Fifty Shades of Mr. Darcy

Fifty Shades of Grey, by E L James (2012)If you have not been on another planet for the last six months, then you know about Fifty Shades of Grey, by E L James. It’s the first novel in an erotic romance trilogy that has been on the best seller list since April and flying off the shelves at my Barnes & Noble. It is estimated that the series has sold over 20 million copies. The movie rights have sold too! That is a lot of cold hard cash for its debut author, who until she wrote the series as fanfiction to the popular Twilight series, rewrote it and self-published, then sold the rights to Random House, was an unknown entity in the publishing world. To have a grand slam home run at your first time at bat. What are the odds? A bazillion to one?  Wild!

Popularly tagged mommy porn, or mummy porn if you live on the other side of the pond, I first heard about the series when I read a review by a fellow Austenprose writer Kimberly Denny-Ryder on her blog Reflections of a Book Addict. Kim is an ardent Austenesque reader and I value her opinion implicitly. I was duly intrigued. Follow this link to read her review of the Fifty Shades Trilogy on her blog. I think you will find it honest and amusing.

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen and Amy Armstrong (2012)

With the astounding success of the Fifty Shades series, it was only a matter of time before other publishers jumped on the erotic bandwagon. But, imagine my surprise when I read this online article in the Daily Mail: Reader, I ravished him: Classics given a steamy Fifty Shades of Grey makeover that would make Jane Austen and the Brontes blush. It appears that a UK publisher thinks that there is a market for erotically enhanced classics:

Devotees of Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters may wish to loosen their corsets and have the smelling salts within reach.

Some of the greatest works of English literature have been controversially ‘sexed up’ for the 21st century.

Following the success of erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey, one enterprising publisher has given classics such as Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights a bawdy makeover.

The existing texts have been interspersed with more racy scenes – some in toe-curling language that would surely have made the original authors blush.

Toe-curling language. Hm?

 Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, by Linda Berdoll (2004)This description sounds like they are following the format of the recent bestselling mash-up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies that added bone-crunching zombie action into Jane Austen’s classic text. Now it is hot romantic scenes K-Y’d in. This is new? No way. Many Austenesque authors have been doing this for years. Linda Berdoll took us behind the green baize curtain in 1999 with her spicy sequel to Pride and Prejudice, The Bar Sinister (later republished in 2004 by Sourcebooks as Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife); Abigail Reynolds has re-imagined Pride and Prejudice from many perspectives, historical and contemporary, adding amorous scenes to her popular Pemberley Variations series (eight novels with the ninth, Mr. Darcy’s Refuge next) and Woods Hole Quartet series; and Sharon Lathan’s bestselling Darcy Saga, which follows the married life of Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy and his wife Elizabeth (seven novels with the eighth, The Passions of Mr. Darcy next). Even though these three authors enhance and expand Mr. Darcy’s romantic life, they are PG-13 and tastefully tame in comparison to the two 2011 publications, Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts, by Mitzi Szereto and Pride and Prejudice: The Wild and Wanton Edition by Michelle Pillow, which really break into the R for decidedly racy category.

JJ Feild as  Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey (2008)

In addition to a sexed up Pride and Prejudice, the Clandestine Classics series by Total E-Bound will offer Austen fans an erotic version of Northanger Abbey! The underdog of Austen’s oeuvre, Northanger is not as widely read as Austen’s golden child P&P, or the scholar favorite Emma, but I adore it because of its exuberant young heroine Catherine Morland and witty and urbane hero Nonparallel, Henry Tilney. Since Catherine is only seventeen in the novel, one wonders out loud if she will be left as is, or??? The wicked side of me is a bit curious to see what they will do with my fav of Austen’s heroes Henry Tilney. Yes, he even surpasses Mr. Darcy in my esteem dear readers. *sigh*

There are always mixed opinions about adding sex to Austen. Claire Siemaszkiewicz, founder of Total-E-Bound, offered her buz-bite on her series and attempted to forestall the fallout in the article in the Daily Mail:

“Readers will finally be able to read what the books could have been like if erotic romance had been acceptable in that day and age.

We recognise it’s a bold move that may have a polarising effect on readers but we’re keeping the works as close to the original classics as possible.”

Polarising effect? That’s an understatement!

*chortle*

Now Austen must amend her famous line from Mansfield Park to:

“Let other pens dwell on guilt, misery and S&M.”

I am very curious what readers think of sex in their Austen? What is acceptable and what crosses the line of decorum?

Cheers,

Laurel Ann

© 2012 Laurel Ann, Austenprose

34 thoughts on “Fifty Shades of Mr. Darcy

  1. Having read the aforementioned books and more, I can say that, at least for me, the most important things are keeping the characters as close to the originals as possible (in a couple of books I had to read about Bingley cheating on Jane because she refused him sex, as unbelievable as that sounds, or Lizzie giggling and acting like Lydia, or hideous things like these) and avoiding crass and vulgar descriptions (I particularly do not like and care about Mr Darcy mainly parts or how Lizzie and Darcy discover every single erogenous spot on their bodies).

    A delicate description of intimacy, or a passionate kiss or embrace, is actually quite satisfying for those who, like me, have always fantasized about what happened after the happy ending.

    I don’t know if a fifty shades would be adequate. The trilogy itself isn’t that bad, if one can overlook the obvious unpolished style of the author and one doesn’t mind mild bondage dom-sub relationships.
    I just cannot imagine Elizabeth being submissive to Darcy or reversal.

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  2. I am totally, completely, disgustedly against it. How do you suppose an author would feel if they knew that in the future, an arrogant voyeur would deem themselves to have the right to take such liberties with ones intellectual property? Jane Austen’s faith and religious views are to be summarily dismissed, I suppose. If she had the advantage of fore-knowledge that such a assault could be perpetuated on her lovely stories, I have to wonder if she might have refused to print them in the first place.

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    • I completely agree with you! I like Jane Austen novels just how they are… Sweet, romantic and classy. That’s why I enjoy reading them.

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  3. Sometimes you just need your favorite characters and stories with some “naughty bits” as long as the story is well written. I love reading most of the authors you mentioned since there is a STORY that is the main focus, not just the sex. I really wasn’t interested in the wanton variation or the alternative lifestyle version since it seemed to me that they were written to titillate and not to give the characters a new voice. As for Jane Austen enjoying these versions of her stories, we will never know.

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  4. To erotically enhance a classic-especially Austen and the Bronte sisters, all whom wrote of the ills of immorality and libertine behavior-is to devalue the original intent of the author altogether. What a black spot on the history of classic literature.

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  5. In my opinion to alter these classic works just to fill a bawdy desire is akin to defacing a Monet or scribbling graffiti on the walls of Westminster Abbey. And I’m sure in this day and age there would be someone who would pay to see that as well. Books like this make me wary of Austenesque writers in general and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up a book in this genre at the book store but after a quick flip through stuck it back on the shelf. Some books I’ve bought and part way through the second or third chapter just decided to toss because they were garbage.
    Jane Austen was a pretty religious person and I don’t think you can fully attribute that to the times in which she lived. She knew what scandal was and what sex was and chose to handle it with delicacy. There are still people like that now. It’s not just a matter of the 19th century versus the 21st.
    One more point I’d like to make is that Jane Austen was an observer and crafter of character, and that the character’s she created still ring true today. Intimate relationships affect a young woman’s psyche in a way that would affect her personality, choices and behavior. I don’t think you can accurately infuse a sexual aspect into a story and and have it make little or no difference in the outcome.
    I know it’s a free world and all, but there are plenty of other places to look for those ladies wishing to read a little porn, and I just wish they would leave Austen’s work alone.

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    • Hear! Hear! Everyone should “hear” this comment (and most of the others, thank you all). These erotic fan-fiction books ARE …akin to defacing a Monet or scribbling graffiti on the walls of Westminster Abbey.” Jane Austen’s writing IS a time-tested Work of Art, and should be treated as such. I appreciate that most of your commenters feel the same way, thank you, Laurel Ann.

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      • You both are 100% correct. Classic literature has remained classic for a reason. Maybe 50 Shades will withstand the test of time, but I doubt it. In the meantime, Austen’s work is still printed and read 200 years later. Leave Austen, the Brontes, and all those other beloved authors alone. They wrote books using their ideas. Be original and write your own stories.

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  6. Fifty Shades is just erotic Twilight fanfic that was published. The saucier Jane Austen stories are just erotic Pride and Prejudice fanfic that got published. I’m not for or against, I’m just saying there’s nothing new about people throwing sex into Austen to make a book, except that the fanfic authors were usually doing it out of love, and good writing trumps all anyway.

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  7. I think the beauty of Austen is the romance, the manners, the respect for the female sex. It harkens back to a time when women were the better sex. Now days with the advent of this type of literature and movies that are out there women are as bad as men, lustfully seeking to fufill their desires and everyone else be da*&ed! I believe to add blatant sex to Austen is nothing more than tawdry and sad. How can you add that and keep the beauty of the language, the witticism of her writing? Fifty shades is nothing more than porn for women, don’t tar Jane with that brush please!

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  8. I completely agree with Debbi and Maddox. I hope it is just a fad that will pass with time. Some classics already have some scenes of varying degrees of ‘steaminess’, but they were written by the original author to carry the point of the book. For a ‘lesser author’ to add scenes of such a nature for shock value or indulgence is presumption beyond belief, and will serve to do nothing more than tear down the message that the book communicates. The classics have stood the test of time because they communicate something of value. In our day of ‘instant classics’ we seem to have forgotten this. Entertainment is the sole aim, not education and moral fulfillment. People used to read to be uplifted as well as entertained, not simply to be entertained in the basest way. There are plenty of books out there that fulfill the second…can’t they leave the classics alone?

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  9. I think it’s disgusting and a complete waste of time. I agree with most of the comments above – obviously you’d know which ones they are. I don’t need eroticism or explanation of sexual parts. I think the romance can be a touch of the hand, the right comments and witticism, and a glance across a room in support. Leave the classics pretty much the way they are. I have read at least one of each of the authors above. Only one have I continued to read. All the rest were way over the boundaries in my opinion and I have no interest until i read reviews to let me know if there is erotic content or not. If there is and I know how the author works I don’t waste my time. There are too many other valuable books to read and too little time.

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  10. Eroticism has its place, I believe, but not on the pages of Jane Austen, or any of the writers of what we now call “classics” – the story, language, and intent would be too much altered and make these books all together different and uninteresting (to me). It’s just folks trying to make money by appealing to the basest of human nature – and it seems to work for them. It’s a shame, but it is a part of the world we live in now. At least we still have a choice whether to buy, read, or watch what’s produced. I pretty much know what my choice will be! And, who knows, someone who reads the X-version may want to pick up the real thing out of curiosity and begin to understand what true story-telling and writing is.

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  11. I must add that my reaction to sexed up Austen has evolved over the years. I am much more uncomfortable with a mash-up which uses Austen’s text with added scenes, then authors using Austen’s characters and writing a new story.

    If sales trends tell us anything, Linda Berdoll’s Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife was the best selling Austen sequel ever until P. D. James Death Comes to Pemberley hit the bestseller lists last year. Sharon Lathan’s Darcy saga is a bestseller with a crossover to romance readers. Abigail Reynolds is not far behind. The three authors mentioned have a huge following and are probably the top three authors in the genre, so what does that tell us? Readers like spicy Lizzy and Darcy.

    It is no surprise that sex sells. But, as Marsha and Laura S. mentioned in their earlier comments, story matters. If anything is well written it trumps the racy bits. I think this worked for D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover which is now considered a classic. The difference between Lawrence and Austen is that he wrote the sex scenes himself. It was his intention to include them. Austen did not, nor the Bronte’s or other early classic authors. It was their era and not really a choice for them.

    As culture evolves and what is acceptable widens, we have more choices. I am all for freedom of choice and would never tell anyone not to read ANY book. I just draw the line for myself personally when they use Austen’s exact text and add in sexual stuff that was not her intention. Zombies and sea monsters and Austen in space are fun and harmless, but adding sex scenes just to cash in shows a lack of integrity and creativity and reeks of exploitation.

    My opinion of course and anyone can disagree without being slammed.

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  12. I liked what A P Maddox had to say.When I read one of the “sequels” and it includes sex between Darcy and Elizabeth before their marriage, I have a really hard time with that. With the propriety that Austen gives all of her heroines, I am certain that I cannot get on board with that. I understand longing looks and comments about it being tough to wait until the wedding day as I lived that myself, no premarital sex for me. (Not bragging, just pointing out that there are many who make that choice these days.) I do find that I like finding out that Darcy and Elizabeth’s love life is a fulfilling one and a genuine expression of both of their loves for each other. I like JAFF that shows a healthy relationship in all areas. I don’t like the ones where the sex appears to be the only thing on both of their minds. I’m reading a self-published one now that is coming really close to crossing that line and I may give up on it. I like thinking that there was a more healthy attitude toward sex in marriage than what I understand of the Victorian era’s attitude, which I’ve understood to be about base desire and women being made to feel that they were were dirty or sinning if they enjoyed sex. How many women were taught such nonsense and were cheated out of the beauty of married love? So, I enjoy being able to peek behind the curtain and know of their loving relationship. But let’s not go overboard here.

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  13. Like many of your contributors, I find myself at odds with the notion that the work of a great writer, who put so much love and effort into creating her characters, should be blatantly distorted and turned into erotic fantasies by others who appear to have scant respect for the original author.
    If writers wish to produce porn for the tittilation of “mums” or “moms” – they can certainly do so; it’s a free country after all- but let them be imaginative enough to create their own characters for these sexual romps, and leave Jane Austen’s beloved men and women alone.
    Do they fear that their own “creations” would fall flat- despite the sexy shades and so, resort to dragging in the names of Mr Darcy and Elizabeth to improve the “market appeal ” of their product?
    They can only do this because Miss Austen is dead and her work is in the public domain. Had they tried it with a modern writer, they would have been sued!
    To use sex gratuitously, merely to cash in on the reputation of Jane Austen, is not only dishonest, it is also cowardly.

    Rebecca Ann Collins.

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  14. The sentiment here seems near unanimous. Please bear with me while I share the following- as I was writing Northland Cottage, my adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, one question I continually asked myself was, “would what I’m writing offend Jane Austen?” While I don’t pretend she’d love every word I’ve written or even much care for my version, I truly believe I stayed true enough to her characters and themes as to not give any offense. Two things were very important to me as I made the choice to adapt a classic work; one, not to offend the original author or devalue the original work in any way and two, to bring to a new, young audience a love of a classic tale they may have never taken the time to get to know otherwise. In the end I hope my story humbly honors rather than cheapens the gifts Jane Austen has shared with the world through her novels.

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  15. The smutty takes are not my cup of tea, but I know many enjoy them. But I would boycott these in any event because of the nonsensical marketing materials. “Loosen your corsets!” they cry. “Get your smelling salts!” Like this is something NEW. As LA pointed out, The Bar Sinister came out in 1999 and there was smutty fanfic around before that. Write all the smut you want, just don’t try to shine me on that it’s something new.

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  16. I think Robyn has read a different Austen, not to mention history of the Georgian and Regency eras, than I have. She said, “I think the beauty of Austen is the romance, the manners, the respect for the female sex. It harkens back to a time when women were the better sex.” The entail in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and its dire consequences, John Willoughby’s impregnating and abandoning Eliza Williams in ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and even the banishment of Maria Bertram and Mrs. Norris in ‘Mansfield Park’ do not speak of a time when women were the better sex. Though JA said she didn’t punish with her pen, I notice those two got a severe comeuppance for improper behavior. A female’s position was much more precarious and restricted than that of men. There was a reason Jane Austen did not use her name when she published, and it was not because women were the better sex.

    A contemporary of Austen’s, Thomas Bowdler, rewrote Shakespeare (‘The Family Shakespeare’) and removed those parts and words he thought inappropriate for ladies to read. I am much more offended by his actions than I am by those who add naughty bits whether using Austen’s text or not. Fielding borrowed Richardson’s characters in ‘Pamela’ to parody in ‘Shamela’ and then actually used Pamela’s brother, Joseph Andrews, for a more serious novel with a very different moral outlook than Richardson’s. I personally think JA’s Lydia was borrowed from Sheridan’s Lydia Languish in the ‘The Rivals.’

    The insult, if there is one, would occur when any writer borrows another’s prose, plots and characters for their own creative needs. Based on where this discussion is occurring I think that is hardly the issue. I am personally offended when JAFF has no humor, reduces Jane’s delightfully complex characters into flat love-struck mooncalves and barely contains any dialogue and what is there is is completely uninspiring. I happen to be someone who does not believe she wrote romance novels. However, that someone might take the Netherfield scenes and skillfully rewrite them enhancing their lascivious sub-text I could applaud their inventiveness. I could definitely see Mr. Darcy with itchy palms and Lizzy as a very poor submissive. Actually, I think I wrote something like that. .

    .

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  17. I whole-heartedly agree with most of those who have posted on this site. Having read a couple of Jane Austen sequels where the bedroom door was thrown wide open, I did NOT like the immoral twisting of the author’s original artistic intent. On the other hand, I read Northland Cottage by A. P. Maddox and found it so entertaining and appropriate that I lent it to my 12 year old grand daughter to read because of its inherent decency and faithfulness to the original. I much prefer the bedroom door firmly latched because it really does offend my Christian sensibilities. Our Miss Austen, the daughter of a clergyman, would be appalled at the liberties taken with her beloved stories, in my opinion.

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  18. What I miss is “romance” these days which is still found in the pages of Pride and Prejudice. A story that is about the love developing between a hero and heroine and not just about what is going on in the bedroom. As Jeffrey says I prefer the bedroom door firmly latched and will not read any erotic version of Pride and Prejudice. Putting such text into a classic novel seems very wrong to me. I agree with Laurel Ann’s take.

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  19. In this age, everything has become eroticized. I prefer a well turned phrase to a bulging member. And it’s more fun to be teased chastely as Jane did so well than to have everything thrown in your face.

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  20. Dare I say that Miss Austen injected very subtle hints of eroticism into all of her stories in the form of exquisite dialogues and descriptive language? Who can deny Darcy’s incredible non-stop desire for Elizabeth? Henry Crawford’s almost seductive attraction for Fanny? Emma’s admiration of Mr. Knightley’s “firm, upright” figure at the dance? Henry’s playful but probing teasing of Catherine? Captain Wentworth’s overpowering desire to have Anne all to himself in his ‘letter?’ Elinor’s emotional release upon witnessing Edward’s final return to her? To me, all tinged with that breathless desire and longing between two lovers. Eroticism? Not in-your-face but there nevertheless and oh-so thrilling! The genius of Jane Austen weaves mind pictures of pleasure on what may become and what is left unsaid. Do I make any sense here?

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    • I wholeheartedly agree Jeffrey and in my opinion these “hints” at longing and desire were far more breathtaking because that’s where love begins; with a look, an admiration of the beauty of the one who’s caught your eye, a whisper and a touch of the hand. Who can deny those budding moments of attraction when excitement wells inside you and your fingers tingle and your face flushes from the notice of an ardent gaze from across a crowded room are where the true thrill of romance lies.

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  21. I for one won’t be reading a sexed up JaneAusten.

    I don’t like the fact that our society equates live with sex. Because it is not. One thing I liked about Austen is that both partners had mutual respect for one another. There is nothing about porn and very little about erotica that celebrate mutual respect as a basis for a relationship.

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    • You’ve hit on a fantastic point! Relationships that are built upon respect and trust are far more likely to survive while relationships built upon lust and personal gratification crumble like pie crusts.

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      • To AP and Bluestocking, you both have a much better way of saying what I was trying to say in my comment much earlier. That mutual respect is what came of the humiliating circumstances encountered during P & P. That is what I love about Elizabeth and Darcy. I guess I always assumed others saw that, too. Once each is humbled from their earliest assessments of each other, the respect starts to build and continues. I think that is what keeps me coming back to P& P more often than the other 5 books. They are wonderful, too. I just love that to find their love they had to be taught not only that they were not much worth loving in the beginning of the story, but that they needed to realize the offense each other received, turn from it (in Christian circles we call that repenting) and hope to someday be able to show to each other that they took their lessons to heart and as they did, then the true love began to show up. Thanks to both of you for saying it far better than I did.

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