E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey erotic romance series took the world by storm when it was published in 2011–2012; the trilogy began its life in online fan fiction forums as Twilight fanfic (literature written in an amateur capacity that takes the characters, setting, and other elements of an existing work of literature as its basis). Published just a few years earlier, between 2005 and 2008, the Twilight tetralogy had itself been a cultural phenomenon, and Stephenie Meyer’s vampire-themed fantasy teen romance series has now sold more than 100 million copies and fueled an entire genre of supernatural young adult romance. Although almost universally panned as poorly written, the Fifty Shades of Grey series has sold 165 million copies, been translated into fifty-two languages, and invigorated publication of female erotica.

Fifty Shades of Grey is as successful as it is because its exploration of erotic subjects of bondage and...

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