I am so Twitter-promiscuous. I’ll read anything, click on anything. Including, occasionally, panda-themed gangbangs. Thanks, Sarah.
Anyway, this afternoon I ran across a link to ‘Wild and Wanton’ retellings of classic novels. And, naturally, I responded by, err, taking the piss a bit and back-and-forthing with a few people about the least appropriate great books to try and eroticise. I’m sure you can imagine the sort of thing. Gangbang of the Red Death, Wang of Darkness, A Clockwork Orgy and so on and so forth. I could have gone all night, believe me.
But then I took off my ever-popular ‘being a bellend’ hat and went to actually have a look at what was going on here. I’m only human so I do occasionally like to get my mock on but it’s an impulse I have to learn to resist – since I think a lot of insta-derision, although it can be funny (and let’s face, pointing and laughing at things other people like is always HILARIOUS), tends to come from nasty little places.
I know I’ve been at times snarking and uncomprehending about 50 Shades of Whatevs but I’ve tried to limit my piss-taking to, err private rather than parties. I mean, yeah, it’s not for me, and its attitude to kink naturally annoys the living fuck out of me, but that doesn’t mean it has nil value to anyone else. I mean, even if the book itself is – to your personal estimation – a pile of shite, I think things that allow people to talk publicly about sex and sexuality, are good right? I’m vaguely aware that women have been reading books to get their rocks off since time immemorial (hi Catherine Morland), but when it first came out, I heard a couple of forty-something administrators giggling in the staff room with real pleasure, because they genuinely didn’t know there were dirty books out there for them to find and enjoy. Or, for that matter, that what I consider to be pathetically vanilla activities were actually Things People Did Or Could Do If They Were Into That. I could have done without the next bit of the conversation, when they took to speculating about who was their preferred Christian Grey-alike from people they knew … but ANYWAY.
I think it’s always problematic when books from within a particular genre break into the mainstream. I mean, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Twilight, 50 Shades, all not particularly good examples of their genres, doing things that other writers have been doing better for ages, but still – there’s no point complaining about their success, or deriding them for all the ways they aren’t particularly good, because genre hitting the mainstream, in general, is A Good Thing. I mean, it shouldn’t be a great cultural and social revelation that Books With Wizards In Are Cool, Epic Fantasy Can Be Really Absorbing, Teenage Girls Would Like A Boyfriend Who Is Totally Into Them and Woman Occasionally Like To Get Off. But the fact these dialogues get opened, and markets get explicitly discovered, is, in itself, valuable. Regardless of the ‘quality’ of the text in question.
Okay, I’ve gone off track. Let’s get back to Wild and Wanton. The thing is, I can kind of imagine affectionate pieces of mischief being spun from the scenery of famous novels – I mean, Lydia & Wickham’s Saucy London Adventures, anyone? They were clearly at it like monkeys for MONTHS before Darcy found them. But then I discovered that they were just the novels, pretty much wholesale, with … like … sex bunged in. And then I was sad again.
Now, look I know it’s not my place to be SAD. People are absolutely entitled to write what they want and read what they want. And it’s not like the two sets of preferences are mutually exclusive: there is plenty of the room in the world for both. Me preferring my novels as they are does not get in the way of people enjoying, err, Pride and Prejudice Plus. Nor does the existence of Pride and Prejudice Plus interfere with my ability to read Pride and Prejudice.
But, walking home with H, talking about it and tossing around semi-seriously classic novels you could update to include erotic content … I suddenly realised that I genuinely LIKED these books. As they were. This wasn’t a ‘omg, it is the literary canon, it be genius, it may not be touched, just worshipped from afar’ reaction, just the realisation that I would feel like I was truly damaging something if I tried to pull it apart and stick extra bits in there. I mean, obviously, one can replicate the ‘feeling’ of the style of a writer like Austen, but only in the sense that if you tie ribbons in your hair and paint a slash over your nose you can look a bit like Adam Ant, but you still won’t be no dandy highwayman, baby.
I guess the trick is to choose a novel you don’t like very much. Or isn’t all that good (of which the English canon contains MANY examples). But then who really wants to read about Daisy bonking Dora and dreaming of Steerforth. Well, okay, that does sound pretty interesting actually. But I suspect the Dickens would,y’know, get in the way. And although I personally ship Marian / Count Fosco, I can’t imagine there are many other people who would want to read about what I am sure would be deliciously kinky sex between an ugly woman and a fat dude. It’s not exactly the stuff of fantasy, is it? It’s not Mr Darcy jumping into bodies of water in a see-through shirt. Marian Halcombe, by the way, is my dream heroine. I want to marry her. I think she is the best person in literature ever. Well. Marian Halcombe or Fanny Price.
And, yes, yes, I’m a mutant I know. I know liking Fanny Price is Not Permitted. But I do. And I think Mansfield Park is … just awesome. Melancholic but awesome. I know Fanny can be a bit frustrating, because she’s so unhappy, dutiful and repressed but THAT’S NOT HER FAULT. That’s the way she’s essentially been raised to be, although there’s also lots of passion and strength and joy in her as well, it just has no way of finding expression within the limitations of her current life (gawwwww!!!).
And I know Henry Crawford is objectively cooler than Edmund, on account of being hot, and a rake and a bad boy and all that. Whereas Edmund is just plain nice and looses about sixty million sex points for going into the church, which, of course, most modern readers find deeply unattractive. But I think it’s kind of cool and subversive that Fanny basically looks at the romance novel set up she has going on and essentially says: “so … I could marry this hot, worthless guy and use my moral woman powers to make him a better person OR I could marry somebody who is ACTUALLY a good person right NOW and be happy for the rest of my life.” And, lo, marries the man who is worthy of her, as opposed to the bloke romance convention means she’s supposed to DIY into a decent husband.
I just don’t see how putting sex in there makes it any better.
For that matter, it’s already got sex in it. Maria Bertram does the dirty, doesn’t she? And Henry Crawford has sex coming out of his ears. Although, again, writing Henry Crawford’s Little Black Book could be kind of entertaining. Sign me up for that instead. I guess, what I’m trying to say is that – for me (and I emphasise, this is about me, it does not apply to everyone, I would never try to say people can’t write x or can’t read y) – although there is room to kind of tangent off potentially naughty stories from classic novels, I just don’t think re-writing them with added sex could be – again, for me – in any way satisfying.
It like’s George Lucasing the original Star Wars films by bunging in a lot of unnecessary, jarring CGI stuff. And, Han shot first, goddamn it.
Or, to represent it visually (SCIENTIFICALLY!), this is the difference:
But, again, whatever floats your boat. That’s cool.
It’s just this kinda sinks mine so hard it drowns my Leonardo di Caprio.