43 pages • 1 hour readE. L. James
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Fifty Shades of Grey is an erotic romance novel written by E. L. James and published in 2011. The story has origins as fanfiction for the book Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. In August 2009, James posted it on fanfiction.com as Master of the Universe under the pen name Snowqueens Icedragon. After reworking the story as original fiction, James published the newly named Fifty Shades of Grey through the Writer’s Coffee Shop, an independent online Australian publisher, in May 2011. After word-of-mouth recommendations led to increasing interest in the story, Vintage Books published a revised edition in April 2012.
Since then, the book has sold over 150 million copies worldwide, topping best-sellers lists, especially in the United States and the UK. The book has been translated into 52 languages. In 2015, Focus Features, Michael De Luca Productions, and Trigger Street Productions produced the film adaptation. Fifty Shades of Grey is considered an example of viral marketing, and it renewed interest in erotic literature among readers and publishers. Fifty Shades of Grey is the first in the Fifty Shades series, which also includes Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.
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Content Warning: The source text depicts sexual behavior that many readers have interpreted as abusive. Additionally, the source references a past sexual relationship between an adult and a minor.
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Anastasia “Ana” Steele is a 21-year-old English Literature major at the University of Washington, Vancouver. The story begins as Ana travels to Seattle, Washington, to interview 27-year-old Christian Grey, the mysterious CEO of Grey Industries. Ana is conducting the interview in lieu of her friend and roommate Katherine “Kate” Kavanaugh, who arranged the interview for the school newspaper but can’t attend because she is sick with the flu.
Ana finds Christian attractive but also intimidating and arrogant. After the interview, she is preoccupied with thoughts of him, and although she doesn’t expect to hear from him again, he shows up one day at Clayton’s, the hardware store where she works in Portland, Oregon. He says he’s in the area for business and needs some things, including cable ties, masking tape, and rope. Ana notes that Kate would like to get photos of him for the article, and he agrees to a photo shoot at the Heathman Hotel, where he’s staying.
Kate, Ana, and Ana’s photographer friend José Gonzales meet Christian to take the photographs. Christian asks Ana to get coffee. On that outing, he asks whether José or Paul Clayton, who was at the hardware store, are her boyfriends. Ana says they’re just friends. Walking back to the car, Ana asks whether Christian has a girlfriend, and he makes clear he doesn’t do romance. Just then, Ana stumbles and is almost hit by a bicyclist. Christian catches her, and in his arms for the first time, Ana wants him to kiss her, but he won’t. Ana assumes he rejects her because she’s too ordinary for someone as exceptional as him.
Ana and Kate take their final exams. As they’re getting ready to celebrate at a bar, a package from Christian arrives. He has sent Ana first editions of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles and included a handwritten note on a card, a quote from the novel. At the bar, Ana gets drunk and calls Christian to say she plans to return his gift. He hears that she’s drunk and demands she tell him which bar she’s at. She refuses, but he tracks her down through her phone. He arrives just as José confesses his feelings to Ana. José tries to kiss her, despite her protests, and Christian tells José to back off. Ana vomits and soon after faints into Christian’s arms. Meanwhile, Kate and Christian’s brother Elliot make a romantic connection on the dance floor.
Upon waking the next morning in Christian’s hotel suite, Ana learns nothing sexual happened between them. Christian claims he won’t touch her until he has written consent, but he gives in to his desire to kiss her in the elevator. Kate and Elliot are in Kate and Ana’s apartment when they arrive. Christian encourages Elliot to leave with him, and Elliot kisses Kate goodbye. Christian tells Ana he’ll pick her up that night for a date.
Christian pilots a helicopter to bring Ana to his opulent home in Seattle. There, he has her sign a nondisclosure agreement before showing her his “playroom.” Ana later dubs this room, which is full of BDSM gear, the “Red Room of Pain.” (BDSM is an umbrella term for sexual activities that feature bondage/discipline, domination/submission, and sadism/masochism.) Christian learns Ana is a virgin, and he makes love to her. The following morning, they are interrupted by the sound of Christian’s mother’s voice. Ana meets his mother, Dr. Grace Trevelyan-Grey. Later, Christian gives Ana an additional contract, this one about dominant’s and submissive’s roles.
Christian drives Ana home, and they stop for lunch in Olympia, where he shares that one of his mother’s friends, Elena Lincoln, seduced him at age 15. Ana dubs Elena “Mrs. Robinson.” He reveals that he was in a dominant/submissive relationship with Mrs. Robinson in which he was the submissive. When Ana arrives home, she finds offers for several interviews at publishing houses in Seattle, and she admits to Kate that she and Christian had sex.
Reading the contract overwhelms Ana, but she knows that if she refuses to have a BDSM relationship, she won’t have any relationship with Christian at all. On their next dinner date, the pair discuss the terms of the contract and Ana’s hard and soft limits. She wants a romantic relationship with him, which he refuses. Ana grows overwhelmed again, and she drives herself home. The next time she sees Christian is at her graduation, where he gives the commencement speech. Afterward, Ana gives in, agreeing to try to be his “sub.”
The next time they are together, Christian begins her training with spanking. Once Ana and Kate move to their new apartment in Seattle, Ana spends more and more time with Christian in the Red Room of Pain. Christian takes her to his parents’ house, and she reveals she plans to go to Georgia to visit her mother because she needs space from their relationship. Christian’s behavior grows more and more confusing to Ana. She wants to understand why he won’t let her show affection the way she wants to and why he needs to control everything she does. Even still, her feelings for him continue to grow. She thinks about him almost constantly, and they communicate incessantly via email.
Christian surprises Ana by showing up in Georgia, and they spend the night and following day together. While in Georgia, Ana learns she got a job at Seattle Independent Publishing. Christian has his driver Taylor pick up Ana from the airport when she lands back in Seattle. Ana remains uncertain about whether she should stay in a relationship based on control and power when she wants genuine intimacy and closeness. Ana tells Christian she wants to know how bad the physical pain can get, and Christian hits her with his belt six times. She understands she can never be who he needs, and he will never be who she needs. Realizing the relationship is over, she cries as Taylor drives her home.
By E. L. James