50 Shades of Grey
E. L. James
Contributed by Margherita Wickersham


Fifty Shades of Grey, written by E. L. James, is an S&M erotica novel that is primarily based on the supernatural novel Twilight. The novel is the first installment of the Fifty Shades series about a college student, Anastacia Steele, who starts a BDSM relationship with a wealthy young man called Christian Grey. As such, the book is notable for its explicitly erotic scenes that feature elements of “sexual practices involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism” (Paolangeli 6). The plot of the Fifty Shades trilogy follows the plot of the first book in the Twilight trilogy, and the main characters in the series mirror the main characters in the Twilight. Even though there are no supernatural elements in the Fifty Shades as it is in the Twilight series, Christian’s need for violent sex is compared with the element of Edward’s hunger for the blood of Bella. In the novel, numerous references to artifacts as well as concept utilized in BDSM are made, making the book appear as though it is an introduction for an individual who is new to the BDSM world.


Originally, Fifty Shades of Grey along with the sequels were developed from a Twilight fanfiction series under the title Master of the Universe, and were published episodically on fan-fiction websites under James’s username “Showqueens Icedragon.” The novel featured characters of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, Bella Swan, and Edward Cullen. After readers raised concerns about the sexual themes in the story, however, James removed the story from the websites and published them on her website dubbed FiftyShades.com. James later renamed Master of the Universe as an original piece and renamed the principle characters Anastacia Steele and Christian Grey.

On May 2011, Fifty Shades of Grey was published as an eBook as well as a print on demand paperback by The Writer’s Coffee Shop. The Writer’s Coffee Shop had a restricted marketing budget and depended largely on book blogs for early publicity. Nonetheless, due to word-of-mouth recommendations, tens of thousands of readers were attracted to the series. Consequently, the book became a phenomenon, selling millions of copies. Fifty Shades of Grey’s erotic nature as well as perceived demographic of its fan base as being composed mainly of married women aged thirty years and above made some news agencies to refer to it as “Mommy porn.” Fifty Shades of Grey has also been popular among college women and teenage girls as well. Because of the heightened interest in the trilogy, the Fifty Shades series was later released in a new as well as a revised edition in 2012. The attention that this series has obtained also sparked a renewed interest in erotic literature. This is because following its success, several other erotic works quickly became best sellers, while various other popular works, e.g., The Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice have been reissued to ensure higher demand.

On August 1, 2012, Amazon announced that they had sold more copies of the novel than they had on the whole Harry Potter series combined. This made E.L. James the best-selling author, replacing J.K. Rowling as the best-selling author.

In 2015, Fifty Shades of Grey was adapted as a film starring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastacia Steele and Christian Grey respectively. Just like the novel, the film received the same critical flogging but became a massive blockbuster despite the negative reviews. “Two sequels followed, Fifty Shades Darker in 2017 and Fifty Shades Freed in 2018” (Ray para. 6).

About the author

E.L. James, birth name Erika Leonard, is a British author best known for the Fifty Shades trilogy of erotic novels. She was born in 1963 in London, England. James studied history at the University of Kent. After graduation, she embarked on a career on Television, becoming a studio management assistant at the National Film and Television School located in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. While there, she met Niall Leonard, an aspiring screenwriter, and the two later got married. James rose from the position of an assistant manager to that of an executive, subsequently working as a production executive at BBC and a manager at the TV production company Shooting Stars (Michael para 3).

James was a longtime fan of romance novels; nonetheless, she had done little writing of her own. After watching Twilight (2008), a movie adapted from the first novel of the popular trilogy of vampire books written by Stephanie Meyer and aimed at young adults, she was inspired to write stories based on the characters of Twilight. These works belonged to a genre called fan fiction. Here, amateur writers reimagined characters from popular TV series, films and books as well. Some fan fiction was deeply entrenched in the “universe” of its source material, while other fan fiction retained little more than the existing location or characters. The efforts of James fell into the latter category: she changed Bella Swan in Twilight from a brooding high-school student to a naïve university student, and Edward Cullen from Bella’s vampire love interest to a rich young man in a desire for violent sex. James gave her tale the title Master of the Universe and began posting it in installments on fan-fiction websites in 2009. Here, readers were allowed to give opinions on the direction of the story as she unveiled each chapter. James self-published Fifty Shades of Grey, the first third of the Masters of the Universe series in 2011. A second volume, Fifty Shades Darker, was released the same year. The third installment of the series, Fifty Shed Freed, was released the following year.

James lives in London with her husband, and the couple has two sons.

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