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Sexing the Classics

by Jo Page on August 8, 2012


You’d think with all the sex there is in the world of literature—Poe with his necrophilia, Hawthorne with his adultery, Mailer and Miller and Updike and Roth with all manner of erotic expressiveness—that we wouldn’t need to go looking for more titillation. But maybe we do. After all, Publisher’s Weekly just announced that—a direct outgrowth of the success of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy—Skyhorse Publishing is launching a line of books it says combines “literary class and erotic steam.”

The first offering? Jane Eyrotica, by Charlotte Bronte and Karena Rose, available in November.

Skyhorse promises that “Jane’s unbridled lusts and fantasies, and Mr. Rochester’s kinky fetishes, will be sure to leave you aching for more!”

And just in case that’s not enough, Fifty Shades of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde and Audrey Ember, will also be out in November, both titles in time for the holiday gift-giving season.

Well, let me tell you something. I want in on this one. I want in Big Time. I’ve got a graduate degree in English. I’ve read a little porn online. I think it’s high time I made a profit from both of those endeavors. So here are the books I have in mind to re-write.

Though it seems fairly unnecessary since D.H. Lawrence did his fair share of writing about sex and getting his books banned in the process, if you take the sisters Ursula and Gudrun who appear in both The Rainbow and Women In Love and give them a few incestuous, lesbian sex scenes, you’ve got a bestseller brewing in Women in Love Under the Rainbow. Should it be imbued with the gravitas that Lawrence provided in writing about perfect friendship between males? All that needs to be done is to throw in disquisition on how only women really know what women want. Or some such filler between scenes of girl-on-girl cavorting.

Who’s to say that you can’t make an erotic potboiler out of a bildungsroman set in a tuberculosis sanatorium? Kathryn Hulme almost pulled it off in The Nun’s Story (except that there was no sex). In Climb the Magic Mountain, main character Hans Castorp, aided by his fellow patients, Joachim Ziemssen and Mynheer Peeperkorn (come on, you can’t leave a name like that alone) lure wealthy female hysterics into the Swiss Alps and turn the staid tubercular hospital into a playground of sexual hi-jinx and erotic asphyxiation. Should the novel still need a moral center, as Thomas Mann wanted it to have, a few scenes foreshadowing World War I and its likely impact on the goings-on in the mountain ought to fit the bill.

Jude, the Obscure had plenty of sex and angst and religion and betrayal just as Thomas Hardy wrote it. But in Jude, the Obscene, you’ll get still more. For starters, you’d get the obligatory threesome between Jude’s wife, Arabella, and true love/cousin, Sue. The original novel gets kinda Old Testament-y when Jude’s child by Arabella murders his two children with Sue, so maybe that part can be deleted with a substitute sub-plot about when Sue goes back to her first husband, Mr. Phillotson. There’s a perfect opportunity for some spicy geriatric sex, which Hardy neglected to include at all.

Probably because my mother named me for the main character in Little Women, I’ve always been a Louisa May Alcott fan. Jo’s Boys, her third book in the March family trilogy, concerns the school that Jo and her husband, Professor Bhaer set up. It’s totally G-rated narrative. But it needn’t stay that way. Picture the youthful frolicking in the school featured in Little Women and Jo’s Boys. A lot more goes on in class than reading, writing and ’rithmetic. And let me tell you, Professor Bhaer provides the much-needed discipline.

I mean, I’ve long been a fan of reading the classics and I always thought there was plenty of sex in most of them to go around (OK, maybe not in Henry James). But clearly I haven’t been calibrating the metaphorical difference between a good Bloody Mary and one that’s super-charged with the literary equivalent of sriracha. Maybe we all ought to work up a sweat when we read. Maybe we ought to put the “tit” back in “titillation” and let those brilliant, un-remastered originals gather dust on the shelves.

Or maybe go back and start with Jane Eyre and read between the lines in order to see the foreshadowing of what’s to come between the sheets.