When in 2011 the first part of Erica Leonard’s (1963) ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ trilogy hit the market, there were of course numerous reactions, varying from very positive to very negative, all neatly mirroring our societies approach to erotic literature.
On itself this shows that three successive waves of feminism have only been able to reach those who lived near the shore anyway. For the rest it was safe and sound back to the historically, or - now perhaps - self-imposed confinements of the convenient moral of the majority.
Grey was a hit, for numerous reasons. To name a few probable candidates; because it is exciting to read erotic fiction for females while sitting in public transport, reading secretly on your e-pad or smart phone; because relationships – any marriages anyway - are boring and because sex has lost its magic and degenerated to a mass-customized product that competes with red-wine and Zumba fitness for an ever more equally free female human.
But what is this freedom worth? It shows similarities to the idea that chess player and currently oldest grandmaster Victor Korchnoi is said to have once asserted with regard to communism: ‘Before communism arose most of us had nothing and a few of us had something, now we all have nothing.’
WDYM? Well, I mean, that - and that’s of course a big premise – if men were not truly sexually liberated in the past, what extras does more equality to men and their views that are instrumentalized in the structures of society actually offer women when it comes to living as free sexual beings? _____ Nada.
At any time when an erotic novel came out that in one way or another posed a threat to ideas that were dominant in a culture, it was naturally met with resistance. It was like that with Nabukov’s cheerful ‘Lolita’ and it was like that with the challenging ‘Story of O’. So why would it be different with the ‘Fifthy Shades of Grey’ trilogy? Wikipedia lists that it is accused by critics of stereotyping gender roles, depiction of BDSM and to presuppose romanticism, to name a few.
What is essential is that all three of the above mention books were successful enough to leave traces in the society of their time. With regard of the depth, scope and longevity of the Grey trilogy it is of course still to be seen: therefore the title, ‘Fifty Years O’ Grey’ as with O, we still love – or hate, or fear – her after fifty years and it is the same with Dolores Haze. Many (wo)man have dreamed to own O or to play with Lo, because it is not the age or the submission – consensual or not – that is so appealing to our mind’s sexual road map, but rather the fact that things like ‘age’ or ‘submission’ circle around the concept of transgressing borders; whether they are right or wrong in the eyes of the beholder.
The Dutch reporter Raymond van den Boogaard – in his preface to the Story of O – comes to a similar conclusion and ponders on the question in how far O and Grey represent a different stance on how sexuality is perceived in Western society.
In O, he finds an attempt of transgression regarding social conventions and personal borders that is touching on the dark and cruel part of our psyche; whereas in the Grey trilogy, he rather spots a hedonistic motive to try out diversity, avoiding the struggles regarding excess, danger and deliverance. Eventually he concludes that O now managed to be influential for more than sixty years and doubts if we in half a decade still will remember Christian Grey.
In this regard I agree with him, as indeed the perspective of seeing sexuality as a commodity that is to be negotiated before it can be enjoyed in all ‘fifty shades’ stands in strong contrast to the deep personal quest of O, who - disregarding the costs – struggled against having her own urges be subordinated to anything else as her own free choice to life or die as an loving object.
Notice, that O was realist enough to understand the objectification for what it was, yet she lovingly consented by her obedience. Her decision to be owned was her own to make and a free choice too. Not being able to control being loved by her Master, she followed her own power to love in order to find a meaning in life and death.
Let’s hope that not many have to carry the burden of O in their heart. But, when you have ever lost one of your devotees, by time or by suicide, make sure, you never forget.
Thank you, sweet adorable H.
Sir Cameron is occupied with O ever since he found out it was written for him. In his articles, his stories and the books he play a role in, O will return over and over again. It will, however, be clear, that many of the assumptions made by Declos will be subject to critique, both with regard to their factuality as to their alethic reality.