Call Me Sir: Ben Kingsley, Fifty Shades of Gray and Victorian erotica

Harem (1985)

A tech journalist once told me that if watching tv on your mobile phone was such a great idea, loads of people would have been walking around with a primitive giant tv on their brick sized phones long ago. By this logic, it seems obvious that if there were a readiness  from liberated Western women for porn, we would have a big and well-established porn  for women industry by now. Instead of which we have the sorry Dan Brown-style phenomenon of THAT book РFifty Shades of Gray. Never mind that Mills and Boon had been running a darker imprint, featuring a lot more sex for years.

The premise of the older billionaire and the young virgin is particularly unimaginative. Compare the premise of the ultimate romance. ¬†The screenwriters of Casablanca ¬†revealed in later years that it was supposed to be as explicit as possible that Rick and Ilse have wild sex when she comes ¬†to his flat seeking help. As the late Nora Ephron so aptly put it, Ilse’s choice was between “the man you’ve had the best sex of your life with, even though he runs a bar and that’s all he does” and “becoming the First Lady of Czechoslovakia”.

The 80s tried the sex and rich old bloke things and it was no more appealing. I’ve yet to find anyone who’s managed to sit through the Euro naffness of Harem, which presents us with Oscar winning thesp Ben Kingsley ¬†as an Arab sheikh having ¬†“”international tennis player” Nastassja Kinski kidnapped to order. ¬†All concerned look rather embarrassed, but Kinski has some good smudgy eye makeup ¬†and Bedouin jewellery. Though it does draw on a 19th century history of Orientalist white slave porn fiction, at least one of which, claimed to be a first person “memoir”.

Grimm S&M (1983)

Anne Rice’s S&M Sleeping Beauty novel trilogy, the first novel published in 1983 under the pen name AN Roquelaure ¬†did rather better. ¬†Though ¬†the “call me Prince” archness grates quite quickly, they have the benefit ¬†of ¬†Rice’s jewel-encrusted Gothic prose and being genuinely adventurous, with ¬†the similarly–aged, youthful protagonists being refreshingly open minded about gay and lesbian encounters. ¬†But ¬†reading about people having sex ¬†gets a bit boring over 3 books.

If  men are (sweeping but broadly fair generalisation here)  keener on the simple, repetitive foreplay-less visual, as the long established international porn film industry suggests,  then  books have to offer more.  My thesis is the greatest sex moments in books are  great because they offer a unique  first glimpse of revealed passion, rather than an anatomical examination. No wonder the Victorian worried about women reading novels.

Middlemarch — Written by the original Victorian cougar, ¬†George Eliot, it features a hot ¬†snog by the window in a thunderstorm.

Mill On The Floss — ¬†unexpected insight into Victorian porn when ¬†Stephen is ¬†overcome with lust at the sight of ¬†Maggie’s ¬†bare bingo wings. ¬†Apparently there are 12 mentions of ¬†elbows ¬†in the book: ¬† “Who has not felt the beauty of a woman’s arm? – the unspeakable ¬†suggestions of tenderness that lie in the dimpled elbow ¬†and all the varied ¬†gently lessening curves, down to the delicate wrist, with its tiniest almost imperceptible nicks in the firm softness… A mad impulse seized on ¬†Stephen; ¬†he darted towards the arm and showered kisses on it….The next moment, Maggie snatched it from him, and glared at him like a wounded war-goddess, quivering with rage and humiliation.”

Jane Eyre ¬†— admittedly it’s the 1944 film version. After he’s lost his money, his property and his sight, watch Orson Welles’ ¬†Mr Rochester and Joan Fontaine lunge for eachother in the closing moments. Awesome.

About samiraahmed

Journalist. Writer. Broadcaster.
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