Monday, 21 January 2013

Bram Stoker’s 'Fifty Shades of Dorian Gray'

by Gregory Walton-Green

E.L. James' "novel", 50 Shades of Grey, as many of you probably know, has been the subject of a great deal of controversy. It has received much criticism due to its explicit content, being described as misogynistic and having 'set back feminism by 400 years'. However, in the words of Oscar Wilde in his Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray  'There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.' 50 Shades of Grey definitely falls into the latter category, with lines such as “My inner goddess jumps up and down with cheer-leading pom-poms shouting yes at me.” From beginning to end she proudly exhibits her awful writing style: excessive use of adjectives ("She's articulate, strong, persuasive, argumentative, beautiful"), her fondness for finding the longest synonym in the thesaurus, the repeated exclamations of "Wow!", "Holy Cow!" and "Oh My!", and her inability to understand that you do not know what your subconscious thinks, BECAUSE IT IS SUBCONSCIOUS. The list of sins goes on.

50 Shades of Grey started its literary journey as 'fan-fiction' for Twilight, which is also regarded as badly-written by many, but even the Twilight saga has been forced entirely into perspective by its successor. The origins of the Vampire/Werewolf theme in Twilight, which inspired the abusive relationship in 50 Shades, can be traced back to Gothic literary masterpieces, such as Dracula. In Dracula, a medieval, Satanic, blood-sucking, mass-murdering Transylvanian Count discovers Wilhelmina (Mina) Murray, and tries to win her away from her fiancé, the solicitor Jonathan Harker, to be his demonic bride. Along the way, the characters face moral dilemmas, as the Count (in his various guises as bat, smoke, aristocrat and wolf) and his three women slaves try to seduce them away from their virtuous life, and they face real dangers, with several of the characters, including Lucy Westenra, Mina's close friend, and Quincey, one of Lucy's suitors, killed and corrupted by Count Dracula. Twilight  diluted this aspect of corruption and danger to Bella having to choose to love either a sophisticated vampire or a down to earth werewolf, and neither decision having any serious consequences. Another Gothic parallel with 50 Shades is found in Dorian Gray, where a rich, handsome, attractive young man is morally repugnant, yet manages to seduce a naïve young woman, Sibyl Vane. The main difference between the Gothic novels and the modern ones (apart from them being in totally different leagues, two of them timeless classics, written beautifully, the other two trashy fads), is the issue of morality and consequences of acting deplorably, which is entirely ignored in the modern books.

In the following extract from my new bestselling novel, Bram Stoker's 50 Shades of Dorian Gray, I try to unite the truly unparalleled style of E.L. James with the late Victorian Gothic plot, bringing the literary journey full circle, from Gothic to tween-fiction to the narration of an abusive relationship and back again. Enjoy!

I viewed my visage in the somewhat dusty, tarnished, oblong looking glass: Why can’t I look more like Catherine Westenra?, my inner goddess whispered at me, biting her lip. My subconscious concurred: You’d need a lot more powder and lace to turn that into a beauty!

Hmm. What should I do? Catherine is so confident, charismatic, self-possessed and self-assured, that’s why she’ll make an excellent Lady of the House for Lord Godalming or Lord Henry Wotton, and she’s my dearest, dearest friend. In fact, she has already been invited to the theatre tonight by Lord Henry, along with a group of his friends, including the youthful, attractive, wealthy, pre-eminent socialite, Mr Dorian Gray. I do hope she keeps mindful of her modesty amongst all these men – she can be somewhat lax in her behavioural decorum on occasions… For this reason, I have volunteered my services as chaperone. 

Mon Dieu! I’m late for our appointment! I rush downstairs, seeing mother lying semi-conscious beside some gluttonous, drunken rogue. I find the whole scene quite indecorous and disgusting, and yet the overriding emotion is envy; I have never had someone look at me the way men gaze longingly after Mama and Catherine. 

I reminisce about my relationship with Catherine as I enter the Phaeton. We first met when her father brought her with him while he ‘discussed business’ with my mother. Catherine, calculating since birth, agreed not to tell her mother of the incident as long as I could be her own, special, servant-girl. Over the years, Catherine passed on the lessons she received in French, German, Needlework, Arithmetic and History from her esteemed, eloquent tutor, and I also received lessons on behavioural decorum and other such studies from other members of the household. My interest in learning grew to the point where I decided I should like to be an assistant schoolmistress, although I have heard that it is sometimes a trying job.

Upon reaching the age of bleeding, Catherine became unnervingly enamoured with the male sex. She spent hours poring over the various immoral acts in the Kama Sutra, much to my equal shock, interest, and disgust. Together we built castles in the air, whilst we talked together freely at her seaside home, far away from the common muck of London. Her dreams were of marriage, to a Lord, or an American! Mine were of learning to write in shorthand, and writing a stenographic journal, one I could write in whenever I felt inclined, not one of those two-pages-to-the-week-with-Sunday-squeezed-in-a-corner-diaries, and of learning to remember all that one hears and sees in a day, to write down descriptions and conversations later on, as I had seen lady journalists do. My inner goddess jumps up and down most improperly at the very thought of writing an interview, as if she had just smuggled her way into an opium den!

I am wrenched back to the present by Catherine: “Anastasia Vain! Why haven’t you responded to me at all for these past five minutes? I must say, I find this reticence of yours very taxing indeed! What on earth have you been thinking of all this time to cause you to ignore me? A man I hope? You must have been thinking about a man, it is the only explanation. But not Jacob Harker, I daresay? He has absolutely nothing attractive to him, he’s a lawyer for heaven’s sake! That wasn’t why you were late was it, you writing another one of your awful letters to him? You’re never going to make it anywhere in this world if you don’t set your sights a little higher, Anastasia, perhaps on Lord Henry; I feel he would have a very degrading influence on your morals…”

My subconscious jumps out of the phaeton, into a passing wagon, travels three quarters of a mile, then switches transport onto a chaise and four, on which it stays for approximately 10 minutes, until it reaches a rather more respectable part of town, at which point it rushes out of the carriage, crosses the road, and enters the nearest home, sheltering from my embarrassment under a chaise longue.
Anastasia?” My thoughts return to my immediate surroundings “I must say, Anastasia, your increasingly frequent and longer-enduring lapses in concentration are beginning to concern me. It is a rather excessive length to go just to avoid telling me why you were late today. Now, haven’t I always won our arguments in the end, being the more confident, attractive friend who the heroine aspires to yet realises she is superior to by the end of the novel? Tell me what you were doing.”

“I” I falter. What should I tell her? I try to think of an activity I could have been partaking in that Catherine would approve of, as well as being plausible and that would satisfy Catherine’s insatiable lust for proving herself right. I can’t tell her the truth – how I’d been putting on my make-up absentmindedly – I’ll never hear the end of it!

“I… I was fantasizing over a portrait of Lord Henry” I murmur, while I smack my lips together.
“Oh Anastasia, I always knew you had it in you! Wait until I tell Lord Henry what you really think of him - I always knew that your prudish, morally upright stance was only a façade!” Mon Dieu! I’d made the situation even worse!
“No, that was a lie; I was actually putting on my make-up whilst narrating my life in a dissatisfied schizophrenic manner!” I murmur.
“Never mind, I thought it was too perfectly aligned with my own pre-sentiments on the matter to be true. I suppose I will have to cancel the engagement party for you and Henry.” Catherine exhales with a sigh. “There may still be time for you to develop yet,” she chastises “but if you don’t start searching for a prospective lover, or at least a husband, soon, the quaint attractiveness of youthful innocence will crumble into the repulsive madness of an ageing spinster, who has shut herself off from the world.”
I also sigh, my inner goddess collapsing onto the floor with exasperation at my incurable modesty – enforce, my subconscious psychoanalysed, by my seeing the depressing consequences of the opposite path taken by my mother.
Catherine and I sit silently, waiting to arrive at the theatre. Suddenly, she points at my hair and says “By the Holy Father, how did both of us miss that envelope protruding from your hair?” I pull it out, and read the envelope:

Anastasia Vain,
42, Huswife Alley

Mon Dieu! It’s for me! I open the envelope, and find a letter inside. What can this mean?, my subconscious asks me. “I don’t know”, I reply out loud, gaining a concerned glance from Catherine.
“Are you going to open that or simply sit there looking bemused?” she asks.
Gathering all my courage, I read the letter.

5th March

Dearest Stazza,

I hope you are feeling quite well. I do not know if you remember that I have been sent by Mr Gray, who has recently bought the solicitor’s firm I work for, to Transylvania, to act as an estate agent for a rich Count who wishes to buy a home in London. I must say the people here are all rather superstitious, but well-meaning enough. There have been a large number of ominous signs, suggesting that I am in great danger, such as the Count’s demonic appearance and the belief of all the locals that I am doomed, causing them to offer me crucifixes to protect me, and begging me not to go to the Count. Of course I was oblivious to all this and have now arrived at the Count's home, which is a ruined castle, most of which I am forbidden to enter. The Count has been very hospitable on the other hand, and our business is almost over. I have heard tortured screams coming from the dungeons, but perhaps it is merely the custom for servants to be beaten more thoroughly here, to ensure a good standard of work. Never mind, I don’t mean to trouble you.

Hoping to be with you again soon,

Your dearest Jacob.

P.S. Do you know whether the wolves here are rabid and look like seductive women? I’m afraid three of them bit me while I was deliriously having a masochistic fantasy.

 What can this mean? Mon Dieu! Does Jacob love me? I am not sure how to take his letter, perhaps his emphasis on his certain peril is simply a ploy to cause me to feel for him. Yes, I’m sure of it. He’ll be fine. He always has been: he was the only boy from his orphanage to make any sort of success of himself; the others all became actors or novelists. The orphanage was opposite my house, as implausible plot would have it, and when he used to direct inebriated gentlemen towards my mother’s establishment, I often ejaculated remarks to him such as “Hello, you are going to be the secondary love interest in my life”, while he tried to ignore me. Perhaps this rejection led to my current state of excessive propriety… Over time, we started to converse in earnest, and while I grew ever more introverted and meek at my position in the Westenra home, through his connections with indecent gentlemen he gained a position at a third-rate accountancy firm based in Exeter.

“Come on Anastasia, we have arrived!” Catherine scolds, and, once my subconscious has buried my emotions for Jacob under decades of mental instability, my inner goddess, charging like a racehorse on steroids, drags me into the theatre, and towards Dorian Gray.


  1. absolutely brilliant! Very very funny and most enjoyable to read !

    1. Thank you! Starting work on part two, as Anastasia has not actually met Dorian yet...

    2. there's more??!! This could run and run - I hope!

    3. Hopefully, although it might become too explicit for PP blog eventually... Once they get properly into their relationship in 'The Vermilion Lounge of Bodily Woes'


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