By Jueseppi B.
Fifty Shades of Grey is New York Times #1 bestselling erotic fiction paperback and e-book by E. L. James. Set largely in Seattle, it is the first installment in a trilogy that traces the deepening relationship between college graduate Anastasia Steele and a young business magnate, Christian Grey. It is notable for its explicitly erotic scenes featuring elements of BDSM. The second and third volumes are entitled Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed respectively.
The Fifty Shades Trilogy was developed from a Twilight fanfiction originally entitled Master of the Universeand published episodically on fanfiction websites under the penname “Snowqueen’s Icedragon”. The piece featured characters named after Stephenie Meyer’s characters in Twilight, Edward Cullen and Bella Swan. After comments concerning the sexual nature of the material, James removed the story from the fanfiction websites and published it on her own website, FiftyShades.com. Later she decided to rewrite Master of the Universe as an original piece with the principal characters renamed Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele and shortly prior to its publication withdrew the fanfiction version from her website.
This reworked and extended version of Master of the Universe was split into three parts. The first, entitled Fifty Shades of Grey, was released as an e-book and a print-on-demand paperback in May 2011 by The Writers’ Coffee Shop, a virtual publisher based in Australia. The second volume, Fifty Shades Darker, was released in September 2011, and the third, Fifty Shades Freed, followed in January 2012. The Writers’ Coffee Shop had a restricted marketing budget and relied largely on book blogs for early publicity, but sales of the novel were boosted by word-of-mouth recommendation. The book’s erotic nature and perceived demographic of its fanbase as being composed largely of married women over thirty led to the book being dubbed “Mommy Porn” by some news agencies.
The book was featured on a pretaped Saturday Night Live sketch (on the season 37 episode hosted by Eli Manning with musical guest Rihanna) featuring three men (Jason Sudeikis, Bill Hader, and Taran Killam) surprising the women in their lives (Kristen Wiig, Vanessa Bayer, and Nasim Pedrad) with typical Mother’s Day gifts, only to walk in on them masturbating to the book.
By the release of the final volume in January of 2012, news networks in the United States had begun to report on the Fifty Shades trilogy as an example of viral marketing and of the rise in popularity of female erotica, attributing its success to the discreet nature of e-reading devices. Due to the heightened interest in the series, the license to the Fifty Shades trilogy was picked up by Vintage Books for re-release in a new and revised edition in April 2012.
When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.
Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.
Erotic, amusing, and deeply moving, the Fifty Shades Trilogy is a tale that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever.
The plot traces the relationship between recent college graduate Anastasia Steele and manipulative billionaire Christian Grey. Steele is required by Grey to sign a contract allowing him complete control over her life. As she gets to know him she learns that his sexual tastes involve bondage, domination and sadism, and that childhood abuse left him a deeply damaged individual. In order to be his partner she agrees to experiment with BDSM, but struggles to reconcile who she is (a virgin who has never previously had a boyfriend) with whom Christian wants her to be: his submissive, to-do-with-as-he-pleases partner in his “Red Room of Pain.”
Reception to Fifty Shades of Grey has been mixed, with Princeton professor April Alliston writing, “Though no literary masterpiece, ‘Fifty Shades’ is more than parasitic fan fiction based on the recent ‘Twilight’ vampire series.” The Telegraph criticized the book as “treacly cliché” but also wrote that the sexual politics in Fifty Shades of Grey will have female readers “discussing it for years to come.”
A reviewer for the Ledger-Enquirer described the book as guilty fun and escapism, but that it “also touches on one aspect of female existence. And acknowledging that fact – maybe even appreciating it – shouldn’t be a cause for guilt.” The New Zealand Herald stated that the book “will win no prizes for its prose” and that “there are some exceedingly awful descriptions,” but that it was also an easy read and if you “can suspend your disbelief and your desire to – if you’ll pardon the expression – slap the heroine for having so little self respect, you might enjoy it.” The Columbus Dispatch also criticized the book but stated that “Despite the clunky prose, James does cause one to turn the page.”
Metro News Canada wrote that “suffering through 500 pages of this heroine’s inner dialogue was torturous, and not in the intended, sexy kind of way”. Jessica Reaves, of the Chicago Tribune, wrote that the “book’s source material isn’t great literature” noting that the novel is “sprinkled liberally and repeatedly with asinine phrases” and described it as “depressing”.
Origin as fanfiction
Fifty Shades of Grey has attracted criticism due to its origin as a fanfiction based on the Twilight novels, with some readers predicting copyright issues due to this connection. Amanda Hayward of The Writer’s Coffee Shop responded to these claims by stating that Fifty Shades of Grey ”bore very little resemblance to Twilight” and that “Twilight and Fifty Shades Trilogy are worlds apart”. In April 2012 E. L. James was listed as one of Time Magazine’s“100 Most Influential People in the World”, with Richard Lawson of the Atlantic Wire criticizing the inclusion of a fanfic author on the list.
Fifty Shades of Grey has also attracted criticism due to its depictions of BDSM, with Katie Roiphe of Newsweek asking “But why, for women especially, would free will be a burden? … It may be that power is not always that comfortable, even for those of us who grew up in it; it may be that equality is something we want only sometimes and in some places and in some arenas; it may be that power and all of its imperatives can be boring.” Andrea Reiher expressed frustration at Roiphe’s depiction of the series, stating that “Being submissive sexually is not tantamount to being the victim of abuse” or that they’re “giving up their power or their equality with their partner”.
Other sites such as Jezebel have responded to the article, with Jezebel listing reasons as to Fifty Shades of Grey‘s popularity, stating that “the vast majority of fans fawn over the emotional relationship Anastasia and Christian have, not about the sex”. In an interview with Salon, several dominatrices have responded that while submission can be an escape from daily stresses, they also frequently have male clients and that trust is a big factor in dominant/submissive relationships. One interviewed dominatrix, Melissa Febos, stated that even if the book’s popularity was a result of women’s “current anxieties about equality” that it “doesn’t mean that it’s “evidence of unhappiness, or an invalidation of feminism, … it might actually be a sign of progress that millions of women are so hungrily pursuing sexual fantasies independent of men.”
Whitney Frink, a producer of Access Hollywood, also criticized the book’s sexual content, stating “If it helps awaken your bedroom imagination, so be it. But let’s not tout this book as anything other than the big step backwards that it is.”
Several studios, including Warner Bros., Sony, Paramount and Universal Pictures entered bids for the film rights to the trilogy, with reports stating that James was requesting to retain some control during the movie’s creative process. On March 26, 2012 it was announced the rights had been secured by Universal Pictures and Focus Features. Actors such as Ian Somerhalder and Alexander Skarsgård have expressed keen interest in the role of Christian Grey.
The success of this book baffles me. While I am not an avid reader of “erotic fiction,” I have read some, and everything that I’ve read is so much better than this, it’s ridiculous. If you’re contemplating buying this book, here’s what the book is, if this helps you make a decision:
- Take Stephenie Meyer’s ham-handed, awkward writing and turn down the “quality” dial about four – maybe five – notches. Romance novel readers can look at it this way – the writing is about two levels worse than the worst Harlequin romance you’ve ever read.
- Add in a Stephenie Meyer-esque heroine, a woman so boring it is hard to imagine how anyone – much less an extremely rich, sophisticated, smart, experienced dominant – would ever see anything the least bit interesting in her. Just like Bella in the Twilight novels, Anastasia is mostly just a cipher, a complete blank that women can project themselves onto. She’s not that smart, she’s not that funny, she has very pedestrian beliefs, goals and ambitions, she has standard mommy-didn’t-love-me and divorced-parent issues. Actually, Anastasia is Bella, just this time around she gets into sex.
- Add in some clumsily-written sex scenes and a whole lot of mostly inaccurate, overblown information about BDSM. Then couch the sex scenes in a whole lot of very boring dialogue and “plot” (mainly consisting of the main characters’ emails to each other – is there anything more boring than reading someone else’s emails?) so there can at least be a pretense that there is a story here, and that the book isn’t just bad BDSM erotica.
Part of my problem with the book is the poor quality, including everything I’ve mentioned above. My other main problem with the book is just how unbelievable the story and the characters are. There are very few experienced doms out there who get involved with uninitiated subs this way. There are very few doms with Christian’s resources that have to resort to uninitiated partners, no matter how “fascinating” (not) they are – they can pretty much purchase as much experience and expertise in their partners as they need, and generally, they need and want a lot of experience – bringing someone up to their level takes time and effort and becomes boring pretty quickly. I would actually caution women who might be interested in this kind of arrangement with a dominant, now that they’ve read the book – experienced doms who look for uninitiated subs do not usually have good intentions of bringing someone along into the lifestyle slowly, and buying them cars and computers. It’s something people should steer clear of, not seek out.
I don’t know. I guess if this gets some housewives hot and bothered and spices up their bedroom life, there’s no harm in it. Husbands everywhere will probably get some awesome experiences out of this whole temporary BDSM-lite erotic-fiction craze. But, the really tragic thing is that there are authors of erotic fiction out there, who have been working for a long time, who actually have – you know – WRITING SKILLS – who will never be as rich or as famous as the woman who wrote this very lackluster book that is getting all kinds of unwarranted attention, for no good reason.
If readers of this are really interested in this whole BDSM erotic-fiction thing, without the thinly-veiled, poorly-constructed romance subtext, I highly recommend the Sleeping Beauty series that Anne Rice wrote under a pen name, A.N. Roquelaure. The first one, The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, is available for Kindle here on Amazon. It’s much better written, overall, than this book, and also much more creative (and thus, much hotter).
What do you think?
- “Fifty Shades Of Grey” To Be A Movie (miami.cbslocal.com)
- Fifty Shades of Grey (afluffyblonde.wordpress.com)
- Fifty shades of a guilty pleasure (withglitterinherveins.wordpress.com)
- Critics pan erotic bestseller ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ (ctv.ca)
- Even Celebrities Can’t Stop Talking About 50 Shades of Grey (popsugar.com)
- Fifty Shades Trilogy (puddinggirl.wordpress.com)
Filed under: Book Reviews, Books, Erotica/Sex, Joy & Happiness, Women's Causes Tagged: | Anastasia Steele, BDSM, Bella Swan, Christian Grey, Edward Cullen, Erotica/Sex, Grey, New York Times, Taran Killam