Reawakening Sleeping Beauty

12 Oct

Several years ago I attended a romance conference in which Anne Rice made a guest appearance in order to help promote the new release Beguiled, written by her sister, the late Alice Borchardt. After a brief discussion about Alice’s book, the conversation quickly turned to Anne’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy. One intrepid but shy audience member raised her hand to ask about Anne’s “erotic series” when Anne interrupted her and said, “You mean my porn?”

The release of those books caused a feminist outcry that they were examples of female degradation. Anne Rice has countered that her trilogy is “elegantly sensual” and harmless to readers. I’ve also read that she considers the series her political statement about women’s right to read and write whatever they pleased. The books were major bestsellers for her, out-earning what she made from Interview With The Vampire.

If this all sounds rather familiar, it should. We’ve had a resurrection of the discussion in the popular media on erotica and erotic romance with the 50 Shades releases. They’ve been pulled off library shelves (just as the Sleeping Beauty trilogy was), been celebrated for reigniting tired married couples’ intimacy, and been decried by writers aplenty as poorly written schlock. When Sleeping Beauty was released it caused outrage among conservatives and feminists and is included in the American Library Association’s list of the “100 most frequently challenged books” of the 1990’s. On the flip side, it’s also developed a cult following, particularly among the BDSM community.

I read the Sleeping Beauty trilogy, and I read all three 50 Shades as well. As an avid consumer of books in general and romance in particular, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Moreover, I’m interested in whether it’s erotic, erotic romance, or just plain ‘ol porn. And I guess this is where it gets tricky for me. According to Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, pornography is defined as “obscene writings, drawings, photographs or the like, having little or no artistic merit.” Whoa. If that’s not a can of worms I don’t know what is. I’m backing away with my hands held high.

Next March will be the 30 year anniversary since the first of the Beauty releases. How far have we as readers of erotic romance come since that day? In my opinion, quite far. There’s been an explosion of electronic romance publishers who allow us writers to push the boundaries of eroticism while staying within the confines of romance. There’s a very large dedicated romance audience, with new readers coming on board every day. Yes, there are still groups of people who shun the genre, and that’s OK, too, as long as they don’t try to force others to do the same. For those of you who haven’t read the Sleeping Beauty trilogy, I urge you to give it a look. For those who have, it might be fun to dust off your copy and enjoy it a second time and, as Anne Rice said, celebrate the fact that we can read it – or not – as we please.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


3 Responses to “Reawakening Sleeping Beauty”

  1. Liz Everly October 15, 2012 at 10:36 am #

    Madeline, I agree with you. But I think that sometimes that line is just a personal opinion. for some folks a sex scene is porn, period. No matter if it’s part of a good story or not. Of course, they are probably not our readers, but they they are out there.


  2. madelineiva October 14, 2012 at 3:23 pm #

    I have only read the first half of the Anne Rice Beauty trilogy and the last book. I find them FASCINATING — will have to post on it later at length.

    But to respond to the question of what is porn:
    To me a book, story, or novella must have two clear criteria to qualify as porn.

    1) Structure: A flat plot lines and flat character arcs. In terms of plot this means that the order and relationship between events is negligible. In terms of character arcs, we’re talking about characters who don’t change or grow over the course of the novel.


    2) Disposition: a work of porn objectifies people — i.e. treats a person like an object to be used for sex–meaning, the person is treated without regarded for desires, feelings, values, or consent.

    While some book don’t have good plotting or character arcs, I wouldn’t call those pornography. No, we’re talking about a form that MUST leave out plotting and character arcs because they’d get in the way if they were there.

    There are a lot of people who are cranky about erotic romance/erotica. They say that erotic romance doesn’t often have a plot or great characters — BUT even so, it still wouldn’t qualify as porn in my book, because of #2. Erotic romance is all about the importance of consent, desires, and feelings — it is exactly the opposite of #2.


  3. LizEverly October 13, 2012 at 10:41 am #

    Great post. I love Anne rice’s vampire series and I love erotic romance. But I really don’t like her Beauty series. It’s been a few years though and maybe I should revisit.


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