James Bond villains and psychopathy: a literary analysis

Conor Kavanagh 1, Andrea E. Cavanna 1,2,3

1 Department of Neuropsychiatry, BSMHFT and University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom; 2 School of Life and Health Sciences, Aston Brain Centre, Aston University, Birmingham, United Kingdom; 3 Sobell Department of Motor Neuroscience and Movement Disorders, Institute of Neurology and University College London, London, United Kingdom

Objective

Psychopathy is a construct used to describe individuals without a conscience, who knowingly harm others via manipulation, intimidation, and violence, but feels no remorse. In consideration of the intriguing nature of the psychopathy construct, it is not surprising that a number of psychopathic characters have been portrayed in popular culture, including modern literature. We set out to systematically review Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels to assess the presence of psychopathic traits in the characters of Bond villains.

Methods

We reviewed the full-text of a representative sample of seven novels published by Fleming between 1954 and 1965 (‘Live and let die’, ‘Dr. No’, ‘Goldfinger’, ‘Thunderball’, ‘On Her Majesty’s secret service’, ‘You only live twice’, and ‘The man with the golden gun’), portraying the fictional characters of six villains. For each villain, we extracted examples of quotations that demonstrate the presence of specific psychopathic traits from the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R).

Results

We found ample evidence of the presence of specific psychopathic traits from the PCL-R in James Bond villains. The most commonly observed psychopathic trait is callousness/lack of empathy, which is portrayed by all the examined characters of villains. Contrary to Bond, the villains are consistently described as having physical monstrosity, in addition to their psychopathic traits. 

Conclusions

The villains’ psychopathic traits appear to be functional to Fleming’s narrative scheme, that revolves around the Bond-villain (Good/Evil) dichotomy. However it has been suggested that this dichotomy is only partial, as a few psychopathic traits appear to be shared by Bond himself. Despite the difficulties of implementing literature in the curriculum of medical students and psychiatry trainees, a healthy interest in literature and art could be beneficial for its educational value and should be encouraged, possibly in the form of book clubs. 

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