BEYERS DE VOS

What are the consequences when Twilight fan fiction spawns an extremely popular series of erotic novels which sell millions of copies and single-handedly reinvigorates the romantic fiction genre?

Jane Eyre: Laid Bare, is what. The book is the first in a series of classic novels being injected with freshly written sex scenes and remarketed as alternatives to the originals. This is fast becoming the latest genre mash-up craze precipitated a few years ago by the horror reimagining Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Expect Pride and Prejudice, perhaps the quintessential English classic, to be the second literary romance to be bulked up with erotic passages, followed closely by the entire Jane Austen canon, Wuthering Heights and a myriad of other 19th century classics. Even Sherlock Holmes will get a dirty makeover (spoiler: Sherlock and Dr Watson get it on).

In Jane Eyre: Laid Bare, Jane is described as having “explosive sex” with Mr Rochester, while Heathcliff and Catherine from Wuthering Heights are apparently into bondage.

Published by Macmillan, first in eBook format, but out in paperback this September, the publishers are confident that the books will find a ready and willing market, especially amongst fans of what is now being dubbed the “mommy porn” genre.

In fact, two versions of Pride and Prejudice predate this new fad. Mitzi Szereto’s Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts as well as Pride/Prejudice: The Hidden Secret, in which Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy both have homosexual affairs, have been published over the last few years. Lately they too have achieved new popularity, riding the sales tsunami caused by EL James and her Fifty Shades trilogy.

But is this kind of genre cross-pollination a clever way of exposing modern audiences to classic literature (the original text is, after all, still there) or just a sneaky marketing ploy which destroys the integrity of great works by degrading them and turning them into the somewhat less complex (but perhaps more entertaining) stuff of romantic fiction?

The publishers and authors maintain they are simply highlighting the underlying sexual tension already prevalent in these books by adding what they call “missing scenes”, although public response to these claims has been mixed.

In a poll by Britain’s Guardian newspaper, 87% of respondents voted “no” when asked if they felt that Jane Eyre needed an erotic retelling, and Perdeby’s own snap poll on Twitter received an overwhelmingly negative response. Dominating the online discussion of these books were comments like, “Is there

 really any doubt that the perverse product promoted here is nothing but a tawdry reverse bowdlerisation of a classic work?” and “So it’s come to literature will eat itself, has it? Surely this must be one of the signs of the end times?”

South African writer and professor of English David Medalie (who lectures on both Austen and Emily Brontë at UP) confesses, “I’m afraid I haven’t read any of these adaptations. Indeed, I didn’t know they existed. I have my doubts, however, as to whether they will tempt readers to go back to the originals – but one can’t know that for certain. I’m such an admirer of the originals that it seems like sacrilege to me!”

But Jane Eyre: Laid Bare author Eve Sinclair is adamant that all she has done is update the classic for a modern audience. In an interview with FemaleFirst.com, she says, “These are postmodern times and mash-ups are prevalent in all forms of culture, from art to music and of course, books. Even in Brontë’s lifetime, there were different versions of Jane Eyre and there have been countless retellings since. If readers don’t like the idea of it, then don’t read it. I am a huge fan of Jane Eyre and I hope my version encourages people to go back to the original text.”

Sinclair concludes, “I think erotic fiction becoming more mainstream is a good thing. Women have always been turned on by words and I think putting a love story within an erotic setting is very powerful.”

Whether it is powerful is debatable, but it certainly is popular: sales of the book have been good and with the film versions of both Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Fifty Shades of Grey in the pipeline, the popularity of both literary mash-ups and erotic romance has never been higher. It’s probably only a matter of time before Jane Eyre: Laid Bare hits the big screen too.

Illustration: Simon-Kai Garvie

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