Fifty Shades of Grey and Lady Chatterley’s Lover (again!)

I hate Fifty Shades of Grey. This, I think, is not an unusual sentiment. Many writers and other sorts of bloggers have published their opinions on it, showing how silly it is, how it’s just a success of internet marketing, and most importantly how it provides women with yet another abusive relationship as though it were romantic.

The reason I hate Fifty Shades of Grey is all of those things, and it is also a reason peculiarly my own.

It’s made me appreciate Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Frequent readers may recall my disgust at Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D. H. Lawrence’s novel on the importance of (heterosexual) sex to both men and women on a primal level. I don’t consider myself a prude but I also think that the sex offered is not all it’s cracked up to be. To say this briefly – sex with Mellors, the groundskeeper, is quick and animalistic, and he says annoying things like “we came off at the same time… it’s good when it’s like that.”

So, in my typical anti-Lawrentian stance I decided that it would be funny to publish a post comparing the sex scenes in Lady Chatterley with those in Fifty Shades. The main problem was that I had never actually read past chapter three of the latter novel.

Well now I have. And without further ado, I present for your viewing pleasure: the reasons why Lady Chatterley’s Lover is an enduring classic, and Fifty Shades of Grey should hopefully slide into obscurity as soon as the film trilogy is concluded.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover was doing something new

While I don’t think literary history is any reason, by itself, to read a book, it has to be said in this instance that at least Lawrence was writing to an audience who were unused to reading about sex. This is why the book was banned, and it made a historic change in terms of the censorship in the UK. This means that Lady Chatterley wins! It has undoubtedly changed the way people view and write books, and allowed people to write about real experiences even if they might be lewd or upsetting.

Some of the hype over Fifty Shades seems to suggest that the trilogy’s achievements are something quite new as well, but that’s blatantly not true. There’s been a section of Mills and Boon (or Harlequin, for American readers) especially devoted to erotica for years! There are also tonnes of BDSM erotica novels readily available on Amazon, not just as a result of Fifty Shades hype. While Fifty Shades has managed to be more successful than its competitors, reasonable success in the world of BDSM fiction is nothing new – Secretary, a film about a BDSM relationship between a secretary and her boss, comes to mind, as does Story of O, which is far more shocking in its content, and was published as long ago as 1954.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover has an interesting female character.

As I mentioned in my previous review, Connie (Lady Chatterley) is quite interesting, at least in the beginning of the book before she gets it on with Mellors and starts to see everything as tacky and money-chasing. She’s had experiences, and is interested in having more. We never really find out, on the other hand, what Anastasia wants. She likes Classic British Literature but only ever references Tess of the D’Urbevilles, Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre (and, in my opinion, she totally misreads Jane Eyre as a character). She wants a job in publishing, and not to have to interact with other people at all because it’s embarrassing. Lady Chatterley is held back from experiences because of her disabled husband and the role that she is expected to take as a woman of that era. Anastasia is not held back at all (except maybe by Christian’s tie); anything she wants is hers in an instant. Connie, therefore, is interesting and has development, however annoying. Anastasia… who can say?

Lady Chatterley’s Lover is also notable since its primary focus is on a woman who is interested in sex, even if it’s not lived up to her standards so far, and we are told that Lady Chatterley had already had sex many times before her marriage (as well as an affair with someone other than Mellors!). Interestingly, Anastasia, the protagonist of Fifty Shades of Grey, is a twenty-one year old virgin who is completely set against the lifestyle she is introduced to by Grey. While there is nothing at all wrong with being a twenty-one year old virgin, you would think that our books about sex should have progressed rather than regressed in this regard.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover has a philosophy.

Yes, I’ll admit it. However much I dislike Mellor’s take on the world, at least he had one. The sex in Lady Chatterley’s Lover is all about a return to nature and humankind’s animal ways, and is set against a background of the industrialisation of the North and mankind sinking into a sort of sterile, robotic existence. To illustrate this, the main characters frequently have sex outside, and weave flowers into their pubic hair. Yes, it’s weird, but at least it’s interesting and reflects someone’s take on the world.

So, what’s the message of the sex in Fifty Shades? Well, it seems to be that the only healthy sex is vanilla sex, and that people with messed up childhoods (or prostitutes!) practice BDSM. Why? Because they need control over people because they’re monsters. (Sidenote: this is not my point of view at all!) Grey gradually goes over to the ways of vanilla through Anastasia’s influence, and enjoys it, while Ana hates being spanked but he does it anyway.

I suppose the thing to take from this, annoyingly, is that the most interesting way of reading Fifty Shades of Grey is to consider that maybe Mellors was right. Grey has a massive level of control over all his sexual encounters, which all take place indoors and some of them with the use of additional, man-made toys. The type of sex he enjoys is bound up with his frustration at life and his need to control absolutely everything. In other words, Grey is the anti-Mellors.

What can I say? Clearly Christian and Ana just needed to go for a walk in the fresh air.


One thought on “Fifty Shades of Grey and Lady Chatterley’s Lover (again!)

  1. 50SG paints Jane Eyre as this fragile wilting flower that faints at the notion of impropriety. I… don’t think ELJ has ever read more than the blurb of Jane Eyre.

    The comparison is really great. It’s sort of depressing that a man from ninety years ago is more sex positive than a modern female writer.

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