I’m not going to lie. I don’t only read 19th century literature. I read a lot of fiction penned in the present day (but nearly always set in the past). And a lot of it is not sex-free. However, I honestly think nothing I have read is hotter than this scene by Elizabeth Gaskell from 1855.
Her voice had cleared itself and become more steady. Mr. Thornton did not speak, and she went on looking for some paper on which were written down the proposals for security; for she was most anxious to have it all looked upon in the light of a mere business arrangement, in which the principal advantage would be on her side. While she sought for this paper, her very heart-pulse was arrested by the tone in which Mr. Thornton spoke. His voice was hoarse, and trembling with tender passion, as he said:—
For an instant she looked up; and then sought to veil her luminous eyes by dropping her forehead on her hands. Again, stepping nearer, he besought her with another tremulous eager call upon her name.
Still lower went the head; more closely hidden was the face, almost resting on the table before her. He came close to her. He knelt by her side, to bring his face to a level with her ear; and whispered-panted out the words:—
‘Take care.—If you do not speak—I shall claim you as my own in some strange presumptuous way.—Send me away at once, if I must go;—Margaret!—’
At that third call she turned her face, still covered with her small white hands, towards him, and laid it on his shoulder, hiding it even there; and it was too delicious to feel her soft cheek against his, for him to wish to see either deep blushes or loving eyes. He clasped her close. But they both kept silence. At length she murmured in a broken voice:
‘Oh, Mr. Thornton, I am not good enough!’
‘Not good enough! Don’t mock my own deep feeling of unworthiness.’
After a minute or two, he gently disengaged her hands from her face, and laid her arms as they had once before been placed to protect him from the rioters.
‘Do you remember, love?’ he murmured.
Sigh. I mean I’m an old married lady with two kids and well-acquainted with bedroom activities and I’m seriously turning into a puddle of need over this. It’s not just that I can feel the chemistry between them. It’s full of actual love, not just lust. It’s the longing and fear. The acknowledgment of pain and desperation. The timid hope, the feeling of complete awe at your good fortune.
Romance authors need to take a serious number from Gaskell’s tactic here. Love is hotter than lust any day of the week. I don’t really have a lot of deep observations here. I’ll leave you with the best on-screen kiss ever which I think perfectly captures the sentiment of this scene. While it takes place in a train station, which would be beyond the pale of Victorian propriety I not only like the full circle of all the train images and the closure to the pain Thornton felt seeing Margaret with Frederick at the station, but Edith’s drawing room is only just barely more private.
If you haven’t seen this adaptation, you must and let me treat you to the best 90 seconds ever to be filmed. You’re welcome.