My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I AM Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte.
The girl was swimming ahead and David overhauled her. He reached out and kissed her as they treaded water. She felt slippery and strange in the water and they seemed the same height as they treaded water with their bodies close together and kissed. Then her head went under and he leaned back and she came up laughing and shaking her head that was sleek as a seal, and she brought her lips against his again and they kissed until they both went under. They lay side by side and floated and touched and then kissed hard and happily and went under again.
Ernest Hemmingway, The Garden of Eden.
All men have stars, but they are not the same things for different people. For some, who are travelers, the stars are guides. For others they are no more than little lights in the sky. For others, who are scholars, they are problems… But all these stars are silent. You-You alone will have stars as no one else has them… In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars will be laughing when you look at the sky at night..You, only you, will have stars that can laugh! And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me… You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure… It will be as if, in place of the stars, I had given you a great number of little bells that knew how to laugh.
Love consists of not looking each other in the eye, but of looking outwardly in the same direction.
“Oh great, you too. So now I wear this label ‘Queer’ emblazoned across my chest. Or I could always carve a scarlet ‘L’ on my forehead. Why does everyone have to put you in a box and nail the lid on it? I don’t know what I am—polymorphous and perverse. Shit. I don’t even know if I’m white. I’m me. That’s all I am and all I want to be. Do I have to be something?”
Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
His experience was limited and he knew only at second hand that they need not lie down. As for her, beyond all film the films she had seen, and all the novels and lyrical poems she had read, she had no experience at all. Despite these limitations, it did not surprise them how clearly they knew their own needs.
Ian McEwan, Atonement.
Julian Barnes: The Only Story:
We had eaten, the bottle was empty. There was nothing more that could be said without strain or repetition. I had been with her more than five hours already and it was time to leave. As we stood up and she moved to get something I stretched out my arm, that was all, and she turned back into my arms so that my hands were on her shoulder blades and hers along my spine. We stayed thus for a few moments until I had courage enough to kiss her neck very lightly. She did not pull away. I grew bolder and kissed her mouth, biting a little at the lower lip.
She kissed me.”
Love by Jeanette Winterson
The 1928 novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence, is notorious for having being banned in Britain and the USA until the 1960’s.
In fact the publisher, Penguin Books, won the obscenity trial, heralding a new era of liberalism in the arts across the western world.
The book was ostensibly banned because of its graphic (for 1928-1960) descriptions of sex, however the ruling classes were almost as shocked that story tells the tale of a love affair between an aristocratic woman and a lower-class gamekeeper. It would have shocked them less if it was about an affair between an aristocratic man and a poor woman.
Now, the love scenes are pretty tame by modern standards, however what we’re looking at today is not how to write the most erotic love-scenes, but how to write about love in a beautiful, honest, and––I might even say––a grown up way.
See how DH Lawrence uses omniscient POV to try to explore the emotional landscape of both partners during sex. We begin in Olver’s POV, and presently shift to Connie’s.
And he [Oliver] stood up, and stood away, moving to the other coop. For suddenly he was aware of the old flame shooting and leaping up in his loins, that he had hoped was quiescent for ever. He fought against it, turning his back to her. But it leapt, and leapt downwards, circling in his knees.
He turned again to look at her. She was kneeling and holding her two hands slowly forward, blindly, so that the chicken should run in to the mother-hen again. And there was something so mute and forlorn in her, compassion flamed in his bowels for her.
Without knowing, he came quickly towards her and crouched beside her again, taking the chick from her hands, because she was afraid of the hen, and putting it back in the coop. At the back of his loins the fire suddenly darted stronger.
He glanced apprehensively at her. Her face was averted, and she was crying blindly, in all the anguish of her generation’s forlornness. His heart melted suddenly, like a drop of fire, and he put out his hand and laid his fingers on her knee.
“You shouldn’t cry,” he said softly.
But then she put her hands over her face and felt that really her heart was broken and nothing mattered any more.
He laid his hand on her shoulder, and softly, gently, it began to travel down the curve of her back, blindly, with a blind stroking motion, to the curve of her crouching loins. And there his hand softly, softly, stroked the curve of her flank, in the blind instinctive caress.
She had found her scrap of handkerchief and was blindly trying to dry her face.
“Shall you come to the hut?” he said, in a quiet, neutral voice.
And closing his hand softly on her upper arm, he drew her up and led her slowly to the hut, not letting go of her till she was inside. Then he cleared aside the chair and table, and took a brown, soldier’s blanket from the tool chest, spreading it slowly. She glanced at his face, as she stood motionless.
His face was pale and without expression, like that of a man submitting to fate.
“You lie there,” he said softly, and he shut the door, so that it was dark, quite dark.
With a queer obedience, she lay down on the blanket. Then she felt the soft, groping, helplessly desirous hand touching her body, feeling for her face. The hand stroked her face softly, softly, with infinite soothing and assurance, and at last there was the soft touch of a kiss on her cheek.
She lay quite still, in a sort of sleep, in a sort of dream. Then she quivered as she felt his hand groping softly, yet with queer thwarted clumsiness, among her clothing. Yet the hand knew, too, how to unclothe her where it wanted. He drew down the thin silk sheath, slowly, carefully, right down and over her feet. Then with a quiver of exquisite pleasure he touched the warm soft body, and touched her navel for a moment in a kiss. And he had to come in to her at once, to enter the peace on earth of her soft, quiescent body. It was the moment of pure peace for him, the entry into the body of the woman.
She lay still, in a kind of sleep, always in a kind of sleep. The activity, the orgasm was his, all his; she could strive for herself no more. Even the tightness of his arms round her, even the intense movement of his body, and the springing of his seed in her, was a kind of sleep, from which she did not begin to rouse till he had finished and lay softly panting against her breast.
Then she wondered, just dimly wondered, why? Why was this necessary? Why had it lifted a great cloud from her and given her peace? Was it real?
Was it real?
Her tormented modern-woman’s brain still had no rest. Was it real? And she knew, if she gave herself to the man, it was real. But if she kept herself for herself it was nothing. She was old; millions of years old, she felt. And at last, she could bear the burden of herself no more. She was to be had for the taking. To be had for the taking.
The man lay in a mysterious stillness. What was he feeling? What was he thinking? She did not know. He was a strange man to her, she did not know him. She must only wait, for she did not dare to break his mysterious stillness. He lay there with his arms round her, his body on hers, his wet body touching hers, so close. And completely unknown. Yet not unpeaceful. His very stillness was peaceful.
She knew that, when at last he roused and drew away from her. It was like an abandonment. He drew her dress in the darkness down over her knees and stood a few moments, apparently adjusting his own clothing.
Then he quietly opened the door and went out.
Colette (full name: Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette).
This excerpt is from Cheri (1920).
Her kiss was such that they reeled apart, drunk, deaf, breathless, trembling as if they had just been fighting. She stood up again in front of him, but he did not move from the depths of his chair, and she taunted him under her breath, ‘Well? … Well?’ and waited for an insult. Instead, he held out his arms, opened his vague, beautiful hands, tilted his head back as if he had been struck, and let her see beneath each eyelash the glint of a shining tear.
While we’re talking about her, this is Colette on writing:
To write, to be able to write, what does it mean? It means spending long hours dreaming before a white page, scribbling unconsciously, letting your pen play around a blot of ink and nibble at a half-formed word, scratching it, making it bristle with darts, and adorning it with antennae and paws until it loses all resemblance to a legible word and turns into a fantastic insect or a fluttering creature half butterfly, half fairy.
To write is to sit and stare, hypnotized, at the reflection of the window in the silver inkstand, to feel the divine fever mounting to one’s cheeks and forehead while the hand that writes grows blissfully numb upon the paper. It also means idle hours curled up in the hollow of the divan, and then the orgy of inspiration from which one emerges stupefied and aching all over, but already recompensed and laden with treasures that one unloads slowly on to the virgin page in the little round pool of light under the lamp.
To write is to pour one’s innermost self passionately upon the tempting paper, at such frantic speed that sometimes one’s hand struggles and rebels, overdriven by the impatient god who guides it — and to find, next day, in place of the golden bough that boomed miraculously in that dazzling hour, a withered bramble and a stunted flower.
My goal has not been reached; but I am practicing. I don’t yet know when I shall succeed in learning not to write; the obsession, the obligation are half a century old. My right little finger is slightly bent; that is because the weight of my hand always rested on it as I wrote, like a kangaroo leaning back on its tail. There is a tired spirit deep inside of me that still continues its gourmet’s quest for a better word, and then for a better one still.
What follows is an excerpt from Cheri. It should be noted that Cheri is actually a man. This would be obvious to French readers as all verbs and adjectives associated with him would be masculine.
She drew him toward her with her eyes, he inclined his face toward hers and lay his mouth on her mouth, which was like a freshly split-open fig. For a long time he kissed Kamala, and Siddhartha was filled with deep astonishment as she taught him how wise she was, how she ruled him, put him off, lured him back… each one different from the other, still awaiting him. Breathing deeply, he remained standing and at this moment he was like a child astonished by the abundance of knowledge and things worth learning opening up before his eyes.
Siddartha by Herman Hesse.
Raymond Carver: What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.
Outside in the backyard, one of the dogs began to bark. The leaves of the aspen that leaned past the window ticked against the glass. The afternoon sun was like a presence in this room, the spacious light of ease and generosity. We could have been anywhere, somewhere enchanted. We raised our glasses again and grinned at each other like children who had agreed on something forbidden.
”I’ll tell you what real love is,” Mel said. “I mean, I’ll give you a good example. And then you can draw your own conclusions.”
He poured more gin into his glass. He added an ice cube and a sliver of lime. We waited and sipped our drinks. Laura and I touched knees again. I put a hand on her warm thigh and left it there.
“What do any of us really know about love?” Mel said. It seems to me we’re just beginners at love. We say we love each other and we do, I don’t doubt it. I love Terri and Terri loves me, and you guys love each other too. You know the kind of love I’m talking about now. Physical love, that impulse that drives you to someone special, as well as love of the other person’s being, his or her essence, as it were. Carnal love and, well, call it sentimental love, the day-to-day caring about the other person. But sometimes I have a hard time accounting for the fact that I must have loved my first wife too. But I did, I know I did. So I suppose I am like Terri in that regard. Terri and Ed.”
He thought about it and then he went on.
“There was a time when I thought I loved my first wife more than life itself. But now I hate her guts. I do. How do you explain that? What happened to that love? What happened to it, is what I’d like to know. I wish someone could tell me. Then there’s Ed. Okay, we’re back to Ed. He loves Terri so much he tries to kill her and he winds up killing himself.”
Mel stopped talking and swallowed from his glass.
“You guys have been together eighteen months and you love each other. It shows all over you. You glow with it. But you both loved other people before you met each other. You’ve both been married before, just like us. And you probably loved other people before that too, even. Terri and I have been together five years, been married for four. And the terrible thing, the terrible thing is, but the good thing too, the saving grace, you might say, is that if something happened to one of us-excuse me for saying this-but if something happened to one of us tomorrow, I think the other one, the other person, would grieve for a while, you know, but then the surviving party would go out and love again, have someone else soon enough. All this, all of this love we’re talking about, it would just be a memory. Maybe not even a memory. Am I wrong? Am I way off base? Because I want you to set me straight if you think I’m wrong. I want to know. I mean, I don’t know anything, and I’m the first one to admit it.”
“Mel, for God’s sake,” Terri said. She reached out and took hold of his wrist. “Are you getting drunk? Honey? Are you drunk?”
“Honey, I’m just talking,” Mel said. “All right? I don’t have to be drunk to say what I think. I mean, we’re all just talking, right?” Mel said. He fixed his eyes on her.
“Sweetie, I’m not criticizing,” Terri said.
She picked up her glass.
”I’m not on call today,” Mel said. “Let me remind you of that. I am not on call,” he said.
“Mel, we love you,” Laura said.
Mel looked at Laura. He looked at her as if he could not place her, as if she was not the woman she was.
“Love you too, Laura,” Mel said. “And you, Nick, love you too. You know something?” Mel said. “You guys are our pals,” Mel said.
He picked up his glass.
Mel said, “I was going to tell you about something. I mean, I was going to prove a point. You see, this happened a few months ago, but it’s still going on right now, and it ought to make us feel ashamed when we talk like we know what we’re talking about when we talk about love.”
“Come on now,” Terri said. “Don’t talk like you’re drunk if you’re not drunk.”
“Just shut up for once in your life,” Mel said very quietly. “Will you do me a favor and do that for a minute? So as I was saying, there’s this old couple who had this car wreck out on the interstate. A kid hit them and they were all torn to shit and nobody was giving them much chance to pull through.”
Terri looked at us and then back at Mel. She seemed anxious, or maybe that’s too strong a word. Mel was handing the bottle around the table.
“I was on call that night,” said. “It was May or maybe it was June. Terri and I had just sat down to dinner when the hospital called. There’d been this thing out on the interstate. Drunk kid, teenager, plowed his dad’s pickup into this camper with this old couple in it. They were up in their mid-seventies, that couple. The kid-eighteen, nineteen, something-he was DOA. Taken the steering wheel through his sternum. The old couple, they were alive, you I mean, just barely. But they had everything. Multiple fractures, internal injuries, hemorrhaging, contusions, lacerations, the works, and they each of them had themselves concussions. They were in a bad way, believe me. And, of course, their age was two strikes against them. I’d say she was worse off than he was. Ruptured spleen along with everything else. Both kneecaps broken. But they’d been wearing their scatbelts and, God knows, that’s what saved them for the time being.”
“Folks, this is an advertisement for the National Safety Council,” Terri said. “This is your spokesman, Dr. Melvin R. McGinnis, talking.” Terri laughed. “Mel,” she said, “sometimes you’re just too much. But I love you, hon,” she said.
“Honey, I love you,” Mel said.
He leaned across the table. Terri met him halfway. They kissed.
”Terri’s right,” Mel said as he settled himself again. “Get those seatbelts on. But seriously, they were in some shape, those oldsters. By the time I got down there, the kid was dead, as I said. He was off in a corner, laid out on a gurney. I took one look at the old couple and told the ER nurse to get me a neurologist and an orthopedic man and a couple of surgeons down there right away.”
He drank from his glass.
‘I’ll try to keep this short,” he said. “So we took the two of them up to the OR and worked like fuck on them most of the night. They had these incredible reserves, those two. You see that once in a while. So we did everything that could be done, and toward morning we’re giving them a fifty-fifty chance, maybe less than that for her. So here they are, still alive the next morning. So, okay, we move them into the ICU, which is where they both kept plugging away at it for two weeks, hitting it better and better on all the Scopes. So we transfer them out to their own room.”
Mel stopped talking.
“Here,” he said, “let’s drink this cheapo gin the hell up. Then we’re going to dinner, right? Terri and I know a new place. That’s where we’ll go, to this new place we know about. But we’re not going until we finish up this cut-rate, lousy gin.”
Terri said, “We haven’t actually eaten there yet. But it looks good. From the outside, you know.”
“I like food,” Mel said. “If I had it to do all over again, I’d be a chef, you know. Right, Terri?” Mel said.
He laughed. He fingered the ice in his glass.
‘Terri knows,” he said. “Terri can tell you. But let me say this. If I could come back again in a different life, a different time and all, you know what? I’d like to come back as a knight. You were pretty safe wearing all that armor. It was all right being a knight until gunpowder and muskets and pistols came along.”
”Mel would like to ride a horse and cam: a lance,” Terri said.
“Carry a woman’s scarf with you everywhere,” Laura said.
“Or just a woman,” Mel said.
“Shame on you,” Laura said.
Terri said, “Suppose you came back as a serf. The serfs didn’t have it so good in those days,” Terri said.
”The serfs never had it good,” Mel said. “But I guess the knights were vessels to someone. Isn’t that the way it worked? But then everyone is always a vessel to someone. Isn’t that right, Terri? But what I liked about knights, besides their ladies was that they had that of armor, you know, and they couldn’t get hurt very easy. No cars in those days, you know? No drunk teenagers to tear into your ass.”
Haruki Murakami: On seeing the 100% perfect girl one beautiful April morning
One beautiful April morning, on a narrow side street in Tokyo’s fashionable Harujuku neighborhood, I walked past the 100% perfect girl.
Tell you the truth, she’s not that goodlooking. She doesn’t stand out in any way. Her clothes are nothing special. The back of her hair is still bent out of shape from sleep. She isn’t young, either must be near thirty, not even close to a “girl,” properly speaking. But still, I know from fifty yards away: She’s the 100% perfect girl for me. The moment I see her, there’s a rumbling in my chest, and my mouth is as dry as a desert.
Maybe you have your own particular favorite type of girl one with slim ankles, say, or big eyes, or graceful fingers, or you’re drawn for no good reason to girls who take their time with every meal. I have my own preferences, of course. Sometimes in a restaurant I’ll catch myself staring at the girl at the next table to mine because I like the shape of her nose.
But no one can insist that his 100% perfect girl correspond to some preconceived type. Much as I like noses, I can’t recall the shape of hers or even if she had one. All I can remember for sure is that she was no great beauty. It’s weird.
“Yesterday on the street I passed the 100% girl,” I tell someone. “Yeah?” he says. “Goodlooking?”
“Your favorite type, then?”
“I don’t know. I can’t seem to remember anything about her the shape of her eyes or the size of her breasts.”
“So anyhow,” he says, already bored, “what did you do? Talk to her?
“Nah. Just passed her on the street.”
She’s walking east to west, and I west to east. It’s a really nice April morning.
Wish I could talk to her. Half an hour would be plenty: just ask her about herself, tell her about myself, and what I’d really like to do explain to her the complexities of fate that have led to our passing each other on a side street in Harajuku on a beautiful April morning in 1981. This was something sure to be crammed full of warm secrets, like an antique clock build when peace filled the world.
After talking, we’d have lunch somewhere, maybe see a Woody Allen movie, stop by a hotel bar for cocktails. With any kind of luck, we might end up in bed.
Potentiality knocks on the door of my heart.
Now the distance between us has narrowed to fifteen yards.
How can I approach her? What should I say?
“Good morning, miss. Do you think you could spare half an hour for a little conversation?”
Ridiculous. I’d sound like an insurance salesman.
“Pardon me, but would you happen to know if there is an allnight cleaners in the neighborhood?”
No, this is just as ridiculous. I’m not carrying any laundry, for one thing. Who’s going to buy a line like that?
Maybe the simple truth would do. “Good morning. You are the 100% perfect girl for me.”
No, she wouldn’t believe it. Or even if she did, she might not want to talk to me. Sorry, she could say, I might be the 100% perfect girl for you, but you’re not the 100% boy for me. It could happen. And if I found myself in that situation, I’d probably go to pieces. I’d never recover from the shock. I’m thirtytwo, and that’s what growing older is all about.
We pass in front of a flower shop. A small, warm air mass touches my skin. The asphalt is damp, and I catch the scent of roses. I can’t bring myself to speak to her. She wears a white sweater, and in her right hand she holds a crisp white envelope lacking only a stamp. So: She’s written somebody a letter, maybe spent the whole night writing, to judge from the sleepy look in her eyes. The envelope could contain every secret she’s ever had.
I take a few more strides and turn: She’s lost in the crowd.
Now, of course, I know exactly what I should have said to her. It would have been a long speech, though, far too long for me to have delivered it properly. The ideas I come up with are never very practical.
Oh, well. It would have started “Once upon a time” and ended “A sad story, don’t you think?”
Once upon a time, there lived a boy and a girl. The boy was eighteen and the girl sixteen. He was not unusually handsome, and she was not especially beautiful. They were just an ordinary lonely boy and an ordinary lonely girl, like all the others. But they believed with their whole hearts that somewhere in the world there lived the 100% perfect boy and the 100% perfect girl for them. Yes, they believed in a miracle. And that miracle actually happened.
One day the two came upon each other on the corner of a street.
“This is amazing,” he said. “I’ve been looking for you all my life. You may not believe this, but you’re the 100% perfect girl for me.”
“And you,” she said to him, “are the 100% perfect boy for me, exactly as I’d pictured you in every detail. It’s like a dream.”
They sat on a park bench, held hands, and told each other their stories hour after hour. They were not lonely anymore. They had found and been found by their 100% perfect other. What a wonderful thing it is to find and be found by your 100% perfect other. It’s a miracle, a cosmic miracle.
As they sat and talked, however, a tiny, tiny sliver of doubt took root in their hearts: Was it really all right for one’s dreams to come true so easily?
And so, when there came a momentary lull in their conversation, the boy said to the girl, “Let’s test ourselves just once. If we really are each other’s 100% perfect lovers, then sometime, somewhere, we will meet again without fail. And when that happens, and we know that we are the 100% perfect ones, we’ll marry then and there. What do you think?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is exactly what we should do.” And so they parted, she to the east, and he to the west.
The test they had agreed upon, however, was utterly unnecessary. They should never have undertaken it, because they really and truly were each other’s 100% perfect lovers, and it was a miracle that they had ever met. But it was impossible for them to know this, young as they were. The cold, indifferent waves of fate proceeded to toss them unmercifully.
One winter, both the boy and the girl came down with the season’s terrible influenza, and after drifting for weeks between life and death they lost all memory of their earlier years. When they awoke, their heads were as empty as the young D. H. Lawrence’s piggy bank.
They were two bright, determined young people, however, and through their unremitting efforts they were able to acquire once again the knowledge and feeling that qualified them to return as full fledged members of society. Heaven be praised, they became truly upstanding citizens who knew how to transfer from one subway line to another, who were fully capable of sending a special delivery letter at the post office. Indeed, they even experienced love again, sometimes as much as 75% or even 85% love.
Time passed with shocking swiftness, and soon the boy was thirtytwo, the girl thirty.
One beautiful April morning, in search of a cup of coffee to start the day, the boy was walking from west to east, while the girl, intending to send a specialdelivery letter, was walking from east to west, but along the same narrow street in the Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo. They passed each other in the very center of the street. The faintest gleam of their lost memories glimmered for the briefest moment in their hearts. Each felt a rumbling in their chest. And they knew:
She is the 100% perfect girl for me. He is the 100% perfect boy for me.
But the glow of their memories was far too weak, and their thoughts no longer had the clarity of fourteen years earlier. Without a word, they passed each other, disappearing into the crowd. Forever.
A sad story, don’t you think?
Yes, that’s it, that is what I should have said to her.
A Fragmant from Beatrice Palmato
Many people know Wharton as the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Age of Innocence, a book about an affair that hints at sex but never refers to it directly. Her novels became poster children of the buttoned-up Edwardian period…except for that time she wrote straight-up erotica.
Discovered as part of an unfinished short story, the following scene was annotated as “unpublishable” by Wharton.
Having published her first collection of short stories in 1899 in her late twenties, Wharton emerged as one of the America’s foremost novelists with the publication of The House of Mirth in 1905. In 1906 she left the United States for France, where she remained until her death in 1937.
The room was warm and softly lit by one or two pink-shaded lamps. A little fire sparkled on the hearth, and a lustrous black bearskin rug on which a few purple velvet cushions had been flung was spread out before it.
“And now, darling,” Mr. Palmato said, drawing her to the deep divan, “let me show you what only you and I have the right to show each other.” He caught her wrists as he spoke, and looking straight into her eyes, repeated in a penetrating whisper, “Only you and I.” But his touch had never been tenderer. Already she felt every fiber vibrating under it, as of old, only now with the more passionate eagerness bred of privation and of the dull misery of her marriage. She let herself sink backward among the pillows, and already Mr. Palmato was on his knees at her side, his face close to hers. Again her burning lips were parted by his tongue, and she felt it insinuate itself between her teeth and plunge into the depths of her mouth in a long, searching caress, while at the same moment his hands softly parted the thin folds of her wrapper…