Ian Fleming at times, had as many slings and arrows as his creation had to deal with and the debate about the severity of these flaws still rages on today. Here was Fleming’s take on Bond from the Thunderball blurb:
“Bond is not a hero, nor is he depicted as being very likable or admirable. He is a Secret Service Agent. He’s not a bad man, but he is ruthless and self-indulgent. He enjoys the fight- he also enjoys the prizes. In fiction people used to have blood in their veins. Nowadays they have pond water. My books are just out of step. But then so are all the people who read them.”
This extract from the Manchester Guardian, reminds of us that Bond was a fictional character after all that Fleming never intended for Bond to be a ‘way of life’, but to be viewed objectively like any other fictional character with flaws.
Eric Ambler was quoted as saying by Ivar Bryce:
“Critics rarely remark on how well-written the James Bond stories are. I suppose with a man as civilized and amusing as Mr. Fleming, good writing is taken for granted.”
“Sex and violence. By today’s standards the sex in the Bond novels is very tame and the violence unexceptionable. But when the books were published they were condemned for their explicitness. As schoolboys we thought the sex in the Bond novels was the height of erotic licentiousness. It reads almost primly now.”
Based on the novels I’ve read so far, you could, I think, accuse James Bond – and possibly Ian Fleming – of being many things: a snob, certainly; a masochist, definitely; a homophobe, potentially; a racist, casually – although again those last two are more a product of their time than an active agenda.
‘William Plomer to Ian Fleming: “Do you think your books are studies in sex, snobbery and sadism?”
Well, I don’t think they are studies in any of those quite proper ingredients of a thriller. Sex, of course, comes into all interesting books and into interesting lives. As to snobbery. I think that’s pretty good nonsense, really. In fact, we’d all of us like to eat better, stay in better hotels, wear better clothes, drive faster motor-cars, and so on, and it amuses me that my hero does most of these things.
As for sadism, well, I think the old-fashioned way of beating up a spy with a baseball bat has gone out with the last war, and I think it’s permissible to give him a rather tougher time than we used to in the old-fashioned days before the war.
The simple fact is that, like all fictional heroes who find a tremendous popular acceptance, Bond must reflect his own time. We live in a violent era, perhaps the most violent man has known. In our last War, thirty million people were killed. Of these, some six million were simply slaughtered, and most brutally. I hear it said that I invent fiendish cruelties and tortures to which Bond is subjected. But no one who knows, as I know, the things that were done to captured secret agents in the last War says this. No one says it who knows what went on in Algeria.
Fleming was put the question about Bond’s ‘ruthless way with women’ by Playboy magazine in 1964:
Seduction has, to a marked extent, replaced courtship. The direct, flat approach is not the exception; it is the standard. James Bond is a healthy, violent, non cerebral man in his middle thirties, and a creature of his era. I wouldn’t say he’s particularly typical of our times, but he is certainly of the times. Bond’s detached; he’s disengaged. But he’s a believable man – around whom I try to weave a great web of excitement and fantasy. In that, at least, we have very little in common.
Read In Defense of Ian Fleming: Moral Reading and Fictional Characters by Ben Welton
Read James Parker’s ‘The Inner Life of James Bond’ from The Atlantic
Read ‘Is Ian Fleming’s James Bond Really a Sexist, Misogynistic Bastard?’ from Existential Ennui
Read Finlo Rohrer’s article, ‘Is James Bond Loathsome?‘ from the BBC
Read Samantha Weinberg’s article, ‘Bond Girls ARE Feminist Icons’ (Daily Mail)