Jane Austen and her “Best Literary Sex Scene”

It seems that on almost a daily basis Jane Austen makes some list or other. Yesterday, The Guardian offered up a list of the “Best Literary Sex Scenes: Writers’ Favourites” and there she is yet again, despite claims that there is no sex in Austen – read here what Howard Jacobson (his The Finkler Question won the 2010 Man Booker Prize) has to say:

Softcore porn is the literary equivalent of those feathery wimp-whips and talcum’d cufflinks you see in the windows of sex toy shops. If you’re going to torture your lover, at least break the skin, I say. You would expect me, therefore, to chose the scene I find most erotic from the pages of De Sade or Bataille. But as far as writing goes, the best sex is the most implicit. So I nominate the scene in Persuasion in which Captain Wentworth wordlessly, and with none of their past grievous history resolved, assists a fatigued Anne Elliot into a carriage. There is no overt sexuality, no titillatory play with power and dependence – he helps her in and that’s that. “Yes – he had done it. She was in the carriage and felt that he had placed her there, that his will and his hands had done it.” Anne might tell herself that the kindness proceeds from what remains of “former sentiment”, but Wentworth’s hands have been on her body, and we never doubt that it’s her body that receives the shock of the contact as much as her mind.

 I couldn’t agree more … what might your favorite sex scene in Jane Austen be?

You can read about the other titles and scenes here:



And also check out John Mullan’s latest “10 of the Best” – Jane Austen appears on most of his lists it seems!  this week is about “wills” and of course, what would be the plot of Sense and Sensibility without that pesky will:


Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. The novel is shaped by a will. Henry Dashwood’s uncle leaves his wealth not to his own family, but to his son by a previous marriage and a four-year-old grandson. His wife and daughters, who have attended on the old man for years, are disinherited in favour of a child who has gained his affections by “an imperfect articulation, an earnest desire of having his own way, many cunning tricks, and a great deal of noise”.

[Master Harry Dashwood – image from Austenprose]

You can link to Mullan’s other weekly lists here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/series/10ofthebest

c2012 Jane Austen in Vermont

7 thoughts on “Jane Austen and her “Best Literary Sex Scene”

  1. Greetings Ladies at JASNA,
    I would to inform you that I have nominated your blog for the Helpful Blogger award. It is not only inspirational but a very lovely blog. I’ve learned a lot here.
    Thank you,
    Marianne, a follower of your blog


    • Well thank you for this Marianne! – I shall look at what I am supposed to do in nominating others, and shall respond shortly…
      Thank you again – your blog is quite lovely I must say!


  2. One of the moments I love in the 1995 film of Persuasion is that scene–there is a forced-perspective closeup of Wentworth’s hands on Anne’s waist as he lifts her into the gig. I remember the first time I saw the movie, the words “his will and his hands had done it” instantly went through my mind. I think that particular shot is meant as a visual representation of Austen’s exact words. There are a few such moments in that film and I think that’s why I love it so, though it is not perfect–it was obviously made with reverence for the source.


    • Hello Mags! – I agree with you completely! – I love this adaptation of Persuasion and think, like you, that they got it almost perfectly right… ‘with a ‘reverence for the source” as you say – and this scene is a pure example – and Jacobson’s words are so true, as though he had written the scene himself – how lovely that he picked this passage out of all the possibles in all of literature.

      Thanks for stopping by!


  3. In that same adaptation of Persuasion, there is the lovely scene (circus excepted, perhaps), where they have just realized they still love each other, they have had a brief kiss, but then, that sweet and a bit erotic moment: He puts out his arm for her to take, she slips her hand slowly around his elbow, as if in wonder that it is hers for the taking. Bliss!


    • Oh I love this scene! – so much conveyed in just that small action – I love your comment “as if in wonder that it is hers for the taking” – almost makes the required movie kiss bearable!

      Thanks for stopping by Lynn,


  4. Pingback: On Persuasion « Life's a haiku

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