OVERPAID, OVERSEXED, AND OVER THERE:

JAMES BOND IN AMERICA

Dr. James Byatt
University of St Andrews

 

Date:        June 4, 2014 (Wednesday)
Time:        11:00 am
Venue:     Seminar Room (Rm. 745, Run Run Shaw Tower),

                 Centennial Campus, HKU

*All are welcome. No registration is required.

 

Abstract:

“America’s a civilized country. More or less.”
(Diamonds are Forever, p. 24)

James Bond, one of the most globally recognisable characters in the history of literature, was the product of a nation emerging victorious from its second major conflict in little more than a quarter of a century. In theory, Britain should have been a country comfortable in its identity, with another successful defence of its borders to its credit. Yet the late intervention of America in the Second World War, and particularly its game-changing acts of closure in August 1945, brought about a dramatic, if not wholly unexpected, shift in the global power dynamic, situating the US as the dominant force of the post-war era. As an antidote to the anticlimactic aftermath of the war, Ian Fleming created a character intended to perpetuate what James Chapman has termed a “nationalist fantasy”, one who stood resistant to the changes taking place on the world stage by continuing to represent Britain as the leading enforcer of military decency, moral values and good taste. From the outset, the Anglo-American relationship was, perhaps inevitably, very much a key theme in Fleming’s novels. From Casino Royale, the debut work from 1953, in which Bond is assisted by the affable, resource-rich, but conspicuously subordinate CIA operative Felix Leiter, through Live and Let Die, which in part pits 007 against an African-American community, to Diamonds are Forever, which draws on stereotypes of the Chicago gangster and the Western gunslinger for its villains, Fleming found ways to criticise American culture while simultaneously exploiting its commercial potential. Borrowing liberally from the transatlantic noir tradition, Diamonds are Forever prompted Raymond Chandler to comment that “[t]he scene is almost entirely American, and it rings true to an American. I am unaware of any other writer who has accomplished this”, highlighting Fleming’s intimate awareness not only of the landscape of the US, but also of its character. This talk will look back over some of Fleming’s transatlantic set-pieces, with a view to evaluating his vision of the “special relationship”, a vision which is steeped in ambiguity and paradox, demonstrating at once both his reverence and his disdain toward the new global superpower.

 


Last updated: 12 December 2014