Ian Fleming’s For Your Eyes Only collection
Ian Fleming biographer Andrew Lycett has written an article for this weekend’s Guardian, in which he reveals the incident that inspired the James Bond author to write “Quantum of Solace”, the 007 short story that lends its name to the current record-breaking film.
“Quantum of Solace”, which was ultimately published in the 1960 short story collection For Your Eyes Only, is a decidedly un-Bondian tale, in which 007, after making a passing remark at a dinner party about his desire to marry an air hostess, is told the story of a disintegrating marriage.
The fascinating tale that inspired the short story began in 1959, as Fleming, suffering burnout from Bond, set about writing a short story collection as a way to avoid penning a fully-fledged novel. Lycett writes…
So [Fleming] turned to his girlfriend in Jamaica, Blanche Blackwell, for the real-life tale that became his story “Quantum of Solace”. Blackwell revealed how, in 1938, she had visited her then husband, Joe Blackwell, in Mandeville, where he had been seconded to the local constabulary at the time of a rebellion that threatened to bring the colony to its knees. She had been appalled to witness one of his fellow officers being humiliated by his wife’s very public extramarital affair.
She had been reminded of these events when her friend, Sylvia Foot, the wife of a recent governor general, asked her to help an unfortunate woman who had been abandoned by her husband, a former deputy police commissioner on the island. This was Elspeth Smith, the brazen adulteress of Mandeville. According to Foot, the police officer, Clive Smith, had become deputy commissioner in Jamaica. But his wife’s infidelities rankled. After a trip abroad, he told her he would no longer communicate, except in writing. When, a year later, she asked for a divorce and alimony, he informed her she would be financially secure since she had the house, the car and all the furnishings. Soon afterwards, he moved to Barbados as commissioner of police. When Elspeth Smith came to sell up, she found nothing paid for. Thus Foot’s appeal for charity. But Blackwell, recalling Elspeth’s behaviour in 1938, felt no inclination to help.
Fleming changed the Smiths’ home to Bermuda and made the policeman a diplomat, but kept the gist of the story, which in his version was told to Bond in an after-dinner conversation in Nassau about the nature of marriage. He had the narrator, the governor of the Bahamas, defining the Quantum of Solace as a precise equation of the amount of comfort necessary between two people if love is to flourish. If this figure is zero, there can be no love. Bond clearly understood, for he added that “when the other person not only makes you feel insecure but actually seems to want to destroy you … you’ve got to get away to save yourself”.
Blackwell at least received recompense for her authorial help. Fleming acknowledged her role by giving her what he called “a fat present” – in reality a slim wristwatch from Cartier. At last, a true Bond touch.
To read the whole article, visit guardian.co.uk.
Keep watching CommanderBond.net for the most up-to-date literary 007 news on the web.