Every now and then, doomsday enthusiasts like to remind us that writing and reading are on their way to extinction. Every now and then, a JK Rowling or an EL James (both women incidentally) manage to reverse that script, churning out bestselling books that send millions rushing to bookstores, and the cynics to their foxholes to moan the declining literary standards. Ms James, through her clever weaving of romance and erotica in the Fifty Shades trilogy, has discovered the smartest means to laugh her way to the bank. Her success has convinced Clandestine Classics, a publisher of adult fiction that it needs to merely notch up the sexual content by rewriting literary classics such as Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice to cash in on the public’s affair with the lascivious.
On the face of it, Fifty Shades is somewhat risqué, its popularity deriving from the sadomasochistic sexual encounters between protagonists Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele. Beneath that steamy surface is an old-fashioned Cinderella tale, sans complexity or emotional pain. But what has got feminists fretting (why would women still want to be subjugated), the Christian right sweating (getting aroused by a book is sinful) and pop singer Rihanna tweeting (she will not read it, thank you) is surely an idea that has successfully climaxed. Hence Charlotte Bronte’s Jane must get dirty with Mr Rochester, Emily Bronte’s Catherine Earnshaw engage in ‘bondage sessions’ with Heathcliff and Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson consummate their relationship.
The publishers of the novel venture are convinced that whether you are excited or revolted by the prospect of this Classics Redux (with the right dose of kink), there is a market out there just waiting to be tapped (the e-book versions are to be published by the end of this month). Copyright having lapsed, even purists will find it impossible to preserve the virginal innocence of these works. By openly indulging in the pleasures of the flesh, characters from centuries-old novels have now been made more flesh-and-blood than ever before.