Don’t Touch Darcy
It is a truth universally acknowledged that there should be more sex in the literary classics. So says the publishing industry, anyway.
On July 17 the e-romance publisher Total-E-Bound announced its new line of Clandestine Classics, erotic updates of beloved novels including Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and the Sherlock Holmes series, based on the success of Fifty Shades of Grey. According to the article in the Huffington Post, some 250 authors who write erotic romance for the publisher will re-pen the books.
Most of the literate universe seems to acknowledge that this is a very bad idea. As of 10 p.m. on the night of the announcement, a poll attached to the Huffington Post’s article showed that 86.21 percent of voters found the risqué revamps an “Awful idea – some things are sacred!” As for the other 13.79 percent, well, we don’t talk about them.
As someone who has devoted a very large part of my college career to studying apparently cold and sexless nineteenth-century literature, I find this project downright blasphemous. Why are these erotic classics so problematic? Oh, let me count the ways.
First, sexual tension doesn’t need to be explicit to be present. Claire Siemaszkiewicz, the founder of Total-E-Bound, is quoted in the Huffington Post article as saying, “Charlotte Brontë was a bold, forward-thinking lady for her time. There’s so much sexual tension and eroticism there.” Yes, exactly. It’s already there! Show of hands, who got a little bit hot and bothered reading Jane Eyre? The underlying romance and tension is already so powerful, it doesn’t need to be made into an HBO show. As for Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy does not need to look as though he just walked off the set of Magic Mike to be sexy. I am just saying.
Second, isn’t one of the reasons that we love those nineteenth-century heroes because they are gentleman? Sure, Darcy can be a bit of a prat at times, but he’s not going to ruin Lizzy Bennet’s reputation by tearing her clothes off without warning. Would Captain Wentworth be quite so wonderful in Persuasion if he slung Anne Elliot against the wall instead of telling her in a letter that she pierces his soul? I think not.
Finally, these books are products of their time, and they are embedded in nineteenth-century codes of conduct. “Updating” them for a modern audience will destroy the connections between the novels and the culture in which they were written. Lydia Bennet disgraces her family by running away with Mr. Wickham; if Lizzy and Darcy have been getting it on the entire time, this ceases to matter. Removing Austen’s novels from their nineteenth-century context not only throws their morality to the wind, but it also ruins the social satire that makes her funny. And what about Jane Eyre? If the morally upstanding Jane were really having what is billed as “explosive sex” with Rochester, would her conscience still tell her to leave after the discovery of his wife in the attic?
Maybe there is a market for racy nineteenth-century fiction, as Siemaszkiewicz suggests. But please, not these novels. They’re classics for a reason.
Image from http://www.nytimes.com/