Fifty Shades of Fact and Fiction

Monotone gray image of campus

“Fifty Shades of Grey,” by E.L. James, page 8

“Miss Kavanagh is indisposed, so she sent me. I hope you don’t mind Mr. Grey.” “And you are?” His voice is warm, possibly amused, but it’s difficult to tell from his impassive expression. He looks mildly interested but, above all, polite.”

“Anastasia Steele. I’m studying English literature with Kate, um…Katherine…um… Miss Kavanagh, at WSU Vancouver.

So what are the chances that Washington State University Vancouver would show up in any novel, let alone a best-selling novel? Slim, you might guess, and yet…

How it is that E.L. James, author of the “Fifty Shades” trilogy selected WSU Vancouver as a setting in her first novel, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” is a mystery. The author and her publisher could not be reached for comment.

WSU Vancouver has some pretty good local company within the pages of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” The Heathman Hotel in downtown Portland pops up 18 times in the book, as Anastasia Steele and her billionaire boyfriend Christian Grey meet in elevator No. 3 and have dinner in a second-floor private dining room.

In a television interview with ABC News, James said that “Twilight” author Stephanie Meyer’s books were her inspiration. And like Meyer’s fans, who helped put the sleepy town of Forks, Wash. on the map, “Fifty Shades of Grey” fans and the media have been popping up at WSU Vancouver and the Heathman to catch a glimpse of Steele’s and Grey’s fictional lives.

James, a former TV executive, wife and mother of two based in west London, has admitted in several interviews that most of her research was conducted online and it seems she’s taken a smidge of artistic license with what those who work at WSU Vancouver would find to be factual.

“For starters the Heathman Hotel is not five miles from campus,” said Barb Holder, an administrative assistant at WSU Vancouver who is working her way through the book to see what everyone is talking about. “I also found it hilarious that Christian Grey was scheduled to confer the degrees at commencement. That would never happen.”

Facts aside, it’s the BDSM— bondage, dominance/submission and sadomasochism— scenes that seem to keep people turning pages. The erotic romance has led to the invention of a new genre dubbed “mommy porn.”

And the mommies just keep on coming. The “Fifty Shades“ trilogy currently occupies positions 1, 2 and 3 on the New York Times Best Sellers list in “combined print and e-book fiction.” According to an Aug. 13 article in the Hindustantimes, 43 countries have bought the rights to the book. With more than 40 million copies sold, WSU Vancouver is certainly now “on the map.”


This article appears in NW Crimson & Gray Magazine

NW Crimson & Gray magazine is a quarterly magazine produced by Washington State University Vancouver that highlights the WSU Vancouver community and higher education in SW Washington. Subscribe for free or download the issue online.