Monday, 16 November 2009

Lovemaking, Actually


When I was seven, a helpful children's librarian gave me a copy of Jane Austen's Emma to read. I think I must have looked older than I was, or perhaps the librarian believed in exposing children to the classics as early as possible. I must have disappointed her when I returned it half-read, explaining that it was very boring and that "nothing happened except for people getting married".

I did, however, read far enough to reach the scene (a few pages into Chapter 15) when Emma finds herself in a carriage with Mr Elton "actually making violent love to her", a folly she attributes in part to "drunkenness". This being my first brush with nineteenth-century literature, I only knew that "making love" was something to do with where babies came from; the idea of it being "violent" or taking place in a carriage with somebody else's lover was quite alarming, and I was shocked at how lightly Emma seemed to take it, rebuking him in a "polite" and "playful" way.

This is an example of a powerful new association making earlier usage bewildering or unintentionally amusing. The use of lovemaking in the sexual sense first appeared in the early twentieth century, but it has now so completely overshadowed the earlier meaning of "wooing" or "courtship" that using it in the original sense is almost impossible.



Elizabeth and Mr Darcy: Making love, Austen-style

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