...Except sex

How to read like a professor Thomas C. Foster

Chapter 17 By Jake Hogan

BIg ideas of the chapter

The main idea in this chapter points out how many authors actually skip the sex scenes in a book. They may lead the reader right up to the point where the act will take place and then hint that it happened or just skip the details altogether. This chapter also talks about how sex does not always just stand for sex. Sex can represent power, dominance, depression, sacrifice or rebellion.

Hinting that the act is happening.

  • Instead of writing the sex scene out, most authors just hint that the scene is happening.
  • Daniel Carson Goodman wrote the banned book Hagar Revelly. It was banned due to the hints of a sexual relationship and for its obscene language and descriptions.

"For only a moment did Greenfield watch the drooping lashes, the quivering lips, the tremulous pulsation of her bosom. Then he lifted her into his arms, and despite a moment of slight resistance---carried her into the next room." (Goodman)

Skipping the act

  • Some authors choose to skip writing the sex scenes all together.
  • They write about the location, the mood, or the feelings of anticipation that the characters have leading up to the act and immediately after. They may do this because they feel uncomfortable with the idea of writing it or the idea of the audience reading it.
  • During the Victorian age, a few authors thought is was "right" to have the sex scenes. This thought became very popular during the Victorian age.
  • D.H. Lawrence is famous for bringing the reader up to the act and then picking up after the sex scene. This is still a popular concept in today's world.

Standing for something else

  • Sometimes sex does not stand for sex at all.
  • Sex can represent an underlying tone of the book. Some examples of this are power, dominance, or evil spirits.
  • These hidden meaning are sometimes hard to identify but carry strong feelings for the characters.

In the book Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, the sex scenes are famously bad. Not as in bad sex, but sex representing evil.

“All at once we were madly, clumsily, shamelessly, agonizingly in love with each other; hopelessly, I should add, because that frenzy of mutual possession might have been assuaged only by our actually imbibing and assimilating every particle of each other's soul and flesh; but there we were, unable even to mate as slum children would have so easily found an opportunity to do so.” (Chapter 4 Nabokov).

Liberation or failure of liberation

Another important part of this chapter talks about how sex can stand for liberation or failure of liberation. This consists of religion, politics, or artistic subversion. Edna O'brien is a Irish novelist who writes many banned books about sex in a political and religious way.

In the Handmaid's tale, Margaret Atwood talks about the biblical ways. They outlaw divorce and second marriages. They perform rituals involving bizarre sexual relations that they believe are supported by the Bible.

Learning activity

  • Read the excerpt from the hand out. Think about what is it saying.
  • Pair up and compare ideas
  • Share with the class the deeper meaning of the excerpt


Foster, Thomas C. How to Read Literature like a Professor. New York: Quill, 2003. Print.

Goodman, Daniel Carson. Hagar Revelly,. New York: M. Kennerley, 1913. Print

Meyer, Stephenie. "Isle Esme." Breaking Dawn. New York: Little, Brown, 2008. 84-85. Print.

Nabokov, Vladimir Vladimirovich. Lolita. New York: Knopf, 1992. Print.

Sova, Dawn B. Literature Suppressed on Sexual Grounds. New York, NY: Facts on File, 1998. Print.