Love and Sex in Literature
Sringara Rasa, the sexual impulse, as in Indian aesthetic theory, propounded by the ancient dramatic theorist, Bharat Muni and others, is the primary motivating force of ordinary life. Very few can escape this strong inherent force in living creatures; no wonder that this has been part of literature from the ancient time. Trace of it can be found in epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata, Iliad and Odyssey. It is in many other works of later generations. The great Indian poet and dramatist, Kalidas, writing in Sanskrit, has shown plenty of such emotions in his plays. The great Vaishnav poet Jaydev, writing on Krishna and Radha theme, profusely described such scenes in his “Gitagobinda”. We find traces of it limited generally up to kissing, in Tagore and Sri Aurobindo.
It is usually in modern prose works that elaborate sex scenes appear. Some well discussed but now out of touch sex scenes in modern novels like pornographic “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by D. H. Lawrence and paedophilic “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov apart, some more names in the genre comes up like that of Kim Corum, S. Redfern (Sonya Hartnett), “The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty” by A. N. Roquelaure and “Fantasy Lover” (Dark-Hunter, Book-1) by Sherrilyn Kenyon. There are large numbers of modern works which can be labeled with this genre.
But a great question crops up: Are such impulses true love, as they often are taken to be act of love making? Maxim Gorky just put the question differently from his point of view, “Love- that means: concur, condescend, disregard, forgive. That’s all very well, when you love a woman. But the people- can we disregard the people’s ignorance, concur with their delusions, condescend to their every baseness, forgive their brutality? Can we do that?” (My Apprenticeship. My Universities. Moscow; Progress Publishers. p.432) It is a different aspect of love; here the distinction is between the weakness of a lover of woman and the duty of a lover of people. But it is not the basic question. In many discourses it has been held that true love is separate from physical or vital love. Pure love is for the sake of love only when one gives whatever he has to the lover without any expectation of return, it is free from carnal desire. While it is usual for lovers to express their feelings and emotions physically, it is neither essential nor it is the only channel to express deep love. Their may be love without sex. And what is of most importance is that such physical and vital expressions are often not connected to true love situations between man and woman. Often it is mechanical, a channel to release one’s pent up force. Often we see in modern novels the enactment of such scenes not deeply connected to love between established lovers. This topic for discussion is very vast with examples galore across the countries and their literature. I have chosen some books to throw some light on the subject while referring to some such sex scenes.
In Amitav Ghose’s “The Glass Palace” and other novels we find occasional depiction of such scenes, sometimes abrupt without any definite bias but in Jhumpa Lahiri it is very much a part of the story as in “Going Ashore”, “She felt him pressing up against her, felt his breath and his lips on the back of her neck, and she turned to face him, gave him her mouth. He could be aloof in bed as he could be in general, focusing on some part of her body to the point of seeming to forget her. But that distance no longer threatened her. It was only in bed that he uttered her name, the hot word filling her ear.” (Unaccustomed Earth. New York; Alfred A Knopf. p.317) Here the love is fugitive as the lovers are. Their love actions at this point do not have a sure basis. Some writers feel it imperative to insert some sex activities in their fictions but they do not always become natural. Such love scenes are of real value when they come as a sequence of activities, as a matter of course, as an essential part of the story. Some writers feel elated at the thought that they have introduced sex scenes in their fictional work. It may surely come as a matter of course but it differs with the writers. Khuswant Singh has the pride of moving round that theme.
I refer to a novel by John Updike, a writer who usually loves to have such scenes in his novels and short stories. His novel “S” is based on the existence of the former Ashram of Acharya Rajneesh in USA. Here in the fictional world the name of the Guru is Arhat. Around him there are some remarkable ladies. As Rajneesh was yogi with different mix of ideology from different yoga systems like Buddhism and Tantrik rites, he and his ashram performed some sexual activities as reported in newspapers, towards reaching some of their goals or may be just a way of life as there was no restrictions. The book is a mix of such ideologies and practices based on different spiritual or religious systems. Here the introduction of such a scene is quite suited to the theme of the novel but such activities are not based on any real love between the actors. Apart from the religious side, it remains a scene of enjoyment between over mature man and woman. While the man shows himself as Purusha, acting stage by stage, totally eight stages and beyond, according to shastra, the woman is worshiped as shakti. In the cover of religion the writer takes the liberty to describe the sexual act elaborately. While the man, Guru Arhat enjoys the status holding himself in perfect poise in vajrolimudra and further higher techniques of ujjana sadhana, samarasa and sahaja the shakti relishees as sambhogakaya.They act as vajra and padma or Shiva and Shakti. (“S” pp.159-162)
As contrast I wish to site a great book, “Quiet Flows the Don” by Mikhail Solokhov. Here the love between Grigory and Aksinya is so genuine that the sex scenes are less vigorous but so natural that their impact in our heart remains as indelible mark of love, for ever. Aksinya was married to Stepan who treated her cruelly and Grigory was married to beautiful Natalya against his wishes by his father. He straight away declared that he did not love her. Aksinya declared before her unwilling father-in-law that “Grishka’s mine! Mine! Mine! I own him and I’ll go on owning him!” (Sholokov. V.1. p.56) She chased him away who came to warn her that her husband would come soon and take action against her and that he would get his son married to his chosen bride.
The novel is about a tumultuous activity of continuous warfare between the communist forces and the imperial power, between the different fractions of the revolutionary groups. It was a deadly fight with incidence of killing at any moment even out of slightest suspicion. From the jaws of death when Grigory came back home after very long absence, “Aksinya stepped across the threshold, uttered a barely audible ‘Good evening to you!’ and untied her kerchief, breast heaving, radiant eyes fixed on Grigory. She walked to the table and sat down beside Dunyashka. Snowflakes were melting on her brows and lashes, and on her pale face. Closing her eyes, she wiped her face with her hand, took a deep breath and then, recovering herself, again fastened her fervent gaze on Grigory . . . .
Aksanya did not stay long . . . . only a few times, and swiftly, did she glance at her beloved. Grigory caught only that one direct glance from the threshold, full of love and devotion, but it told him everything that mattered . . . . He accompanied her to the gate and asked, “Well, how are things Aksanya?”
“Oh, there is too much to tell . . . . Will you come tomorrow?”
“Yes.” (Sholokov. V.2. pp.723-724)
But Grigory was under close scrutiny and was almost sure to be imprisoned and then treated by other communist enemies as usual. He would flee the scene to fight further on the way. In between the hide and seek he again visited her. “She scarcely touched her food; leaning forward a little, she watched Grigory chewing hungrily, and with her misty gaze caressed his face, the brown neck enclosed by the high stiff collar or the tunic, the broad shoulders, and the hands resting heavily on the table . . . . She drank in his smell, the mingled smell of astringent male sweat and tobacco, a smell that she knew so well and that was his and only his. Even blindfolded, she could have picked out Grigory from a thousand other men by that smell alone. . . . That evening she could not be attentive hostess because she had no eyes for anything but Grigory.” (V.2. pp.745-746)
They slept a hungry sleep that night but when next morning he left, “Aksinya heard the sound of his feet crunching through the snow and every step stabbed pain into her heart. The footsteps died away and the fence creaked. Then all was quiet again, but for the wind murmuring in the forest across the Don. Aksinya strained her ear for some other sound besides that of the wind, but there was nothing. Feeling cold, she went into the kitchen and put out the lamp. (p.751)
Life was full of strain, death at every step. Grigory came again and slightly tapped on the window. “He climbed on to the coping. Her bare arms twined round his neck. Those dear arms, they trembled and throbbed so violently on his shoulders that he began to tremble with them . . . .
She wiped her face and pressed Grigory’s cheeks between her wet hands. Smiling at him through her tears, unable to take her eyes off her beloved, she said quietly, ‘I won’t cry any more’ . . . .” (p.826)
They could finally come out of the village and ran armed, on horse back. But that was the ‘Last ride together’. A floating bullet killed her at dawn. “He buried his Aksinya by the bright light of morning . . . . He had bid her farewell, firmly believing that they would not be parted for long . . .” (p.835)
1 John Updike. S. Penguin Books; U.K. 1988.
2 Mikhail Solokov. Quiet Flows the Don. USSR; Raduga Publishers. 1984. Volumes- 1and 2.