During his epic drive from Le Touquet to Geneva in Goldfinger (1959), James Bond passes through Mâcon and, in the suburb of St Laurent, buys (or, rather, asks his companion, Tilly Masterton, to buy), a loaf of bread, six inches of Lyon sausage, and half a litre of the local wine.
It’s a trivial point to consider, but is the bread that Bond has a brick-like loaf or a baguette, the traditional long baton that’s by far the most popular bread in France? I’ve always assumed that Fleming had the latter in mind, but the ‘case for’ is by no means clear-cut.
After all, Ian Fleming describes what is clearly a baguette in his children’s book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1965): ‘French bread, instead of being in loaves, comes in long, thin shapes about the length and width of a policeman’s truncheon.’ Obviously, then, if Ian Fleming had wanted to describe a baguette, he could have done so.
On a similar note, I was interested to read in Leslie Charteris’s Saint short story ‘The reluctant nudist’, set in the South of France and published in The Saint Around the World (1957), about a lunch consisting of, among other things, ‘a long loaf of bread’ – again, clearly a baguette.
On the other hand, Charteris did use the words ‘loaf of bread’, as Fleming had, which therefore can be applied to a baguette. It’s worth remembering in any case that the word ‘baguette’ (to mean a type of bread) had not been anglicised when Fleming was writing. In the 1973 edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, for example, a baguette is defined purely as an architectural term: ‘a small moulding of semi-circular section, like an astragal.’
That is not to say, of course, that its meaning in relation to bread was entirely unknown; American television chef Julia Child used the word in a heading in her 1970 book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (vol. 2), while Elizabeth David, celebrated for introducing French cuisine to British readers, referred to ‘thin baguettes of bread’ in her 1960 book, French Provincial Cooking. However, it would be a while longer before the word ‘baguette’ would go mainstream.
And this meant that there was considerable variation in how the bread was described. French loaf, French bread or French stick are at least three ‘standard’ names, with only one of these offering an indication of shape. Given the context of Bond’s lunch, Fleming would naturally dispense with the description of the bread as French and might settle, simply, on ‘loaf of bread’.
The final point is that – as anyone who’s visited a boulangerie will testify – there wouldn’t have been huge range of different types of bread available, and it seems highly unlikely that Tilly Masterton would have come out with anything other than a baguette.
Of course, we’ll never know precisely what Bond eats. It’s quite possible that Bond has something different, such as a pain de campagne, which is a round loaf. All that said, I think I’ll still picture Bond tearing a baguette into pieces to have with his six inches of Lyon sausage.
3 thoughts on “Author of all your pain: James Bond and French bread”
I first read Goldfinger when I was 13, in the early 1960s, and I never thought of the loaf of bread as being anything other than a long “French” loaf.
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Thanks for your comment. That’s very useful to know.