On the Fifty Shades Trilogy

When Fifty Was Fic

By Anne Jamison

Want more writing on fanfiction from Anne Jamison? Check out her upcoming book, Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World!


“It’s not Jane Austen.”

My mother’s blanket critique of all books, excepting the six of which it isn’t true, applied with equal disapproval to Samuel Beckett and, I would imagine, to Fifty Shades of Grey, although my particular mommy is not likely to make it through the first page of that book. (As in, Mom, I’m in the Wall Street Journal. –how exciting, what for? Amateur BDSM erotica, what else? –is this about that book again?) My mother would apply her phrase equally to Twilight, which she’s also unlikely to read, although Stephenie Meyer claims a “classical inspiration” for each of the saga’s books and identifies the first volume with Pride and Prejudice. Presumably, Meyer has in mind the basic structure of “Boy meets girl. Boy hates girl. They are destined to be together,” and less, say, elements of style.

I often teach Jane Austen. I also taught “Master of the Universe” (or MotU), the fanfiction version of Fifty Shades of Grey (names changed to protect the copyrighted), which was loosely based on Twilight, which was loosely based on Austen. I confess, however, that I teach Austen in courses labeled “literature” and taught Snowqueens Icedragon, now better known as E. L. James, in a course labeled “popular culture.” While Jane Austen would qualify as pop culture (now with more zombies!), Fifty Shades is unlikely to be designated as  …

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