Friday, March 2, 2007

Those Dirty Classics

I really enjoyed Jane's post about the sexual undercurrents in The Secret Garden. As a child, I'd read the book, but of course *blinks innocently* those erotic undercurrents were far above me; and the same for many of the other classics I've read.

However, having just finished reading The Count of Monte Cristo (which is the subject of my next book), I have to say--there isn't any subtlety there. Nosirreeee.

We've got Nubian princesses, hashish parties, orgies, and lesbians--not to mention poisonings and suicides and illicit love affairs. *rubs hands gleefully* I can't wait to get into this story!

That got me to thinking: there are some classics, like Monte Cristo and Phantom, that lend themselves to the erotic. (Thank goodness, or I'd be out of a job!) But there are others that definitely don't.

Such as Pride & Prejudice. I'm sorry, I just can't imagine touching any Austen novel with anything remotely like an erotic brush. (However, the Bronte sisters are a different story!)

And I don't think that even I could get dirty with Dickens, although there are some possibilities--but I think there are too many children in these books. It makes me feel a little squicky to think of having David Copperfield do the down and dirty.

Nor can I see it with Little Women or the Little House on the Prairie books. It's just not there.

But give me The Scarlet, yeah, I think I could have a lot of fun with Hester Prynne. And she'd enjoy it too! Think of the possibilities!

Alice in Wonderland has lovely erotic overtones, too--all those dreamy sequences, and the falling into holes, and the laudanum. Even though it, like The Secret Garden, is a children's book, that sense of sensuality and sexuality is still there.

What do you think?


Kate Pearce said...

I read all of Rosemary Sutcliff's historical children's book while I was growing up and even then, I wondered at what she didn't say, as well as what she did.
Two of them stick in my mind 'The Lantern Bearers' and 'The Mark of the Horse Lord' which both had couples in them. She wrote those relationships so well that I wanted to know more than she was able to tell in a children's book. (I still do)
And of course, those Georgette Heyers!

Robin L. Rotham said...

Oh, please -- poor Hester could use some fun! And if you can do something to make The Metamorphosis and Sister Carrie more bearable while you're at it, I (along with college students everywhere) will be forever in your debt. :D

Pam Rosenthal said...

I wouldn't want to add a smidgeon of sex to Pride and Prejudice; any teenager can read it into Darcy's smolderings, though they don't need to since Colin Firth drew it so large in his performance.

But Emma, with its spirals of egoism, confusion and self-delusion, could be recast as a veritable La Ronde or Liaisons Dangereuses, a perpetual motion machine of frustrated desire, imo. (Austen read Liaisons Dangereuses, btw, as a teenager.)

Little Lamb Lost said...

Could certainly see an erotic spin for Alice in Wonderland, but it was a book for adults, I think.

Jane Lockwood said...

Kate--Rosemary Sutcliffe wrote both an "adult" version and a YA version of "Sword at Sunset," her book about the Arthurian legend. But in neither of them did she really get into the relationship between Artos and Bedwyr (the Lancelot figure, since Lancelot was a medieval French import), other than stating that it was an off-camera sexual one.

Colette, vive la France! I have to agree with Pam that there's an awful lot of desire and strong feelings simmering away beneath Austen's polite veneers. As for Dickens, I think the problem is with his female characters, who are too often infantilized or passive and weak, or are told they are by men and assume the role (e.g., Lizzie Hexham in "Our Mutual Friend"). Dickens wrote for an audience that believed female desire to be nonexistent or shameful--or wanted to believe that; look at all that Victorian porn!

George Eliot was a master of sexual tension, imo--look at the erotic buzz between Daniel Deronda and Gwendolyn Harleth, or Dorothea Brook and Lydgate in "Middlemarch"
--relationships that are never to be consummated, of course. But the possibility is acknowledged.

"Little Women" is sadly asexual. Marrying lovely, wild Jo off to a vaudeville German comedian so she could be domesticated. Ugh. I think the movie was much better.

Pam Rosenthal said...

Giving Jo March the sublimely sexy Gabriel Byrne for her boring, prissy German professor was the best revenge.

Pam Rosenthal said...

But in a minor Louisa May Alcott, Rose in Bloom there's the handsome, wild "Prince" Charlie. Eloisa James mentioned him in an RWA workshop some years ago, bringing back throbbing memories of my fledgling passions at 8 years old. The first character literary character I ever cried for -- because of course Alcott kills him off, so that Rose can marry her bespectacled bookworm cousin Mac. (Not that I have anything against bespectacled bookworms, having married one myself). But while Alcott knew how to make intellectual women sexy, she failed utterly with intellectual men -- leaving the field open to those of us who choose to go there (she said modestly).

Anonymous said...

Now that I think about it, Alcott liked to kill off the wild boys in her stories. She killed off wild man Dan who flirted with BOTH Daisy and her aunt Jo in JO'S BOYS, the sequel to LITTLE MEN

Pam Rosenthal said...

Oh gosh, Seton, I can't believe I'd forgotten wild man Dan. You're right, she did kill off all her sexy men.

Sam said...

I'm a little late to this post but I found it very interesting. I am a big fan of Alexander Dumas and I agree that he has some erotic bits in his books. I've read in many places that he was quite the ladies man, even though he wasn't what is generally thought of as sexy, he was quite rotund in fact. One bio I read went so far as to call him 'the darling of all the whores in Paris'! So we can see where his inspiration for the sexiness in his books came from, lots and lots of research.