From Russia With Love at 60: Serious Spy Novel or Popular Escapism?

2017 marks the sixtieth anniversary of the publication of Ian Fleming’s fifth James Bond novel, From Russia With Love and to celebrate there will be a 60th Anniversary Panel for the SAMLA 89 Conference in Atlanta, GA, from Nov 3-5 2017.

The novel holds a special place in the Bond canon, for it was this novel that was famously included by President John F. Kennedy in the list of his ten favorite books, published in Life Magazine in 1961, boosting Fleming’s reputation in the USA. Fleming considered ending the Bond series with From Russia With Love, yet it proved to be a launching point for the celebrated film series, becoming the second Bond film in 1963.

Image courtesy of The Teeritz Agenda

Image courtesy of The Teeritz Agenda

From its original reception, From Russia With Love has divided critics: is it a revival of the serious spy novel by a master of espionage fiction, or is it merely a blend of the “sex and sadism” used to dismiss Bond as a symptom of pop culture? This anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on the enduring significance of From Russia With Love and reexamine its status as a work that crosses between high and low art.

"Beneath the Embassy" from From Russia, with Love | ©George Almond

“Beneath the Embassy” from From Russia, with Love. | ©George Almond

Paper proposals on any aspect of Fleming’s novel and the 1963 film adaptation, especially relating to questions of the boundary between high/popular culture—are invited.

Please send proposals of 250-500 words and brief biographies, along with A/V requirements, to Oliver Buckton (obuckton@fau.edu) by May 15 2017.

Incidental Intelligence

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5 thoughts on “From Russia With Love at 60: Serious Spy Novel or Popular Escapism?

  1. The reason that FRWL scores so well with both the critics and the fans is because it maintained all of the elements that made Fleming so readable; his sweep and extraordinary descriptive powers but added a tension, a pace and a tightness of plot. All of which were not always there to the same extent in all his other Bonds.
    It certainly was and is a serious work and without doubt is in any serious aficionados top twenty all time spy novels.
    MR & OHMSS came close to FRWL’s level of excellence but as I always say to any poor unfortunate who hasn’t read a Bond novel – if you have to pick one and only one this should be it.
    I also find it interesting that it was made into the only truly great Bond movie and that the first edition featured Chopping’s first and best work for Fleming.
    I’m not surprised JFK was impressed. Marilyn Monroe may have liked it as well although I’m not sure it was her taste in literature that attracted Mr President !

  2. I re-read FRWL a couple of years ago and it still holds up. This book has some classic spy novel tropes; a honey-trap, a piece of technology that British Intelligence wants to get its hands on, an enemy assassin. It’s perhaps Fleming’s best book and, as David has already stated, if you were to recommend a Bond novel to someone who’s never read one before, this would be the one. It, along with Chopping’s cover art on the original hardback, perfectly captures Bond’s world of romance and danger.

  3. FRWL definitely belongs in a more elevated subgenre than the other Bonds. Fleming tried to write a “classic” espionage novel a la Eric Ambler and Graham Greene. In this regard he’s mostly successful. But Fleming lacked the beige good taste of Ambler and Greene. His gifts and instincts were more extravagant. This shows up in the over-the-top descriptions and backstories of Rosa Kleb, Red Grant and Kerim Bey.

    The novel is also distinguished by the very fine film adaptation, arguably the best in the franchise. In addition to the terrific casting of Robert Shaw and Lotte Leyna, it has Connery’s best performance as Bond. (Danielle Bianchi is also lovely, even though she’s dubbed.) It’s interesting that the movie seems so faithful to the book scene by scene while pulling off an 180 with the overall concept. (“From SPECTRE With Love?”. Nah, it doesn’t sound quite right.)

    Over the years, I most often find myself rereading Fleming’s “transition chapters”, in which he literally gets Bond from one place to another. FRWL has a beaut; “BEA Takes You There”, which conveys 007 from London to Istanbul, accompanied by substantial in-flight alcohol. A guilty pleasure!

    • What an interesting perspective.
      It is probably further endorsed that Fleming finished FRWL with Bond’s apparent death.
      It was as with he was saying, ‘I’ll never do better than this with Bond so, goodnight’.

  4. I should have made clear that the call for papers on FRWL (see above) is for a special session at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association Conference 2017, held at the Westin Peachtree Plaza in Atlanta, Georgia, USA from November 3-5. The conference special focus will be High Art/Low Art: Borders and Boundaries in Popular Culture.

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