Books & Art

Private Letters From Author Ian Fleming Detail How James Bond Came to Be

Decades-long correspondences between Fleming and his wife are up for auction next month.
IMAGE COURTESY OF SOTHEBY'S LONDON
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The James Bond character has always been synonymous with enigma and charm. His elusive nature, however, is going to unravel slightly with the revelation that Sotheby’s has to offer. In December, private letters written by Agent 007 creator Ian Fleming to his mistress-turned-wife Ann Charteris will go under the gavel. The contents of these letters disclose more than two decades’ worth of correspondence between Fleming and Charteris and they’re vital in learning more about how James Bond came to be.

“James Bond was very much a product of Ian and Ann’s relationship,” says Dr. 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 were 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.”

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There are over 160 letters included in this lot, written across 500 pages. The letters will be sold in a Sotheby’s London online sale on December 3 to 10, for an estimated £200,000 to £300,000, or P13.15 to P19.72 million.

“These letters remain largely unpublished and, in their scope and scale, must surely be an unmatchable record of the life of the author as his fortunes changed: they begin during the war, when he was working in intelligence, cover his post-war forays into journalism, long periods spent in his beloved Jamaica, and his creation of James Bond—one of the most enduring fictional characters of the last 70 years. 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 young Ian Fleming
Photo by COURTESY OF SOTHEBY'S LONDON.
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Fleming was born into an affluent family, his father once part of the conservative party as a member of the parliament. He and Charteris met in 1934 when she was married to Shane, 3rd Baron O’Neill. Fleming worked as a banker in London and was accustomed to a life of parties, affairs, leisurely pursuits, and constant travel. The pair fostered a love affair while still being involved with other people. In one letter, Charteris wrote to her lover: “I long for you even if you whip me because I love being hurt by you and kissed afterward.”

Eventually, they would marry in 1952 and welcomed a son, Caspar, the same year. It was on this year that Casino Royale was written, too. Their marriage, however, was not a fairy tale. They endured jealousies and argued about differences. In one passage, Fleming wrote: “In the present twilight, we are hurting each other to an extent that makes life hardly bearable.”

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Fleming mentions his famous golden typewriter in this letter.
Photo by COURTESY OF SOTHEBY'S LONDON.

Fleming was known to have spent many of the post-war years and winters in Jamaica. These were opportunities not just to write a new novel, but to write to his wife, as well. While in Goldeneye, he once wrote: “Meanwhile the book is galloping along. I have written a third of it in one week—a chapter a day. 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. A beautiful spy called Titania Romanova is about to appear.”

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A letter written from Goldeneye talks about how Russia fits into the James Bond plot
Photo by COURTESY OF SOTHEBY'S LONDON.

Apart from insight into the novels, the letters provide an insider peek at their high society lifestyle. Some people thought that Ian Fleming lived a life of far greater interest than his creation did. While he did not have a coveted career in espionage, he traveled extensively, rubbed elbows with the likes of Vivien Leigh or Francis Bacon, and had experiences that inspire that many adventures that Bond would live through. At one point, he was sailing to New York on board the Queen Elizabeth, where he would edit proofs for Live and Let Die.

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