Archive for March, 2016

EL James: Women’s Writer or Not? blog post by Angela Melville


Fifty Shades of Grey caused a huge stir when it first arrived on the shelves, and the publicity it generated just by word of mouth had avid readers, who normally wouldn’t condescend to reading such trashy novels, running to the nearest Waterstones to grab a copy. There were very mixed reviews as well, some people suggested it was a glorified Mills and Boon for the very modern age, while others called it light pornography.
The first in a trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey introduces the suave Christian Grey who is rich and powerful but also flawed. The heroine of the story, a naïve and innocent virgin, is swept up in emotion that she doesn’t understand on her first encounter with the handsome Mr Grey. Add into the mix a sex chamber with chains, whips and butt plugs and S&M is introduced into a modern day relationship that is anything but conventional.
The idea that a formula is being followed in this romantic novel, is quite clear when you compare it to a typical Mills and Boon, whereby the hero is handsome, clever, strong, rich, and independent, and the heroine is in need of saving. The story is a tool to highlight the notion that love conquers all and as in these formulated romantic novels, Fifty Shades’ is no different, unless of course you read the chapter on Sado-masochism, or S&M as it is nicely abbreviated.
In many ways within the novel we see the heroine Anastasia Steele, being submissive and controlled by Christian as she navigates through her sexual experiences with him having never experienced sex with anyone else. The idea that S&M received bad press because of this novel is also something to be aware of when thinking about whether or not this novel served to empower women or whether it makes them look weak and helpless.
Rachel Cusk denied that Iris Murdoch was a women’s writer, stating that she had made a choice to ignore the fact of her sex when writing and therefore lived as an intellectual which may not have been possible had she written as someone like Virginia Woolf who lived a very ‘ordinary life, she spurned the intellectual shelter of academic institutions, she lived and hence she wrote as a woman.’
The same could be said of E.L James (Erika Mitchell). Not that she is an intellectual, although she clearly saw a niche in the market for a novel like hers and her marketing of such a product was genius, but that she is not a women’s writer. I however, believe that she is a women’s writer. Whether she writes for women by empowering them through the concept of sexual liberation and freedom of choice or whether she aids them in escaping the mundanity of their own lives and for a brief period, allows them to disappear into a world of fantasy where anything is possible, this really is writing for women.