Literary classics get the 'Fifty Shades of Grey' treatment

Classics are getting steamy makeovers, from 'Pride and Prejudice' to... 'Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea'?

Classic novels such as 'Northanger Abbey' are getting makeovers in the Clandestine Classics series.

Watch out, bibliophiles, the classics are getting revamped with a fresh shade of grey – make that Fifty Shades of Grey.

Forget stuffy Victorian customs; Mr. Darcy, Mr. Rochester, and Captain Nemo have been taking lessons from Christian Grey of "Fifty Shades" fame in the latest example of erotica-obsession to hit stores.

As the Wall Street Journal wryly noted in a piece titled “Oh Mr. Rochester! The Classics Get Naughty,” “As if being mashed up with zombies and transported to American high schools weren’t enough, Ms. Austen and several of her fiction-writing peers are seeing their novels morphed into erotica.”

The new series by electronic publishing house Total E-Bound is titled “Clandestine Classics,” and, starting Monday, takes readers of such classics like “Jane Eyre” and “Pride and Prejudice” from polite parlor conversation to naughty bedroom banter. The series includes a sadomasochistic version of Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre,” a steamy bedroom take on Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” and “Northanger Abbey,” and even gay-love renderings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Study in Scarlet” and Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.”

Though the series was planned before “Fifty Shades of Grey” became bestseller gold, it’s certainly getting a boost from the erotica trend, Total E-Bound chief executive Claire Siemaszkiewicz told the WSJ.

For “Clandestine Classics,” Ms. Siemaszkiewicz hired five erotica writers to inject the original classics (which are in the public domain and therefore not subject to copyright laws) with naughty banter, groping, and racy sex scenes. According to the WSJ, the original text is largely unchanged, simply supplemented with 10,000 or so words which take readers “behind the closed bedroom doors of our favourite, most beloved British characters,” as Total E-Bound’s website promises.

The books, which will be available for download Monday, retail for between $4.00 and $5.00. Each book comes with a sexometer and erotic rating (most are a relatively mild 2).

From the sounds of it, not all sauced-up text conforms to the vernacular of the time. In an excerpt from the R-rated “Pride and Prejudice,” Elizabeth refers to Darcy as “hot, spicy, and all man,” as he “lifted her skirts quickly and removed her undergarments, then fumbled to free himself from the confines of his own clothing.”

"I was careful to make sure that I kept to the same language and the same tone so that it didn't sound anachronistic or jarring to the rest of the book," Desiree Holt, a 76-year-old retired music publicist who penned the racy scenes and shares co-authorship with Jane Austen on the book’s cover, told the WSJ.

(The WSJ also consulted with Austen scholar Devoney Looser, who said it was improbable Ms. Bennet and Mr. Darcy would be able to slip in and out of their clothes time and again so efficiently, given the strictures in clothing at the time.)

Would Austen or the Bronte sisters be turning in their graves? Or, as the WSJ put it, “turning fifty shades of red?”

Siemaszkiewicz doesn’t think so. “I like to think if the Bronte sisters were writing today, their books would be a lot racier,” she told the Journal. “But they were stifled by convention at the time.”

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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