Bond villains and criminal anthropology

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By | From the Collections

Amongst the Libary’s collection of fiction is a copy of Dr No, featuring the redoubtable secret agent, James Bond, created by the ex-Naval Intelligence Officer, Ian Fleming. Both the cinematic and literary worlds of Bond are inhabited by vividly imagined and distinctive villains.

James Bond graphic

James Bond, secret agent 007. Image credit:

Fleming’s physiognomic descriptions often reflect the clichéd, negative prejudices that affect those disfigured in some way – Dr No being a prime example. I was surprised, however, to find a somewhat unfashionable, reference in another Bond novel, Moonraker, to a major figure in the dubious history of criminal anthropology – Cesare Lombroso. This adds Moonraker to a very select list of novels that have cited the once influential 19th century Italian Professor. The list include works by Joseph Conrad, Dostoevsky and Bram Stoker.



Lombroso was a powerful advocate of measuring the criminality of men and women by their physical attributes and appearance. His methodology was highly questionable and although he has his own statue in Italy, his international reputation declined sharply in the early 20th Century. It might seem puzzling that Fleming would refer to him while writing in the 1950s, there is a good reason. Lombroso is cited because of his theory in his book the Man of Genius that genius, madness and degeneracy are interlinked and this helps explain the inherent villainy of the central character, Drax.



You can browse more digitised books by Cesare Lombroso in the Library catalogue.

Danny Rees

Danny Rees

Hi, I am Danny Rees, an Engagement Officer for the Wellcome Library, one of my interests is the human face; its physiognomy, expressions and ideas about what constitutes beauty. When not at work I enjoy the Kent countryside and consider radio to be one of the best things in life.

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