Did you love Fifty Shades of Grey, but are too embarrassed to bring it up in public? Here are 5 highbrow alternatives you can feel comfortable bringing up at a dinner party.


The Story of the Eye (L’histoire de l’oeil)

First published in 1928, this novella by Georges Bataille chronicles the sexual exploits of a young teenage couple, which basically make Christian Grey look puritanical in comparison. Both Roland Barthes and Susan Sontag have written extensive commentary about The Story of the Eye, so you can feel considerably more highbrow referencing it, but make no mistake: to say this book is pornographic is practically an understatement. (They have sex next to a corpse, at one point? And that’s like. A tame scene.)


Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Written by D.H. Lawrence in 1928 (a big year for erotica, apparently!), Lady Chatterley’s Lover was at first deemed too racy to be published in England. The story follows the sexual awakening of Lady Chatterley, an upper-class woman who is married to an impotent husband, and who had an affair with the game-keeper. As far as vocabulary, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is more explicit than Fifty Shades: there was a British obscenity trial due to the book’s use of the C word, which even the domineering Christian would never dare utter.


The Story of O

The author of this 1954 novel was unknown for nearly 40 years, until Anne Desclos revealed that she had written it as a series of love letters to her then lover. Like Fifty Shades, The Story of O is mostly a tale of female submission, and within the first few pages the protagonist, O, is chained, gagged, and basically enslaved. It’s… a little hard to take if you’re not used to BDSM: O’s lovers certainly don’t have a cheesy tender side, a la Christian Grey. The book won the literature prize Prix des Deux Magots, and is still frequently referenced in pop culture.



This book was so shocking when it was first published that Napoleon ordered the immediate arrest of its anonymous author (who just so happened to be the Marquis de Sade). It’s the story of Juliette, an amoral nymphomaniac. What can you expect from the author from whose name we derive the term “sadism”? Lots of Fifty Shades-esque sex scenes, this time with historical allure!



Vladmir Nabokov’s 1955 novel is widely regarded as one of the best book’s of the last century, and it can definitely be classified as an erotic novel. The weird relationship between Humbert and the (much, much, much) younger Lolita has echoes of the power dynamic between Christian and Anastasia in Fifty Shades: Humbert becomes controlling, forbidding Lolita to interact with boys her age, or to take part in after-school activities. Creepyyy. (Sexy? Just creepy? Depends on your taste, I suppose!)

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