Opinion: 50 Shades of More of The Same
Whether it’s a fellow commuter engrossed on the tube, a reader staring red-faced into their kindle while waiting for the dentist or even your own mother excitedly telling you about the ‘raunchy’ addition to this week’s book club, we have all become acquainted with Christian Grey.
Yes, that ambiguous cover has become akin to Pandora’s Box, encasing an apparently fresh take on not only the joys of S&M, but female erotica as a whole.
I’ll admit I too was at first charmed by the elusive Christian, intrigued by the depiction of this hyper-male and his illicit secrets. However, on closer inspection it becomes clear that 50 Shades of Grey is unfortunately nothing new.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I didn’t enjoy the book. Similar to settling down for a bit of vampire v werewolf, or indulging in the television train wreck that is Geordie Shore, reading 50 Shades is pure escapism.
After all, in reality do impossibly handsome men who fly helicopters go picking up girls in hardware stores, or fans of Sadomasochism turn out to be misunderstood tragic heroes? Not often.
But, while the storyline may be just the right side of ridiculous, unfortunately for my inflated expectations, the sex scenes were, in all honesty, a little dull.
Granted, the Red Room of Pain is a tad dramatic in comparison to the usual handcuffs, but aside from a bit of recreational spanking and an incident with a spreader bar the sex scenes are disappointingly vanilla.
Nearly a century after Lady Chatterley broke down the boundaries of (ahem) a bit of casual sodomy, it’s quite surprising that many appear to have branded the novel’s sexual scenes as taboo.
Historically, writers have explored everything from incest to bestiality, grooming to golden showers, so are we really supposed to be shocked by a bit of bondage? Perhaps the nation’s fascination lies in the fact that James has managed to penetrate mainstream popular culture, rather than remaining in the literary cannon like many of her predecessors.
Nevertheless, if 50 Shades has given you a taste for the darker side of erotica, there’s plenty more where that came from…
If you really want to go below the (leather and tasseled) belt…
Justine – The Marquis de Sade (1791)
A far more archaic interpretation of the sweet and submissive heroine, Justine is a text so shocking to its contemporary audience that is was ordered to be destroyed in 1815 and not published again until the 1930s. This is not surprising, considering that it was written by a man who spent 32 years in a mental asylum, as opposed to a West London-based ex television producer.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence (1928)
Perhaps the most famous of all racy literature (yes, even my boyfriend has heard of it), Lady Chatterley and her journey of sexual discovery caused quite a stir. While the book was first made available in Italy, it was not openly published in England until 1960 and even at this point the obscenities in the novel still prompted it to come under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959. The novel managed to escape a guilty verdict due to its literary merit, despite frequent use of the C word.
The Story of O – Anne Desclos, pen name: Pauline Réage (1954)
Perhaps the most iconic example of this particular strand of erotic literature, The Story of O is another study of dominance. The Marquis de Sade is said to have been Desclos’s inspiration for the tales, originally penned as love letters. Much like our heroine in 50 Shades, O is a beautiful young woman who consents to complete domination at the hands of men. But, while Anastasia puts up a bit of resistance, our heroine here is much more readily accepting of her submission.
Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
Forget getting your knickers in a twist over a few whips and chains, Vladimir Nabokov took erotic fiction to the extremes by not only detailing the sexual exploits of a 12 year old girl and middle aged man, but also depicting her as a wanton creature.
Nymph – Francesca Lia Block (2003)
Coming up to the noughties and our audience has become much more accepting, while the content is just as shocking. Think lesbian lap dancers in LA, hospital victims and dirty nurses and even mermaid sex. Block tells us nine tales of erotica through the guise of a fairytale, which results in a beautifully written take on the genre.
Finally, let me say kudos to James. Sure, 50 Shades of Grey may not be a work of artistic brilliance, shocking, redefining, or even that well written…but we have to applaud a woman who can cause that much of a reaction with what she admits is “my midlife crisis, writ large”.