BOOKS Bond cre­ator had dark side

Love letters re­veal Flem­ing’s ran­dom cru­elty to women

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - ANDREW LYCETT

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.

Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Im­ages

A collection of first-edi­tion copies of James Bond nov­els. His com­plex at­ti­tude to­ward women is on abun­dant dis­play in his spy se­ries.

Cal­gary Herald /files

Flem­ing’s love letters re­veal an at­ti­tude that would be thought abu­sive by to­day’s stan­dards.

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