No heroine of Victorian literature is safe. A steamed-up version of Charlotte Brontë's masterpiece is going to be published in August, under the title Jane Eyre Laid Bare.
It will be Toss of the Durbervilles next. Then Knickerless Nickleby. Nothing is sacred, apparently, in today's publishing, where genre mash-ups are creating a new breed of Frankenbooks, cynically designed to lure as many readers as possible by grafting one popular genre on to another.
Some of these strange hybrids have been successful, even cultish. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies had flair. The execution of closet zombie Charlotte Lucas by Lady Catherine de Burgh was certainly a surprise. The book reached number three in the New York Times bestseller charts and a movie is due next year. Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter is also a runaway hit, retelling history as fantasy and doubtlessly confusing a whole new generation of under-10s in the process. These are off-the-wall projects, creatively deconstructing genres. Books have always spiralled out of books, sub-genres out of genres. Richardson wrote Pamela and Fielding sexed it up as Shamela.
But Jane Eyre Laid Bare – really? Could they not do better than that? Why did they have to tamper with that purest of protagonists, ruin her subtly sublimated sexuality and destroy her perfectly pitched internal monologue, which reads like thought itself? To ratchet explicit sex in there is infra dig. It's a betrayal of a more innocent era, and more decorous modes of expression. It's like going up to a classical work of art with a marker pen and drawing a cock and balls over the fig leaf.
Unfortunately, this may be a sign of things to come. The huge popularity of the S&M trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey has coincided with the growing dominance of the e-reader, leading publishers to believe that in a market where buying and consuming can be done in anonymity, with no one to give a censorious glance, people will drift towards smut. Well, that's as may be. But at least it should be original smut.