Good classics gone bad: the erotic twist one can live without.

On Tuesday, the Independent posted an article titled “Oh Mr Darcy! Pride and Prejudice among classic novels to receive erotic makeover“, in which Claire Siemaszkiewicz, founder of Total-E-Bound Publishing, announced the release of classic novels with an erotic twist. In fact, it was revealed how novels like “Pride and Prejudice” and “Jane Eyre” would receive ‘extra scenes‘ with erotic content. I think the aim is to recreate the feeling we nowadays have when we watch movies or read books knowing the explicit parts have been cut. The thing is, messing with the past is not quite the same.
First, it was not a case of censorship, and classic novels were simply written that way for ethics and morals we could never compare to those we have today. However, it is the curiosity to see what comes out of this that will ultimately drag readers.
In the article, it is explained how the original writing would be kept as is, and new scenes would be added. Unfortunately, they’re bound to mess with the whole structure, like an earthquake causing a crack in a historical lovely looking building that ends up collapsing. The reason for this, is that morality and principle are pillars upon which some of these novels are built.

How? “Wuthering Heights” would see Catherine Earnshaw engage in bondage sessions with Heathcliff and Sherlock Holmes has sex with Dr Watson. I do respect the theoretical concept of wondering, as Siemaszkiewicz explains how she imagines what the Bronte sisters would have written today and whether there would be less sexual tension and more sex scenes.
It’s the way it is explored that changes everything: Jane Eyre or Mr Darcy are characters that generations of readers are now familiar with. Reading about them having sex is not only the intrusion of another author’s voice in a story they have not built, but also something morbid and comparable to finding out the sexual habits of a family member. Because this is what these characters represent for most people. We know the reader would be aware of the experiment, they would completely be capable of judging, but it is highly probable they might feel disturbed by such accounts involving those characters.

What needs to be highlighted here is how no respect is shown for the reader, and I’m not referring to the sex scenes. Respect goes missing when one feels the need to make eroticism explicit. Is the reader not smart enough to catch the sexual tension in the novels as they have been originally written? Was it not the author’s intention to have that veil up for the purpose of arousing the reader’s mind? Was it not the pleasure of it? Wouldn’t it be like a magician performing tricks and promising to explain them afterwards? Value is lost.
Of course, the idea comes from the instant and surprising success of E.L. James’s “Fifty Shades” trilogy. I wonder, was it not going to be a healthier and less controversial project to have erotic novels set in the XVIII or XIX century? Or to publish reworked versions altogether? That would have been a more constructive approach. Oh, but then you would not have the controversy effect. Sex, mixed with controversy, is a sure source of success.

35 thoughts on “Good classics gone bad: the erotic twist one can live without.

    • I thought so. A part from the controversial idea of adding such scenes, I was a bit puzzled by the statement that eroticism seemed to rhyme with sex scenes. Eroticism is per se less explicit than sex scenes. Unless they want to have sex scenes narrated in an erotic way. Who knows?

  1. Well… I’m sort of puzzled till now… until the hell knows when!
    The lack of ideas makes all this. Hunger for success and selling makes it all, too.
    I’ve always been a reader of erotic literature (and we have quite good one) and there’s a HUGE different between it and pornography (allow me to say it). In fact I don’t believe there’s such a thing applicable for literature. The same happens in films: eroticism and sex scenes are rather different and I prefer not to mention porno here… Most of it certainly doesn’t belong to art…
    BUT, what really shocks me among all this, is the whole idea of “killing a book”, whether being a masterpiece or not. In my opinion Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre were / are, but they could not have been / be. They portray a period of history, through Jane Austen’s eyes (already critical) a real unchangeable one. And so is happening with the tons of books that are being written at this precise moment. Fortunately. Unless they are pure sci-fi, perfect non-sense or … whatever.
    If I was the author I would hate to see it changed. Not even a single ‘comma’. People could adopt it to the theatre, to the cinema, whatever… But touch ‘my’ book, add something into my book, change my book’s intention… NEVER!
    (I know once a book is released it’s no longer the author’s book, but the reader’s. The reader should then ABOVE ALL be respected, as well.)
    Fortunately Jane Austen is not here to see it. But someone must be (still) representing her. At least someone should!
    How come?
    What comes next?
    Are they going to add Freud’s theories? Karl Marx’s writings? Shakespeare’s poems, also with “erotic covers”?
    Well… maybe these books don’t sell that much… or maybe they do, and they would, who knows?!
    This is simply outrageous! It sounds to me a bit like “vandalizing” a masterpiece. Pardon my perhaps strange comparison, but it is like adding something on your own to a Dalí’s painting or to a Dega´s nude and the single idea of it just… well… you know!

    Thanks for this!

    Thanks for your love for books and for the truth!


    • I completely agree, and was about to use a piece of art metaphor as you did too. But then thought I had too many metaphors trying to explain how I feel :)

      You have mentioned how novels express a precise moment in time, and it is true. With these additional scenes, how would we feel we’re in the past? The problem is, this arguable project could hide even worse levels of ruining the novel: the best example? Bondage sex for the Wuthering Heights characters. Bondage? Really?
      Not only is this so not a XIX century feature (thankfully), but the whole thing opens a can of worms and paves the way for more anachronisms and unnecessary features.

      I don’t think this project poses a threat to literature lovers. As I stated, I believe readers are wise enough to choose what to read. But to those who love literature, the idea that someone is messing with their characters in such unrespectful way is a source of worry.

      More importantly, I’m criticising this from the point of view of creativity. One always has to try and come up with something original. it’s okay to draw inspiration from old classics, or work on a new version of old classics, or even a rewriting of them. It is another to take the novel as it is and add something. Not original.

      • Yes, they are!
        But it seems to me it is this sort of treasure people are trying to adulterate or even get rid of. And the same is happening not only to books, but also to human beings… :-(

      • The thing is, these novels have been very successful for centuries, so it’s no wonder they attract these kind of thoughts. I believe a society that can look back and respect its past is a very advanced society.

        The whole project is bound to get anachronistic details and anachronism also defines this attempt in its broader sense.

  2. I have to say I do not respect the idea behind the concept. Not every book written today is a soft porn novel. And the crassness of modern fiction is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. I am really sick of reading about blow jobs. It may be salacious but it is also tedious reading, not original and over f-ing done already.
    Pride and Prejudice or Persuasion (my all time favorite) is about love, not sex, as opposed to Fifty Shades (although I haven’t read it so I don’t really know, but from what I have heard).
    Austen leaves off at the perfect place to imagine the next scene ourselves. I don’t want to read about Captain Wentworth penetrating Anne, “You pierce my soul,” penetrates my heart…geesh.

    • Absolutely agree, and I think I have to edit the part where I say I respect the idea behind the concept, because it has been misunderstood.

      I meant I appreciate the “what if” factor but dislike the elements through which it is done! I shall edit!

      And your point is exactly what I wanted to highlight. The genius of these writers was that of having said all with those words. Why change this?

  3. It’s like colourising black & white films. It is not what the artist intended. You do not order a meal in a restaurant, then take it into the kitchen and mess round with it. You have paid for a product, something others also have, so you can discuss and compare. If there are more versions of a book, how do you discuss/compare them? It also ignores the fact that until very recently, there was no really safe, effective form of contraception, so women really were at the mercy of their bodies. It changed how men and women, how whole societies act. I love Steven Stills’ song ‘change partners’, abut how teenage girls were taught not to get the boys too excited when they danced together, not to lead them on… it is completely alien behaviour, and as such, we need to read and understand this.

  4. Excellent and thought provoking post. P&P is one of my favourite novels and I can’t bear the thought of it being adulterated – it’s perfect as is. Pure commercialisn me thinks.

    • Yes, you’re right. I partly failed to mention the commercial value of this in my blogpost. It’s the one thing that drove this idea I guess. Sad, cause it’s not like these novels were written out of pure money drive.

  5. Pingback: Rewriting the past: a contemporary need? « The Bright Old Oak

    • Absolutely. Eroticism was already there, but was coded. Which means the explicit additions could not even remotely match what was intended by Austen. Here’s why the operation is wrong.

  6. Pingback: Response to The Bright Old Oak | Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay

  7. I think that there is a trend toward promoting “eroticism” in literature. I put that word in quotes because, usually, what publishers consider erotic is just in poor taste. Their version of “eroticism” is dispiriting; degrading forms of sex that weaken people. I’m thinking vampires, narcissistic love, S&M etc.

    Personally, I want to read romances that I can feel good about. Inspiration, please!

    • I’m with you there! In fact, Jane Austen herself might have written erotic scenes in “Pride and Prjudice”, depending on what we mean by erotic.
      What you’re saying is right. It’s obsession for the material, the outside, the concrete. Books are supposed to make people dream. There is no imagination in “explicit”.

  8. I couldn’t agree more with your every sentence and the preceding posts. Surely eroticism – whether in books, theatre, film, television or radio – is exactly what Jane Austen was so marvellous at: that which is suggested, hinted at by the atmosphere and dialogue created, but never, ever seen or described. My heart sinks to think of Total-E-Bound Publishing ruining such beautiful novels. Jane Austen et al must be turning in their graves. In fact, as a very distant relation on her mother’s side, I’m tempted to say Austen IS spinning!

    Thank you so much for visiting my blog and liking the post about my art work at the Edinburgh Festival.

    • You’re welcome. I liked your art because it looks vintagey enough for me! :)
      I like all things old.

      Wow, you’re related to Jane Austen? That’s cool!
      I don’t think Jane Austen would be mad at her novels being manipulated/changed/edited.
      I think she would be too busy wondering WHY we have to. I’m sure it would look weird from her perspective as to why one would feel the need to edit HER thing, anything for that matter.
      She lived in a world where novels were written by novelists. This revisiting madness is our thing (unfortunately).

  9. As our society has become more and more explicit about sexual expression–fueled especially by in-private free Internet access to loads of pornography–it takes more and more explicitness to stimulate us. A subtle hint or veiled suggestion? Nah, we’d rather get down to “business.”

    I think it’s this dynamic that drives such revisionsm. Like with porn films that parody Star Wars or the Avengers, we turn this crude curiosity everywhere we can. What would Pride and Prejudice look like as a sex story? How about Twain’s Tom Sawyer with Tom with Tom and Becky? We don’t recognize (or care) that the harsh glare of this pornographic spotlight torches what it passes over. We sacrifice our memories of classic works on the altar of momentary titillation.

    A sad dynamic, indeed. Thanks for visiting my “7 Things I Didn’t Anticipate About Paris” post. I’m glad you led me here.

    Warmly, Ted

    • Thank you for your comment Ted! (By the way, your blog is great and your latest post will surely help me plan my trip to France!)

      Yes, it is quite sad to think of the way society has “raised the bar” on the way we get excited. In a general sense, technology plays a big part. As I usually say, I’m not against technology, but I feel that today’s society was not ready for it. We were not prepared to deal with the psychological effects of it. It makes everything seem easy, accessible, like you can get the best out of anything with a click.
      It’s an illusion!

      It takes work, time, effort to reach for a satisfying goal. To get something that lasts. It’s the process of “building” the road to something, which makes it worth it. Same goes with novels. I generally don’t like explicit things. They take away the fun and the effort of getting there by yourself!

      One day someone will invent teleportation. I will be the one walking my way to my destination cause I want to enjoy the journey! ;)

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