On July 4,1952, Ian Fleming wrote ‘Pleasure Islands?’ for The Spectator shortly after completing the draft of Casino Royale, in which he discusses race relations in Jamaica.
There are several notable things about this article, starting with the date. Perhaps it’s true that “after forty it is difficult to start a new life,” but Fleming had obviously just begun a new life as a writer.
When Fleming wrote this, the Caribbean was a far more exotic and remote place. At first Fleming seems to have taken his own advice about laying off booze in the tropics, though by the early 60s he’d descended into alcoholism. Was he complimenting himself when he praised the Scots for being naturally patient and sober, wonderful colonisers, and possessing hardy and absorbing inner lives?
Though non-Bondian, this article carries several characteristic themes familiar from the novels: German-bashing, accidie (Fleming’s favorite sin), and the eccentric wonders of flora and fauna (the “zing of crickets” is a phrase reused five years later in Dr. No).
Lastly, we come to what might grab modern readers’ attention most–the racial attitudes. On one hand, Fleming preaches a message of embracing racial/cultural differences and tries to calm his white readers’ fears about black sexuality. But his praise of blacks (“they are loyal to good employers and sober and honest”) is also somewhat backhanded (“unless sorely tempted, but when they fall they fall heavily and far”).
And then we get sentences like “without patience you cannot live and work with coloured people,” followed by undeniably racist observations such as
“most black races have more fears than the whites” and “their physical strength is often undermined by weak nerves, and this makes them an easy prey to sickness or fear.”
The praise about blacks having better sight, hearing, and sixth-sense will likely not please modern readers either.
In discussing these racial attitudes, we should take in mind that Fleming’s statements were deemed perfectly acceptable and publishable in a sophisticated mainstream magazine in 1952. His attitudes are thus of his time and class. For readers in the monocultural Britain of 1952, blacks were an exotic species, to be observed in the mock-anthropological manner Fleming used here and in Live and Let Die.
In retrospect, it seems ludicrous to make observations about an entire race of people based on the observations of lower class inhabitants of a small island, but Fleming and his audience had a view of the world that now seems as remote from our own as Jamaica did to Fleming’s readers.