The New York Times reports today that Cinquante Nuances de Grey (that’s French for you-know-what) is now selling briskly in France — despite a hearty and unanimous condemnation by the French literary elite.
According to the article “A Defiant Oui for ‘Fifty Shades” by Times columnist Elaine Sciolino, French critical opinion on the book has pointed out that its BDSM is not philosophical enough. And that its characters are too obsessed with hygiene (translation: too many scenes involving long baths).
I was most struck by a quotation from the French publisher Franck Spengler — about whom the article states, “eroticism is for him a ‘space of freedom and rebellion, liberated from moral criteria.’ ” Sciolino notes that Spengler dislikes the book’s ” ‘American-style Puritanism’ in which sex acts can only be justified by love.”
The justification of sex by love, though scorned by the French critical establishment, is apparently just the thing French women want these days.
Who can blame them? According to the New York Times article, in the traditional French erotic novel, “most of the time it’s sex without love and women are submissive to men.”
When the book first came out in English, American critics compared it unfavorably to established works of literary BDSM such as Pauline Reage’s Story of O (in which, for those of you who haven’t read it recently, the heroine is branded with a hot iron, has her labia pierced, and finally becomes a faceless slave) And the Marquis de Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom (in which young women are ritualistically murdered and then ground to bits).
Apparently Cinquante Nuances was to be condemned as being too nice. As if it were a violation of the aesthetics of erotic fiction for the hero, after spanking her and making love to her, to want to buy her lots of expensive stuff and marry her.
But the French women have spoken. Enough with being modern, they say.
Enough with books about faceless female slaves with pierced labia. Enough of young women being murdered and ground to bits. Enough sex without love. We want love and sex together!
We want our partners to smell like freshly washed linen and expensive body wash! We want long sexy baths together! We want the big house with the lovely windows, and we want children!
It’s in fact a subject that’s divided the international sex therapy establishment in the last decade or two as well. With a modernist European group that, like Franck Spengler, loves the amorality of the sexual soul. And a bunch of “American-style Puritans” that thinks sexual freedom, like Communism, is a lovely idea that will never work.
More on this next time.