"James Bond, Author: The writer Ian Fleming invented" (from The Spectator)

edited December 2013 in Literary 007 Posts: 2,904
Here's a nice surprise--an article by someone who definitely knows his Fleming. The article (http://www.spectator.co.uk/books/9097832/bringing-bond-to-book-essay/) was published in the Dec.14 issue of The Spectator. I'm unfamiliar with the author but I hope we hear more from him. Without further ado:

<blockquote>
James Bond, author: The writer Ian Fleming invented, and his literary influences
By Matthew Woodcock

There is one last James Bond book from the late 1950s that remains unpublished. We will not find the typescript lurking in the archives, nor hidden amongst the papers held by Ian Fleming’s estate, for this book is not about James Bond but written by Bond himself. It is from Fleming’s 1959 novel Goldfinger that we learn that 007 spends his hours on night duty at the Secret Service compiling a manual on unarmed combat called Stay Alive!, containing the best that had been written on the subject by his peers in intelligence agencies around the world. Bond is more industrious in the field than at the typewriter and no more is heard about this great unfinished work once his thoughts drift back to his previous assignment and time spent enjoying the company of the ill-fated Jill Masterson.

It should come as no surprise that Fleming’s hero has writerly pretensions. Yet again, Bond and his creator have interests or characteristics in common, along with their shared dash of Scottish ancestry and background in naval intelligence, and a similar penchant for custom-made Morlands cigarettes. During his twenties, Fleming read widely in French and German literature — Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain was a particular favourite — and he subscribed to all the avant garde literary magazines of the day. He experimented briefly with poetry, collected first editions for a while, and launched the Book Collector magazine. Ultimately, through his friend and later editor, the poet and novelist William Plomer, he entered the literary world of postwar London, met T.S. Eliot and befriended Edith Sitwell. But to what extent did these kind of literary and bibliographic interests shape or influence Fleming’s work when he began writing the Bond books?

Bond too is, of course, a man of books. Fleming took the name of his hero from the spine of a trusted ornithological guide to the West Indies. And the seemingly effortless, spontaneous genesis of the first Bond novel, Casino Royale, published in 1953, drew as much upon the author’s reading of Dornford Yates, John Buchan and ‘Sapper’ (creator of Bulldog Drummond) as it did on his wartime experiences.

The clubland stalwarts were formative influences on Fleming, but they are — at best — literature spelt with a very small ‘l’. Bond himself has bookish impulses: the book-lined sitting-room glimpsed briefly in Moonraker is a valuable resource, used in preparations for forthcoming missions, furnishing him in this instance with a volume on card-sharping by John Scarne. Researching details of voodoo rites in Live and Let Die, Bond consults The Traveller’s Tree by Fleming’s friend Patrick Leigh Fermor. Appropriately enough, 007 also likes a good thriller and purchases the latest Raymond Chandler at the close of Goldfinger, and in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service displays a ready familiarity with the Nero Wolfe series, written by the equally well-read Rex Stout. It turns out that M too knows of Wolfe. En route to Istanbul in From Russia with Love, Bond enjoys a literary busman’s holiday by reading Eric Ambler’s The Mask of Dimitrios.

One might pause to consider just how do spies respond to fictional rehearsals of their trade? Did 007 snort in derision at Ambler’s accidental hero — himself a crime writer — or nod in recognition at his frustrations and disillusionment? Would he compare the quality of Ambler’s villains with those that he himself routinely faced in the field? Fleming’s villains themselves also appreciate a good book. At the start of From Russia with Love we discover that SMERSH’s chief executioner, Red Grant, likes to unwind by reading P.G. Wodehouse, and no one in the organisation would dare question such a choice.

Literary references and analogies frequently run through Bond’s mind: an allusion to Paradise Lost appears in the short story ‘Risico’, where he is disguised, naturally, as a writer; a line from Ralph Waldo Emerson strikes him in Diamonds are Forever, when he realises that he is sharing a ship with two of the Spangled Mob’s henchmen; he even attempts composing a haiku in You Only Live Twice.

None of the above, read in context, would have found a receptive audience with the likes of Eliot and Sitwell, or indeed among the literary pals of Fleming’s wife Ann. Fleming’s at times uneasy proximity to such circles never influenced the Bond books’ plot or structure, nor determined his initial choice of genre, but it did shape the author’s conception of the ‘literary’ and his recognition of how appreciation of ‘fine’ writing and the ‘right’ kind of books might be used for rhetorical effect, to engender the desired impression of his central character. The literary references in the Bond books are comparable to the furnishing of technical details about cars, dining, drinks, gambling and the like that the author employs to ground his fantastic plots in a recognisable reality — what Kingsley Amis identified as ‘the Fleming effect’. They help to build up Bond’s characterisation in deft, if brief, brushstrokes.

It could be suggested that the spy thriller itself — certainly after Somerset Maugham’s 1928 Ashenden — became the perfect genre with which to explore so many of the anxieties about identity and its representation to which the modernist greats gave expression. Like Eliot’s Prufrock, Bond and his peers are for-ever preparing ‘a face to meet the faces’ that they meet, always working with that lurking uncertainty as to whether they are the hero or the anti-hero of their own life’s narrative. Joseph Conrad had earlier delved into similar territory in his thriller The Secret Agent.

Had Fleming lived to tell of 007’s eventual retirement from the Secret Service we would undoubtedly have witnessed Bond swap his Walther for a pen and become a writer, thus following the career path of previous agents turned authors, W. Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, John le Carré, Stella Rimington and, of course, Fleming himself. He might even have completed Stay Alive!
</blockquote>

This is a refreshing article, since ninety-five percent of everything written about Fleming in the mainstream press is ignorant, reliant on wrong-headed generalizations, and interested only in quote-mining. Mr. Woodcock's article is the exact opposite, and handy rebuttal to those who think Bond is a philistine (and to the Solo reviewer who thought Fleming's Bond would never read Graham Greene).

Bond's literary tastes are really those of Fleming, who admired Greene and was a fan and friend of Raymond Chandler (Fleming later used information learned from Chandler in Goldfinger). He was also a devotee of Stout's work and semi-seriously proposed a Nero Wolfe-James Bond crossover. Lastly, Fleming also liked and admired Ambler, who spoke warmly of Fleming and anthologized "From a View to a Kill" in his anthology To Catch a Spy.

Though Yates, Buchan, and Sapper must have influenced Fleming, he listed his chief influences as being E. Phillips Oppenheim (the now forgotten "prince of storytellers"), Sax Rohmer (Fu Manchu is a clear forerunner of Dr. No), Chandler, and Dashiell Hammett (which accounts for the Bond books having their peculiar blend of classic British thriller tropes and hardboiled sex and violence). Jeremy Duns has also made a good case for Dennis Wheately being a strong influence.

It was a definite pity that Fleming didn't live long enough for Bond to finish Stay Alive! Perhaps a future Bond film will make use of the idea. The screenwriters could easily work in a scene where Bond mentions that he's writing a book but withholds revealing the content and title until the end. By then the audience, eagerly wondering if Bond has written a novel or memoir, might get a chuckle from realizing Bond has actually written a combat manual.

Comments

  • ggl007ggl007 www.archivo007.com Spain, España
    Posts: 2,541
    Thanks, Revelator. Really good and interesting article.

    Actually, that quote from DAF was one of the reasons I started this thread: http://www.mi6community.com/index.php?p=/discussion/7938/flemings-library#Item_10

    Another reason could be to explain what the article tries to do: that Ian Fleming was a really interesting reader and, obviously, that should and is reflected on his work.
  • 007InVT007InVT Classified
    Posts: 893
  • ggl007ggl007 www.archivo007.com Spain, España
    Posts: 2,541
    007InVT wrote:

    Thanks for that, I hadn´t read it!
  • DragonpolDragonpol https://thebondologistblog.blogspot.com
    edited December 2013 Posts: 18,006
    Thanks once again, @Revelator, for making that Spectator article available to us - very much appreciated. You know it's odd, but I had myself planned in my notebook to write an article enitled simply "James Bond as an author" at some point, covering somewhat similar ground, especially the GF Stay Alive! combat manual and the YOLT haiku which gives the book its title. I can now score out that note as this article has covered the theme of James Bond as a writer and his literary influences much better than I probably ever could have. There was one very minor mistake, though - "Tilly Masterson" is mentioned, but of course this was the easier film spelling of her name; she was called "Tilly Masterton" in the original Fleming novel.

    And on your point about Bond mentioing writing a book and leaving the audience to wonder what it was is most excellent, @Revelator. Bond of course posed as a writer of fiction in 'Risico' and its film counterpart FYEO, something Matthew Woodcock alludes to in his excellent article.
  • Samuel001Samuel001 Moderator
    Posts: 13,353
    Thanks @Revelator. Do you have anything else lined up?
  • Posts: 4,622
    007InVT wrote:
    This is a nice read by Biddulph too. Both Biddulph and Woodcock cover off Fleming-Bond's literary references quite well.
    Well done!

  • Posts: 267
    Thank you @Revelator for this post and for your very intelligent assessment of Fleming's influences.
    There is however, one influence I would add, whom is seldom mentioned and was undoubtably the biggest of all. I refer to the late, great Monsieur Jean Bruce.
    Bruce predated Fleming by four years with his prolific creation, Monsieur Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, agent OSS 117 and frankly, there are just so many parallels between OSS 117 and 007 it is a wonder that Fleming wasn't accused of plagiarism. In reality it was probably only the fact that few people read French thrillers back then that saved him!
  • DragonpolDragonpol https://thebondologistblog.blogspot.com
    edited December 2013 Posts: 18,006
    Bentley wrote:
    Thank you @Revelator for this post and for your very intelligent assessment of Fleming's influences.
    There is however, one influence I would add, whom is seldom mentioned and was undoubtably the biggest of all. I refer to the late, great Monsieur Jean Bruce.
    Bruce predated Fleming by four years with his prolific creation, Monsieur Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, agent OSS 117 and frankly, there are just so many parallels between OSS 117 and 007 it is a wonder that Fleming wasn't accused of plagiarism. In reality it was probably only the fact that few people read French thrillers back then that saved him!

    Hopefully we will see an article on these Jean Bruce influences soon (I've not heard of this before) by a French language expert (jeremy Duns, anyone?). Fleming was fluent in French, of course.
  • Posts: 2,904
    Samuel001 wrote:
    Thanks @Revelator. Do you have anything else lined up?

    You're very welcome, and I do have a couple of items in the pipeline...
    Bentley wrote:
    Thank you @Revelator for this post and for your very intelligent assessment of Fleming's influences.
    There is however, one influence I would add, whom is seldom mentioned and was undoubtably the biggest of all. I refer to the late, great Monsieur Jean Bruce.

    I'm ashamed to say that I'm completely unfamiliar with Jean Bruce. Are any of his books available in English?
  • Posts: 267
    Revelator wrote:
    Samuel001 wrote:
    Thanks @Revelator. Do you have anything else lined up?

    You're very welcome, and I do have a couple of items in the pipeline...
    Bentley wrote:
    Thank you @Revelator for this post and for your very intelligent assessment of Fleming's influences.
    There is however, one influence I would add, whom is seldom mentioned and was undoubtably the biggest of all. I refer to the late, great Monsieur Jean Bruce.

    I'm ashamed to say that I'm completely unfamiliar with Jean Bruce. Are any of his books available in English?

    Don't be ashamed @Revelator, not many — outside of France - are familiar with Jean Bruce.
    There is some interesting information about him @ doubleosectionblogspot.co.uk and yes, a selection of his books were published by Corgi in the '60s.
    I read some of them when I was at school and found them to be very thrilling and was struck at the time by the multiple similarities between de La Bath and Bond but attributed them to a French plagiarism. When I discovered the reality of the timelines, I was absolutely gobsmacked!
    Worthy of note; not only did OSS117 beat 007 into print, he also beat him onto the big screen!
    The books were hugely successful in France.
  • DragonpolDragonpol https://thebondologistblog.blogspot.com
    Posts: 18,006
    Bentley wrote:
    Revelator wrote:
    Samuel001 wrote:
    Thanks @Revelator. Do you have anything else lined up?

    You're very welcome, and I do have a couple of items in the pipeline...
    Bentley wrote:
    Thank you @Revelator for this post and for your very intelligent assessment of Fleming's influences.
    There is however, one influence I would add, whom is seldom mentioned and was undoubtably the biggest of all. I refer to the late, great Monsieur Jean Bruce.

    I'm ashamed to say that I'm completely unfamiliar with Jean Bruce. Are any of his books available in English?

    Don't be ashamed @Revelator, not many — outside of France - are familiar with Jean Bruce.
    There is some interesting information about him @ doubleosectionblogspot.co.uk and yes, a selection of his books were published by Corgi in the '60s.
    I read some of them when I was at school and found them to be very thrilling and was struck at the time by the multiple similarities between de La Bath and Bond but attributed them to a French plagiarism. When I discovered the reality of the timelines, I was absolutely gobsmacked!
    Worthy of note; not only did OSS117 beat 007 into print, he also beat him onto the big screen!
    The books were hugely successful in France.

    I'm off now to find those English translations...fascinating stuff for the Bondologist!
  • ggl007ggl007 www.archivo007.com Spain, España
    Posts: 2,541
    The modern films of OSS117 with Jean Dujardin are great!

    But, of course, they are... parodies of Bond! In the first one, Dujardin looks a lot like a young Sean Connery !!
  • Posts: 267
    ggl007 wrote:
    The modern films of OSS117 with Jean Dujardin are great!

    But, of course, they are... parodies of Bond! In the first one, Dujardin looks a lot like a young Sean Connery !!

    @gg1007 - you are right, the movies are fabulous BUT they are not parodies of Bond, they are parodies of Monsieur Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath.
  • ggl007ggl007 www.archivo007.com Spain, España
    Posts: 2,541
    Bentley wrote:
    ggl007 wrote:
    The modern films of OSS117 with Jean Dujardin are great!

    But, of course, they are... parodies of Bond! In the first one, Dujardin looks a lot like a young Sean Connery !!

    @gg1007 - you are right, the movies are fabulous BUT they are not parodies of Bond, they are parodies of Monsieur Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath.
    ... that reminds a lot a top secret British agent we all know...

    I know that he was published before 1953, but even the trailer says "France´s answer to James Bond"
    8-} :D

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k30wCE82640
  • DragonpolDragonpol https://thebondologistblog.blogspot.com
    Posts: 18,006
    Bentley wrote:
    ggl007 wrote:
    The modern films of OSS117 with Jean Dujardin are great!

    But, of course, they are... parodies of Bond! In the first one, Dujardin looks a lot like a young Sean Connery !!

    @gg1007 - you are right, the movies are fabulous BUT they are not parodies of Bond, they are parodies of Monsieur Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath.

    Quite. It's rather a pity they couldn't play the character straight. It must be a French thing.
  • edited December 2013 Posts: 267
    ggl007 wrote:
    Bentley wrote:
    ggl007 wrote:
    The modern films of OSS117 with Jean Dujardin are great!

    But, of course, they are... parodies of Bond! In the first one, Dujardin looks a lot like a young Sean Connery !!

    @gg1007 - you are right, the movies are fabulous BUT they are not parodies of Bond, they are parodies of Monsieur Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath.
    ... that reminds a lot a top secret British agent we all know...

    I know that he was published before 1953, but even the trailer says "France´s answer to James Bond"
    8-} :D

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k30wCE82640

    They brought the answer before the question was ever posed!
    I think OSS117 v 007 deserves its own thread.
    Fleming was probably a better scribe than Bruce (albeit, a lot often gets lost in translation) but there is absolutely no doubt that Bond was modelled on de La Bath and it's a subject of great injustice that this, to my knowledge, was never recognised in any Bondology - we should investigate!
  • DragonpolDragonpol https://thebondologistblog.blogspot.com
    Posts: 18,006
    Yes, it truly is a great injustice, @Bentley. If only someone was on the case...
Sign In or Register to comment.