After 50 Shades of Grey exploded the publishing world with the radical notion that women like reading about sex, the scramble to find another book or author to trail along in the wake has been making news. While a part of me – maybe a large part – riles whenever someone suggests I read these books, in general I think this movement is a good thing for women. The label “mommy porn” is a bit off-putting, but I understand (but do not condone) the social need to qualify women, and especially women-as-mothers, reading anything designed to sexually excite. Overall, though, showing women as interested in sex for themselves is not a bad thing.
The most recent version of sexy publishing comes from Clandestine Classics, who, in the spirit of sexy knock-offs, has decided to insert racy scenes into classic works of literature that are in the public domain. Works like Jane Eyre, Northanger Abbey, and Sherlock Holmes are being rewritten to include sexual relationships where the actual authors did not intend. Although Claire Siemaszkiewicz, founder of Total-E-Publishing (of which Clandestine is an offshoot), claims “[w]e’re not rewriting the classics… [b]ut we want to enhance the novels by adding the ‘missing’ scenes for readers to enjoy,” changing the relationships between characters does change the overall work. The original themes, literary skill, and cultural commentary that each of these novels exhibits are corrupted if the focus is taken off those things and shifted to sex scenes; the very elements that make these novels classic is either shoved aside or completely thwarted by the added material. In the excerpt for Jane Eyre, for example, Jane as written is the submissive of her “master” Rochester; how does this reflect their relationship? Jane is a strong character, and her leaving Thornfield to find herself cannot possibly, logically, work if she acts as submissive to Rochester beforehand.
Furthermore, the hijacking of classic works, with carefully constructed plot, characters, themes, etc., is a grander version of the type of borrowing James did with her trilogy. Originally started as fan fiction, James used the characters Bella and Edward from the Twilight novels as the basis for her work. Though she changed the characters so they no longer resemble Twilight, to generate the first edition of her work James used work from another author. Clandestine Classics is going a step further to blatantly take apart great works of literature and rebuild them with shoddy, unnecessary parts that render the whole thing a shambles. And even worse, the authors are not alive to defend their works. It is no accident that the authors writing in these scenes go unnamed in the press release; they are disposable, tradable, and inconsequential. The audacity of taking another’s work, stitching your initials on the lapel, and draping it over your shoulders is unbelievably self-righteous. One can only hope Clandestine Classics’s thinly veiled drive for revenue will peter out quickly.