Commentary & Opinion
4:03 pm
Thu May 2, 2013

David Nightingale: 50 Shades of Grey

The 500 pp book “50 Shades of Grey”, by E.L.James – a pseudonym for the 50 yr old writer Erika Mitchell[ref.2] (who lives in London with her husband and two sons) -- has been variously slanged by critics. Despite these criticisms the book and its 2 sequels have been selling (last year) like wildfire, with the majority of the readers being women. So somehow, worldwide, there is a deep need.

Dr Drew Pinsky has referred to it on TV as “a rape fantasy”, and Irish author Sheila O'Flanagan said [ref.1] in July 2012, quote: “[the central character] is meant to be an intelligent woman, but is just too silly for words,” and she finds the book (quote again) “boring”.

The author is a graduate of the University of Kent and was formerly a TV executive. How can her extremely popular book be so criticized? One wonders: could it be royalty jealousy?

However, Barbara Walters apparently liked it enough to suggest on TV that she'd like to read a third sequel (there are 2 sequels at present: “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Fifty Shades Freed”.)

For the small number who have not heard about the story, it's a description of a just-about-to-graduate 22 year old English major at a university in Washington State who interviews, and develops a huge crush on, a tall, handsome and impossibly rich man still in his 20's, who can fly, drive, play the piano, pilot a helicopter and a glider, and seemingly do anything he turns his mind to. Quite a bit of their relationship is described through emails, but the part that seems to have many women glued to their Kindles is – so one reads – the eroticism (which some critics have dismissed as porn.) She has described Submissiveness and Dominance, and one wonders whether psychologists have got any kind of a modern handle on this, together with the apparent partial indulgence by the young heroine of things like spanking and pain.

As a youth I admired D.H.Lawrence's poetically beautiful books like “The Rainbow”, “The Trespasser”, “Sons & Lovers”, “Women in Love”, and I also liked his poems. However, if one mentions D.H.Lawrence today, the attitude is almost always derision. 'You mean the guy who wrote “Lady Chatterley's Lover”?'

Bertrand Russell, who won the 1950 Nobel Prize for literature – not mathematics – was author and/or co-author of many books, which included Principia Mathematica, The Problems of Philosophy, Mysticism and Logic, The Analysis of Mind, A History of Western Philosophy ... and so on ... yet an Episcopal bishop once said 'everything Russell writes is about sex...'  Clearly the bishop couldn't have been referring to Legitimacy versus Industrialism, Political Ideals, The ABC of Relativity, The Elements of Ethics, ... nor  Justice in Wartime, A Free Man's Worship, The Scientific Outlook, Satan in the Suburbs... to name a few.

Kate Moss, the super-model who was once engaged to Johnny Depp, nervously read a section of the book on the BBC's Radio 1 last year, thus raising nearly half a million for charity! But what I wonder is: how is it a Barnes & Noble clerk can say that (quote) “in 5 years I've not seen a single man buy it – it's always older women.”

I myself have only read the first of the trilogy. While I might be saddened at the author's repetitive use of the f-word, that is how she wants us to see her heroine's feelings and reactions. Indeed, in her defense, how ofter do we mutter to ourselves in rather non-literary ways?

But now I'm left wondering: whence women's deep need, that they have caused it to be a worldwide best-seller? And what does it say about us all?

The author acknowledges her husband, whom she refers to as the 'master of her universe' for (quote) 'tolerating her obsession, for being a domestic god, and for doing the first edit', and she refers to her book as her own 'mid-life crisis.'

While I'm not going to read the sequels, I find it a nicely constructed book, with its inner thoughts and emails. But of course, it would be more politically correct to say it's trash.

References:

1. Article, by G.Gittens, dated July 19, 2012, found on Web.
2.  TIME Magazine: “The 100 most influential people in the world”.

Dr. David Nightingale is Professor Emeritus of Physics at the State University of New York at New Paltz, and is the co-author of the text,  A Short Course in General Relativity.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not reflect the views of this station or its management.

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