“Tess wished to abridge her visit as much as possible; but the young man was pressing, and she consented to accompany him. He conducted her about the lawns, and flower-beds, and conservatories; and thence to the fruit-garden and greenhouses, where he asked her if she liked strawberries.
D’Urberville began gathering specimens of the fruit for her, handing them back to her as he stooped; and, presently, selecting a specially fine product of the “British Queen” variety, he stood up and held it by the stem to her mouth.
“No--no!” she said quickly, putting her fingers between his hand and her lips. “I would rather take it in my own hand.”
“Nonsense!” he insisted; and in a slight distress she parted her lips and took it in.”
Reader, I think you can guess what happens. And yes, that’s exactly how Thomas Hardy jotted down his big seduction scene. It hasn’t been sexed up or tampered with – this is Tess of the d’Urbervilles the 1891 version.
It’s packed full of sin and temptation but if you thought Tess was a master class in metaphor then think again. It no longer hits the spot, apparently. In the wake of the hugely successful pot-boiler Fifty Shades of Grey, it seems readers want sex, without the strings.
This week publishing company Total-E-Bound announced it was jumping on the bonking bandwagon. Hoping to cash in on the country’s new-found appetite for “mummy porn”, it has had its wicked way with the Higher English reading list.
It’s a who’s who of 19th- century favourites, from Pride and Prejudice to Jane Eyre. Other titles to be published under the Clandestine Classics collection include Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, Emily Brönte’s Wuthering Heights and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet.
Fans of the Brönte sisters may not be pleased. Jane has been transformed into a Victorian siren and has “explosive sex with Mr Rochester” in the new erotic edition, while Cathy, the heroine of Wuthering Heights, “enjoys bondage sessions” with Heathcliff.
Holmes and Watson are also more than just friends in their new e-book.
The company claims it isn’t rewriting the classics, just adding the “missing” scenes for readers to enjoy. It argues that there’s a lot of underlying sexual tension in the stories already – it’s just teasing it out. Really?
In literary terms it must be the equivalent of strapping on a pair of plastic breasts. It’s cheap and tacky and makes me rather angry. Imagine if you picked up a copy of a reworked Tess and thought it was the real thing? (I’m guessing the cover might be less bucolic than the Penguin Classic but you might be in a hurry). If Hardy is added to the list, this is the kind of thing you can expect:
“Alec suddenly produced a pair of pink fluffy handcuffs. It was time for Tess to be a woman; more sinful, than sinned against. Alec twirled his moustache. His black eyes gleamed as he crushed his body against hers and into the glistening strawberries.”
It’s not much of a stretch from Fifty Shades of Grey is it? Alec d’Urberville even has his own riding crop.
So, will a whole new generation of readers gravitate, or should that be salivate, towards the classics? It certainly looks as though there’s a market for this kind of tarting-up – and if the figures swimming around E L James and her book are true, you can see where they’re coming from.
Fifty Shades of Grey is the fastest selling book of the year and has made James an estimated £6.5 million in book sales and film rights. I seem to recall that Dan Brown made a lot of money too.
Now the only book chart the Da Vinci Code tops is the one in Oxfam. A similar fate may well await the rather less saintly Fifty Shades of Grey but at least it’s something new – unlike the wave of butchered classics headed our way.
That’s what’s so annoying. When they say they’re “breathing new life” into these books what they mean is they’re squeezing more money out of them because they can. It’s cynical and sexist and somehow reduces 19th-century literary heroines into 21st-century blow-up dolls.
Time to turn the page, I think.
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