The Original “Fifty Shades of Grey”

In my senior year of high school, I read “The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty”, the first in a three-book series by vampire-genre goddess Anne Rice (who was a fave of mine at the time) writing under the pen name “A. N. Roquelaure.” Except instead of vampires, she was playing around with fairy tale characters in a crazy BDSM world with bondage, whips, suspension, sticky-itchy honey-glazes on genitals, you name it! Her Beauty trilogy from over 25 years ago was the original “Fifty Shades of Grey” series, filled with kinky sex on almost every page — except Rice’s was actually well written and, if memory serves me correctly, a lot more hardcore.

Penguin Plume has just reissued the series with new covers and a new preface from Rice, in which she kind of can’t help but point out how she was here first, satisfying the dark fantasies of women long before Christian murmured “Come for me, baby” and Anastasia did as she was told (and really, who can blame Rice). But my favorite parts of the new preface involve Rice defending the sexuality, sexual fantasies, and sexual agency of women:

As a feminist, I’m very much supportive of equal rights for women in all walks of life. And that includes for me the right of every woman to write out her sexual fantasies and to read books filled with sexual fantasies that she enjoys. Men have always enjoyed all kinds of pornography. How can it be wrong for women to have the same right? We’re sexual beings! And fantasy is where we can do the things we can’t do in ordinary life. A woman has a right to imagine herself carried away by a handsome prince, and to choose for herself as she writes, the color of his hair and eyes, and imagine his silky voice. She has a right to make him as tall as she wants and as strong as he wants. Why not? Men have always allowed themselves such fantasies….

People are much more comfortable today admitting and talking about what they enjoy in fiction and film. Much more. People are “out of the closet” about sexuality, period. The whole world knows women are sensual human beings as well as men. It’s no secret anymore that women want to read sexy fiction just as men do, and there’s a new frankness about the varieties of fantasies one might enjoy. So many clichés have been broken and abandoned. And this is a wonderful thing.

The image below is me (in my Annie Hall hat) posing for my high school yearbook editors photo on the steps of the New York Public Library — the theme of our yearbook that year was the written word, so all of us editors used our favorite books or whatever we were reading at the time as props. The original paperback cover of “The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty” back then was a lot more subtle, despite the naked lady in a blindfold; it gave the impression of matoore litooratoore. Speaking of, I also wrote an English paper my junior year in high school on D.H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterly’s Lover.” And I wonder how I ended up a sex writer.

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  1. The Sleeping Beauty stories are the BEST!! Carrie’s Story by Molly Weatherfield is also a good, well-written alternative to 50 Shades.

  2. This made me laugh SO HARD. I’ve been talking the Beauty trilogy up one side and down the other to everyone I know that asks about 50 Shades. Honestly, I’d rather eat broccoli while handling unfinished terra cotta than read Shades.

    I agree with David on the Kushiel’s Legacy series. I’ve re-read those books until the covers have dropped off. 🙂

    There’s also the Black Jewels series, which is another set full of magic and fantasy, but has a strong leaning towards sex.

  3. I would also suggest Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey if you don’t mind a fantasy setting. It is well written and very entertaining. The sex was an important part of the series but it was not on every page. I love that series of books.

    PS This is not fantasy with lots of magic and crazy situations. For the most part it is just normal people living in the age before gunpowder in a made up world that mostly resembles Europe.

  4. I was actually just about to send in a question for you guys, inquiring about alternatives to 50 Shades of Grey. I have a strong aversion to 50 Shades of Grey after hearing that it’s not well written (not to mention its origin). But I enjoy reading and I would certainly enjoy some steamy reading to occupy my imagination. So, thanks for the suggestion!

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