This event took place on Thursday 17th April. Thanks to all who attended and to our fantastic speaker Naomi Booth, it was a really fun and interesting debate.
This event was a forum to discover and discuss scholarly and feminist approaches to the Fifty Shades of Grey triology of erotic romance novels, as well as to partake in general banter, and sample some wine, juice and nibbles.
Naomi Booth, an English PhD student at Sussex gave her paper ‘Bathetic Masochism: Fifty Shades of Grey and the Feminine Art of Sinking‘ (full abstract below) followed by questions and discussion. This was followed by wider debate around the novels and questions arising from them as both texts and cultural objects.
The female love-swoon has made a spectacular come-back. In this paper, I will argue that the 21st-century resurgence of the girls-only swoon in EL James’s Fifty Shades trilogy raises troubling questions about the eroticisation of female physical vulnerability. Much has been made in press discussion of the novels’ “racy” BDSM content and of the “aspirational” masochism they promote. I wish to suggest that the BDSM content of the novels is somewhat of a media red-herring: while submission is central to the novels, this is not effected most forcefully through the meagre amounts of physical punishment actually described. Rather, submission in these novels is to the insidious power of capital, and to the masochistic romance created by James around it. Seduction in these novels means succumbing to a life of extreme luxury sanctioned by a powerful man, rather than primarily or only to a sexual relationship with him. In my reading of the Fifty Shades novels, I will focus on the swoons and faints to which the central character, Anastasia Steele, is prone as the initiation of a process of undoing of the female subject, a process of disequilibrium which is rebalanced in clichés of intimacy in thrall to the erotic charge of capital; where to “fall” in love is an admission of female physical insufficiency in the face of masculine financial protection and power.