Monday, February 14, 2011

This Kiss

Happy Valentine’s Day! Cynicism about this holiday has become common, and many see February 14 as just another excuse to empty the pockets of consumers, who annually spend more than $16 billion on cards, flowers, chocolates, and other gifts. I’m still enough of a romantic to find the day a charming tradition, even though  my favorite valentines in 2011 are under 12. Still, the day has me thinking about kisses. Ever since I read a particular romance novel a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about a blog on osculation. What better time to consider kisses than a holiday that celebrates love and lovers?
 A kiss, of course, can mean many things from simple affection to bitter betrayal, but it is the romantic/erotic kiss that most fascinates. The ancients believed that in mouth-to-mouth kisses, lovers exchanged the breath of life and mingled souls. The Roman poet Catullus (84BC?- 54BC) inspired poets such as Robert Herrick, William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and Lord Byron with his explicit demand: "Kiss me now a thousand times and still a hundred more and then a hundred and a thousand more again till with so many hundred thousand kisses you and I lose count." Herrick’s “To Anthea (III)” utilizes Catullus’s math and adds a challenge:

Give me a kiss, and to that kiss a score;
Then to that twenty add a hundred more:
A thousand to that hundred: so kiss on,
To make that thousand up a million.
Treble that million, and when that is done
Let's kiss afresh, as when we first begun.

Poets are not the only artists who find material in kisses. Rodin’s Kiss sculpture, inspired by Paolo and Francesca, the eternally entwined lovers in circle 2 of Dante’s Inferno, still attracts visitors to the Tate Gallery in London, and photographs of kissing couples in Paris and Times Square are internationally famous. Movie kisses have come in for their fair share of attention as well. Googling “best movie kisses” yields more than 8 million results, and “favorite movie kisses” is a favorite topic among romance fiction bloggers. My own favorites are from older movies such as those between Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life and between John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in The Quiet Man.  Viewing several movie versions of Pride and Prejudice consecutively makes one aware of the distance between Jane Austen’s discreet description (“He [Darcy] expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man in violent love can be supposed to.) and the eight minutes of moonlit lip locks added to the U.S. version of the 2005 Keira Knightley/Matthew MacFadyen film.

I thought the kisses exchanged by Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty were pretty hot when I first saw Splendor in the Grass in 1961, but I didn’t know then that the first screen French kiss in that movie would lead to increasingly sensual screen kisses to the point that such scenes today more often seem to be about voyeurism than about romance. But then scholars tell us that the kisses art gives us are voyeuristic. Social convention leads us to avert our eyes from the intimacy if we happen to see a couple kissing in real life, but art encourages us to gaze at the osculatory exchange that can express both physical and emotional intimacy. I maintain that those who draw up lists of the best fictional kisses do a disservice to their audience by ignoring the kissing scenes in romance fiction. No other writers possess the awareness of all that a kiss can express that the authors of the best in romance fiction can claim. Here are my candidates for ten of the best kisses in Romancelandia (listed chronologically by publication date):

This is no less true of fiction than of the visual arts. Long before the no-holds-barred sex that can be found in both popular and literary fiction, the kiss was used as a metaphor for orgasm. In Portrait of a Lady, in a scene written from his heroine's point of view, Henry James wrote: "His kiss was like white lightning, a flash that spread, and spread again . . . his presence, justified of its intense identity and made one with this act of possession." In June 2008, The Guardian published a list of ten of the best literary kisses. They ranged from the kiss shortly after first meeting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to the invasive kiss endured by an unwilling bride in Ian McEwan’s 2007 novel On Chesil Beach.

1. Derek kisses Sara in the garden.
Dreaming of You (1994), Lisa Kleypas

The I’m-not-good-enough-but-I-can’t resist-her kiss:

“Without meaning to, he reached her in three strides and snatched her in his arms. Her joyous laugh tickled his ear as he lifted her off his feet. Urgently his mouth roved across her face with rough kisses that stung her cheek, her chin, her forehead.”

2. Jessica kisses Dain in the rain.

Lord of Scoundrels (1995), Loretta Chase

The hero-as-helpless-and-needy-kiss:

“He melted under that maidenly ardor as though it were rain and he a pillar of salt.”
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“He stood, helpless in the driving rain, unable to rule his needy mouth, his restless hands, while, within, his heart beat out the mortifying truth.
Ho bisogno di ti.
I need you.

3. Catherine kisses Michael after eight pages leading to consummation scene.

Shattered Rainbows (1996), Mary Jo Putney

The post-coital-bliss kiss:

“She gave him a kiss of aching sweetness, the silken fall of her hair gliding across his throat.”

4. Anna yields to Cam’s kiss.
Sea Swept (2001), Nora Roberts

The I-know-it’s-bad-for-me-but kiss:

“She gave into it, gave all to it, a moment’s madness where body ruled mind and blood roared over reason.”

5. Colin finally kisses Penelope (200+ pages into the novel).
Romancing Mr. Bridgerton (2002), Julia Quinn

The I-thought-it-would-never-happen kiss:

“He leaned forward and kissed her, slowly, reverently, no longer quite so surprised that this was happening, that he wanted her so badly.”

6. Diana and Rothgar share what they believe will be their last kiss.
Devilish (2005), Jo Beverley

The we-can-never-be-together kiss:

“Then she put her lips to his and asked for their familiar kiss. She was mistress of the art and he was her equal. It was long, and as satisfying as a favorite meal.”

7. Sydnam kisses Anne after the two have become totally vulnerable to each other.

Simply Love (2007), Mary Balogh

The tenderness-in-the-afterglow kiss:

“He kissed her temple and made sure the blanket was tucked all about her. He warmed her body with his own.”

8. Villiers gives Eleanor a promising—and public—kiss.
A Duke of Her Own (2009), Eloisa James

The I-promise-you-there’s-more kiss:

“He took her hand. Then without smiling at her, without saying a word, without doing anything other than meeting her eyes, he slowly peeled off her glove. It was utterly surprising—and scandalous.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“Villiers’s kiss was slow and deliberate, giving everyone in the tent more than enough time to enjoy the spectacle.”

9. Julian and Lily share a first kiss.
Three Nights with a Scoundrel (2010), Tessa Dare

The this-is-the-real-us kiss:

“Because in that moment, neither of them moved. Neither of them breathed. They just . . . existed together. The tension melted away. And the kiss was still artless, still desperate—but only because it was real. The most honest, truthful moment they’d ever shared.”

10. Moncrieffe kisses Genevieve and finds himself in an unexpected role.
What I Did for a Duke (2011), Julie Anne Long

The I-got-more-than-I-bargained-for kiss:

“He hadn’t counted on a third option. Stealthily as a liqueur or an excellent drug, in much the same way she’d been doing for days now, Genevieve Eversea—her heat, her scent, her generosity and kindness, her devastating sensuality, entered his bloodstream. Beneath his hand, the lush, lithe give of her body just barely brushing against his chest, the hum of that passion she kept so tamped, burned through him. The invader becoming the invaded—that was the third option. He was hers now.”

What are your favorite kisses in visual art forms? In fiction, literary or genre? I'm sure there are hundreds of others that deserve to be recognized. I’ll have the Randomizer choose one commenter to receive a romance novel that’s sure to include the language of kisses.


PJ said...

What a wonderful tribute to kisses! There's something very special about romance kisses, especially first kisses, and you've spotlighted some of my all-time favorites. In fact, nine of the ten you've listed would make my favorites list. The only book listed that I have yet to read is Simply Love.

The scene from What I Did for a Duke is by far one of the best kissing scenes in a romance that I've ever read and the first kiss between Julian and Lily stayed with me long after I had closed the final page of their story.

I know there are other great kisses out there but my mind is all swirly with sickness and meds and they just aren't coming to me at the moment. Maybe after a nap I'll be able to remember some!

Happy Valentine's Day, Janga!

Anonymous said...

Wow, what an awesome post. This should be required reading for every writer, to see all the possibilities in a "simple" kiss. :)


Janga said...

Dear PJ, tons of get well wishes to you. (((Hugs)))

I think you'd love Simply Love. I've been reading Balogh since her very first book more than 20 years ago, and SL is one of my favorites. Sydnam and Anne are an atypical H/H.

Janga said...

Thanks, Donna. I had fun pulling all the examples together. It really is amazing how much can be communicated with a kiss.

irisheyes said...

I'm with Donna, this should be required reading. LOL Wonderful post, Janga. And I too agree on all the kisses you listed, except of course for the latest Julie Anne Long which I haven't read yet.

I know there are many kisses that have happened in the romances I've read in the past that were awesome and stopped me dead in my tracks when I read them but unfortunately I can only come up with a few.

I just finished "Pieces of Sky" by Kaki Warner, so it is fresh in my memory. I remember thinking when I read their first kiss that I loved the ease and confidence with which Brady eases Jessica into surrendering to him. It's like he's building her trust one kiss at a time and it was amazing to watch.

Which brings me to Robyn Carr's books. I love the way all her heroes are so confident and sure of their feelings before the first kiss. I believe this confidence allows her heroines to feel safe, loved and protected. I love Robyn's first kisses. Sometimes passionate, sometimes humorous but always tender and heartfelt.

Happy Valentine's Day, Janga, a little late (it's been a crazy busy but good week).

quantum said...

A kiss can touch both heart and soul.

For me, I think that prose can trigger personal memories and set me alight. Poetry is probably the best medium for reaching those intimate places with words, but alas it's not always easy for mere mortals to write well and understand!

I agree with Irish about Robyn Carr's use of the kiss and like Irish its the most recent that comes to mind for me.

I have been reading Susan Mallery's 'Chasing Perfect' (thanks again for the rec Janga!) and the first time that Josh kisses Charity is pretty good.

It's a kiss of awakening and arousal, triggering all sorts of electrical and chemical responses, and alerts the reader to something special in the air.

Reminded me of when I met Mrs Q!

Fabulous post Janga!

I’m still enough of a romantic to find the day a charming tradition, even though my favorite valentines in 2011 are under 12.

Janga, If I wasn't very happily tied, I would be sending you poems .... heaven help you! *smile*

TerriOsburn said...

I love all of these, but I wish there were more contemporaries. :)

I always like how Crusie describes kisses as making the guy all loopy and off balance, then there's the ZING! Must have that ZING!

Janga said...

Irish, you're going to love the new JAL, and I totally agree with your description of the scene from Pieces of Sky. such a wonderful book!

And Robin Carr! We could probably do a catalog of kisses just from the VR books, ranging from very young lovers to the senior brigade. :)

Janga said...

I'm glad you're enjoying the Susan Mallery book,Q. I'm looking forward to her getting back to the Fools Gold books. And you know I'm a huge Robyn Carr fan.

Mrs. Q is a lucky woman. Your tributes to her are great reminders that not all the best romances are fictional. I hope you both had a lovely Valentine's Day.

Janga said...

Ter, I should have included more contemporaries. Crusie is always a good choice. There are some great kisses in SEP's books. I could have skimmed Rachel Gibson and Julie James to add more plus some memorable kisses from Lisa Kleypas's and Christina Dodd's contemporaries. Of course, I could have done a top ten from Nora Roberts alone.