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Fifty Shades of Unoriginality

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Recently, the second part of the Fifty Shades trilogy hit our cinema screens, reigniting the discussion of erotic fiction. Many people are fans of E. L. James’ novels, since they are so unconventional and ‘real’. Others think James is special, because she is the first writer to openly write about sadomasochism. Wrong.

Erotic fiction regarding the relationship between the ‘master’ and the ‘slave’ has existed for far longer than first imagined. Ever wondered where the word ‘masochism’ originally came from? Literature.

The relationship between the ‘master’ and the ‘slave’ has existed for far longer than first imagined

In 1870, Austrian writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch published his novella Venus in Furs, involving a female dominant called Wanda, and her male submissive, Severin. As in E. L. James’ books, the man is infatuated with the woman, and asks to be in a sadomasochistic relationship. But, instead of wanting to physically abuse the woman, he desires her to degrade him. Wanda enjoys this new lifestyle, however, she gradually disdains Severin for finding it pleasurable too. They travel to Florence together, where Severin becomes Wanda’s servant. In return, she begins to treat him brutally, by ordering a trio of African women to dominate him. Eventually, the relationship reaches a crisis as Wanda meets a new man whom she wants to submit herself to. Severin is humiliated by the situation, losing the desire of being submissive. Still think that E. L. James is original?

Whilst the Fifty Shades books may be extremely dull in comparison to Sacher-Masoch’s novella, they are relatable to the day-to-day reader, adding to their appeal. James’ protagonist, Anastasia Steele, is a surface-level character who lives a normal life as a recent college graduate. She does not display much depth. Although Christian Grey, her dominant, at first appears more mysterious, he does not even come close to the domination of Wanda in Venus in Furs. The sadomasochism in Fifty Shades overall is mild – Anastasia loses it when she is hit too hard, yet Wanda locks Severin in a basement for days, and he is still fine.

Whilst the Fifty Shades books may be extremely dull in comparison to Sacher-Masoch’s novella, they are relatable to the day-to-day reader

Erotic fiction can be done well. Most people have sex, meaning that the events in these novels are engaging. Believe it or not, many of the books we read contain phallic imagery and sexual elements. Have you ever considered Chaucer and his characters that have sex in the pear trees? Or Shakespeare’s sonnets about bisexuality? Even Bram Stoker’s Dracula can be interpreted as sexual – as Dracula penetrates women with his teeth, and Lucy is killed by a stake penetrating her heart.

So, if you fancy reading something sexual, read something other than Fifty Shades of Grey.


Image Credits: Header (Jaygeorge / Pixabay)

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