Nov 252012
 

On a strictly literary level, Darker is worse than its predecessor. EL James’ prose style hasn’t improved, and her plotting has gotten worse. Fifty Shades of Grey is built around a back-and-forth between Ana and Christian, while Darker is mostly just forth. Ana isn’t seriously resisting Christian anymore. A large part of this book is external challenges to their relationship, but they are handled in such a way to remove any tension or excitement.

In between the introduction of Leila and her capture, there are long stretches in which Ana and the book itself seem to forget she’s out there, and we’re stuck reading about Ana and Christian on vacation. We also don’t get to know Leila, why she’s like this or whether Christian had anything to do with it. Her presence does raise questions, but the book will not answer them.

Jack Hyde goes from annoying to threatening to defeated in only a few pages, so he’s never a real threat either. (That may change in the third book.)

The third threat is Elena, who likewise pops up and is knocked down. Also like Leila, she raises all kinds of questions about Christian and his past, but she’s reduced to a one-dimensional evil, heartless bitch. Here purpose is to advance the idea that Christian is flawed because the women in his life, up until Ana, failed him.

What’s left after that? Page after page of class porn, with Ana delighting in just how rich and powerful Christian is. Some sex scenes, mostly pretty vanilla. Mainly what we get is Ana’s slow absorption into Christian’s world. (Remember that the original title of this story was Master of the Universe.)

Even after all this, and this is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this novel, is the abusive elements of this relationship.

First, the control. Christian’s contract back in the first book only specified his control of Ana on weekends, for a limited period of time, and with limitations. In principle, at least, Ana could have changed this agreement or left it at any time.

Though Ana never signed the contract, and Christian told her to forget about it, he now has near 24/7 control of her anyway. She’s driving the car he bought, wearing the clothes he bought, effectively living in his penthouse, getting birth control from a doctor of his choice, working at a company he owns, escorted by his private security, using the communications devices he bought and can tap and track, associating almost exclusively with people who are either related to Christian or employed by him, etc. None of this is negotiated. Christian just does it, and Ana acquiesces because of some combination of lust, fear and greed.

Peculiarly, just as the BDSM aspect of Ana’s relationship with Christian starts acting like a proper, consensual kink relationship, is when Ana is almost completely controlled by Christian outside of the BDSM context.

Second, and worse, Ana is afraid of Christian. I’m not inferring or exaggerating. She repeatedly and explicitly says she fears him. Not fear as in, “Are we going to have that argument again?” Fear as in, “This man could destroy my life if he wanted to.” This is even after Christian supposedly has his big epiphany and is a reformed character, but he’s still a volatile hothead with no real restraint on his actions.

All of this is outside the bounds of the abortive BDSM relationship between Ana and Christian. You could actually remove the BDSM elements entirely, and you’d still have Ana totally under his control.

Let me give you an example: Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was a nineteenth century writer, best known for his short novel Venus in Furs (1870). His name was the basis for the term “masochism.” His first wife was a woman named Laura Rümelin (who later styled herself “Aurora von Rümelin”), a poor glove-maker who got involved with the famous writer via a prank played on him with another woman. Rümelin had literary ambitions of her own and was highly impressed with Sacher-Masoch, who was thought to be the “next big thing” in German literature. They wed and had children.

The honeymoon didn’t last long. Over time, Sacher-Masoch’s desires escalated to full obsessions: demanding that his wife wear furs in the middle of summer, beat him, and find men for her to have affairs with. The way marriage worked back then, a man could throw his wife out on the streets with just the clothes on her back, no alimony, no joint property and no child-custody rights. Worse, the cuckolding scenes he coerced her into were also legally adultery and therefore grounds for divorce. (Rümelin later left Sacher-Masoch for another man.)

Yes, abuse happens in BDSM, and it doesn’t always come from the people you’d expect. I would say that abuse in a relationship is a separate issue from BDSM in a relationship. It isn’t directly related to how intensely the two people play, or who’s on top. Even if Christian stopped doing BDSM entirely, he would still have total control of Ana.

That’s what makes this book so puzzling. Ana has supposedly won by making Christian have an epiphany and realize he loves her and doesn’t want to punish her, but they continue to do BDSM play in the bedroom, and Christian has near total control over Ana. So what has changed? Christian’s still a stalking control-freak. He may not want to inflict pain on Ana, but he still wants to possess her.

It’s important to bear in mind when reading this book whose story it is. It is not Ana’s story (“Story of A”?), even though nearly all of it is from her POV. Ana is a one-dimensional character because she is the reader’s stand-in, what Grant Morrison would call a “fiction suit”. The female reader puts Ana on so she can interact with what the story is really about: Christian Grey is EL James’ perfect male object of desire, a one-percenter who looks like a male model and is quite possibly a high-functioning psychopath. He even manages to have it both ways in terms of class identity: he is an adopted member of a blue-blood WASP family, yet is also a self-made man from an impoverished background. Better yet, he’s a fixer-upper who just needs the love of a good woman to turn into husband and father material.

That’s what is so disturbing about this book: The idea that the right woman can love an abusive man into goodness is problematic enough; that the woman will love an abusive man and keep on loving him even when he has only slightly changed his behaviour. It’s a little like reading about the infamous Milgram experiment: millions of heterosexual woman’s ultimate romantic/sexual fantasy is to be the kept woman of a wealthy sociopath.

Of course, I’m falling into the fallacy that female readers have a “monkey-see-monkey-do” relationship with the text, and that these masochistic fantasies are read as a blueprint for reality. I think it was John Cleese’s book Life and How to Survive It which suggested that the purpose of stories is not to tell us how to live, or even how not to live, but to play at being less psychologically healthy than we have to be in real life. I’m not sure that explains all of our relationship to fiction, but there’s something to that. In that light, Fifty Shades is just a masochistic fantasy.

Only one more book to go. I think I need a literary detox cleanse after this one.

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  23 Responses to “The Curious Kinky Person’s Guide to Fifty Shades Darker: conclusion”

  1. God speed, man.

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  13. And yet, many women have the fantasy that with their love will change the abusive man and they just need to be patient and wait and deal. Perhaps this is still a residue from when women had but little choice otherwise.

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  17. Hola a tod@s!
    Interesante punto de vista!!!! Tengo muchas ganas de dejar mi comentario, va en español!

    Desde mi humilde experiencia, lo que me llama la atención es que este libro fue furor en fanfic. Luego libro, publicado en ingles y español. Y luego de este libro le siguieron un montón de libros relacionados con BSDM
    Las mujeres todavía intentamos pelear por lugares de decisión, de respeto…. Ya desechamos los pensamientos feminista que no aportaron en nada a la constitución de la mujer moderna, salvo que se siguiera llenando de apostolados heteronormativos (en sociedad occidentales judeo cristianas) Esta cosa de la mujer todo lo puede. Creo que la mujer hoy en día busca la igualdad de condiciones con respecto al hombre pero reconociendo las particularidades, las diferencia. Es por ello que no entiendo porque un montón de mujeres eligen leer este libro. No acepto la respuesta sencilla de que “es moda” Esto va mucho más allá, todavía no tengo la respuesta, pero al mismo tiempo me genero mucho vértigo pensar que “las mujeres esta festejando someternos a cuestiones de abuso”
    Cariños Sole.-
    PD: Felices Fiestas!!!!

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  23. As a therapist, I’m completely convinced that Christian has Antisocial Personality Disorder at the very least. He also fits the model of a psychopath quite clearly. This is what’s being branded as a dream man. Nothing in the book series is grounded in reality. The fact that there are too many women, a lot of them teenagers, thinking that this is okay terrifies me.

    I’ve dated men like Christian. They don’t magically get better. If they don’t leave you a complete, unstable mess, they ruin your life some other way. If that fails, you get killed. This isn’t something anyone needs to be romanticizing. It further horrifies me that this is all the result of one woman’s total and complete ignorance.

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