On literary snobbery and sex.

Published July 20, 2012 by mandileighbean

Call me a literary snob.

Call me uptight.

Call me prude.

Call me what you will, but upon reading the following linked news article, I became indignant and nearly filled with rage; http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/07/18/bronte-bondage-classic-literature-gets-fifty-shades-of-grey-treatment/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+time%2Fentertainment+%28TIME%3A+Entertainment%29&utm_content=Google+Reader.

I understand that the current trend in Hollywood dictates that what will be successful will not be new; instead, it will be a reincarnation of what was successful in the past, and more often than not, it will be a crude and diluted version.  What happened to artistic integrity?  It is more than a little disheartening to see millions being made as literary classics – stories already told and stories against which all others are measured – are warped and twisted to fit the fleeting interests of the American public.

I admit I may be in a little hypocritical in my view because I said nothing when Pride and Prejudice because Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  I suppose I may have been more forgiving then because that book did not take itself seriously; it did not claim to add to the character development or themes.  It truly added a supernatural element and left it at that.  Now, classic novels are being rewritten to include scenes they claim are “missing;” who can possibly make that claim but the author?  There is nothing “missing” from the relationships between Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, and between Heathcliff and Catherine.  These novels became classics because of the literary elements which are now deemed unsatisfactory and not entertaining.  They need sex, because everything in society has to be sexy to have value.  That is the message the public is sent through the media, and it has now inevitably trickled into literature.  I would not mind half as much if original stories were more sexualized – I would discount it as a sign of changing times and just more evidence of society’s ever-changing interests.  However, that is not what is happening.

I do not think that anyone who reads Fifty Shades of Grey is a sex-starved, literary simpleton.  Far from it; I completely understand that tastes differ.  Hell, I’m thinking about reading the Fifty Shades trilogy myself.  I think it important to note, however, that two women who have read both the first and the second books in the series complained there was too much sexual interaction between the characters, and not enough character development.  I wonder, then, how introducing sex scenes into literary classics could possibly enhance character development.

Indeed, a large aspect of the sex appeal of literary characters like Mr. Rochester, Mr. Darcy and Heathcliff is that they are mysterious, secretive, allusive, wounded and brooding.  To introduce a physical and intense sex scene robs the characters of that mystery and debases them.  The inclusion of such racy relationships is anachronistic more than anything else; the scenes are not “missing,” as is arrogantly stated in the article.  How presumptuous it is.

It especially bothers me that nothing appears to be sacred anymore.  In this respect, I understand I am not as “progressive” as others and may be deemed old-fashioned, but what happened to keep secret desires, passions and fantasies just that – a secret?  Part of the charm and brilliance of reading is that the reader must use his or her imagination.  Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are incredibly romantic and passionate; the material is all there and it is up to the reader to find it, embrace it and further it as he or she wishes.  It is more effective, in this writer’s humble opinion, to allow the reader to infer.  When Mr. Rochester simply stares at Jane with an impassive countenance, it is enough to imagine what he is thinking.  The unspoken sexual tension that is subtly laced throughout is not only a masterful skill of the craft of writing, but one of the most enjoyable aspects of the stories.

Fifty Shades of Grey is an erotic novel; something some would argue is akin to porn.  Whether or not porn is an art form is not the argument I am trying to present.  I am only upset that artistic integrity is being traded in for commercial success.  It is a shame.  Even Fifty Shades of Grey was inspired by another idea; it started out as fanfiction of the Twilight series.  At least E.L. James did not try rewriting the series; she created a world and characters of her own.

PROMPT: A man ducks into a dress shop to escape a sudden downpour and finds himself in the middle of a heated debate between the employees.

PIECE: Tom hadn’t expected the sudden and furious onslaught of rain, and neither had anyone else, judging by the mass exodus of people from the sidewalks and pavements into nearby stores and under any awning.  It was the summer, and sweeping rains were not uncommon, but remained an annoyance.  Holding his toned arms crossed above his carefully gelled-hair atop his intelligent head, Tom ducked into a women’s dress shop on the right side of the street.  The bell dinged from above as he entered, but no one else seemed to acknowledge his arrival.  Matter of fact, the shop seemed relatively deserted.  It was dimly lit, which Tom figured was supposed to give the boutique-ish store some ambience, but it only made him squint (like doing so would help him to see better) and give him a headache.

There was some soft jazz-sounding music emitting softly from the speakers overhead, but the speakers were in need of repair and the sound crackled and went silent every now and again.  Tom gave a glance out the windows, saw the rain pounding against everything in its path and sighed heavily, assuming he’d be in the store for a while.  He began making his way toward the sales counter.  Tom really wasn’t sure why he chose that path, and chalked it up to being more instinct than anything else.  Then again, maybe he was just bored and looking for some human interaction.  Either way, what else was he supposed to do?

Tom was greeted at the counter by screaming, shrill and distinctly feminine voices.  Two women, both young and red in the face, were shouting at each other.  Their arms waved to and fro in wild gesticulations, clearly indicating to Tom that both women were clearly passionate about the subject which was the topic of conversation, or rather, the argument.  Smiling to himself, proud of his chauvinistic cleverness, Tom assumed it would be about the different membership advantages of Team Edward versus Team Jacob.  He moved forward, ready with a clever and discreetly insulting remark about such a discussion, certain that while catching the ladies off guard, it would impress them with his intelligence and thereby make him immediately irresistible.  Tom opened his mouth to proclaim his witty retort, but was suddenly silenced when he actually stopped and listened to what was being said.

“But there are two different kinds of government spending, Melinda,” the young woman on the right explained.  “And both kinds need to be cut, both direct spending and discretionary spending, to get our economy back on its feet!”

Melinda rolled her eyes.  She said, “But, Crystal, what you really want to do is cut direct spending and completely reform needed and beneficial programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  People depend on those programs.”

Crystal looked tired.  “Reform is not the same as negating or cutting.  Surely you realize that!”

Tom cleared his throat and both women turned their heads toward him quickly.  Their impassioned expressions smoothed and they thoughtlessly resumed the role of clerk, of liaison to the masses.  To Tom, they looked prettier this way; eager to serve, aiming to please and ignorant of economics and its accompanying buzzwords.

“You ladies read Twilight?” he offered lamely.

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