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If the Twilight-inspired novel Fifty Shades of Grey became an overnight bestseller and whetted worldwide appetite for 'mommy porn', Jane Eyre Laid Bare takes erotica back several centuries. Eve Sinclair's sexed-up
retelling of the Charlotte Bronte classic Jane Eyre, is, not surprisingly, a hot seller. In Bronte's novel, the plain-looking orphan Jane Eyre has a pretty miserable and povertystricken childhood but is portrayed as woman of strong principles. She falls in love with her employer, Mr Rochester, a brooding, arrogant man, who it turns out has a mad wife locked up in the attic. A shattered Jane leaves him, but eventually they are reunited - the mad wife is conveniently killed - and they live happily ever after. Though Sinclair's novel keeps to the original narrative, her story begins only when Jane reaches Rochester's house, completely skipping over her painful childhood. Also, her story does not have a happy ending. TOI-Crest talks to Sinclair.
What was it about this particular book that made you give it a twist?
I have always loved the classics through school and university. This book has always been one of my favourites. It is about a young girl, who becomes obsessed with a man, falls in love with the much more experienced man. A lot of erotic stories follow the same structure. The idea has always been in my mind.
It was fun and when I spoke to publisher, they snapped at it and said, "Do it, do it. Do it". It took 6 months. I didn't actually write very much since we took much of the original text. The hard part was actually taking away parts. I kept getting sucked back into the story and thinking, I can't possibly cut that bit. The decisions were about the editing. But the best part was the fun of it. It was never meant to replace the classic.
You start the story only when Jane reaches the Rochester house and cut out her childhood.
For me - I was writing an erotic book - the whole idea was writing about sex but with an emotional story connected to it. So, I was cutting to the chase, and Jane meeting Rochester. I could have done the whole book but it would have been huge! I am afraid that her whole childhood went (laughs).
You write about the tension between Jane and Rochester. Is that how you felt even the first time you read Jane Eyre?
I read it in school but it became apparent as I read it again and again. A lot of schoolgirls have read it and many people look at its different aspects. But it has always between the relationship between Jane and Rochester.
Some say of E L James' book or yours that it smacks of female subservience. Do you feel the treatment of Eyre in your book, especially the ending (Jane leaves), proves this false?
The whole debate is interesting. It is about women finding words erotic. We are turned on by sex but it has to be in a story. I love that it is now out in the open. We are not turned on by generic internet porn. We are also talking about it more. For me it was funny that Mrs Rochester was a dominatrix. It wasn't about bondage or sadomasochism. I could done that too if I wanted to treat the text differently. But I wanted to take it one step further and not 25.
To be honest, Rochester is a terrible man. He kept a mentally ill woman in his attic - he is not a very nice person at all. I wanted it to be a bit feminist and stand up for women. In the end, Jane is shocked, humiliated and upset. And she leaves.
Apart from eroding the shame in reading erotica on, say, a train, what
has the profusion of this genre achieved? It is a craze, we are all hooked on to a craze. Earlier they said the profusion was because of Kindle and that people could download it and read anonymously. But it is not just that. We are interested and we are voyeurs. That is the great thing about fiction. Till social media came along, we (women) used to take books on holiday, and in that voyeuristic sense, be involved in the gossip of a book. In a lot of ways, people's need for narrative like that has been replaced by social media. The need for gossip from books or someone else's world, we can find out from celebrity gossip from twitter or others from FB. That need for narrative has been fulfilled by our ability for our own narrative. But erotica cannot be replaced. I don't think people are embarrassed. I also think it is much better for our young women to get their ideas of sexuality from an emotional context from books rather than nameless people on a screen going at it.
Erotic fiction has been around for a while. Do classics turned into erotica have a different appeal?
I approached it as a mash-up. When Pride and Prejudice with the zombie twist came out, it was a mash-up too. It is about the naughtiness of it - it is a classic with rude bits, which is funny.
Is this just about publishers making the best of a sales boom or will this sustain the attention?
It is about stories and I picked Jane Eyre because it has the classic story structure. And women want stories with sex in them, then what else is better than Jane Eyre? It is about rejigging the book fiction market. It has undergone enormous changes because of self-publishing etc. And any genre that keeps books relevant is great.
What kind of reader feedback have you received? Do they call it empowering or distasteful?
There has been a whole spectrum of responses. Many got their knickers in a twist too. But hopefully, there will be new readers who would never have read the original otherwise, the whole big book. If it brings new readers to the timeless story, it is great. I was not making an enormous, feminist point. It was fun. It was supposed to be tongue-incheek but not a parody. If I were 16, I probably would read this version than the original on a syllabus. But, hopefully, it will take some people there and bringing the classics back to life cannot be bad.
Both 'Jane Eyre' and 'Fifty Shades' have a 'red room'. In 'Jane Eyre' it is the nightmarish room into which she is locked as punishment. In 'Fifty Shades', the red room is Christian Grey's 'red room of pain'. Does your book explore this coincidence?
Not at all. I wanted to use the reveal of the real Mrs Rochester in the attic to be a total shock to Jane. It's a very short scene and the description of the room only a few sentences, describing red silk drapes on the bed and Mrs Rochester is wearing a black and red dress. Jane doesn't go into the room at any point, so it's not really a comparison. That said, living in the bland, grey Thornfield Hall, seeing the 'red room' is all about the forbidden, so it felt natural to describe it that way.
Does this take erotica back to the 19th century?
There has always been erotica around throughout the ages - look at the Kama Sutra! I have used a healthy dose of artistic license to reinterpret what Jane Eyre's sexual landscape might have been like in stuffy 19th-century England. It's very much about re-imagining the story with a twenty-first century sensibility. It's not nearly as rude as many erotica books out there, but I wanted to remain true to the spirit and story of the original Jane Eyre.
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