I was about eleven or twelve years old when I decided I was through with my children’s books and began to borrow the books from my parents’ shelves. Early on I was interested in one in particular, mainly because my mother told me I was way too young to read it. I read it anyway. I left the dust jacket on the shelf so it wouldn’t be missed while I read surreptitiously under my covers at night. The book was Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor (Macmillan, 1944). And it had such an influence on me that I bought a first edition copy for myself just a few years ago.
So I revisited this book to research for this piece. I wondered if what titillated a preteen girl in the 1950s would still hold up today, and if it followed my Red Room friend Jessica Barksdale Inclan’s suggestions about writing sex scenes:
- Stay in the plot
- Stay in the feelings
- Stay in the body, but don’t focus on the body itself
- Feel the body parts but don’t look at them,
- Use alternative body parts rather than genitalia
Forever Amber is the story of a poor young woman who rises to the highest position possible for a woman of her station. She was the favored mistress of King Charles II with all the amenities, including influence over affairs of state.
Here are a couple scenes from the beginning – Amber’s introduction to the people in the high places she would soon encounter.
“For a moment they stood looking at each other, and then Amber swayed involuntarily toward him, her eyes shut. His hands closed about her waist, drawing her to him, and she felt the powerful muscles in his legs. Her head fell back. Her mouth parted to receive his kiss. It was several moments before he released her, but when he did it seemed too soon – she felt almost cheated. Opening her eyes again she saw him looking at her with faint surprise, though whether at himself or her she did not know. The world seemed to have exploded. She was as stunned as though she been given a heavy blow, and all the strength had gone out of her.”
“At last his arm reached out, went around her waist, and drew her slowly toward him: Amber, tipping her head to meet his mouth, slid both her arms about him.
The restraint he had shown thus far now vanished swiftly, giving way to a passion that was savage, violent, ruthlessly selfish. Amber, inexperience but not innocent, returned his kisses eagerly. Spurred by the caressing of his mouth and hands, her desire mounted apace with his….
But when he forced her back onto the earth she gave a quick movement of protest and a little cry – this was as far as her knowledge went. Something mysterious, almost terrible, must lie beyond. Her hands pushed at his chest and she gave a frightened little sob, twisting her face away from his. Her fear now was irrational, intense, almost hysterical.
“No!” she cried. “Let me go!”
She saw his face above her, and his eyes had become pure glittering green. Amber, crying, half-mad with passion and terror, suddenly let herself relax.
With slow reluctance Amber became again conscious of the surrounding world, and of both of them as separate individuals. She drew a deep luxurious sign, her eyes still closed – she felt that she could not have moved so much as a finger.”
Forever Amber was the best-selling novel of the 1940s, even though it was banned in fourteen states as pornography. And just skimming through it now, makes me want to read it again.
Causes Madeline Sharples Supports
Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center, Culver City, CA
Vistamar School, El Segundo, CA
Crossroads School, Santa Monica, CA (Endowment in...