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Are Publishers Going Too Far?

Posted: July 20th, 2012, 9:16 am
by oldhousejunkie
I asked this question on my blog yesterday after reading that an e-publisher intends to release erotic re-writes of many classic novels including Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey, as well as Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre.

Personally I think this is sacriledge but I've always taken a narrow view of re-writing classic works outside of the internet fan fiction arena.

What do you all think?

Blog post:
Original Article in the Independent Mail:

Re: Are Publishers Going Too Far?

Posted: July 20th, 2012, 12:49 pm
by polymath
Legal so long as the properties in question are within the public domain. Ethical? By my principles, no. But reinvention is acceptable, for artful purposes certainly, expressing social commentary, but not for a mere commercial intent to commit literary vandalism.

Re: Are Publishers Going Too Far?

Posted: July 20th, 2012, 1:59 pm
by CharleeVale
I agree with Poly. Legal? Yes. Tasteful? HECK NO.


Re: Are Publishers Going Too Far?

Posted: July 20th, 2012, 2:03 pm
by Sommer Leigh
I'm kind of Meh about it. Would I read them? No, probably not. Am I affronted by the prospect? Not really. Relaunching stories is pretty common in television and film. Sometimes it's awesome, sometimes it's not. If it weren't for relaunched stories, I'd never have gotten the new Battlestar Galactica. Totally worth it.

For the publisher it's a sound investment, and I'm not against publishers doing what they have to do to make money. It's the one industry I passionately want to do well financially, for obvious reasons. Just like relaunches of movies, the story has already been integrated into public knowledge and experience. They have something to draw on - there's no guess work. You know when you pick up the erotic retelling of Jane Eyre, you're getting an erotic retelling of Jane Eyre (which honestly isn't a stretch retelling), and a good chunk of the public who reads classics or watches classics made into movies are going to be familiar with that story. You're not selling an original story idea to a skeptical audience, you're selling a new experience of the story they already love to a pre-fabricated fan base.

Even if the retelling isn't very good, enough people are going to check it out to make it worth it. The publisher also doesn't have to wade through slush to find a promising new author - they can hire freelancers they've already worked with to write the stories that have already been written before, minimizing the cost of creation.

Besides, many people want to experience their favorite stories all over again for the first time. If J.K. Rowling decided to rewrite the Harry Potter books for adults instead of kids, we'd all line up to read them. I think it's the classics that readers have a knee jerk reaction to, like they are sacred tomes that should only exist as they are, through the view of the original author, and any other telling would be sacrilegious.

I think that is an unfair expectation to put on books that, for the most part, only get that distinction because they are old. Many of our beloved classics were inconsequential at the time of their original writings. I'm not at all opposed to freshening up the stories with a new coat of paint that draws readers to check them out. The erotic versions aren't going to cancel out the originals. There's enough room in the world for both to exist.

I'd like to think that if they were alive today, both Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf would have been delighted to write their own erotic versions of their stories. They were saucy girls, those two.

Re: Are Publishers Going Too Far?

Posted: July 20th, 2012, 3:42 pm
by Amanda Elizabeth
There are contemporary spoofs made of them already like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies....I don't see the difference between adding sexual references to it or adding zombies to it :lol:

Re: Are Publishers Going Too Far?

Posted: July 20th, 2012, 4:16 pm
by dios4vida
I agree, in theory, with most everything that's been said, especially Sommer's ever-so insightful comments. There's definitely a market for those kind of books, and I do think a lot of classics would be much more erotic if the era would have allowed them to be written so. However, my opinion of these, personally, is very confused.

One one hand, I have my own personal knee-jerk reaction, which is to cringe at someone else playing around with the author's vision. I can't hardly abide fan fic, even, because a person is taking the author's chosen path and changing/twisting/expanding on it to something that author hadn't intended. No offense to you fan fic folks out there - please don't crucify me for this - but I would feel both honored and horrified if someone took my worlds and characters and started doing whatever they wanted with them. I'm a bit possessive like that. I don't think it's terrible or the mark of an inferior author or anything like that, it's just my personal feelings of "please don't make my people do something I didn't want them to do!"

And I can't help but wonder if these authors would have felt the same if they were still alive.

On the other hand, I feel the opposite of what Sommer said - I can handle the classics being updated or played with much more than modern works. Updated Jane Eyre? Go for it. Update, say, The Name of the Rose, or Memoirs of a Geisha? You've gotta be kidding me. I'm not sure why, but reimagining those century-old classics doesn't bother me at all.

So, that's where I stand. Looking back on it, it really isn't a stance at all, but it's about the best I can come up with.

Re: Are Publishers Going Too Far?

Posted: July 20th, 2012, 5:55 pm
by oldhousejunkie
Jane Austen saucy? Hardly. I've read book after book about her, walked in her footsteps, etc and that wouldn't be a word I would use to describe her. Insightful, sarcastic, irreverent... I think modern society would like to think she was saucy but in the end, I don't think so. She doubt she would have re-written her own novels as erotica, she was a reverend's daughter after all. Let us not forget that Charlotte Bronte accused her (years following Jane's death, of course) of having no romantic soul. And yes, Jane Eyre does lend itself well to erotica, that's not the point. It's about barely concealed passion, longing, and yet, sticking to one's convictions. Jane refused to be a man's kept woman. That takes A LOT of balls. And now some hack is going to re-write the story and take that away from her. That's my issue. Not that this tomes are sacred (they least to me), but that by inserting (pardon the pun) these erotic scenes, they are completely changing the characters and their motives. If I were Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte, I would be furious!

Re: Are Publishers Going Too Far?

Posted: July 20th, 2012, 6:20 pm
by Tigerbunny
They have a vampire/zombie Pride and Prejudice too. I know, right?

Re: Are Publishers Going Too Far?

Posted: July 21st, 2012, 2:53 am
by Beethovenfan
I love Jane's novels just the way they are. Why change a good thing?
I feel the same way about movies. I don't think Johnny Depp captured Willy Wonka as well as Gene Wilder. Some things simply don't need any changes, improvements (so called), or alterations from later generations. They stand well enough on their own.

There. My two cents.

Re: Are Publishers Going Too Far?

Posted: July 21st, 2012, 3:33 am
by ladymarella
I really don't like the concept.

The classics are classics for a reason. Maybe they weren't always well received in their own time, but they have stood the test of time, and are consider great works of literature. To eroticise them, to me, is a cynical money grabbing move, and is saying that the classics cannot stand on their own, that they need some sex in them to spice them up. To me the zombie thing is a bit different, it seems like it's suppose to be a bit of silly fun, not in the same way the erotica is.

Austen and Bronte were writing in a different era where sex was out of the picture when it came to literature, and what is wrong with that? They are great works of literature with smoldering tensions beneath the surface, and why cannot they be appreciated on this level? As Caroline said, half the point of Jane Eyre is her principles, and it is the same with Austen. To add in erotic scenes would be to make the book lose "textual integrity" (to pull out some high school English)

Re: Are Publishers Going Too Far?

Posted: July 21st, 2012, 10:55 am
by dios4vida
I do find it interesting that the four "this is wrong" POVs so far all write some kind of historical fiction or historical-inspired fantasy (at least, from what I've gathered). The rest of us, as far as I know, are YA/sci-fi/fantasy folks. Perhaps having a passion for the period, and not necessarily just the classics they produced, makes one more sensitive to changing. After all, they are perfect illustrations of the period. To change them is to render them no longer accurate, and to historical fiction writers and readers accuracy means a lot.

(Just a thought.)

Re: Are Publishers Going Too Far?

Posted: July 21st, 2012, 11:19 am
by Claudie
I'm kind of in the "Don't really mind" clan. I'm not going to read them and my initial reaction when I learned about this was to facepalm. They're going in it for the money and I put readapting these classics into erotica at about the same level as, say, deciding they'd do a 4th Indiana Jones movie. Or a 2nd Lion King. Or the second (non-original) Star Wars trilogy. Most of the time the goal isn't to improve on the classic, it's to have income.

That doesn't, however, mean they'll beat quality over with a stick and leave it for dead, or ruin the message of the original. Sometimes adapting from one time period to the modern era does wonders to a classic (like the recent BBC Sherlock TV show). And it doesn't mean that the classic doesn't stand well on his own (the entire Sherlock Holmes collection is worth reading) but a different take brings a different kind of fun.
ladymarella wrote:To add in erotic scenes would be to make the book lose "textual integrity" (to pull out some high school English)
I have to disagree with this. I don't know if that's how you mean it, but the erotic scenes in themselves are not an integrity loss. Whether or not these books lose integrity is entirely dependant on how the sex scenes come about. As I agree this is a money-grabbing move, however, I do have to admit it's likely to happen. Just.. not automatic.

Re: Are Publishers Going Too Far?

Posted: July 21st, 2012, 12:36 pm
by Sommer Leigh
These publishers aren't the first people to pursue the retelling of the classics. Retelling classic tales for a modern era is all over YA right now and no one is upset about that.

Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen is the retelling of The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle
Tris & Izzie by Mette Ivie Harrison is the retelling of Tristan and Isolde by Richard Wagner or Gottfried von Strassburg (or possibly older, depending on the version details)
Juliet Immortal by Stacey Jay is the retelling of Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare
Jane by April Lindner is the retelling of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor is the retelling of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Sisters Red by Jackson Pierce is the retelling of Little Red Riding Hood published by Charles Perrault
Sweetly by Jackson Pierce is the retelling of Hansel and Gretal recorded by the Brothers Grimm

And those are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head. Is it that certain treatments aren't upsetting (YA) and others are (erotica, zombies)?

I ascribe to the camp that things like fan fiction and retelling of tales gives depth to our love and experience of a story. It just doesn't bother me. I wouldn't be bothered by it happening to my work either. I feel like once our creations are given to the world, they stop being ours. Not just in that they can be retold once they become public domain, but in the nature that a reader brings their background, emotions, knowledge, and experience to the reading of a piece of literature which can change the story entirely from the author's intent. I don't even believe that author intent has any weight once it's in the reader's hands. You can't go knock on every door of every book buyer and explain to them how they should be interpreting your story. You let the story go when you give it to readers.

Basically, when it comes down to it, why can't we have all versions? The Original, the Zombiefied Version, and the Erotica Version (and any other version that exists). If the book is speaking to someone, who are we to tell them they shouldn't be enjoying it because it's not the original?

Re: Are Publishers Going Too Far?

Posted: July 21st, 2012, 1:41 pm
by polymath
My concerns with literary vandalism aren't so much about that it's done as that it's a form of intellectual laziness, intellectual poaching. Borrow someone else's creative property and put a provocative if unimaginative different spin on it. Probably not nearly as well-crafted as the original. A catastrophic failure of imagination. Borrowing someone else's thunder. Ursurping ownership. Why not a re-vision that's a reinvention, reimagination original instead? Too much work? Probably. And all for profiting from riding on someone else's coattails.

Is James Joyce's Ulysses a copycat of Homer's Odyssey? Or Charles Frazier's Thirteen Moons. Directors Joel and Ethan Cole's O Brother Where Art Thou. No. Imaginative, original, entertaining reinventions of the seminal work.

Re: Are Publishers Going Too Far?

Posted: July 21st, 2012, 7:25 pm
by Mira
Okay, my vote. I don't feel all that strongly because I think I've surrended to this. Publishers and Producers and Directors are going to do it, despite my opinion. And I don't have any problem with erotica. And I understand the idea of creative expansion on an idea, so I can see why people might disagree with me. But my vote is 'no'.

I guess I'm against anyone changing the author's orginal words without permission. Even if they aren't around anymore. and it's considered common property. Hands off.

And then to profit off of it, just doesn't sit right with me. If you're going to do this, I believe all proceeds should be donated to the author's estate.

With one exception: Shakespeare. He's hard to understand. Needs editing.

But anyone else, hands off. :)

But that's just my opinion.

(p.s. joking about Shakespeare.)