[Ian told me] about his plans for writing the first one (Casino Royale), which he deliberately intended to be exciting, successful, lucrative, and, as he scornfully remarked, not in the least “literary.” … They have certainly proved successful and lucrative, and no one (except, perhaps, Kingsley Amis) could possibly contend that they were “literary.”
The Bond novels are more often viewed as escapist fantasy than straight literature or character study, but the enduring legacy and widespread popularity of James Bond as an icon are a sign the world takes him very seriously (fig. 1). Fleming’s experience gives his novels an authentic flair which may serve to neutralize the fairly unrealistic portrayals of women. The “Bond girl” and 007 himself remain influential cultural icons, and Fleming’s penchant for particulars, from cigarette brands to cocktail recipes, loans Bond to fan emulation. Did Fleming intend his character as a masculine ideal to strive towards?
Feminist studies on the subject — such as the work of Christine Bold and Robert Caplen — particularly on Bond girls in the original literature, have emerged only relatively recently, despite the fact Fleming’s works “foreground women as the enabling mechanism of the spy’s fictional universe” (Bold 171). Andrew Lycett’s biography Ian Fleming, published in 1995, has rekindled scholarly interest in Fleming and his works, providing perhaps the most comprehensive biographical source since the work of John Pearson and Kingsley Amis in the 1960s.
Why study “escapist” popular entertainment like James Bond? In particular, the novels
- provide a window into the 1950s/60s Cold War Britain zeitgeist, and
- give us insight into the inception, influence, and intentions of a lasting social icon.