Overheard a student say he couldn’t wait until the Fifty Shades of Grey movie came out, so I thought I’d excavate this May 2012 post from the Purgatorio of my defunct blog Late Empire Ruminations.
THE BATH IS A white stone, deep, egg-shaped affair, very designer. Christian leans over and fills it from the faucet on the tiled wall. He pours some expensive looking bath oil into the water. It foams as the bath fills and smells of sweet, sultry jasmine.
EL James, Fifty Shades of Grey
Sometimes, heroic individuals sacrifice their happiness, peace of mind, even their lives for the greater good. One thinks immediately of Sarah Smith, pantomime artiste, who, according to her memorial plaque in Postman’s Park, London: Died of terrible injuries received when attempting in her inflammable dress to extinguish the flames which had enveloped her companion January 24 1863.
Think of Sydney Carton, the doomed ne’er-do-well of A Tale of Two Cities, ministering unto the young seamstress as he awaits his self-chosen beheading to save the life of Charles Darnay and the happiness of his beloved Lucie.
Or, if you will, think of your humble blogger subjecting his all too delicate sensibility to the vulgarities of EL James’s hyperventilated prose so that he can save you from the experience.
Of course, if you’re reading this blog, you’re hip to the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon – the blockbuster bestseller supposedly every woman is devouring, a novel so entrancing that it has transformed ardent feminists into devotees of male domination. That paragon of journalistic integrity Fox News proclaims:
Everyone from so-called “mommy bloggers” to hardcore feminists is hailing the tome as a triumph for women, in spite of the book’s strong themes of female submission at the hands of a high-powered man.
Personal Note: As I read that hardcore feminists see the book as a triumph for women, I feel cognitive dissonance – dyspeptic, incessant – surging from my belly to my esophagus. I am in its Sartrean thrall! Holy Hell, hardcore feminists, how can it be my left brain murmurs as I clamber from my antique desk chair and pad across discount carpet into the master bath to retrieve my Thorazine.
More from Fox:
Television host Dr. Drew Pinsky recently called the book a “rape fantasy” on his HLN show. Women writers laughed off Pinky’s remarks, saying there is absolutely no reason for men to weigh in on this issue at all, and certainly no reason for them to use the term rape.
“Why is Dr. Drew speaking on behalf of the fantasies and desires of women, let alone women he hasn’t even met?” Jessica Wakeman of the women’s blog The Frisky told Fox411.
The novel chronicles the sexual awakening of Anastasia Steele, a seemingly asexual college senior English major who has only been kissed twice because none of the fellows she’s met can flip her switch the way that Edmond Dantès and Heathcliff do. Somehow or another, the college newspaper her roommate edits lands an interview with publicity-shy Christian Grey, a man who possesses the beauty of Adonis and the net worth of Nebuchadnezzar. Alas, Ms Steele’s domineering roommate Kate is too sick to conduct the interview so she sends in her stead Ms. Steele, who, perhaps too concerned with the unruliness of her hair or the largeness of her eyes, doesn’t bother to google Mr. Grey in preparation of the interview.
As Steele enters the headquarters of “Mr. Grey’s global enterprise,” the lavishness of the decor works its magic on her like skilled foreplay.
Behind the leather chairs is a spacious glass-walled meeting room with an equally spacious dark wood table [huh?] and at least twenty matching chairs around it. Beyond that, there is a floor to ceiling window and a view of the Seattle skyline that looks out through the city toward the Sound. It’s a stunning vista, and I’m momentarily paralyzed by the view. Wow.
As soon as she lays eyes on Grey, Anastasia’s long repressed hormones break free from the Bastille of their repression, clambering in waves from down there, up, up, up into her cerebral cortex where they hungrily devour all synapses devoted to critical thinking.
So young – and attractive, very attractive. He’s tall, dressed in a fine gray suit, white shirt, and black tie with unruly dark copper-colored hair and intense, bright eyes that regard me shrewdly*. It takes a moment for me to find my voice.
*n.b., Anastasia has not lost her voice because Christian Grey’s tie has copper hair and is shrewdly regarding her. Suggested edit for subsequent editions: Slap a period after tie, capitalize the w of with, place a comma after eyes, substitute he for that, add an s to regard, and you’ll see that it’s Grey not the tie who sports copper hair and is doing the regarding.
Grey himself possesses all of the charm of a Bond villain and employs the same stilted politesse:
“Business is all about people, Miss Steele [. . .] My belief is to achieve success in any scheme one has to make oneself master of that scheme, know it inside and out, know every detail. I work hard, very hard to do that.”
Well, to make 514 page story short, Steele wants to add unconfident Anastasia to his collection of contracted submissives, to have her willingly perform various acts stipulated by the contract she signs — in short, to completely dominate her. In essence, his wealth and beauty have transformed her from an unconfident, gawky lover of English literature into as vapid a tween as you’ll ever encounter at a Justin Bieder concert.
There is a state-of-the-art [cooking] range. I think I have the hang of it [. . .] Amy Studt is singing in my ear about misfits. This song used to mean so much to me; that’s because I’m a misfit. I have never fitted in anywhere [. . .] I whisk some eggs and turn and Christian is sitting at one of the stools of the breakfast bar, leaning on it, his face supported by his steepled hands. He’s still wearing the T-shirt he slept in. Just-fucked hair really, really suits him, as does his designer stubble.
W-t-f, my superego scolds, designer stubble , please! Look at all of the books that remain unread, Remembrance of Things Past, The Mill on the Floss, e.g. – put that trash down immediately. “Okay,” I murmur, my face reddening with shame . . .
Okay, enough, but the question remains – what is it about this poorly written, cliche-ridden, salacious piece-of-shit that has all of womankind in the Late Empire in its throes?
I’m probably wrong, but I don’t think it’s the sex. After all, Mr. Grey doesn’t deflower Ms Steele until page 117. I think the Anastasia’s fast-paced, commodity-laden first person narrative (it reads like a diary) must trigger some atavistic impulse in women to relive their early adolescence. Perhaps they find Anastasia’s lack of confidence endearing, the tug-of- war between her “subconscious” and “inner goddess” familiar, and as they vicariously live her life, their inner tweens emerge, shattering, as Anastasia might put it, their critical faculties into a thousand little pieces.