Kissing in Jane Austen’s Books

Kissing in Jane Austen’s Books

elizabeth and darcy

This month, I undertook a serious study of kissing in Jane Austen’s books. Though I’ve read all her books multiple times, I was surprised at what I discovered. The kisses aren’t at all the same as in the movies.  For example, I might ask, “Who gets to kiss Elizabeth Bennet at the end of Pride and Prejudice?” Most people would respond, “Mister Darcy.” Only a few would give the correct answer: “Captain Wickham.” After he marries Lydia and comes to visit the Bennet house, Elizabeth allows Wickham to kiss her hand (Yuck!) Mister Darcy receives no such privilege.

52_wickham_leaves_Pride_and_Prejudice

Here’s another question: Who gets to kiss Elinor’s hand in Sense and Sensibility? You might be surprised—as I was—to learn that it is Colonel Brandon. He kisses Elinor’s hand in gratitude after she listens to the story of his past love.

I’m not kidding! It’s almost like Jane Austen was playing Spin-the-Bottle with her characters.
col brandon and elinor

I found over twenty kisses in Austen’s books.Here’s a summary:

There are over five kisses in Sense and Sensibility:

Willoughby kisses a lock of Marianne’s hair. (Chapter 12)

Lady Middleton kisses her daughter Annamaria. (Chapter 21)

Elinor kisses Marianne as she grieves over Willoughby’s rejection. (Chapter 29)

Col. Brandon kisses Elinor’s hand in gratitude. (Chapter 31)

Marianne gives Elinor a kiss of gratitude. (Chapter 46)

 

Pride and Prejudice features at least four kisses:

Elizabeth kisses her little Gardiner cousins. (Chapter 47)

Mr. Wickham kisses Elizabeth’s hand after he is married to Lydia. (Chapter 52)

Jane kisses Mr. Bennet after her engagement. (Chapter 55)

 

There are eight kisses in Mansfield Park:

Sir Thomas kisses little Fanny affectionately. (Chapter 19)

William (Fanny’s brother) kisses Fanny goodbye. (Chapter 29)

Fanny kisses Sir Thomas’s hand with struggling sobs. (Chapter 37)

Fanny’s brother kisses Fanny to welcome her home. (Chapter 38)

Mrs. Price kisses Fanny to welcome her home. (Chapter 38)

Fanny kisses brothers Tom and Charles very tenderly. (Chapter 38)

Lady Bertram kisses Fanny’s sister Susan to welcome her. (Chapter 47)

 

Emma contains two kisses:

Harriet kisses Emma’s hand in gratitude. (Chapter 4)

Mrs. Weston kisses Emma after they discover Frank Churchill’s deception. (Chapter 10)

 

Northanger Abbey has no kissing.

 

There is one kiss in Persuasion:

Sir Archibald Drew kisses his hand to Anne as she walks with her father. (Chapter 18)

 

Unless you count Willoughby kissing a lock of Marianne’s hair or Mr. Knightley almost kissing Emma’s hand, no lovers kiss in any of Jane’s books. Some have speculated about this, suggesting that Jane Austen shied away from writing what she had not experienced. Whatever her reasons, it’s clear that she mostly used kisses to show gratitude or to demonstrate love between family members.

emma knightley kiss

With this in mind, I’d like to suggest an alternative interpretation of Mr. Knightley’s failed attempt to kiss Emma’s hand. In the past I have always considered this almost-kiss as a sign of his growing passion for Emma. But, judging from her other books, Jane Austen probably saw a kiss on the hand as a sign of brotherly affection. In Regency times, people did not speak in terms of being in-laws. Once a person married into the family, they became family. Because their siblings are married, Emma considers Mr. Knightley to be like her brother. However, as her feelings progress, she changes her mind about their relationship. At the ball, she teasingly asks Mr. Knightley to ask her to dance: “you know we are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper.”

He replies, “Brother and sister! No, indeed.”

Thus ends chapter thirty-eight.

Perhaps the almost-kiss later on is yet another sign that Mr. Knightley no longer sees Emma as a little sister. To me, this explanation fits the pattern of family kissing in Austen’s other books. What do you think?

Despite her reputation as a romance writer, Jane Austen certainly didn’t write kissing books. What she did is something much more ingenious. She wrote in a way that brought her characters to life. Her descriptions and characterizations are so detailed that we imagine the kisses for ourselves. When I see Darcy and Elizabeth kissing at the end of a movie, I think it’s the most natural thing in the world.

 

 

45 Responses to Kissing in Jane Austen’s Books

  1. Jane Austen romance reflects strict cultural taboos of the day. Hand to hand, skin on skin was taboo for a well brought up lady, not to mention lip to lip, which might have been allowed had there been a way to ‘glove’ the mouth.Haha. Some Austenites shudder at Hollywoods “loose” versions where a kiss, however chaste, is allowed. I think Jane would disapprove, too. And while the most noble men might have kissed the hand–gloved of course–as a show of gratitude, I can’t help but wonder if the act, where strong physical attraction was present, were two smitten people taking and giving what they could get within the bounds of propriety.

    • I guess maybe that is the key to who didn’t get to kiss in Jane Austen’s books–anyone who had a strong physical attraction to our heroines. It still seems odd to me that Col. Brandon could kiss Elinor.

  2. Fascinating post, Rebecca! Thank you for sharing! It is interested to learn how little kisses come into play between the hero and heroine. Given what we are used to seeing in movies and our modern world, I would have never guessed it was so! But you are 100% right, the proof doesn’t lie. I find it really interesting to learn that there are so many kisses in Mansfield Park and none in Northanger Abbey! 🙂

    • Thank you, Meredith. I agree about Mansfield Park. I would have never guessed she wrote the most kisses in that particular book. I also would have guessed that at least one of them involved Henry Crawford.

  3. What?? They never kissed? AT ALL? I think my last 38 years have dissolved before me. It just goes to show how much a good-crafted story really doesn’t need to focus on anything but the relationship, does it?

  4. After so many variations, adaptations and our own wandering minds, the lines begin to blur in what is original. I love posts like this that set up back right with our dear Jane. We must not forget where it all began.

  5. I’m from a kissing family too, but with all the reading and rereading of Austen, I never thought there were any romantic kisses and that the movie ones were added for modern sensibilities. Emma and Mr. Knightley probably were closer and more comfortable with each other than any of the others, except perhaps Fanny and Edmund. Lizzie and Darcy really didn’t know each other in much detail before the proposal, and not very well before the marriage, apparently. I think when Darcy expressed himself it was in words, with familiarity growing in their talks afterward. Ditto Anne and Frederick Wentworth, whose feelings were likewise exchanged in words. It was a time when people had hardly touched each other, if at all, before they wed and went off together, quite a gap in the intimacy department!

  6. Well we know they actually kissed in regency times! 🙂 So I like to think that Jane just implied them because she was not comfortable writing them. After all, I hope that once in all the times she wrote about seeing Tom LeFroy perhaps there was a stolen kiss. Great post to make us think!

    • That’s an interesting thought. Did Jane kiss Tom LeFroy and keep it secret? Or would she have considered it scandalous? It seems to me that she and Cassandra kept plenty of secrets.

  7. A lovely post! I agree with others, some of the kisses are implied. And perhaps that’s also for personal taste as well. I don’t think Austen wrote with romance in mind, in fact I think she wants to show people who fall in love with some sort of sensibleness and logic attached, so being carried away with the romance would be sooo Marianne (says the secret Marianne admirer). So, for someone who wants to interpret the couple as kissing they can and for those that would make them quite uncomfortable to consider them so passionate before marriage, they can think Darcy just actually *spoke* eloquently for a change. There are times when I go one way and times when I go another. Bring on the kissing in all adaptations, though!

    Interesting thoughts about Knightley and his evolving feelings for Emma. Do you think perhaps he had kissed her on the hand at other moments in life, as a sister, and then in this moment we see in the book it doesn’t work because it just doesn’t suit the feelings? I have to say, I like this idea so much better than when some argue he truly romantically loved her all along, even when she was a child.

    • Thanks, Rose. Yeah, I like to think Knightley viewed Emma with a brotherly love, especially when she was a child. It seems to work with the way Jane wrote kisses in her other books.

    • Stephanie, I would never have thought about it either. The only reason I did was because I had a marketing class from a nearby university volunteer to help me with marketing for their class project . One of the things they did was to put together an infographic that included a detail about kisses in Jane Austen’s books. Since then, I’ve always wondered how all those kisses happened.

  8. Thanks for the post, it was very interesting. I never really noticed all these kisses in the books. I just thought there were none. Only the almost-kiss from Mr Knightley kept screwing with my mind and I was alway disappointed when I re-read it. Him failing to show his true affection. But now you brought a whole new interpretation into consideration. I’m already convinced! He didn’t want to treat Emma as his sister anymore. He wanted more but couldn’t have it, as he thought she was in love with somebody else. So tragic. Until she finds out about her own feelings of course. 🙂 Thank you!

  9. I also come from a kissing and hugging family. I still like the Joe Wright’s version where Darcy does kiss Lizzy in the end of the movie. I don’t like the fact that Wickham kissed Lizzy’s hand.
    Thanks for the great article. A whole lot of kissing going on!

  10. We do want our romance and on our terms. I read that Andrew Davies received so much criticism for his second proposal scene in the 1995 movie version that he did say it was the only thing he would change. Darcy smiling and then looking away just didn’t sit right with so many fans. But at least we get our kiss at the end. Personally sometimes too much is written of or acted out in movies. Think about all the classic books and movies which left us “hanging” and how romantic they are/were considered. I never missed the lack of kisses in Jane’s stories but did so appreciate the epilogue. I think the thing I missed more was the lack of children being related. She told about the sisters in P&P and their fates but we never learn if there are any offspring. I do like to read or learn about that.

    • Poor Andrew Davies. He did his best, and he did make up for the lack of kissing with the last scene. I have read some interesting essays on Jane Austen’s feelings about children. Some have suggested that perhaps Jane wanted to protect her heroines from the dangers of childbearing. I like to think that she enjoyed children, though. She seemed to be a loving aunt.

  11. I never really thought about it but you are right! I have always had the idea that at least Darcy and Lizzy kiss after his successful proposal but the book really does not say.

    • The book doesn’t say whether they kiss, but it is sort of implied. I guess it all depends on the reader’s imagination. For those who want to read what Jane actually wrote about Elizabeth and Darcy’s implied kiss, scroll down to Ceri’s excellent comment at the bottom.

  12. Wow! I never thought about all the kissing or lack thereof. When I started reading for sure I thought Willoughby would have at least kissed Marianne’s hair. I guess I’ll have to go with the implied when it comes to Austen. After all, we have lots of JAFF spun out her imagination and ours.

    • She definitely implied more kissing than she wrote.I wish I knew more about her moral code in that regard. The Bronte sisters didn’t seem to have a problem with writing kisses.

  13. I agree with Ceri, about imagining Darcy kissing Elizabeth at the time of his successful proposal, due to the quoted words.

    As for Wickham kissing Elizabeth on the hand (YUCK!), he is now her brother and family. I can see no other reason for her allowing it.

    Thank you for such a fun and thought provoking post.

  14. I understood that as an unmarried woman it wouldn’t have been proper for Austen to be writing of passionate kisses which is why there are only familial ones in her books.

    There is a school of thought that when Darcy successfully proposes and ‘expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to’ then Austen is hinting at a kiss. I know I certainly imagined one there when I first read it 🙂

    To me, there are passionate kisses in Austen, they are just implied rather than explicit… but that might just be me being an over-imaginative reader!

      • I agree with Ceri (on both accounts) — bleuugh at Wickham, — but lucky Darcy ‘expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to’ — in my mind that meant a kiss, probably chaste. Wondering about protocol from two hundred years ago makes me want to either go back in time to find out or just know what Miss Austen was thinking when she wrote it.

Your thoughts are precious!