last years to be angry about the self-imposed health problems which would kill him early, preventing him from enjoying the fruits of his labour.