When I imagine that at my age I cannot be shocked, I learn I am wrong. I may have a passing familiarity with many terms in the Urban Dictionary, but when after a recent post it came to my attention that there are pages and pages of erotic fan fiction based on the character of "Professor Snape" from the Harry Potter books, I was shocked.
Obviously, first, because erotic fiction based on kids book characters, ewww, yuck, gross, stop. But a two-hour cruise of Teh Internets, purely for research purposes, alleviated those fears slightly, as all the authors take great pains, so to speak, to spell out that all fictional participants are of legal age and fully consenting adults. But still. All I can think of is, oh, that poor Alan Rickman, such a good actor, and this...oh, and poor Ms. Rowling. High price indeed for fame and fortune.
I know how the game works; long long long ago, I wrote erotica for a while because I thought it might be easy money, which it wasn't. Easy, yes, but not much money. You shape your stories based on whatever the paying anthologies and contests are calling for--vampire lesbians, rough trade interplanetary warriors, etc. This practice may have led to the writing of a short story of an encounter between a certain secretary of state and the wife of a Nobel Prize winner (not the latest winner, go back a bit), and also one that was a magical realist story set at a bass fishing tournament (it was an attempt at an environmentalist homage to Carl Hiaasen, which, looking back, I doubt he would have appreciated, but one does what one can). I ain't saying. But this world pays more for a 70-word web page blurb about an "IT Solution" than it does for 1,000 words of high-quality erotica, which is just one among many indications that this world is heading in the wrong direction.
Anyway, my skim of the Snape archives revealed a lot of British-flavor bodice-ripping softcore Mr. Rochester memes, starring somewhat spirited but pure woman and head-game, so to speak, playing, brooding, authoritative man. The other one that pops up, so to speak, ok I'll stop already, is the Heathcliff meme, in which the woman is just as nuts as the dude. These are also the most common romance novel models. I felt a twinge of nostalgia, because the Mr. Rochester model used to be my specialty. Oh well, another art chokes, so to speak, ha ha!, and dies. (Which last word, if you're doing Olde English softcore, could also get a "so to speak.")
And no, I will not provide links. Poison your own damn search history.
But let us go a little deeper here, you said you'd stop doing that, and explore the origins of the archetype. I'm a Stones person, a George Harrison person, and a Jane Eyre person (as opposed to a Beatles, John, Wuthering Heights person). The real Jane Eyre, of course, is as absolutely whack and wonderful as anything by the Brontes, and much more feminist and in touch with reality than her sister's book, relatively speaking. The story makes no sense, but everything she says is revolutionary. You can hear how smart and above it all that poor innocent 'Bama Charlotte believes she is; she fends for herself with such effort and ingenuity; she practically ends every third sentence with "unlike YOU bunch of dumbasses and hypocrites." What's funny is that what appeals to Jane about him isn't his "Byronic" brooding and smackdowns, but his willingness to talk to her as an equal in intellect. But it's the Byronic parts that live on in the model.
And that's not even touching the whole madwoman in the attic racial-social thing. I love Wide Sargasso Sea just as much.
Fully by chance, I came across this hilarious, weird piece from the Daily Mail years ago that's a perfect primer on Jane Eyre, "the sexiest novel ever written" and "simply the best novel ever written by a toothless parson's daughter from Yorkshire or anybody else." One correction, though--Charlotte Bronte did not "die of disappointment" after her marriage; she most likely died of dehydration and exhaustion after weeks of prolonged morning sickness, something that still happens today more often than many realize. From all biographical accounts, she really, really wanted to hang on to life and have that child.
So here's a dramatic chunk, when Rochester's doing his usual head games, trying to trick her into going for him by saying he's going to send her away, and she's like "fuck your horse, buddy," but so honest! She's freaking blazing! Emphases mine.
"I grieve to leave Thornfield: I love Thornfield:- I love it,
because I have lived in it a full and delightful life,--momentarily
at least. I have not been trampled on. I have not been petrified.
I have not been buried with inferior minds, and excluded from every
glimpse of communion with what is bright and energetic and high. I
have talked, face to face, with what I reverence, with what I
delight in,--with an original, a vigorous, an expanded mind. I have
known you, Mr. Rochester; and it strikes me with terror and anguish
to feel I absolutely must be torn from you for ever. I see the
necessity of departure; and it is like looking on the necessity of
..."Do you think, because I am poor,
obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think
wrong!--I have as much soul as you,--and full as much heart! And if
God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have
made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave
you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom,
conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh;--it is my spirit that
addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave,
and we stood at God's feet, equal,--as we are!"
"As we are!" repeated Mr. Rochester--"so," he added, enclosing me in
his arms. Gathering me to his breast, pressing his lips on my lips:
..."Jane, be still; don't struggle so, like a wild frantic bird that is
rending its own plumage in its desperation."
"I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with
an independent will, which I now exert to leave you."
Also keep in mind that sex with the governess was seen as every man's right and every wife's nightmare; that it was about the only job a woman could get if she wasn't on the street; that any governess could end up on the street for saying three honest words to an employer; that women who asserted equality could be jailed and force-fed or put in insane asylums. What on earth gave that toothless parson's daughter the idea she could write such things--under a pseudonym, of course?
I am not toothless, and I do not write fan fiction, and that's enough disclosure for the day.
Photo: From the latest BBC miniseries. Because as much as I love Orson Welles, and as good as he is in it, I just can't get with him in the role.