James Bond is really just a gent and a romantic standard 27 September 2013
Should Bond girls be referred to as Bond women? The issue was raised by William Boyd at this week’s launch at the Dorchester of his novel, Solo, the latest “continuation” product commissioned by Ian Fleming’s estate to zap yet more lucrative life into 007. “It seems to me that he wants a relationship, not just casual sex,” Boyd opined, although he inexplicably fails to include a scene in Solo where Bond gives a woman a foot massage, listens to her talk about her dreams, or helps her decide which dress to wear to a party.
The author makes a fair point, though. The Bond of Fleming’s books falls sincerely in love at least three times by my reckoning, with Vesper Lynd, Tiffany Case and Tracy Vincenzo. You could make a plausible argument to include a fourth girl — sorry, woman — in that line-up: Kissy Suzuki, with whom Bond settles into a life of happy domesticity and who he eventually impregnates, albeit thanks in large part to a severe head trauma.
In the novel Dr No he is a model of decorum with Honeychile Ryder — who would become the prototype for the cinematic Bond girl — until she bosses him into bed on the last page. In From Russia with Love he is deeply troubled to find himself effectively cast as a gigolo with Tatiana Romanova. Bond would probably regard himself as an old-fashioned romantic and a gentleman, even though he muses — repellently, for contemporary readers — that sex with Vesper would always have “the sweet tang of rape”, effectively buys his bleak first night with Tracy by paying off her gambling debts, and views a lesbian as a challenge.
By contrast to the films, the women in the Bond books tend to be resourceful, independent and strong, often having overcome some sort of sexual trauma — a reflection of the formidable females Fleming knew in both war and peace, with a measure of his dodgy sadomasochistic fantasies stirred in. Fleming’s Bond may be a hyper-heterosexual ogre but his relationships are more complicated and nuanced than mere rutting. Female characters in the films include an astronaut and a nuclear physicist but they’re afforded less respect and personality than the dippy Solitaire in the novel of Live and Let Die.
So Boyd hit the nail on the head. James Bond’s women were always women until the films infantilised them. It’s slightly ironic that the females in Solo are so lame. But as the journalist Giles Coren pointed out, Bond’s love interests in Skyfall — the most successful British film ever — are a former teenage prostitute who is killed immediately after Bond shags her, and a fellow-agent who can’t shoot straight and decides that she’s better off as his secretary. Sorry, girls.