Fleming’s Men

Bond always mistrusted short men. They grew up from childhood with an inferiority complex. All their lives they would strive to be big — bigger than the others who had teased them as a child… One could certainly feel the repressions.

Goldfinger, p. 25

Ian Lancaster Fleming was the second son of Evelyn and Valentine Fleming. Val, or “Mokie,” as his children called him affectionately, was a widely respected conservative politician and army captain, and a friend of Winston Churchill. Val was killed on the front lines when Ian was just 9 years old. Eager for her sons to continue the noble Fleming tradition, Evelyn evoked their late father as a masculine role-model. The boys boys would finish their nightly prayers asking to grow up like Mokie, their achivements and failures alike forever compared against his legacy. “Val became the paragon of manly virtues… [his] memory became a psychological weapon [Eve used] to beat her sons… Val’s uncomplicated Lowland stoicism became the code by which she brought up her boys” (Lycett 12).

Fleming would thus come of age with only the idealized — and unrealistic — image of what a man was supposed to be. Trained under this unusual regimen, he would seek the approval of many pseudo-father figures over the course of his career: former spy Alban Ernan Forbes Dennis, Reuters boss Sir Roderick, wartime superior Admiral Godfrey, and owner of the Sunday Times Lord Kemsley among others.

Curse of the Second Son

Ian’s brother Peter, just one year older, was a talented and considerably more obedient student. Peter, who by age 10 was “not only immensely successful but also his acknowledged hero and the head of his family,” stacked up against his Father’s image quite nicely, and would become Ian’s second, unattainable masculine role model (Pearson 24).

During his years at Eton, Ian was fairly popular and a record-setting athlete, but he believed intellectual pursuits, such as writing, were his brother’s domain. By the 1940s, Peter had traveled the world and established a literary career. Following their time together in World War II, Ian was still a lifelong resident of his brother’s shadow, and was still fixated on his role as a “second son trying to compensate for a brilliant elder brother,” by the time he published Casino Royale (Fleming, as quoted in Pearson 26).

Black and white photo portrait of Peter Fleming
Fig. 1. Photo of Peter Fleming taken by Howard Coster.

“The truth was that although he had long pretended to despise intellectuals, Fleming had never overcome his longing for a resounding intellectual success.”

John Pearson, in The Life of Ian Fleming, p. 118

As the former wife of a financier and later of newspaper tycoon Lord Rothermere, Ann Fleming was “London’s leading hostess,” and consorted with distinguished literati of the day, among them Noel Coward, Isaiah Berlin, and Lucian Freud. The men she mingled with were more likely to “display their learning and to sharpen their wits” than to “[confess] failure or weakness” (Wagman-Geller; Harling 240). Anne’s high standards and dominating personality made her rather like Eve Fleming, which was perhaps one of the reasons Ian was drawn to her. But just like his mother, Ian’s first wife was both difficult to impress* and frequently a dinner hostess for her intellectual circle, which gave Ian suitable reason to spend time away from home. Fleming’s inferiority complex would soon become apparent.

* “No doubt [Anne] would swap a thousand James Bonds for one Stephen Dedalus,” writes Robert Harling [Vogue]. Anne also refused to have her name appear in the dedication of the first Bond novel, not wanting to be associated with such “pornographic” work (Wagman-Geller).

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