BOOKS Bond creator had dark side
Love letters reveal Fleming’s random cruelty to women
It’s good to be reminded that, contrary to what Philip Larkin wrote, sex didn’t begin in 1963. A cache of passionate love letters written in the mid-1930s by a youthful Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, to an Austrian girlfriend, Edith Morpurgo, has surfaced and is being sold by a London book dealer.
Written partly in German, with alternating hints of tenderness, sensitivity and random cruelty, they confirm Fleming to be a fullblooded heterosexual with a penchant for sado-masochistic sex. “If I were to say ‘love,’” he writes, “you would only argue, and then I would have to whip you and you would cry and I don’t want that.”
His lover, Morpurgo, was born in Salzburg in November 1912, the daughter of a Salzburg businessman. After the German invasion and annexation of Austria in March 1938, she and most of her immediate family fled to Amsterdam, where she married and had two children. But after the German invasion of Holland, she was deported to Auschwitz, where she was murdered in August 1942.
She was one of several women of German or Austrian Jewish extraction whom Fleming knew and loved. He once said his ideal female was not a pert nymphette, but “thirtyish, Jewish, a companion who wouldn’t need education in the arts of love. She would aim to please, have firm flesh and kind eyes.”
He first came across such accommodating creatures in Austria in the late ’20s after being sent there to finish his schooling. He was excited by the sexual freedom to be found in inter-war Germany and Austria.
During the decade between arriving in Austria in 1929 and taking on the plum job of personal assistant to the director of naval intelligence in 1939, Fleming grew up. He came to love women and understand politics. These formative years had a lasting influence not only on him personally but also on his later literary output.
By 1929 his mother had become so distressed by her son’s waywardness that she arranged for him to go to a strange educational establishment called The Tennerhof in Kitzbuhel, Austria. A finishing school for rich problem kids, this was run according to the precepts of Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler by Ernan Forbes Dennis, an Englishman who had worked for MI6 in Vienna, and his U.S. wife Phyllis Bottome, who was a novelist.
Together, this couple played a significant role in the development of Fleming’s character. He himself wrote little about this period, but it is clear Forbes Dennis introduced him to the world of espionage, while Bottome certainly encouraged him to write imaginative stories in a style that later became familiar.
Equally important was that the troubled Fleming was at last able to break free from the attentions of his domineering mother and discover his real self, whether he was hiking and skiing in the mountains, or enjoying the company of the local girls, whose enthusiasm for sex was very different from those in England.
Fleming spent periods at the universities of Munich and Geneva, and tried his hand as a journalist at Reuters. However, coming from a banking family, Fleming wanted to make money and joined a small merchant bank called Cull and Company, where the presiding financial genius was Hermann Marx, a relation of the founder of communism.
Much of Fleming’s correspondence with Morpurgo was written from Cull’s offices in Throgmorton Street. Their relationship seems to have started when she visited London the previous year. It was intensely physical and, in modern terms, abusive. In one letter, Fleming writes seemingly playfully about having to whip her, and adds: “I would also like to hurt you because you have earned it and in order to tame you like a little wild animal.”
Over the years, much has been made about the origins of James Bond in Fleming’s wartime years in naval intelligence. Taken with similar material, these letters suggest his time in the Germanspeaking world was significant.
Although the James Bond novels were set in the Cold War, their genesis can be traced more confidently to the prewar years, when Fleming himself was travelling around Europe as a freelance would-be spy, learning about the sort of divided loyalties and treachery he would write about in his first novel Casino Royale. Equally significantly, the casual attitude to sex that Fleming picked up was replicated in James Bond. Fleming’s potential for cruelty toward women is found not just in 007’s behaviour but also in the histories of sexual abuse manifest in the backstories of his characters such as Pussy Galore and Honey Ryder.
But he (and Bond) also had a tender side, often hidden or at least forgotten in the novels. As he wrote to Morpurgo: “I’d like to sleep with you just once and do nothing to you, just wrap my arms around you and hold you tight and find you there when I wake up.”
A recent biopic by the BBC called Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond, starred Dominic Cooper, explored the writer’s early years, which has been further illuminated by the discovery of a cache of love letters.
A collection of first-edition copies of James Bond novels. His complex attitude toward women is on abundant display in his spy series.
Fleming’s love letters reveal an attitude that would be thought abusive by today’s standards.