“He said it and meant it, “Goodnight. You’re an angel.” At the same time, he knew, deep down, that love from Mary Goodnight, or from any other woman, was not enough for him. It would be like taking “a room with a view”. For James Bond, the same view would always pall.
-The Man with the Golden Gun, Ian Fleming
Then what of this last paragraph of this last book? There are interpretations abundant. Likening Mary Goodnight to an angel coheres with the religious metaphors already considered; Goodnight is SIS, she is one of those amongst the gods whom Bond now rejoins. Additionally, the entire paragraph is possibly a remembrance of Tracy Bond, and we read “from any other woman…” as “from any other woman but Tracy….” That would be consistent with the book’s place at the conclusion of the closing trilogy, and yet the argument lacks conviction. Golden Gun is a book notable for the absence of Bond casting his mind back. To do so at the end seems out of character for the new, “cleansed” Bond of this new, dirty world. Bond has been returned to his initial silhouette, and will be coloured anew by the changed world.
Are we then to read “any other woman…” as “any woman…”? If it is intended to refer to Tracy, why not mention her? Not a particularly original reading, perhaps, but is Golden Gun the Bond book in which Fleming examines homosexuality?
Examining Fleming’s attitudes to homosexuality in his earlier books, his opinion is clear. Wint and Kidd are portrayed as soulless, cringing and flawed psychopaths. However sadistic they are as killers, their flaws undermine them and render them no match for Bond. Rosa Klebb is fundamentally horrific, and it’s interesting to see how Fleming exposes her horror to his reader. We are told about her skills as a violent torturer, but such tortures happen offstage. With the shorthand that his bigotry allows him, Fleming makes her one terrible act not a killing, but her attempt to seduce Tatiana, and he makes it a deliberately disgusting incident. Additionally, Bond is sorry, but has no time, for Tilly Masterton, albeit that he makes time to “cure” Pussy Galore, which is most kind of him. In Old Bond World, homosexuals are deformed or disgusting or damaged or die, and often a combination of the four.
And then, in the New World, there’s Scaramanga. It’s a curious thing, but Fleming’s major villains are generally sexless. Save for noting that the Thunderball Blofeld had not been known to sleep with anyone of either sex, it’s rare to see a comment about the libido of any of the main antagonists, even when Fleming is at his most descriptive about their background. Le Chiffre, Mr Big, Drax, General G, Dr No and Goldfinger escape substantial personal revelation. That may be just as well, because they’re physical grotesques, but until Blofeld and Irma Bunt, more grotesques, we have no villainous coupling. Even then, however vile it is, it’s incidental. With Scaramanga, Fleming is making the villain’s sexuality a specific character point. He is making it relevant to the tale.
But then, where does it go? What does he do with it? At the end of the tale, we have a shoot-out; Bond survives, and will wander off with the girl. The dossier on Scaramanga at the start of the book, assessing him as homosexual with a pronounced sexual drive, albeit not a noted whistler, does not appear to be correct in its conclusion. There is no explicit incident in the book to illustrate this defining character point, and as it stands, it appears to be a jarringly irrelevant revelation.
As ever, subtext. As ever, imagery. As ever, perhaps more by accident than design, there is plenty in Golden Gun to suggest that Fleming is still capable of playing games with his readers and subverting his own hero. This is not the ferociously, and tersely, negative Fleming of the earlier books. There are incidents and concepts in Golden Gun to suggest that Fleming is obsessed with, and intrigued by, homosexuality enough to even cast his hero in a new light. This is all pre-Wolfenden, and the implicit must remain so.
Examine the scene at 3 and a half Love Lane. We are told that Scaramanga is upstairs with a woman, albeit that we never see the woman, and Bond flirts with a girl. All’s well in the world. Scaramanga’s entrance changes things wholesale. The scene then becomes solely about the two men, the girl is largely forgotten until the end, and we have one man hiring another man in a brothel whilst one waves his gun about and starts shooting off, to impress. The gun’s notoriety as a phallic symbol is well ventilated; is making it golden emphasising its glory, its potency? Additionally, Scaramanga’s express motives for hiring Bond seem undernourished. He has not seen Bond in action as a labour relations operative, and has barely been talking to him in anything other than euphemisms. It’s not the most rigorous job interview. The reasons for Scaramanga renting Bond are weak and unconvincing and render Scaramanga an idiot, unless, of course, in this one place where a sexual atmosphere is guaranteed, that sexual atmosphere pervades and clouds his judgment.
Having prostituted himself to Scaramanga, query Bond’s reaction to the man. Given the opportunity to kill him straight away, Bond withdraws, for no better reason than he would have to kill Scaramanga’s driver too. Bond is showing new qualms; he would not previously have hesitated. Whilst he chides himself for losing this opportunity, Bond is given another one when he watches an unarmed Scaramanga trampolining. Instead, he considers the man’s physical prowess. Not an entirely willing participant, however, Bond will block off the door to his bedroom to try to prevent Scaramanga getting in, and remove one bullet from Scaramanga’s gun, and images of rape prevention and impotence emerge. Bond’s attitude throughout the book is hard to fathom. It may be a consequence of the unpolished text. It may be a consequence of New Bond experiencing New World. It may be Fleming keeping deliberately ambivalent his hero’s reaction to his surroundings. Bond has had all his emotions exposed in earlier books; now, the author is making us guess what those emotions might be, dropping hints along the way, some quiet, some thunderous.
Another page, another reference. When challenged upon his true identity by Nick Nicholson, he and Bond share a look of the specie shared by crooks, spies and homosexuals. Another express reference, that ultimately need not have been there, unless it was meant to be. Grouping all three together may be Fleming’s little joke at the expense of Burgess and Maclean; it’s also a joke at Bond’s expense, in the environment in which he has found himself.
Consider also the dramatis personae. Gone are the stronger female characters of the previous books, good or bad. Scaramanga surrounds himself with men, Bond included. Women are secretaries, dancers or prostitutes and have very little to do. The character of Mary Goodnight is the most significantly underwritten Fleming woman; again, accident of an incomplete book, or by design? She is not in distress, she does not need saving at the end of the book. Bond must save himself. She is of no narrative consequence whatsoever. She does not drive the story. Bond does not need to win her or woo her as with his previous conquests. On a pure story basis, she might as well not exist.
Metaphorically, however, she is of importance. An examination of the Bond/Scaramanga relationship occurs in the scene in Bond’s room when Goodnight climbs through his window. Bond has tried to defend his entrance, but still, Scaramanga gets in. Two half-naked men and a girl in a bathroom. Scaramanga’s explanation that he heard talking does not cohere with the care Bond and Goodnight have taken to ensure that the water is running, to avoid being overheard. It is therefore possible that Scaramanga was going to come in, gun out, regardless of what was going on. A man and a woman together is the guilty coupling. One of the men must protect himself from exposure by pretending that the girl is his fiancée, which she is not. Scaramanga lets her go; he’s not interested in her. His trick with the tailor’s dummy Goodnight on the railway line continues the metaphor; kill off the shell that is Mary Goodnight, and you’ll expose James Bond. It’s an interesting joke.
And prior to this bathroom confrontation, where has Old Triple Nipple been hiding? He’s been hiding in the closet.
That final paragraph. Bond has reclaimed himself, both in the eyes of his superiors, but furthermore, he’s killed the villain, seen off Scaramanga’s express and implicit threats and got the girl. Having dragged himself back into the gods, we see here a moment of self-awareness and regret. It’s difficult to say what Bond’s emotions are at the end of the novel. There is no definite conclusion.
Such is life.
Certainly, Bond does not express any devotion to Scaramanga, and neither would he. The final paragraph does not indicate that James Bond is homosexual. Confused and frustrated, perhaps, and the book is riddled with confusion and frustration, political, religious, social and sexual. With Scaramanga, there are undercurrents, which Bond has not experienced before in his black and white destruction of a succession of evil people. The subtext of the relationship with Bond and Scaramanga is another uncertain, incomplete, fluctuating grey area in a New World full of them.
Such is life.
The Man with the Golden Gun is as close as Fleming gets to an examination of the ill-defined politics, social and sexual, that are the distinguishing feature of reality rather than fantasy. The plot? The plot only needs to service this examination. A recognition of the less rigid structures of its age than its predecessors had been, there is in Golden Gun need for serious critical re-evaluation and the groundwork for a more advanced Bond novel, and a more ambivalent and complex lead character than previously presented to us. Denied to us, like many things.
Such is life.