WTalking about sex is notoriously difficult: it is irrefutable that anatomical details combined with taut prose will always produce absurdities. But with this year’s Bad Sex in Fiction award canceled, let’s make 2020 the year we celebrate the sexiest moments in literature, with absolutely no sex at all. The best authors use meaningful glances and strong implications to do the work for them; the wisest know that less is more, more, more. Here are some simmering examples.
In the skin of a lion by Michael Ondaatje
Patrick Lewis meets radio actress Clara Dickens for the first time in his dressing room. “When he spoke to him, he had leaned to one side while he put an earring on it, he looked at himself in the hall mirror, he said goodbye, his eyes were reflected in the reflection,” writes Ondaatje. Does Patrick like it, we wonder? “He was dazzled by her, her long white arms, the wispy hair at the back of her neck, as if she, without turning around, had fired a gun over her shoulder and mortally wounded him.” That would be a yes.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Jane meets Rochester when she falls off her horse. When he reaches out to help, you can’t help but notice his dark face, stern features, and bushy eyebrows. He just realizes that she could be useful: “He put a heavy hand on my shoulder and, leaning on me with some tension, limped to his horse.” After a small amount of grimacing, Rochester orders, “Just give me my whip.” The hint is inadvertent, but Brontë still puts more of a burden on the encounter than the National Network.
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
When David, the narrator of Baldwin’s 1956 classic, sees Giovanni in a crowded bar, he wants him. He invites you to drink, they flirt, they dive into Paris at 5 in the morning and cross the river hand in hand. “I didn’t know what to do with my hand,” says David, “it seemed better to do nothing.” There is so much heat that it feels as if the pages could ignite.
William Thackeray Vanity Fair
When George Osborne prevents Jos Sedley from marrying Becky Sharp, he believes that he has defeated the arch-defector. When George meets Becky, he reaches out to shake her hand, expecting her to feel “quite confused by the honor.” Instead, we are told, Becky: “put out her right index finger – and gave it a little nod so cold and murderous that Rawdon Crawley, watching the operations from the other room, could barely contain himself as he saw the lieutenant’s utter bewilderment.” George has to awkwardly “hug” Rebecca’s finger, confused by this unexpected intimacy. As for Crawley, he married her at the end of the next chapter.
Jeanette Winterson’s passion
If ever a book lives up to its title, this is it. Villanelle cannot let her lover see her feet, because they are webbed (long story!), Or have her lift her shirt, because her lover does not yet know that Villanelle is a woman. “Instead,” says Villanelle, “I leaned forward and started kissing her neck. He buried my head in his hair and I became his creature. Her smell, my atmosphere, and then, when I was alone, I cursed my nostrils for breathing the air of every day and emptying my body of it.
Persuasion by Jane Austen
The letter Captain Wentworth sends to (spoiler alert!) Anne Elliott at the end of the book is as fervent as it sounds. “You pierce my soul,” he says. “I am half agony, half hope… I can hardly write. Every moment I hear something that dominates me ”. Never let anyone tell you that Austen didn’t know anything about desire.
A Month in the Field by JL Carr
Throughout the month, Tom Birkin has grown closer and closer to Alice Keach, the local vicar’s wife. Finally, she visits him in his loft and turns to him “so that both of her breasts were pressed against me. And even though we both looked out across the meadow, she didn’t walk away as easily as she could have. “And that’s the closest they get. He doesn’t even kiss her.” My heart was racing. I was out of breath. She He leaned on me, waiting. And I didn’t do anything or say anything. ” But this is undoubtedly the climax.
Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence
From the first chapters of Wharton’s masterpiece, it soon becomes clear that while Newland Archer is engaged to May Welland, he is giddy with desire for Countess Olenska. Every word of the narrative is loaded with meaning and tension until we come to a point where Archer sits next to Olenska at a party. May walks into the room, which is why Olenska suggests that Archer will want to “rush over to her.” He responds that she has already been surrounded by other people and Wharton writes:
“Then stay with me a little longer, ”Madame Olenska said quietly, touching her knee with her feathered fan. It was the lightest touch, but it touched him like a caress.
It is one of the hottest moments in all of 20th century literature. Finally, some physical contact! A little touch is all it takes.
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