You would think that no one had ever written an erotic romance before.
All of a sudden, everyone’s buzzing about Fifty Shades of Grey, the ebook that started life as a fan fic of Twilight. (For anyone too busy monitoring Middle East affairs to have checked the entertainment news, the author, E.L. James, recast Twilight’s vampire hero as a dominant entrepreneur and made the heroine of legal age to consent to being tied up, punished, and pleasured. )
Despite the fact that the writing is as subtle as a Victoria’s Secret thong, with more eye-rolling than Al Jolson’s Jazz Singer, Fifty Shades of Grey has an undeniable appeal. First of all, it’s straightforward. In a time when so many romances seem to have wildly complex plots featuring mad scientists, Russian gangsters, evil cults, or terrorist networks, Fifty Shades keeps all the conflict focused in on hero and heroine. It’s like an old school Harlequin, the kind Violet Winspear used to write, with the shy but spunky innocent coed and the jaded, sophisticated, domineering boss who has to learn that women aren’t just playthings.
Second of all, Fifty Shades basically contains a beginner’s primer for BDSM (which stands for bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, and shouldn’t be confused with DBMS, which stands for database management systems, and has a much less exciting wardrobe.) Did you know you should have not one, but two safe words? How can you find a good contract template that spells out your hard and soft limits? What do you do if you like the idea of being disciplined for being a naughty, naughty girl but don’t enjoy even a lick of pain? Fifty Shades answers all these questions.
Clearly, BDSM is the new vampire in town. For those of us not particularly obsessed with Twilight, there are countless other possibilities. In my heated obsession with the tortured, oh-so-dominant Guy of Gisborne as played by Richard Armitage, I discovered Colette Gale’s Bound by Honor: An Erotic Novel of Maid Marian, and then devoured Master: An Erotic Novel of the Count of Monte Cristo, and Unmasqued: An Erotic Novel of The Phantom of the Opera.
But what about BDSM versions of other classics? Jane Austen and spanking—a natural combination. In fact, I’m pretty sure that Jane had spanking scenes in Pride and Prejudice, and took them out in a burst of self-censorship right before sending the manuscript off to the publisher. Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew could have benefited from a contract spelling out hard and soft limits, and the BBC’s modern version (with a brilliant turn by Rufus Sewell as a charming, impoverished, slightly mad aristocrat) stopped short of the bedroom.
And that’s just the beginning. Lord of the Rings. Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. Lady Chatterley’s Lover…yes, I know it has sex already, but mostly of the transcendental variety. And how about Downton Abbey? I can just see Lady Mary, confessing to Matthew that they cannot be together, because she has certain…unspeakable desires. He could never understand.
On second thought, that might not work. Lady Mary strikes me more as a top than a bottom, and mainstream readers are probably not yet ready for a masculine, seductive hero who longs to be the one tied up and disciplined. (For those who are so inclined, there’s Laura Kinsale’s rule-breaking Shadowheart.)
Now you’ll have to excuse me. I’m going to go off and fantasize about a bow-wielding heroine trapped in a vast arena along with a hero who claims to love her, but might really be poised to kill her. Let the games begin!
Which classics would you like to see kinked up?
Alisa Kwitney is a former editor at Vertigo/DC comics. She writes romantic women’s fiction, YA and graphic novels, and (as Alisa Sheckley) writes sf/fantasy. You can visit her at www.alisakwitney.com