High-society sadomasochism: James Bond creator’s ‘extraordinary’ letters to be sold

More than 160 letters written over 20 years shine a light on Ian Fleming’s married life

James Bond creator: Ian Fleming. Photograph © The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s

James Bond creator: Ian Fleming. Photograph © The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s

 

An extraordinary stash of letters that shine a light on the tangled relationship between the James Bond creator, Ian Fleming, and his wife, Ann, from their intense and secret affair to the bitter end of their marriage, are to appear at auction.

Sotheby’s is selling more than 160 letters between the couple, written over 20 years. Gabriel Heaton, a specialist in books and manuscripts at the auction house, says the letters in their scope and scale provide what “must surely be an unmatchable record of the life of the author as his fortunes changed”.

They also provide insight into the rise of Bond. Heaton says it was no coincidence that Fleming wrote his first Bond novel, Casino Royale, in the year of his marriage. It was “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”.

In one of the letters Ian Fleming writes: ‘I like you best in your white dress in the evening. I like you most when you say sluttish things with a hard laugh’

In one of the letters Ian Fleming writes: “I like you best in your white dress in the evening. I like you most when you say sluttish things with a hard laugh.”

Ann Fleming, nee Charteris, was born into British aristocracy and married wealthy men. Her first husband was Shane O’Neill, the third Baron O’Neill. After his death in action, in 1944, she married the newspaper magnate Esmond Harmsworth, the second Viscount Rothermere.

During both marriages she and Fleming were lovers, an intense relationship that had sadomasochistic elements. “I long for you even if you whip me because I love being hurt by you and kissed afterwards,” Ann once wrote to Ian.

In 1948 Ann became pregnant with Ian’s child, a girl who was a month premature and lived only eight hours.

Ann Fleming. Photograph ©The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s
Ann Fleming. Photograph ©The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s

The collection includes a number of sad and gentle letters written by Ian on Gleneagles stationery shortly after he played golf with Rothermere, the cuckolded husband. In one letter he writes: “I have nothing to say to comfort you. After all this travail and pain it is bitter. I can only send you my arms and my love and all my prayers.”

Fleming had numerous flings and affairs with other women, and when the couple finally married, in 1952, that was never likely to stop. Ann once wrote to Ian: “You mention ‘bad old bachelor days’ – the only person you stopped sleeping with when they ceased was me!”

A letter from Ian written on BOAC airline stationery reads: “In the present twilight, we are hurting each other to an extent that makes life hardly bearable.”

Heaton says the letters are packed with stories of high society, travel, love of nature and gossip. “They are quite something. It has been a real treat,” he says. “They are an extraordinary read because Ian Fleming is pretty much incapable of writing a dull sentence.”

‘Truman Capote has come to stay. Can you imagine a more incongruous playmate for me. He came hustling and twittering along with his tiny face crushed under a Russian Commissar’s hat’

Fleming wrote all of the Bond novels at Goldeneye, his house in Jamaica, a place visited by many of Ann’s remarkable circle of friends. The artist Lucian Freud, for example, and the British Labour Party leader Hugh Gaitskell, with whom she had a long affair.

There were also surprising visitors. “Truman Capote has come to stay,” Ian writes. “Can you imagine a more incongruous playmate for me. On the heels of a telegram he came hustling and twittering along with his tiny face crushed under a Russian Commissars’ uniform hat [...] he had just arrived from Moscow.”

The letters consist of more than 500 typed and handwritten pages, at least three written on endpapers torn from books. Two of the letters from Ann are written on the back of a gin-rummy card and a hospital temperature chart.

They will be offered in Sotheby’s online literature sale between December 3rd and 10th and come with an estimate of £200,000-300,000, or about €235,000-€350,000.

It was important to keep them together, says Heaton. “They are much more than the sum of their parts. The correspondence as a whole is far more substantial and interesting and revealing and exciting than simply an accumulation of individual letters.” – Guardian