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Sex and the Classic

How did the idea to approach Jane Eyre with an erotic twist pique your imagination?
I’ve read the classic many times, at school and in University, later where I had studied English Literature. While in school, we would snigger and giggle about the story as it was always suggested that the content had an erotic sub-text. In fact, later at University, I wrote a big essay on the eroticism between Mr Rochester and Jane Eyre. The idea was at the back of my mind, at all times. The phenomenon created by Fifty Shades of Grey has rekindled interest in this genre. In this case, we had a virginal story where Jane Eyre was out of depths with an older man. My publisher was excited when I shared the idea. It came across as so much fun, and naughty too, though the intent was to not make it sound deliberately cheeky or irreverent.

A still from Jane Eyre
A still from Jane Eyre (2011) that starred Michael Fassbender as Mr Rochester and Mia Wasikowska as Jane

What was your biggest challenge while working on Jane Eyre Laid Bare?
The most difficult part of this was to decide on which part of the original could be edited out. The classic had some 3,50,000 words that I had to edit down to 80,000 odd words. Poor Charlotte Bronte! This took me about six months to complete; it was quicker than having to write a full-length novel. It was such a beautifully written classic that to cut such brilliant prose was the toughest element; I kept getting caught up with doubts about what to retain and what to leave out in my version. Honestly, I’ve worked it around in such a way that I haven’t had to add to the plot. The reader is reading a classic with an erotic slant. I was clear that despite introducing a certain 21st century sexuality to the book, each character had to be kept intact.

What has been the response so far, particularly from purists? Were you wary of negative feedback since you were dealing with one of the classics of English Literature?
There were several versions of Jane Eyre floating around even during Charlotte Bronte’s lifetime. So, I was ready to do this version. In fact, some time back, I heard of a vampire-slanted version. My erotic twist to the novel seemed acceptable in this light as opposed to having characters from Jane Eyre being ripped off by zombies! I welcome any debate on this topic. Erotica is widely available in every form. I believe that it is better to talk about sex and sexuality, openly via books, than having to resort to internet porn. I am a mother of three daughters aged 12, 8 and 5 respectively, and I feel that such books are a far better medium to reach out.

Any plans to give other English classics a similar erotic twist?
I would love to. Though Jane Eyre appealed the most as I felt it was the perfect story of a younger woman falling head over heels for an older man. The whole point is that the story, including its structure and characterisation, was great.

Does this version lend itself to a film version as well?
Who knows, I’m not talking now! Let’s see how 50 Shades of Grey impacts as a film. Last year’s version of Jane Eyre stayed true to the original, which was boring, in a manner of speaking. If this version is to be made into a film, it shouldn’t be reduced to a bodice-ripping, erotic extravaganza, or become a parody of a great classic. The viewer should be drawn into that world and get swept by the story, in all its hues. That’s
the intent.

Do you believe that erotica was kept under the covers, in veiled tones, when one looks back at English Literature’s classics?
Yes. At the time, most women writers’ works were published under pen names, including Charlotte Bronte. Writers like her were trying to explore women’s roles in society through their written works. And most, like her, were worried about the backlash. Now, as we look back at those times, it’s not difficult to imagine that people led debauched lifestyles. What else could they have done in those huge castles and manors through the year (laughs)!

Maybe, Bronte was hinting at it all through Jane Eyre. It’s what makes the novel so special - and showcases the remarkable subtlety of the English language. Coming to think of it, you can take Shakespeare, it’s possible to read all sorts into it as well. Not George Elliot - sex was not on her mind. For me, the interpretation of Jane Eyre’s text is what was crucial. Jane Eyre was a masterpiece, about a young woman being obsessed with an older man. Brilliantly written, it’s a topic that is relevant till now. We are better off talking about sex today. 

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