Jun 182012
 

EL James opens this chapter with Ana and Christian finally getting to it, then pulls the “it was all a dream” scam. Clearly, Ana fantasizes about kink, and has at least some degree of interest in BDSM. This does not, however, mean that she should accept Christian’s proposal.

Here’s the thing about fantasy. Just because you think about something and get off on it, does not mean you should do it or have to do it, even in the context of a safe, sane and consensual BDSM relationship. The physical sensations may not be as you imagined them, or you may not have the absolute control you have inside your head.

Ana interprets her dream as a weakness in her conflict with Christian, that she really does want this. That’s another misinterpretation, because she’s already bought into his false bargain, his all or nothing proposal.

After that, we have some scenes about Ana and Kate graduating, which don’t really advance the plot. Then Christian gives the speech. While every other woman in the auditorium is melting in his presence (or so Ana imagines), Ana hears him mention that he went hungry as a child. This is another hidden door in the Gothic castle Ana has built around Christian. While handing out the diplomas, he stops the lineup of students just so he can ask her why she didn’t answer his emails.

After the ceremony, Kate, instead of being a confidante and supportive friend to Ana in this trying situation, brings Christian over. Christian makes nice with Ana’s father, but at the first opportunity, drags her into the nearest men’s room, locks the door behind her.

Ana does not mention that she’s been busy with her graduation, or that her step-father is visiting, or that Christian promised to take it slow. He wants a response from her now.

In some parallel universe, the book Fifty Shades of Grey is a thriller. A college student has a chance meeting with a wealthy, powerful man who for inexplicable reasons becomes obsessed with her and stalks her, using his money, his technical resources, his charisma and his political connections to infiltrate ever aspect of her life, turning every institution and even her closest friends and relations against her.

“You don’t know much,” he murmurs.
“You know all the wrong things.”
“Wrong? Not to me.” He shakes his head. He looks so sincere. “Try it,” he whispers.
A challenge, daring me, and he cocks his head to one side and smiles his crooked, dazzling smile.
I gasp, and I’m Eve in the Garden of Eden, and he’s the serpent, and I cannot resist.
“Okay,” I whisper.

Here’s another innocuous but dangerous word: “wrong”. Ana and Christian come from very different worlds, and have very different interests and scripts for relationships. Ana’s casual use of “wrong” indicates that she still views this as a moral difference, not a matter of tastes. In agreeing to his demands, she’s martyring herself to something she finds repugnant.

In another parallel universe, the book Fifty Shades of Grey is an erotic romance, in which an inexperienced but curious woman is introduced, slowly and gradually, to the pleasures of BDSM by an experienced, patient, principled dominant man. It’s a light, fun, yet passionate and sexy book.

You’d think that in 2012, a woman wouldn’t have to believe that sexual pleasure only comes as part of some life-changing, Faustian bargain, or compare it with humanity’s original sin. The 18th and 19th century books Ana has studied are about women who had to gamble for sexual pleasure and personal happiness against total social ostracism and deprivation. What she fears is what was once called “seduction,” which doesn’t have a direct analog in today’s society: it is damage to a woman’s social worth, literally making her less of a person.

In Ana’s mind, to pursue non-vanilla sexual pleasure means she risks becoming the wrong kind of woman, abandoned, unmarriageable. She doesn’t want to meet any of Christian’s former lovers because they’re the wrong kind of women. She doesn’t want her friends or family to know what she’s doing because she is ashamed. The book even maximizes her shame by having her agree to Christian’s proposal in a public place, seconds before she talks to her father.

In preparing to meet with Christian again, Ana plans to give back the first edition of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and adds another quote from the book.

“I agree to the conditions, Angel; because you know best what my punishment ought to be; only—only—don’t make it more than I can bear!”

She goes into this expecting to be punished… for what? Even Christian hasn’t found fault with her yet. Her crime, her spoils and her punishment are the same thing.

In yet another parallel universe, the book Fifty Shades of Grey was copy-edited before publication.

  3 Responses to “The curious kinky person’s guide to Fifty Shades of Grey, Chapter 14”

  1. “Her crime, her spoils and her punishment are the same thing.”

    Reminds me irresistibly of Borges’ essay ‘On William Beckford’s Vathek’ were he observes that The Palace of Subterranean Fire in the novel “is both the punishment and the temptation” -the crime is giving in to the latter- and that it is “The first truly atrocious hell in literature” because of the uncanniness thereby invoked.

    So possibly the relationship in Fifty Shades can at least claim the felicity of being the second truly atrocious hell in literature?

  2. Honestly, the thing that most boggles me about this book is the sheer number of people that had be blind or stupid to let this be published. How many people read through this punishing manuscript and said, “Hmm, sure, that seems like a well-written, liberating romance.”?

    …Who even discovered this atrocity as it languished among a dozen others of its kind on Fanfiction.net!?

  3. I have to say, I enjoy the tone you take in these recaps much more than Jenny Trout’s or the other strictly snarky and pearl clutching ones. They strike an entertaining and educational balance, that both understands and articulates the sins of fifty shades, while also measuring it against the historical context and not taking the sins too far out of proportion. It is fiction, it is fantasy, it is smut, ultimately. these things have their value and their place. they should be scrutinized for what they say about those who produced them and how they influence those who consume them, but it’s ultimately “just a show, I should really just relax”.

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