Ian Fleming's James Bond and his relationship with money

peterpeter Toronto
edited December 2016 in Literary 007 Posts: 7,972
There's an amusing trait, and I wonder what others think about it: I have been noticing that our man Bond, in Fleming's entries, really has a child-like indifference to money.

I just finished reading OHMSS, and he outright (and drunkenly, yet sincerely), turns down his soon-to-be father-in-law's gracious offer of a dowry. Bond tells Draco that he would be afraid of what he would become if he was financially secure. I felt that this was a fascinating insight into the character, and was quite moved by Bond's absolute refusal to be taken care of.

And then I randomly decided to re-read Goldfinger. At the beginning of the story, Bond is musing about the soft life, so, when Mr. Du Pont coincidentally strolls back into his life (he was one of the gamblers in Casino Royale), and drops an assignment into Bond's lap, Bond (again, rather drunkenly-- fancy that!), takes him up on the offer. This, of course, leads to his first showdown with Goldfinger, and, after defeating him, Bond is paid ten thousand dollars.

This money he promptly gives to Jill Masterson (after using her as a "hostage"), since he "wouldn't know what to do with it"...

I remember there are other moments in the books where Bond is sincerely gracious with his money (doesn't he promise himself that once the job with Dr. No was done, he would financially assist Honeychille with getting to Miami to have plastic surgery on her broken nose?). This quality has started to really stand out and I'm finding this an endearing trait to a man best described as ruthless and a blunt instrument. It's like the circuitry we have, to one degree, or another, in placing value in money, is lost for this character. It really has no place in his life, like a child that has no idea how he is clothed or fed, he doesn't give it any serious thought.

I found this was nicely brought to the fore in the film CR, when Bond tells Vesper she's the one who will have to get an honest job since he has no idea what an honest job is.

Have any of you noticed this indifference to money in Mr. Fleming's novels? Any thoughts on why you think Fleming made this a trait? And since this seemed to occur several times in the books, it obviously meant something to Fleming...?

I look forward to hearing some of your thoughts on this.



  • edited December 2016 Posts: 2,879
    Excellent post! Fleming had a very ambivalent attitude toward wealth--he wanted to make big money, but he knew what the effects of being wealthy were. This is why Bond tells Draco "If you think I'll accept a million pounds from you or from anyone else you're mistaken. I don't want my life to be ruined. Too much money is the worst curse you can lay on anyone's head. I have enough. Tracy has enough. It will be fun saving up to buy something we want but can't quite afford. That is the only kind of money to have - not quite enough."

    At the time Fleming wrote those words, he was starting to become a very wealthy man. Perhaps he was reminding himself to keep an even head. For most of his life he was comfortably well off, having "not quite enough" money, but never rich. Wealth always eluded him, so he had to work for his money, which meant taking interesting jobs. Perhaps he realized this ultimately worked out better than if he'd grown up rich. Many people who are born wealthy are born into a gilded cage; they only escape if they are exposed to or find something interesting beyond it.
    Tracy was born into Draco's wealth and went to seed because of it. Draco says such people "burn the heart out of themselves by living too greedily, and suddenly they examine their lives and see that they are worthless. They have had everything, eaten all the sweets of life at one great banquet, and there is nothing left." Bond saved Tracy from the abyss, and he refuses the encumbrance of wealth. He tells Draco "I have enough money for my needs. I have my profession." The profession is what gives Bond's life purpose. It pays for him to enjoy himself but it also keeps him away from the soft life by demanding physical and mental hardship. But in the end he is able to enjoy moments of comfort purchased by his service for his country. He will never become a member of the idle rich.

    Fleming understands that big money only buys boredom: In Goldfinger, Mr Springer is described as having "the glazed eyes of someone who is either very rich or very dead." Let us remember that Fleming considered the boredom the worst of all sins. We should also remember that almost every Bond villain is either wealthy or very rich. Perhaps the Scottish puritanism in Fleming's background accounts for this distrust of wealth. I don't think anyone has seriously explored the anti-materialism of the Bond novels--scholars and critics are too caught up in noticing the brand names. But even in the realm of luxury goods Fleming doesn't simply list the most expensive ones--he mentions the ones he thinks most effective. Fleming has contempt for rich people, like the Spangs or Goldfinger, who think expensive products are tasteful ones. Your post makes it clear that someone cannot fully understand Bond's character if they don't grasp that Bond has no interest in being rich.
  • peterpeter Toronto
    Posts: 7,972
    Thank you @Revelator, an amazing analysis, and yes, something so bound to Bond's DNA I'm surprised I only gave it casual notice before.
    But no, Fleming was sending a message, loud and clear.
    What an amazing writer, and just another layer to the character to cherish... (And a very astute observation from the writer on how great wealth can bring ill health- psychological or physical, oftentimes, both)
  • 007InVT007InVT Classified
    edited December 2016 Posts: 893
    Excellent thread.

    When Ian's mother died, she did not leave him a lump sum. He always had to actually earn his living (to an extent) and he never felt he had enough. He also was only motivated by the nature of the work and not simply the money.

    So he worked hard at Reuters as he loved that. He less enjoyed his time as a stockbroker at Cull & Co. and Rowe and Pitman and then found his metier in the NID during the war. He loved to write so his journalism was excellent and QED his Bond novels.

    Bond's clear contempt for ostentatious money like Milton Krest and Goldfinger must have been a result of Fleming's experiences in the sort of circles he traveled in. 'How very gauche' you can hear him say. One of his greatest sins that he identified, was avarice.

    I suppose not really ever needing money could have made him indifferent to it but either way, to have made Bond fairly egalitarian about it meant many more people could relate to him on his 'civil service' salary. This is why I never buy this snobbery accusation about Bond. He liked fine things but was not a snob. I like fine things but like to think I am not a snob either.
  • peterpeter Toronto
    Posts: 7,972
    @007InVT, thank you for your excellent response. I agree, Bond is not a snob. He's a hedonist. He's a sensual man and one who is fulfilled with experience; an experience of caviar and pink champagne; the thrill of powering a car on a desolate road, and; having a woman on a train to make love to.

    All of this has more value than money.

    Thank you for bringing in the history of Fleming; I did know that he did consider himself the world's worst stockbroker!
  • 007InVT007InVT Classified
    Posts: 893
    Perfectly summed up @peter! You don't get that on Southern Rail!
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