We had some great comments and posts that emerged from the last discussion on ‘Clandestine Classics‘ decision to insert sexually explicit passages into classics such as Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Jane Eyre, A Study in Scarlett and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
We got a lot of reactions – most of them negative. What we didn’t see was people examining their reactions. I’d like to try and encourage this. For most respondents, there was tremendous unease. I can definitely understand the unease and that, in a way, is what I want to interrogate.
The single most read book on the planet, the Bible, is a product of just such interferences. It did not reach it’s current form intact. It had many writers, many editors. Whole books were left out, and – a whole new ‘second volume’ was added to the series for Christianity. But somewhere along the time, it became an inviolable text to us, and changing it became blasphemous. It is very likely that both the Iliad and the Odyssey were also changed.
I am seeing the same reaction to this interference with these classics. And, don’t get me wrong, I AM personally VERY uncomfortable with adding sexy bits (or any bits actually) to these works. But I’m think this reaction is so deeply held and so automatic, that it behooves us to examine what it is about doing this that we find so upsetting.
I think we will learn more about what we value about literature, and why certain works make their way into the canon while others don’t, by interrogating our reactions. Sorting elitism, nostalgia, and conservatism from some, perhaps, far more valid reasons for protecting these works.
I mentioned in the earlier post that one of the reasons I feel very legitimate in objecting to this sort of mash-up, is that it denies the reader the opportunity to read creatively and add those sexy bits in for themselves, as they read. In effect, it is ‘closing’ a text that has been made ‘open’ by virtue of its age.
Another reason, voice very well by others, is that there is a limited market for readers out there. Isn’t it better to encourage and develop new great works, with sexy bits in them than to try and ‘fix’ the old ones?
So, if you have strong feelings about the sexing-up of classic literature, I challenge you to try and pull apart your feelings on the matter. What are we trying to protect and does it really need our protection? What do we feel is being lost? The integrity of the work? The reputation of the author? Do we equate the reputation and authenticity of those writers with our own? Does a writer ever really ‘own’ a text once it is published? Should we?