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Hard-Core Romance

"Fifty Shades of Grey," Best-Sellers, and Society

Hard-Core Romance

"Fifty Shades of Grey," Best-Sellers, and Society

From its beginnings in Twilight fan-fiction to its record-breaking sales as an e-book and paperback, the story of the erotic romance novel Fifty Shades of Grey and its two sequels is both unusual and fascinating. Having sold over seventy million copies worldwide since 2011, E. L. James’s lurid series about a sexual ingénue and the powerful young entrepreneur who introduces her to BDSM sex has ingrained itself in our collective consciousness. But why have these particular novels—poorly written and formulaic as they are—become so popular, especially among women over thirty?
In this concise, engaging book, Eva Illouz subjects the Fifty Shades cultural phenomenon to the serious scrutiny it has been begging for. After placing the trilogy in the context of best-seller publishing, she delves into its remarkable appeal, seeking to understand the intense reading pleasure it provides and how that resonates with the structure of relationships between men and women today. Fifty Shades, Illouz argues, is a gothic romance adapted to modern times in which sexuality is both a source of division between men and women and a site to orchestrate their reconciliation. As for the novels’ notorious depictions of bondage, discipline, and sadomasochism, Illouz shows that these are as much a cultural fantasy as a sexual one, serving as a guide to a happier romantic life. The Fifty Shades trilogy merges romantic fantasy with self-help guide—two of the most popular genres for female readers.
Offering a provocative explanation for the success and popularity of the Fifty Shades of Grey novels, Hard-Core Romance is an insightful look at modern relationships and contemporary women’s literature.

104 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2014

Gender and Sexuality

Literature and Literary Criticism: American and Canadian Literature

Psychology: Social Psychology

Sociology: Individual, State and Society

Women's Studies


Hard-Core Romance is a wonderfully creative piece of cultural analysis. Writing from a feminist-sociological perspective, Eva Illouz tells us how Fifty Shades of Grey became an international bestseller by providing fantasy resolutions to real-life female dilemmas, and self-help for the douleurs of contemporary heterosexuality. A most timely intervention.”

Laura Kipnis, author of How to Become a Scandal

“A provocative text in its own right, Hard-Core Romance inventively employs the much-maligned Fifty Shades of a Grey to stage a philosophical and sociological conversation about relationship between fantasy, romance, sexuality, and popular literature.  In a modern era where competing desires for autonomy and attachment in sexual relationships are lived realities but seldom theorized, Illouz bravely takes on the novel’s controversial sexual practices, finding in them a meditation on the anxieties and compromises that characterize heterosexual intimacy. This generous and original reading offers the tantalizing prospect that it will unveil the uncertainties and indeterminacies that inhere in the heterosexual compact—a promise that Hard-Core Romance masterfully delivers.”

Suzanne Leonard, author of Fatal Attraction

“[C]ompellingly audacious.”

Times Higher Education

“[T]he first serious, book-length academic analysis of the Fifty Shades of Grey.”

The Millions

“Illouz rightly tags the trilogy a species of self-help."

New Republic

“A reasoned, thoughtful examination of gender relations, women’s desires, and the role of passion in contemporary society. . . . Vital and interesting.”

Jessa Crispin | Los Angeles Review of Books

Table of Contents

1          Best-Sellers and Our Social Unconscious
2          How to Find Emotional Certainty in a World of Sexual Uncertainty

Epilogue: Sado-Masochism as a Romantic Utopia
Coda: BDSM and Immanence
Works Cited

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