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In Defense of Erotic Literature: Why I Wrote 'Jane Eyre Laid Bare'

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It seems to me that what E.L. James's Twilight-inspired Fifty Shades Of Grey has done for the reading population - whether you love it or hate it - is to have given women the chance to stand up for, and indeed embrace, the power of words.

And whilst lots of critics find erotica's growing popularity everything from baffling to outrageous, I think it's liberating. In fact, I think it's a revolution that's long overdue.

Many of these same critics claim that the recent rise of erotic literature is a result of technological advances and changes to the way in which we read. These critics claim that, thanks to the advent of e-reading devices, readers no longer have to ask for the directions to the top floor "erotic" section in their bookshop. Instead they can download and consume their erotica anonymously, without anyone else knowing.

In other words, these critics are still attempting to label erotic fiction as some kind of dirty habit. Whereas the evidence is very much against this. You only have to sit on a train or a bus and look around to see with your own eyes that the taboo of reading erotica is being rapidly eroded - if it, in fact, still exists at all. Copies of Fifty Shades and many other erotic novels are now being openly read in public, not out of any form of defiance, but because their readers clearly feel no sense of shame.

And why should they? What exactly are they doing wrong? And who, exactly, are they hurting? No-one, as far as I can see.

We haven't had a book like Fifty Shades for quite some that's made us all talk about the fact that women get turned on by words - in a way that many men apparently don't. Or about how many women like to read about sex within the context of a love story, rather than watching nameless bodies on a screen. And it's precisely this emotional context that differentiates erotica from porn.

And this is why I see erotic novels like Fifty Shades as a step forward and not a step back. As far as I'm concerned, the more we embrace and openly discuss our sexuality and sensuality, the better. I'd far rather our teenage girls get their ideas about sex from the emotionalised context of the written word than from the staggering mass of generic, and often abusive, internet porn out there.

And if what we want is more erotic stories, then what better story is there than Jane Eyre? One of the original and best stories about an innocent young woman falling in love with a much more experienced older man and getting way out of her depth. A story structure used by hundreds of stories since, including most of chick-lit and followed, most recently, of course by Fifty Shades of Grey.

Even in Charlotte Brontë's own lifetime, there were many versions of Jane Eyre, so tinkering with her classic is not a new concept. Neither is the idea of a 'mash-up' between two genres - look at Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. But perhaps there hasn't been a new version that's had so much international attention as Jane Eyre Laid Bare for a while. I've had people getting in touch with me from Australia and India, Canada and Thailand. Some have been outraged and some have been amused. I'd like to think that many readers' reactions would fall somewhere in between.

Sexing up this particular classic has been a project that's been on my mind for a long time. Even when I studied it at school, we used to laugh about what Rochester really meant when he entreats Jane to stay and thanks her for saving his life, whilst standing in his nightgown in his bedroom after the fire. Then, when I wrote for my English Literature degree about the simmering sexual tension between Jane and Rochester, the idea was even more vivid. The fact is, that once you start to read Jane Eyre like an erotic novel, it is an erotic novel. Only I didn't just start to read it like an erotic novel, I started to write it like one too. It felt naughty, it felt funny, and it felt emotionally moving too - it felt like what it was: a fantasy, as well as a game.

My intention was certainly never to replace the original, only to shed a different light on it, in the same way that a theatre director might re-interpret Shakespeare in a modern setting. Will my version bring new readers to this much-loved timeless classic? I certainly hope so, although I also know that some people will continue to get their proverbial knickers in a twist about it. But if we're okay with having Jane Austen's characters having their faces gobbled up by the un-dead, then surely adding a bit a eroticism to a classic love story can't be such a big deal. Maybe you should judge for yourself.

Eve Sinclair is the author of Jane Eyre Laid Bare [St. Martin's Griffin, $14.99]