The blogosphere has been all aflutter with the news that Clandestine Classics proposes to “spice up” the classics by adding erotic passages to works of literature including”Pride and Prejudice,” “Jane Eyre,” and oddly enough “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” (Actually, I’ve never read that; maybe there is a lot of suppressed erotic tension, though?)
How are we to understand this development? One thing to keep in mind is that Clandestine Classics gets no points for originality. One need only think of “Pride and Promiscuity: the Lost Sex Scenes of Jane Austen” or “Sense & Sensuality: Erotic Fantasies of Jane Austen,” to name but a few. The idea that sex is missing from Jane Austen (and Charlotte Bronte, etc) is apparently one people cannot get rid of, any more than they can stop themselves from rewriting “Pride and Prejudice” from Darcy’s point of view. But does it reveal any thing about the characters that we didn’t know already? I would tend to think not. If you cannot figure out just from reading “Persuasion” that Anne Elliot wants to have sex with Captain Wentworth, you are an idiot. Your library card should be revoked.
Another idea that occurred to me is there might be an untapped market for writing sex scenes into less likely 19th-century classics. “Middlemarch”? There’s a great well of repressed passion there. And the Rosamund-Lydgate marriage only makes sense if you understand it through the prism of sexual attraction. “Anna Karenina” would truly benefit from a little more in the way of heaving bosoms and warm loins. The reader is left to imagine that sex with Vronsky was amazing and this is why Anna K left her respectable life and son she loved very much to become a fallen woman — but Tolstoy never even gets to hint that. (He gets much closer to the bone in the deeply disturbing Kreuzter Sonata, which was promptly censored by the Russian authorities.)
“A Tale of Two Cities”? “Little Dorrit”??! The mind reels.