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Evolution of James Bond charted in Ian Fleming's letters to wife Ann

Published 12th November 2019
Credit: The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sothebys
Evolution of James Bond charted in Ian Fleming's letters to wife Ann
Written by Rob Picheta, CNN
Revealing letters sent from Ian Fleming to his socialite wife Ann (formerly Charteris) -- in which the author discusses his creation of James Bond, gossips about fellow members of high society and reflects on their intense and volatile love life -- have been unveiled ahead of an auction in London.
The letters chart two decades in the lives of the couple, encompassing their reactions to Fleming's celebrity status and highlighting the extent to which the legendary 007 spy character was inspired by the author's own life.
"Meanwhile the book is galloping along. I have written a third of it in one week -- a chapter a day," Fleming wrote while penning "From Russia With Love" from his GoldenEye home in Jamaica.
"I expect I shall get stuck soon but to date it does well and interests me. The first half is about Russia and that has always interested me. They have decided to murder Bond," he writes.
The letters will be auctioned next month.
The letters will be auctioned next month. Credit: Sothebys
Fleming also details how a friend named Blanche Blackwood gave him a small boat, which "is very good for the reef and I have christened OCTOPUSSY" -- a moniker he eventually re-used as the name of one of his final Bond stories.
The series includes more than 160 letters over 500 pages, and is expected to sell for more than £200,000 ($260,000) when it is auctioned by Sotheby's in London next month.
Elsewhere in the letters, the author and former intelligence officer name checks some of the celebrity visitors he had at GoldenEye, where he would retreat annually to write a Bond novel.
"Truman Capote has come to stay. Can you imagine a more incongruous playmate for me. On the heels of a telegram he came hustling and twittering along with his tiny face crushed under a Russian Commissars uniform hat," he writes at one point, according to a press release from the auction house.
As interest in Fleming's books grew, the author dismissed a proposal for a TV adaptation as "interesting but no gold mine at this stage."
After a trip to Hollywood, however, he wrote: "People really seem to be after my books ... its as usual a question of crossing fingers and waiting for someone to pry them apart and force some dollars between them."
But the collection also reveals Fleming's isolation and jealousy over the life of his wife Ann, a member of high society after her previous marriages to Daily Mail newspaper owner Lord Rothermere and her affairs with politicians including Labour Party leader Hugh Gaitskell.
"There is no one else in my life. There is a whole cohort in yours," Fleming writes.
"I envy you your life of parties and 'the mind' and you envy I suppose my life of action and the fun I get from my books ... I am hopeless and like a caged beast in drawing and dining rooms and there is nothing I can do about it."
"In the present twilight, we are hurting each other to an extent that makes life hardly bearable," he adds as he reflects on the pair's marriage.
"James Bond was very much a product of Ian and Ann's relationship," said Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby's Specialist in Books and Manuscripts.
"It is no coincidence that Ian wrote his first Bond novel in the same year they married, both as an outlet for his libido and imagination, and also in an attempt to make money for a woman who was used to being unthinkingly rich."
"These letters remain largely unpublished and, in their scope and scale, must surely be an unmatchable record of the life of the author as his fortunes changed," Heaton adds.
"As well as recording a relationship with an extraordinary erotic charge, this correspondence charts the meteoric rise of Bond and paints a vivid picture of high society living in the post-war world."

A volatile relationship

The couple first met in 1934 when Ann was married to Lord O'Neill. It would be almost 20 years until she and Fleming would marry, despite being lovers for much of this time.
Ann married Lord Rothermere -- real name Esmond Harmsworth -- in 1945.
Fleming also had a number of girlfriends during this time. He and Ann eventually married in 1952.
Fleming's own various affairs were well-known, and Ann picks up on a comment the author apparently made in one of her letters. "You mention 'bad old bachelor days' -- the only person you stopped sleeping with when they ceased was me!" she writes.
Ian and Ann Fleming together.
Ian and Ann Fleming together. Credit: Daily Mail/Shutterstock
That animosity was a far cry from the early letters between the pair, which referenced sadomasochism that remained a part of their intense relationship.
"I long for you even if you whip me because I love being hurt by you and kissed afterwards," Ann writes in one letter.
The correspondence also captures their reaction to the loss of their first child, a girl who was conceived during Ann's marriage to Lord Rothermere. The child was born prematurely and died after only eight hours in 1948.
"I have nothing to say to comfort you. After all this travail and pain it is bitter. I can only send you my arms and my love and all my prayers," Fleming wrote to his lover after the tragedy.
The letters also reveal intimate details about the couple and the longing they felt to be together.
Ann writes in one letter: "I wish a fairy would arrive with a wand and make everything alright, give Esmond a perfect wife and put me in your bed with a raw cowhide whip in my hand so as I can keep you well behaved for forty years."
But the difficulties of their affair, which appeared to exist as an open secret in London's high society, was clear when Ann added: "It is all over London that E is not going to tolerate us any longer."
During their marriage Fleming wrote 14 James Bond books, drawing plenty of inspiration from his own time in Britain's Naval Intelligence Division and his career as a journalist.
He died in 1964 following a heart attack. Ann died in 1981.
The letters will be auctioned as part of Sotheby's online English Literature, History, Rock and Pop, Children's Books and Illustrations sale, which will run from December 3 to 10.