TELEVISION / A PAIN IN THE ARTS
Robert Hanks on sexing-up classic novels
Complaints that the classics are oversexed are also nothing new. Again, there are several arguments: that television tries to put sex in everywhere, that great works of literature should be allowed to stand on their own merits, and - Johnson's complaint about The Buccaneer - that if the author had wanted sex scenes, she could have added them herself.
What's interesting, and infuriating, is that in adopting contrary positions, the two sides of the quarrel make the same mistake, projecting the attitudes of the 20th century on to the 19th. Of course Wharton or George Eliot could never have chosen to include explicit sex scenes - omitting them wasn't an artistic decision, as Johnson suggests. But don't pretend that by adding raunch you are decoding the novel; what you're actually doing is pretending it's a modern work of art, and so stripping it of muchof what makes it valuable.
In other words, let's leave smut out of the classics. But let's watch them with a sigh of relief that we're allowed to talk dirty these days.
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