I post on a women’s forum that runs very much to the mainstream. The posters tend to be married with children or heading that way. When a poster went “undercover” to post about her secret life as a submissive, it caused a bit of a sensation. She has a “taken in hand” marriage, which means her husband calls ALL the shots. They discuss things, but he has the final say. Period. And that might mean deciding what car to buy, where to live, or it might mean whether they have sex tonight.
It doesn’t much concern me what consenting adults do in their homes. However, the definition of consent in this scenario makes me nervous. The poster said that she gave her husband “blanket consent” for sex, whenever, where ever, and however he wants. But is consent still consent when it’s given in advance? How do you get out of this agreement if you want – isn’t it sort of, too bad, you gave your consent, so now what I say goes? To me, consent is rooted in the present tense. I can consent to sex now, but I can’t give consent for sex that’s going to happen tomorrow. Anyway, Drama Ensued. There were even accusations that this poster couldn’t be for real, but, a quick search of the internets tells me that “taken in hand” is a thing.
As I read The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, I thought about consent quite a bit. Sleeping Beauty was my first erotic novel. I admit to reading the odd, shall we say, flash fiction erotica, but it’s not a genre I ever considered for a literary experience. I chose Sleeping Beauty because it has a reputation as a literary Fifty Shades (I know, I know).
I knew that the story was based on Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, and that it would have a BDSM element, but I was not expecting so much cruelty and so little tenderness. I don’t have a problem with BDSM, and I understand this is fiction; however, when presented with non-consentual, penetrative sex with a minor, or if you wanna get real, a child being raped, on PAGE TWO I was taken aback. Context: “Beauty” is fifteen and unconscious.
He mounted her, parting her legs, giving the white inner flesh of her thighs a soft, deep pinch, and, clasping her right breast in his left hand, he thrust his sex into her.
Beauty is taken to the Prince’s castle in some vaguely middle-age European kingdom. The castle is full of slaves like Beauty, and the Lords and Ladies who use and abuse them (and grooms – the slaves all have their own groom. Like a horse!) Supposedly Beauty is okay with being beaten, raped, and humiliated because she’s In Love with the Prince, and he’s so dreamy she’s just constantly in a state of impending orgasm. There is no explanation as to WHY she falls in love with the Prince in the first place or just blindly accepts her fate. In fact, logical problems abound. All these young people fucking and no one gets pregnant? No diseases? Girls never menstruate and guys are always at attention the second they’re required to be? But, you know, fairy tale, so I can live with all that.
Okay, so what about the sex? First of all, I’ve never read an erotic story with such clean language. “Cock” is probably as colourful as it gets. Reading about “organs” and “buttocks” and such was strange. The action felt a little clinical. Maybe that’s on purpose. Even though this book is nearly all sex, all the time, it’s not REALLY about sex. It’s about power. The difference in status between the Lords and Ladies and the slaves are emphasized through clothes, positioning, and even size. The captors are all described as tall, big, or imposing.
There were a few decent sex scenes, but for the most part, the non-consensual and violent elements were too much – not too graphic or too disturbing, because actually I’ve seen worse, but just too numerous and repetitive and out of balance with the more, shall we say, warm and fuzzy sex scenes. As a feminist, I do take issue with this. I realize it’s just a story, and can be enjoyed as such – but it wasn’t always enjoyable for me. I also found it disturbing that when a male slave is forced to have sex with another male, that’s called rape, but “rape” isn’t used to describe any of the various non-consensual acts perpetrated on women and girls.
Sex and feminism aside, there *is* a story and even character development here. Beauty starts out thinking she’s submitted to her Prince, but by the end she’s only beginning to understand what submission really means. There is some examination of her thought process and emotions. We don’t get much from the captors, but maybe that’s saved for the next books in the series.
Beauty tossed her head. She felt the heavy braids fall against her back, and suddenly when the paddle struck her she felt herself move so languidly with it. It was as if this strange relaxation were softening her all over. Is that what they had meant when they said the pain would soften her? Yet she feared this relaxation, this despair – was it despair? She did not know. She had no dignity in that moment.
The story ends with a cliffhanger that was compelling enough that I looked up the next book on Kobo… but not compelling enough to make me pay $13 for a novella (I purchased this book for $2 during a sale.)
- I give Sleeping Beauty a few bonus points for the hilarious reviews on Goodreads. A LOT of people didn’t know what they were getting in to. Originally written under a pseudonym, the book is now listed as written by Anne Rice, so I think there’s a lot of “oh, I liked that vampire book, let’s give this a try… OMG WTF” going on.
- I must dock a few of those bonus points for making me actually want to read 50 Shades, just to see if there really is any comparison to be made. I don’t get the sense that 50 Shades is nearly as… hardcore as this. Damn you, Anne Rice!
- I hope my kids never want to watch Disney’s Sleeping Beauty because the thought is giving me a serious no feeling.