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Fleming's Seven Deadlier Sins

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#1 Revelator



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Posted 08 April 2015 - 10:10 PM

Published in 1962, The Seven Deadly Sins is a collection of seven essays by seven writers on the seven deadly sins (pride, envy, anger, sloth, covetousness, gluttony and lust). The man who came up with the idea and suggested the writers was none other than Ian Fleming, who wrote the foreword reproduced below.


by Ian Fleming


I have various qualifications for writing an introduction to this series of distinguished and highly entertaining essays.


First of all, I invented the idea of the series when, a couple of years ago, I was still a member of the Editorial Board of the London Sunday Times. This Board meets every Tuesday to comment on the issue of the previous Sunday, discuss the plans for the next issue and put forward longer-term projects.


It is quite a small Board of seven or eight heads of departments—I was Foreign Manager at the time—together with the Editor and the Proprietor, Mr Roy Thomson, and we are all good friends, though at this weekly meeting, beneath the surface of our friendliness, lurk all the deadly sins with the exception of gluttony and lust. Each one of us has pride in our department of the paper; many of us are covetous of the editorial chair; most are envious of the bright ideas put forward by others; anger comes to the surface at what we regard as unmerited criticism, and sloth, certainly in my case, lurks in the wings.


The same pattern is probably followed at all executive meetings in all branches of business. When someone else puts up a bright idea, however useful or profitable it may be to the business concerned, traces at least of Envy, Anger and Covetousness will be roused in his colleagues. Yet, on the occasion when I put forward this particular ‘bright’ idea for the future, I seem to remember nothing but approbation and a genial nodding of heads.


The project was outside my own sphere of action on the paper and I heard nothing more of it until I had left the Sunday Times to concentrate on writing thrillers centered round a member of the British Secret Service called James Bond. So I cannot describe what troubles the Literary Editor ran into in his endeavours to marry the Seven Deadly Sins to seven appropriate authors. So far as I can recall, the marriages I myself had suggested were closely followed, except that I had suggested Mr Malcolm Muggeridge to write on the theme of Anger on the grounds that he is such an extremely angry man. In the event, as you will see, Mr W.H. Auden was the brilliant choice.


My next claim to introduce these essays was my suggestion to Mr Lawrence Hughes, a friend of mine and a Director of William Morrow & Co., that he should publish them in a book. Usually when one makes brilliant suggestions to a publisher, a dull glaze comes-over his eyes and nothing happens. But in this case Larry Hughes was enthusiastic and, despite all kinds of copyright problems, energetically pursued my suggestion and gathered these seven famous English authors together between hard covers—no mean feat if you know anything about copyright and literary agents.


So you might think I could justifiably allow myself a modest indulgence in the deadly sin of Pride. You would be mistaken. I have read and re-read these essays with pleasure and profit, but their moral impact upon me has been uncomfortable. To be precise and truthful, the critical examination of these famous sins by some of the keenest brains of today has led me to the dreadful conclusion that in fact all these ancient sins, compared with the sins of today, are in fact very close to virtues.


To run through the list. I have always admired the Pride of Dame Edith Sitwell, the pride which, with her proudful brothers, has carried this remarkable literary family through battles of opinion and taste reaching back to my youth.


The Covetousness of Cyril Connolly, which he takes off so brilliantly in his piece of fiction, is one of his most endearing qualities and he would be a smaller and less interesting man without it.


The Gluttony for life, food, drink and women of Patrick Leigh-Fermor are the essence of his tremendous zest for everything. Lust? If Christopher Sykes is lustful, may he, and I for the matter of that, long remain so.


Envy has its ugly sides, but if I, as a second son amongst four, had not been envious of my older brother and his achievements I would not have wished all my life to try and emulate him. As for Anger, surely we all need more rather than less of it to combat the indifference, the "I'm all right, Jack" attitudes, of today.


Of all the seven, only Sloth in its extreme form of accidia, which is a form of spiritual suicide and a refusal of joy, so brilliantly examined by Evelyn Waugh, has my wholehearted condemnation, perhaps because in moments of despair I have seen its face.


How drab and empty life would be without these sins, and what dull dogs we all would be without a healthy trace of many of them in our make up! And has not the depiction of these sins and their consequences been the yeast in most great fiction and drama? Could Shakespeare, Voltaire, Balzac, Dostoevsky or Tolstoy have written their masterpieces if humanity had been innocent of these sins? It is almost as if Leonardo, Titian, Rembrandt and Van Gogh had been required to paint without using the primary colours.


The truth, of course, is that generally speaking these Seven Deadly Sins were enumerated by monks for monks, and one can easily see how mischievous and harmful they could be within a monastery.


We do not live in a monastery, but in a great pulsating ant heap, and this brings me back to the moral confusion into which I have been thrown by these essays and which amounts to feeling that there are other and deadlier sins which I would like to see examined by authors of equal calibre in a companion volume to this.


I have made a list of these Seven Deadlier Sins which every reader will no doubt wish to amend, and these are my seven: Avarice, Cruelty, Snobbery, Hypocrisy, Self-righteousness, Moral Cowardice and Malice. If I were to put these modern seven into the scales against the ancient seven I cannot but feel that the weight of the former would bring the brass tray crashing down.


But is this loose thinking? Could it perhaps be argued that if we are free of the ancient seven we shall not fall victim to their modern progeny? I personally do not think so, but it would need better brains than mine and a keener sense of theological morality than I possess to pursue the argument. As a man in the street, I can only express my belief that being possessed of the ancient seven deadly sins one can still go to heaven, whereas to be afflicted by the modern variations can only be a passport to hell.


And by the same token, what about the Seven Deadly Virtues?


What about the anal-eroticism which the psychologists tell us lies at the base of Frugality? How much is Charity worth when it springs from self-interest? Is political acumen a virtue as practised by the Communists? What hell Sociability can be! Where is the line to be drawn between Deference and, not to use a more vulgar, hyphenated word, Sycophancy? Neatness in excess becomes pathological, so does Cleanliness. How often is Chastity a cloak for frigidity?


But I have held you for too long from these wonderful, and each in its different way exciting, essays and I must at all costs avoid that deadliest of all sins, ancient or modern, a sin which is surely more durable than any of those I have enumerated—that of being a Bore.





If you've enjoyed reading this and agree with Fleming's selection, you might be interested to hear that the website Artistic Licence Renewed is planning to run a series of seven articles about Fleming's deadlier sins and how they show up in the Bond novels and short stories. The webmaster and I are trying to think of examples from Fleming's books that involve those sins. So far we've drawn up the following list:


Avarice: Goldfinger cheating for money at canasta and golf plus his gold lust, Drax cheating at cards, Blofeld trying to bribe "Bray," Le Chiffre buying up brothels to use their girls, Von Hammerstein killing the Havelocks to get their house


Cruelty: Le Chiffre's torture of Bond, Largo's torture of Domino, Dr, No's torture course, Masters's revenge on his wife in QoS, Krest beating his wife in THR, Wint and Kidd in DAF


Snobbery: Blofeld in OHMSS of course, Vivienne Michel and Drax both complain about English snobbery, the menu in TB


Self-Righteousness: Goldfinger's rants about smoking and drinking, Dr. No's monologue, Blofeld's self-justification in YOLT, M's health mania in TB, Sender in TLD


Hypocrisy: We drew a blank, but perhaps the Communist statements in FRWL and TMWTGG, maybe Bond bombing the Cuban rebels in QoS, Kristatos in Risico?


Moral Cowardice: Vesper's betrayal?, Bond not helping Krest's wife in THR, Smythe in OP


Malice: M toward Bond in DN, Spang slapping the salon girl and wanting her fired in DAF, the Robber in LALD, Grant's anti-British attitude in FRWL, Drax's hatred of the English


There are obviously more examples to be found, so we'd like to crowd-source the research by picking your brains. Can you name further examples of Fleming's Deadlier Sins? If so, we'd like to hear them and we will credit you in the finished article. Simply respond to this post with your own examples--if we use them we'll credit you in the article under your forum name or any other you specify. So, please have sinful thoughts!