First, the fine citizens of Hertforshire were woken from the dead and plagued by Zombies in Seth Grahame-Smith‘s parody novel, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” Then came sea monsters. Now ‘Clandestine Classics‘, a sub-imprint of Total e-Bound have launched a series of classic novels to which explicit sex scenes have been added. You can read more about it here: Oh Mr Darcy! Pride and Prejudice among classic novels to receive erotic makeover.
This seems to be a collision between the earlier literary mash-up efforts and the overwhelming popularity of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Publishers have decided, it seems, that readers now want more sex with their everything. They will be offering up sexed-up versions of “Pride and Prejudice,” “Northanger Abbey,” Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Study in Scarlet” (a Sherlock Holmes story) and Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea.”
Claire Siemaszkiewic founder of Total-E-Bound Publishing, said in the Independent :
“We’re not rewriting the classics. We’re keeping the original prose and the author’s voice. We’re not changing any of that.
“But we want to enhance the novels by adding the ‘missing’ scenes for readers to enjoy.”
So, I’m very interested to generate some informed opinions on this. By informed I mean: you have read at least some of the classics in question, and you have read some erotica. I think that, without exposure to both those experiences, there is some danger of a debate which is not informed by experience and might be muddied up with assumptions about what contemporary erotic fiction is or, conversely, what the classics in question are like. So, if you’ve read a bit of both, I’d love to hear what you think of this. I’ve provided a widget at the bottom of the page so that, if you would like to blog about your take on this, you can add your link so that people can jump straight to your blog post on the subject.
For what it’s worth, here’s my thinking on the matter:
I have to admit to being a little offended by Ms Siemaszkiewic’s statement that there was something ‘missing’ from the original texts. I think it needs to be said that the reason those novels have entered into the canon of Western literature is because there was nothing missing at all. They were very complete, very compelling texts when they were published. And, to many people, they still are today.
However, there are millions of readers who have never read these novels. And one of the reasons they might not have is because those stories seem old and irrelevant to them, and not compelling. Perhaps their language seems difficult and hard to read. Perhaps they struggle with relating to the characters, their struggles. Or perhaps they are put off by a perceived elitist veneer that cloaks these books?
So, if sexing up the classics means that a new generation of readers are going to read Austen and Verne and Doyle with some tacked on sexy bits, isn’t that a positive thing? Isn’t it better that they read them in any form than not at all?
As the Independent article implies, it has been said that the original authors of these novels might feel that their works had been defiled by the addition of sexually explicit scenes. I’m not entirely sure that Austen wouldn’t get a kick out of it, but from everything I’ve read about Arthur Conan Doyle, he would be disgusted and horrified. On the other hand, Barthes would be delighted.
But Shakespeare used earlier stories for his fodder. Bram Stoker took his premise from Polidori’s “The Vampyre” and Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla.” It’s fair to say that the art of the mash-up isn’t a new one. Literature grows in the mulch of earlier literature and I’m not sure the sensitivities of a group of dead, if wonderful authors is a compelling reason not to do this.
Something that does bother me is authenticity. If Jules Verne were alive today, I’m fairly positive that he’d have no problem adding a few infernal desire machines to his plots. And I’d wager that Total-E-Bound, with its extensive list of ‘taboo’ and ‘no go’ list of sexual acts or scenarios they refuse to publish, might struggle to consider Mr. Verne for publication.
My major opposition to adding sexually explicit scenes to these classics has to do with readers’ imaginations. When I read “Wuthering Heights,” I was perfectly capable of dreaming up my own very explicit scenes between Catherine and Heathcliff. In fact, the scenes I wrote in my head were probably more explicit and erotic that anything ‘Clandestine Classics’ is going to come up with. It’s one of the deep pleasures of reading and an integral part of the reader-text relationship, that we appropriate characters, situations and settings from of their fictional worlds and play with them in our own minds.
I see a trend, not just in fiction, but in all other medias to offer tremendously closed texts to the audience. Where everything is described, explained and sewn up. And it has served the media corporations well for this to be the case. Because it requires five more books in the series, or three more seasons on the television, or two more film sequels to tie up every narrative loose end. Open texts are simply not as profitable.
But I fear that this enriches content providers at the expense of an active, critical and fertile imagination on the part of audiences.
So… what do you think? You can either leave your thoughts below in the comments area or link your blog post on the subject in the widget below.