On the Limitations of Mr. Christian Grey

It is a curious state of affairs we find ourselves in when having lived and read comfortably for a good many years without seeming to have any morals whatever, and without seeming to be in want of them besides, we should discover suddenly and all at once that not only do we have them after all, but that they must also be subscribed to by all parties in society, and with the least possible delay in every quarter. It having been determined by some well-meaning person, or as is more likely, by some committee of well-meaning persons that literature should exist as a means of instructing us in the arts of good living and as a corrective against certain historical wrongs, we found ourselves in need of some tall structure from which position of advantage we might survey such new material as happened to be placed before our attention by unfamiliar persons whose virtue we gave ourselves the task of divining. No sooner had we arrived at this decision then diagrams of one kind and another were immediately requisitioned. Pencils were sharpened. Rubbers were applied to such lines as were determined to be inconvenient. Nuts and bolts were ingeniously affixed to existing fixtures which seemed neither to want nor to need any such additions. High streets were suddenly full of serious and sober persons in hard hats and high visibility vests, who standing about, as such characters are wont to do, bestirred themselves only so far as to marvel at all the heavy work that was being done elsewhere. In no time at all, that which it was our desire to create stood tall, and if it was somewhat inconsistent in its design, we nevertheless found cause to congratulate ourselves for the speed with which our elevation was achieved.

Mr. Christian Grey is an odious fellow

It was in the first moments of our operation from this new height that we happened to became acquainted with the character of one Mr. Christian Grey, and having once been introduced to him, we immediately found not only that we could not accommodate him, but that his very existence was offensive to our fine feelings, which fine feelings were still very sensitive for their still being very new. Noble men were overcome by fits of hysterics. Noble women shielded themselves behind hardback volumes of high literature, and impressionable youths who moments before were engaged in various acts of petty larceny suddenly threw up their hands towards the sky and implored the Father (whom they didn’t believe in only moments before) to interpose Himself, that they might be protected from the sinister and corrupting influences of Mr. Christian Grey. Even potted plants seemed to droop their leaves under the influence of this malign figure, and everywhere the cry went round that Mr. Christian Grey is an odious fellow, and that owing to this deficient formation of his character, we should not be required to treat with him, and that further, we should take it as an act of public service if someone should go and murder him forthwith, and by so doing, preserve with the least damage all that is charitable and good about society.

If this sudden rise of moral feeling should take us by surprise and leave us somewhat dizzy and at a loss for breath, we must, nevertheless admit on our recovering the capacity for speech that, in the main, popular judgement does not err with regard to the character of Mr. Christian Grey: he is a scoundrel, and his brutish behavior and his want of the more refined emotions represent much that is mean and ignoble in the human capacity. But to admit this is to admit very little; that it should be a stain against his character as a man is so obvious that it does not deserve the many words which have been given to the elucidation of that point. If Mr. Christian Grey were a man of flesh and blood, we should certainly be remiss in our duties to our fellows if we did not seek to thwart his intentions in every moment of our existence. But Mr. Christian Grey is not a man, he is a character, and so it does not follow, therefore, that we must – or even that we should – be as unequivocal in our determinations against him as we would be otherwise. Indeed, that he is a violent and selfish character seems rather to recommend his company to us, than to argue for his exclusion from our bookshelves and our televisions; culture has been nourished for centuries by the actions of characters who if they were to enjoy any real presence in the world, would quickly reduce life to a condition of violent anarchy, and unless we stand prepared to disclaim our own good sense and admit that we are all mere dissipated boors, then we can have no reason for supposing that we might not continue to be intimate with ill characters, and without suffering any disadvantage for it in our real lives.

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Christian Grey heard you talking about him

Mr. Christian Grey’s Chief Failing

It is not within our power to set Mr. Christian Grey apart because his company is made tedious by his seeming to prefer frowning to speech as his principal means of communication, nor even can we complain to good effect that such speech as Mr. Christian Grey does employ is invariably stilted and lacking in points of general interest. Indeed, if we were to settle ourselves on such objections as these, then we must prepare ourselves for the necessity of throwing over nearly everything that the theatre has to offer, it being the particular habit of such establishments these days to trade almost exclusively in frowns and stilted speech. In short, Mr. Christian Grey is not made obnoxious to us for any of these (from the perspective of art) light misdemeanors. Rather, his chief failing – and it is a severe one – is that he is essentially a private character, and that had he remained so, we would have had no quarrel with him; but his choosing to flaunt himself before us – to present himself publically – we feel, is a gross miscalculation on his part, and one which we can neither forget nor forgive. The distinction between a public and a private character here is one of scope: Mr. Grey does not repay our attention because he has formed himself for the purpose of arousing a single mind, which has been touched only lightly by experience, and therefore is not able to gratify a more public curiosity which has already the benefit of knowing a great deal about such affairs as Mr. Christian Grey would presume to call to our attention, which affairs we may group together under the general headings ‘desire’ and ‘shame’.

That is to say, Mr. Christian Grey seems to manifest that in Anastasia which that lady would – or feels she must – separate from herself: when she cries, ‘Why do you want to hurt me?’, she seems really, to be asking both ‘Why do I feel powerless before myself?’ and ‘What is it within me that, being aroused, urges me to courses which my conscious self would resist if it could?’ As a sexual fantasy Mr. Christian Grey is functional only when he is formless; given face and features, he cannot help being absurd, for his proper role is of the exclamatory, rather than the descriptive kind, and having alerted us to Anastasia’s sexual awakening, Mr. Christian Grey has done all that he is able; thereafter, his presence is merely embarrassing for all parties. Indeed, it is highly likely that the series should have been greatly improved by dispensing with Mr. Christian Grey altogether; certainly the few moments of tender emotion in the film – such as when Anastasia discovers she is in want of a pencil, and when she dances in the flat – serve to show glimpses of how much richer both series might have been if simple fantasy had not so completely overcome the exercise of imagination as a vehicle for representing ideas of development and danger.