Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The best sex I never read

“Reader, I married him. A quiet wedding we had: he and I, the parson and clerk, were alone present.

…I wrote to Moor House and to Cambridge immediately, to say what I had done: fully explaining also why I had thus acted. Diana and Mary approved the step unreservedly. Diana announced that she would just give me time to get over the honeymoon and then she would come and see me.

‘She had better not wait till then, Jane,’ said Mr Rochester, when I read her letter to him; ‘if she does, she will be too late, for our honeymoon will shine our life long: its beams will only fade over your grave or mine.’”
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

Of the honeymoon, nothing more is said. The story leaps six months then ten years, when we most hoped it would leap to the bedchamber. All this passionate romance, awash with Jane’s teasing nature and Rochester’s masterful, muscular ways, vanish into tying up loose ends with the characters we least care about. One critic, as frustrated as anyone about this precipitous pan-out, suggested we could take St. John’s last words instead: “ ‘Surely I come quickly!’ and hourly I more eagerly respond, ‘Amen; even so, come, Lord Jesus!’”

Forget problems of period, censorship, banning: we want that missing scene. Not only in that book, but in dozens of others, where its absence lies at the very heart of the book. Think of all the romance stories you’ve read, where its final culmination was snatched from you – Wuthering Heights, every Jane Austen, even Bridget Jones (who surely has every excuse for recording the exact salacious details in her ever-ready diary), all fade to black. Then there are books whose entire plot depends on a sexual act we never see: Elizabeth Gaskell’s Ruth, Hardy’s Tess of the Durbervilles (any Hardy will do; he loved the downfall of women, preferably milkmaids), Madame Bovary

The really epic romances – Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, Lancelot and Guinevere – are all about sex. Almost everyone puts a love interest and its consummation in their stories, even the thriller-boys: Robert Ludlum, Stephen King, Dean Koontz. They work their characters into a lather for each other, but most authors would rather describe shoe leather than their own character’s gleefully satisfied lust. Fair enough – we don’t all write erotica, but then do they have to tease so? Everything building to this one point, everything finally in place and set up, and… My goodness! Morning already? Best have these love-birds stretch sleepily and smile at each other, while the reader howls and drums her heels.

A.S. Byatt, on the other hand, knows the many meanings of “romance” and that bodies’ speech is part of it. In Possession, Christabel La Motte and Henry Randolph Ash’s lives are elaborately constructed through letters, biography and implications – but she creeps behind scenes and tells us exactly what we want to know about “those long strange nights” – proving that it’s possible to write sex beautifully, literarily, intelligently, and win the Booker Prize.

For whatever reason people don’t write the sex scene they’ve been building towards or working from – if they lived in the wrong time, fear censorship, don’t write “that sort of thing”, whatever – there are times when we wish, oh how we wish they had. They’ve created characters we desire and we want to share that consummation. So – what are the best sex scenes you’ve never read? What made you want them so much? How did you imagine them? Would you be overjoyed to find those “missing manuscript pages” or are you happier imagining the unsaid?

(And if you want, you can read the missing pages of Jane Eyre.)


Unknown said...

Several of the Georgette Heyer's come to mind, especially the ones with the Duke of Avon's family-and when I'm famous I'm going to write those scenes-oh yes, I am.

Lovely post!

Anonymous said...

Well no surprises for guessing that I *love* broken, blinded Rochester. Wonderful post Olivia! Welcome to Lust Bites!

Janine Ashbless said...

Faramir & Eowyn.

Or am I thinking about the film?

Nikki Magennis said...

Well done on popping your lust bites cherry at the same time as Jane Eyre's, Olivia!

(Now you've done your first post, there's only the final initiation ceremony to go. You know, the one with stockings and live ferrets.

Har hee haar....)

As for missing sex scenes. Hmm. I'm reading Alina Reyes at the moment, and while her writing's very explicit in some ways, it does seem to clip through the sex scenes at a hell of a pace. Like running over hot coals.

I admire writers who can slow. Right. Down. And explore the whole heaving, sweating, slippery pungent landscape of a sex scene, without looking away and blushing.

Barbara Kingsolver has an essay on 'spacebreak sex scenes' in her book 'Small Wonders'. It's a good read, and interesting to see how difficult she found it to put in the whole experience, rather than fading to black.

Megan Kerr said...

I'd never thought of myself as inclined to "fade to black" - in non-erotic writing I won't give every single detail, but often it's details in the middle rather than build-up then nothing. But trying to write in Bronte's voice, the impulse to fade to black was in every single paragraph!

Alison Tyler said...

Intriguing post, Olivia!

There's an unexpectedly lovely sex scene in one of my favorite non-sex books, "Getting It Right" by Elizabeth Jane Howard. (Okay, this actually *is* my favorite book.) A perfect description of a character's first time. (He's a 31 year old virgin, she's older and completely different from any of his fantasy femmes.)

But I do have the feeling that there are many books on my shelf with those annoying fade-to-black scenes.

Must go look and see...

Janine Ashbless said...

I hated Jane Eyre when we did it at 'O' Level. Now it only we'd had THAT version!


Erastes said...

Lovely post! Welcome to LB's Olivia.

And of course, this is where fanfic comes in handy - or of course, as a lot of these old classics are out of copyright, nothing to stop us all writing the what happened nexts...


Madeline Moore said...

Sorry to be so late joining the party, Olivia. I was busy adoring a certain Lady Knight's brand new website. It's lovely.
Okay, sex scenes I never read: Most normal chick lit comes to mind. These days I fancy I can see where the author was going to write erotica but chickened out and wrote romance instead. Call me crazy...
Margaret Atwood's fiction, so cool and precise, makes me want to read a sex scene written by her. On the other hand, Alice Munro's stories are so sexy and haunting I wouldn't want any more sex than she already provides. Her stories are so intimate... hmmm...Dracula made me want more and guess what! That's what I got...but not in the context of that particular book. I loved Copolla's version of the book, but now I'm introducing movies and that's another kettle of fish.
Anyway, congrats on your first post and on the new website. It's fun to be a Lustie (or are we Biters?) isn't it?