Damsels in Distress ; in an Extract from His New Book on James Bond, Henry Chancellor Explains Why Ian Fleming's Heroines Arouse Desire " and Pity

By Chancellor, Henry | The Independent (London, England), October 18, 2005 | Go to article overview
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Damsels in Distress ; in an Extract from His New Book on James Bond, Henry Chancellor Explains Why Ian Fleming's Heroines Arouse Desire " and Pity


Chancellor, Henry, The Independent (London, England)


Every fairy story needs a villain, a hero and a girl who needs rescuing. Ian Fleming's James Bond novels are no exception. The girls and the sex are an integral part of Fleming's clever cocktail but, despite their fabulous names and their gorgeous looks, the Bond girls are the least interesting ingredient in the mix. They become important because Bond, through his idiosyncratic combination of chivalry and lust, is inevitably drawn towards them " first as St George to save them from the dragon, and then to take his reward in the bedroom.

At first sight, these girls are pin-ups. But on closer inspection Bond girls often have some kind of imperfection. For instance, Honeychile Rider, who strides out of the waves naked but for a belt with a hunting knife strapped to her thigh, has a broken nose. Domino Vitali limps because one of her legs is an inch shorter than the other. These blemishes on an otherwise perfect form endear the girls to Bond, as does the other characteristic that they all share: vulnerability. Bond girls tend to carry a lot of emotional baggage, even if at first they seem worldly and self-sufficient, if a little nave. Tiffany Case, Pussy Galore and Honeychile Rider turn out to have been raped as teenagers and to have an aversion to men. Even Tracy di Vicenzo, Bond's wife-to-be, is first seen trying to commit suicide in the English Channel. These girls are alone: they hardly ever have any family to help them out, and once they are thrust blinking into the hostile world it uses them for its own purpose. Bond can see their 'childish sweetness beneath the authority and blatant sex appeal', but he does not take advantage of it. He waits for the girl to come to him. She usually does.

Like so much of James Bond, these fantasy girls originate in Fleming's own life, and were made perfect through the prism of his imagination. 'I think seduction has now replaced courtship,' Fleming once told an interviewer: 'the direct approach to sex has become the norm.'

At first critics were polite about the girls and the sex, but as the decade wore on and the austerity of the immediate post-war years made way for the new 'age of affluence' Ian was accused of tapping into the degenerate zeitgeist of the 1950s. According to some, the new prosperity had created a morally vacuous society akin to the last days of Rome. The 1960s is always thought of as the age of permissiveness, but the seeds of this licence were sown a decade earlier, when sex became more prominently used in advertising, films became more 'daring', and novels became ever 'franker'. Sex was, in fact, something of a national preoccupation; in 1959 the 'Public Morality Council' led a campaign against the rise of strip clubs in London.

Two self-appointed guardians of national standards, the critics Paul Johnson and Bernard Bergonzi, accused Fleming's James Bond of setting a thoroughly modern, thoroughly bad example with girls who should know better. If this was so, and Fleming was promoting a new degenerate society, then it was entirely accidental, as in truth, Ian Fleming had no idea what youth in the 1950s was up to.

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