08 March 2011

Ian Fleming. Rebel without a cause...2

Further extracts from a fascinating letter from Fleming's first biographer John Pearson discovered in a copy of the book. It was to a friend, probably a dealer in art. It presents an interesting take on the great man. Even as a book collector Fleming seems to have been ambiguous in his commitment. He described his collection as 'one of the foremost collections of scientific and political thought in the world...' but later lost interest in it except as an investment and hedge against inflation. When after the war an American dealer (I like to think it was the formidable El Dieff) asked him what he would take for it he mentioned a sum of £100,000, a gigantic and unrealistic sum at the time. Pearson writes:
"He took up with various intellectuals who could be charmed by his looks and by his manners, but without ever doing anything as infra-dig as to become an intellectual himself . The intellect was brother Peter's territory. And however much he muttered on about the dreary old City and its weary old bankers, he was shrewd enough to keep in with his own little group of bankers and stock-brokers and to draw his ₤3,000 a year from his firm at Lloyds until the end of the war… when he charmed his way into Kemsley Newspapers...Even with his appalling mother he never quite had the courage to tell the old witch where she got off. Her hold over him through Papa's will was far to strong for that. Socially he always pretended, in his off-hand way , to be far more O.K. than he was...

I'm saying all this...not because I want to be snide about him but because I think that this is the answer to your query about his rebelliousness .It's also the key to a considerable area of his personality and to much of the success of his books.

For he is one of the finest examples ...of the rebel snob. He was the child who won't eat his ice-cream because Nanny won't give him enough of it. And it was this that made him the perfect go-between between the old English snob world of the Bond books and the new status-conscious masses who became his favourite audience. He was really mocking something he loved, exposing something he valued. This was where his rebelliousness led him...the end was very sad and very ironic , as it usually is ...for such ambivalent creatures, although he did die where he wanted to [at a golf club] the Royal St. George's with a clubhouse full of thoroughly nice upper-class Englishmen to mourn his memory. I often wonder what would have happened to him in the French Revolution. Somehow I don't think he'd have lost his head.

I think this is more or less fair. Maybe not. "
That concludes the letter but in the course of researching this I found much about Fleming as a book collector and also as a poet who self published a book at the age of twenty. He appears to have destroyed every copy. This black tulip was called The Black Daffodil. If a copy surfaced it would be worth a fortune...Will post something on this with speculation on where a copy might be found and also deal with Fleming's encounters with the Great Beast (Crowley) said to be the basis of the villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale. [Pic above is of Fleming as a student at Eton College.]


Edwin Moore said...

Fascinating stuff again. Fleming sent Norman Lewis to interview Hemingway in Cuba - if only he has signed a book for Lewis to give to Hemingway which Lewis had doodled on while travelling and which Hemingway had then annotated.

Must have a look in Maureen's!

Anonymous said...

I second Edwin on your Fleming stuff. Surely some scholar will be going nuts over this particular letter. Have you devalued it and lost yourself big bucks by your extremely generous quoting from it?

Either way, it is a great insight. Perhaps you could recoup some of the 'loss' by a trip to "Maureen's" as Edwin suggests. I am sure there must be something else like, say, early 19th century watercolours lurking in some dark corner of the one-time slightly dusty basement. There again, perhaps no longer.....