If you were to name the spiritual home of James Bond, you might say London, Jamaica, or possibly Scotland. What about France? The country certainly has a good claim. Two of Bond's adventures – Casino Royale and 'From a View to a Kill' - are set entirely in the country (save for a brief return to London for M's briefing), and Bond passes through France in two others, Goldfinger and On Her Majesty's Secret Service. What's more, Bond knows a thing or two about French food and wine, especially Champagne, has good command of the language, even down to the vernacular, and, as a youth, lost his virginity in Paris.
The connections between James Bond and France, as well as between the country and Ian Fleming, are explored in La France de Fleming: James Bond, une passion française (2017, Le Temps Editeur), a new book by French academic and Bond aficionado, Pierre-Oliver Lombarteix. The author reminds us that Fleming's relationship with France began very early. Many of the books Fleming is likely to have read in his childhood – by Oppenheim, Le Queux or Buchan – are set in France. His mother, Eve, had French ancestry, his grandmother, Kate, adopted a French girl, Sybil Mayor, and tragically, his father died in northern France during the First World War.
While rarely seeing action himself during the Second World War, Ian Fleming directed operations that were based in France, and he witnessed the Allied raid of German positions in Dieppe. After the war, Fleming frequently visited France, and, on the eve of the publication of Casino Royale, drove to Marseille to meet one of his heroes, the underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau.
It is little wonder, then, that the Bond novels would become imbued with the essence of Fleming’s experiences of France. His visit to Marseille alone would leave its mark on two novels, Live and Let Die and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and the books would include many more elements of France. Some of Fleming’s heroines have French origins. Solitaire’s real name is Simone Latrelle, Vivienne Michel is French-Canadian, and Tracy – La Comtesse Teresa di Vincenzo – is the daughter of a French crime lord. As for the villains, Mr Big is half French and Le Chiffre is French by culture, if not birth. Several chapters title are in French or incorporate French terms, and there are many occurrences of French in the text besides gastronomic references. As Lombarteix suggests in his study, French is the second language of the Bond books.
La France de Fleming is an interesting and insightful read. It explains why the French continue to have a love affair with the novels (and films) of James Bond, and reminds us that Bond is a global character, a fictional hero for everyone. Lombarteix’s book also reminds us that there exists some excellent Bond scholarship that is not in English, which provides a different and exciting perspective on the Bond phenomenon. An essential addition to the literary Bond fan’s library.