Some of you may have noticed that more books with BDSM elements are landing in the bookstores these days. You may have also noticed a trend I quite enjoy, the post-modern re-examining of the classics through retellings. Sure, there are the zombies and such, but I’m thinking more of books like Pride/Prejudice: A Novel of Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet, and Their Forbidden Lovers by Ann Herendeen, which shows you all the behind-the-scenes sex (and conversation) going on between Darcy and Charles on the one hand, and between Elizabeth and Charlotte on the other. (And let’s not forget going back into the 1990s, Amarantha Knight’s erotic, BDSM-laced retellings of the great Victorian horror novels, beginning with The Darker Passions: Dracula, which I notice recently got a Kindle edition.)
The latest author to throw his hat into this literary and carnal ring is I.J. Miller, who undertakes Wuthering Nights: An Erotic Retelling of Wuthering Heights. The book is literary in its language but hides nothing of the intense sexuality taking place to unfold the story.
I interviewed the author about BDSM, erotica, and the classics, and have a very not-safe-for-work excerpt from the book to share with you from him, below!
CT: You’ve written erotic novels before, but what drew you to Wuthering Heights?
It started with a phone call. My literary agent asked me if she could submit my name to a publisher looking for someone to do an erotic mashup of a Dickens novel. To help my cause, I decided to go ahead and do a full outline and two sample chapters. It ended up the publisher changed her mind about doing the project. My agent submitted my proposal elsewhere, and Grand Central Publishing said they liked the writing but would I be willing to retell Wuthering Heights? I readily agreed. Once I delved into the book, I was drawn deeply to the hardcore honesty of the work and the intensity of such a wide range of emotions.
I felt there was an evocation of Romeo and Juliet in Heathcliff and Catherine’s initial, breathless declarations for each other at Black Rock Cragge. Was that intentional? Did you draw in other influences from classical literature?
Honestly, especially since I was on a six week deadline for the first draft, I didn’t think of much else but Emily Bronte and her wonderful cast of characters. With that being said, there is definitely an evocation of Romeo and Juliet with Heathcliff and Catherine in the first Black Rock Cragge scene. The template of this scene, as with Shakespeare’s duo, is the longing and insecurity of star-crossed lovers. Heathcliff and Catherine declare their deep passionate love, but worry it cannot last: Catherine is from a family who owns their own estate and wants her to move up in status, while Heathcliff is the orphan child of unknown parentage and mixed ethnic background. The two desperately need each other’s words of love, but also the verbal commitment and physical leap off the cliff to assure them that nothing could separate them.
Did the period setting or revenge theme of the book allow you to take the sex out of the usual modern “safe” context? Were there elements of the original work that lent erotic charge to the sex in the book?
The period setting and revenge theme definitely inspired a different intensity in the erotic aspects of this novel. The strength of my earlier books is that they are about very real, average people, in real situations…people you know, identify with, ones going through the exact same thing you are. Now not too many people these days spew a curse that lasts decades and put their entire heart and soul into seeing it come to fruition (that is if you eliminate the Real Housewives of New Jersey). I needed to create sexual situations that matched the intensity and complexity of these very extreme emotions. I also had to be conscious of what would work in that period and how people expressed themselves. By being able to adopt Bronte’s voice and language in the narrative, it naturally flowed into the sex scenes as well. As far as the elements of the original, Wuthering Heights is one of the greatest love stories ever told. The full range of emotions lent itself magnificently to a wide variety of erotic scenes: from ones deeply sensual and loving, expressing the full tenderness of Heathcliff and Catherine’s love; to others that expressed Heathcliff’s anger and frustration; to ones that lent itself to sensual dominance so that he could control the situation, be less vulnerable and not be hurt again; to ones with intense BDSM to carry out his revenge and dominate all who stand in his way.
There’s a chestnut one hears about BDSM, that bondage is freedom. Did working within the constraints of an existing story free you artistically?
A fascinating point, Cecilia. I would have to answer yes and no. Having such pre-existing, well-defined characters did free me up. Knowing their extensive back story without having to create it through my writing allowed me to move forward from day one and take them to new places while already knowing how they would react. What was constraining was that I wanted to do justice to the original. One of the amazing things about the story is that it seems written before any of the unwritten rules of romance were in place. With the raw, bold creation of Heathcliff (his passion and brutality) and Catherine (her passion and narcissism), there seemed to be very little self-censorship on Bronte’s part. She just created two people who are barely redeemable. I was so tempted to soften some of their edges for the modern reader, but it would have been an injustice to the original. I did, however, bring the story to more of a full circle and supply dramatic through-lines from the beginning of the book to the end that carries Heathcliff and Catherine’s story straight to the finish, even though the second half of the original focuses more on the children of the main characters.
Is there a parallel in the proliferation of BDSM erotic literature today with the proliferation of it in Victorian times? Is modern American sexuality shaped by Victorian ideas still?
Wow, a true answer to that question would be a whole essay in itself. I will say this, the historical erotic novels so popular today certainly owe a huge debt to books written anonymously during that period like The Autobiography of the Flea, and The Pearl: two classic erotic stories that existed long before all of it became a specific genre. One thing that hasn’t changed much is that back then these books were anonymous, and these days many erotic writers still use pseudonyms. A little known fact is that even Bronte first published Wuthering Heights using the gender-neutral pseudonym of Ellis Bell.
Tell me about this: “He reddened her arse with the cat-o’-nine, not so hard as to hurt her, but hard enough for her to yield fully to his dominant presence.” (p 257)
In some ways this sentence represents the careful tightrope I walked with most of the dominant/submissive scenes. If a dom/sub relationship is clearly a deeply loving one, that will color the physical and emotional exchanges and perhaps no matter how extreme, the reader will accept and understand it is a strong bridge between two lovers. In WUTHERING NIGHTS, once Heathcliff gets lost in his world of torment, revenge, and unrequited love, he sometimes uses the power of his body, the strength of his imposing psychological understanding of what some women want from him, to express his anger and deliver his revenge, while at the same time deriving intense diversion from the pain of not being with his beloved Catherine. For his submissives, Nelly, and in the scene you are referencing, his wife Isabella, they are torn between the extreme emotions Heathcliff is inspiring, and the knowledge that this is not being shared with love and that his heart belongs to another. And thus with them, there is a tremendous push/pull in some of the dom/sub scenes, understanding intellectually how dark the path is that they are being led down, but also unable to resist the power of the places Heathcliff takes them to. So, the line you quote, and many other descriptions and byplays in the dom/sub scenes are careful to show that he is not being so physically vicious that he inflicts pain beyond what is erotic. I also tried to balance the sexiness of his subs’ efforts at times to resist him but then finally give in, by revealing the inner layers of their willingness, so that it is portrayed as reluctance and seduction, rather than resistance and coercion.
You did a fantastic job of fitting the sexual theme into the existing structure of the novel. I felt a clear theme emerged. In the original, Healthcliff is able to dominate the other characters around him, on whom he wants revenge. In your adaptation, what allows him to do so is his sexuality. Being the “coarse,” earthy character he is, he is able to connect to his desires in a way that the more uptight and refined characters don’t, which is what allows him to literally as well as metaphorically dominate them and master them in the erotic and sexual sense. Do you agree or am I just making that up?
I do agree, and reading this analysis from you, such a hallowed Mistress of Erotica, I take it as a nice compliment. I think this is what drew the editors at Grand Central Publishing to the material in the first place and why it was so intense and wonderful for me to interpret sexually his coarse earthiness, deep physical needs, and tremendous ability to feel all emotions in their most extreme form. Bronte’s Heathcliff expressed many characteristics of a dark dominant in the original, but perhaps the time period, or her own limited experience, prevented her from expressing this in a fully sexual way. I see WUTHERING NIGHTS not as the original with some sexy additions, but as a full reinterpretation that takes the reader down the same path with some additional surprises along the way.
Anything else you’d like to tell readers?
Wuthering Heights was Emily Bronte’s one and only novel, written without ever having experienced an editor’s edge-smoothing, a bad review, or a public reaction (and it did receive some very harsh reactions when it was first published). It was written from the heart, with a purity of emotion and feeling. Over time, perhaps because of all the film versions (especially the original Laurence Olivier adaptation), the story has gotten smoothed out and romanticized. The book can be harsh and brutal, but all of that makes the tremendous love Heathcliff and Catherine share so incredible, a love that even transcends their mortal lives. Now Wuthering Nights adds an erotic interpretation, one that, like Bronte’s version, pulls no punches, and, in some ways, intensifies every emotion that existed before, from the bitterness to the amazing love, by peeling back the carnal layers of the characters that were only suggested in the original. It’s powerful stuff. Forget pre-existing expectations for your standard historical/gothic erotic romance and appreciate this erotic, unabashed, bold retelling of an original story that because of its daring and intensity has been ranked among the top ten novels of all time.
Thanks, I.J.! And now let’s share that excerpt…
An excerpt from WUTHERING NIGHTS by I.J. Miller. Not safe for work.
After tossing Nelly into his cellar-dungeon, Heathcliff lit a solitary candle then bolted the door behind him. Nelly witnessed an abundance of props that took her breath away. On a table were wooden clothespins, rope, assorted paddles, leather collars, several phallic-shaped objects, a blindfold, and a small whip. Suspended from the ceiling was a hammock-like swing, which had a leather seat and backrest for support.
“You’re not only in league with the devil,” said Nelly, “but he has lent you his toolshed.”
Heathcliff laughed darkly. “If these are the tools of the devil, then my wife must call him her dear friend.”
“I’ll not stand for it.”
“Then arrange a meeting with Catherine.”
“Would you rather I tore off your clothes?”
Nelly undressed. As she slipped out of her underthings, she noticed, on the ground, a hair ribbon the rose color Isabella usually wore.
Heathcliff circled her, his eyes glossing over her body. Then he stopped. Nelly looked up at his commanding presence. The emotions she had tried desperately to stifle all these years, knowing how tied his heart was to Catherine, flowed freely, and she stared into his eyes with deep tenderness and need. He seemed to understand her look, and the driven, brutal man that had dragged her here in the first place seemed to retreat, and she saw full sensual desire within him. He leaned forward and kissed her gently on the lips.
How she welcomed this. How great was the urge to clasp her arms around his neck and express her own deep feelings for this striking specimen.
But as quickly as the tenderness had appeared, it seemed to vanish, as he pulled away and began circling her again, this time with a cold, evaluative stare, as if she were a horse he wished to race. She lowered her head in shame, her trepidation returning.
“It has been a while since I had view of your nakedness,” said Heathcliff. He must stay focused, he told himself. He would find the dark place—and the surges within him that came with such a discovery—but, most importantly, he must secure Nelly’s aid to make it possible to be with his beloved once again and right the wrongs that had occurred since his return. “It’s been a while since I heard you profess your love and call me master.”
“Edgar is my only master.”
“We’ll soon see.”
He stopped his circling. Still fully clothed he pressed himself against her from behind. She felt his hot breath against her neck as he spoke. He worked a hand down her body, caressing her breasts, teasing her belly, until he got to her quim. With a finger, he touched her opening and entered just a bit. Smiling, he stepped away and held the finger in the candlelight, the shiny reflection of her moistness clearly visible at the finger’s tip.
“Your words say one thing,” offered Heathcliff, “your body another.”
Damn your soul, thought Nelly, and damn her own for betraying her.
“I miss your fire,” said Heathcliff, “the red flame between your legs that matches the hair on your head and welcomed me so willingly.”
“Unbolt the door, sir, and I’ll show you how willing I am.”
“I remember your resistance well. It stirred me to new heights. Isabella exhibited that at first, but now she is completely my lamb, and quite boring.” He was right in front of her now, so close she could smell his strong breath, which somehow aroused her, perhaps reminding her of the scent she had breathed in as he took her so unmercifully long ago. “Sit in the sling.”
She looked behind her. “This contraption?”
He grabbed her so forcefully her instinct to fight back surged without thinking. He caught her fists as she raised them to strike. She tried to knee him, but his catlike quickness helped him avoid such a blow. He shoved her into the seat, quickly bound her wrists to the chains, her ankles to the suspended leather stirrups.
“What hate you must have in your heart,” said Nelly.
“Sometimes hate and love are not so different.”
Silently she agreed.
He pulled on a rope suspended from a pulley and it caused the sling to raise her even farther in the air. She lay seated: dangling, floating, completely immobilized, helpless to this man. To further stoke her vulnerability, he tied a blindfold around her eyes.
Complete black before her, bound and perched in the air with a man who had great passion for everything, including brutality, made her tremble.
She felt the cold bite of the clothespins clamping down on her nipples and she yelped.
“Patience, Nelly, and full pleasure will be yours.”
“I feel only pain,” she mouthed.
“An excellent start.”
She felt the blood rushing to her nipples as they swelled instantly.
He must have been on his knees, because first she felt his warm breath on her thighs, then his tongue. Absent was the rush of the attack with his mouth she remembered in the barn. He was all patience, as if he had all night to do his business. She felt him lick and caress her inner thighs with the tip of his tongue. As cruel as he could be, the sweetness this man exhibited sometimes surprised her. He made her wait for his touch on her pussy lips, and her body twitched slightly in his direction.
She felt his fingers part her lips and he blew hot air on her exposed clitoris, which made her shiver, made it ache for touch.
Encouraged, he pressed his mouth deeper, and as delicately as a bird feeding on the nectar of a flower, he started licking her there. Up and down, slowly.
“My God, Heathcliff, you are a master.”
“Your master?” she heard his voice inquire.
She did not answer.
His licks increased with speed and intensity and then it was like she was lost in a pool of her own need, lust, desire, hanging in midair, bound, blinded, surges of swollen pain and pleasure flooding her nipples, making her feel completely helpless to his mouth.
He found her perfect rhythm and was carrying her to the place she so desperately needed to go and he stopped only briefly to ask her once more, “Will you say it?”
She refused, simply focused on the volcano of an orgasm that was about to erupt but just as she was there, she felt him pull away and heard him stand.
“My God, Heathcliff! No! Please! Don’t stop!”
“You will learn to do everything I say…or suffer the consequences.”
With that, he was soon behind her again. He reached for a wood paddle and addressed her bum cheeks firmly with it, smacks that caused her arse to tighten, and her nipples to pulse with even more desire from the sting. His force swung her forward, which meant she swung back as well, meeting each blow with the momentum of her own body weight suspended in the sling.
The pain was not the same sensation she might feel if all of this were being done under different circumstances, by some other person, or simply to punish. In her aroused condition, each infringement by this man—focused so completely on her—powered an erotic force upon her body and her mind, which produced the sting of hurt, but greatly contributed to a whirlwind of sharp pleasure sweeping through her.
Her eyes, under the blindfold, soon grew moist from the discomfort, yet, when she felt his hand turn her face, and place the head of his enormous cock at her lips, she opened her mouth willingly.
She sucked him with vigor, welcoming his cock like an old friend, one she had thought of often. But it had never tasted this sweet, and the surge of his head bursting through her lips, followed by the long, thick shaft that bulged her cheeks, made her more needy for it than she had ever been, and so aroused by this very simple act of sucking her dominator, that her body shook all over.
Even the blindfold, the bindings, the suspension, seemed to intensify everything by blocking off all extraneous stimuli. Like a blind person who developed acute hearing, all of her senses, except sight, seemed heightened to extremes from what Heathcliff was doing to her physically and mentally. This helpless, completely-focused-on-one-man feeling made everything stratospheric in her brain: the feel of his tongue inside her, the clamps at her nipples, the red burning on her bum cheeks, and now his cock sliding into her mouth. The taste, scent, and feel of him were completely overwhelming and she felt powerless to every extreme sensation streaming through her veins.
Her hearing also became heightened, and when he spoke to her with words she would normally despise, they ended up being spurs in her sides, making her pussy soaked with extra sensation.
“You are my hot, needy tart…You exist for nothing but fulfilling my every need…You can’t help touching your aching pussy when you think of me…Only a slut would stay so still and allow me to take her with such force…Bite down if you hate me so much. Punish me as I punish you…No, you won’t do that, because it would mean the end of my cock in your mouth and right now you need this more than anything in the world.”
If she could speak, she would agree.
He placed his fingers on the back of her head and held firmly, so the force of his thrust going one way, met the force of his push from the other.
She felt him grow. She felt, no, she was absorbed by everything: the feeling of his thick member going in and out; his rough hands on her head; the manly scent of him that crushed her and then receded with each thrust; the bristle of his pubic hair; his controlling voice directing every emotion surging through her.
Maybe it was because of the acute sensations at her nipples; maybe it was the dark she was immersed in; maybe it was the smarting of her arse cheeks; the memory of his tongue on her clitoris; the rhythm of his degrading words that at this very moment seemed true; the joy in feeling him grow larger and larger, pulsing, and throbbing in her mouth because of her lips and tongue; the great surge of semen that poured into her seemingly not with hate, but with love and gratefulness as he had done in his youth…or the hot wax that he dripped from the candle onto her already burning nipples, BUT…
She came without an ounce of pressure or friction on her pussy, as she thrashed and swallowed and swung aimlessly in the sling, her cries stifled in her throat as he continued to spurt. Her orgasm was not just centered at her quim, but every fiber of her being seemed to share in the extreme heat of it. And when he finally withdrew, and she had swallowed every drop as a good servant should, she cried out, “Yes, you are my master, my one and only true master, and I will love you forever…”
WUTHERING NIGHTS by I.J. Miller is available in both paperback and ebook forms most places that book are sold.