10 of the Greatest Kisses in Literature

By
Share:

It’s the season of romance, and you know what that means — you’d better start gearing up to give that special someone a stars-and-fireworks-worthy kiss come February 14th. So like any other book nerds, we can’t help but think about our favorite literary romances — and in particular, our favorite literary makeout sessions — to give us a little divine inspiration. After all, there’s nothing more romantic than that most elemental of expressions of affection, and who could paint it better than the likes of Shakespeare, Nabokov and Byron? So if you’re looking for a few ideas (or just some steamy bathtub reading) this Valentine’s day, click through to read through ten of the greatest kisses in literature — and since there are of course many more than we listed here, be sure to let us know which characters’ lip-locks make your own hearts flutter in the comments.

Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

For the sheer audacity of Butler, and for how much we wish he’d sweep us off our feet as well.

“Scarlett O’Hara, you’re a fool!”

Before she could withdraw her mind from its far places, his arms were around her, as sure and hard as on the dark road to Tara, so long ago. She felt again the rush of helplessness, the sinking yielding, the surging tide of warmth that left her limp. And the quiet face of Ashley Wilkes was blurred and drowned to nothingness. He bent back her head across his arm and kissed her, softly at first, and then with a swift gradation of intensity that made her cling to him as the only solid thing in a dizzy swaying world. His insistent mouth was parting her shaking lips, sending wild tremors along her nerves, evoking from her sensations she had never known she was capable of feeling. And before a swimming giddiness spun her round and round, she knew that she was kissing him back.

“Stop–please, I’m faint!” she whispered, trying to turn her head weakly from him. He pressed her head back hard against his shoulder and she had a dizzy glimpse of his face. His eyes were wide and blazing queerly and the tremor in his arms frightened her.

“I want to make you faint. I will make you faint. You’ve had this coming to you for years. None of the fools you’ve known have kissed you like this–have they? Your precious Charles or Frank or your stupid Ashley–”

“Please–”

“I said your stupid Ashley. Gentlemen all–what do they know about women? What did they know about you? I know you.”

Romeo and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Because like any good literary nerds, we like talking about our kisses almost as much as we like having them.

ROMEO If I profane with my unworthiest hand This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this: My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

JULIET Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much, Which mannerly devotion shows in this; For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch, And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.

ROMEO Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?

JULIET Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.

ROMEO O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do; They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

JULIET Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.

ROMEO Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take. Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin is purged.

JULIET Then have my lips the sin that they have took.

ROMEO Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged! Give me my sin again.

JULIET You kiss by the book.

Wendy and Peter in Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Because not all the great kisses are really kisses. Sometimes they’re thimbles.

“I think it’s perfectly sweet of you,” she declared, “and I’ll get up again,” and she sat with him on the side of the bed. She also said she would give him a kiss if he liked, but Peter did not know what she meant, and he held out his hand expectantly.

“Surely you know what a kiss is?” she asked, aghast.

“I shall know when you give it to me,” he replied stiffly, and not to hurt his feeling she gave him a thimble.

“Now,” said he, “shall I give you a kiss?” and she replied with a slight primness, “If you please.” She made herself rather cheap by inclining her face toward him, but he merely dropped an acorn button into her hand, so she slowly returned her face to where it had been before, and said nicely that she would wear his kiss on the chain around her neck. It was lucky that she did put it on that chain, for it was afterwards to save her life.

The moving-picture director and his Star in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Because not all the beautiful kisses are happening center stage — and because this is one of the truest descriptions of a kiss we’ve ever read.

It was like that. Almost the last thing I remember was standing with Daisy and watching the moving-picture director and his Star. They were still under the white-plum tree and their faces were touching except for a pale, thin ray of moonlight between. It occurred to me that he had been very slowly bending toward her all evening to attain this proximity, and even while I watched I saw him stoop one ultimate degree and kiss at her cheek.

Wesley and Buttercup in The Princess Bride by William Goldman

For those who like their great kisses cut with a little humor.

“There have been five great kisses since 1642 B.C. when Saul and Delilah Korn’s inadvertent discovery swept across Western civilization. (Before then couples hooked thumbs.) And the precise rating of kisses is a terribly difficult thing, often leading to great controversy, because although everyone agrees with the formula of affection times purity times intensity times duration, no one has ever been completely satisfied with how much weight each element should receive. But on any system, there are five that everyone agrees deserve full marks. Well, this one left them all behind.”

Faramir and Eowyn in The Return of the King by J.R.R Tolkien

Because sometimes all you you need is a kiss on the brow and a chance to let your hair do all the talking.

“Then you think that the Darkness is coming?” said Eowyn. “Darkness Unescapable?” And suddenly she drew close to him.

“No,” said Faramir, looking at her face. “It was but a picture in the mind. I do not know what is happening. The reason of my waking mind tells me that great evil has befallen and we stand at the end of days. But my heart says nay; and all my limbs are light, and a hope and joy are come to me that no reason can deny. Eowyn, Eowyn, White Lady of Rohan, in this hour I do not believe that any darkness will endure!” And he stooped and kissed her brow.

And so they stood on the walls of the City of Gondor, and a great wind rose and blew, and their hair, raven and golden, streamed out mingling in the air.

Daphnis and Chloe in Daphnis and Chloe by Longus

The original so-good-it-kills-me kiss.

Ye gods, what are my feelings. Her lips are softer than the rose’s leaf, her mouth is sweet as honey, and her kiss inflicts on me more pain than a bee’s sting. I have often kissed my kids, I have often kissed my lambs, but never have I known aught like this. My pulse is beating fast, my heart throbs, it is as if I were about to suffocate, yet, nevertheless, I want to have another kiss. Strange, never-suspected pain! Has Chloe, I wonder, drunk some poisonous draught ere she kissed me? How comes it that she herself has not died of it?

Callie and Clementine in Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides

Because those innocent childish play kisses can be life changers.

The rims of Clementine’s eyes were inflamed. She yawned. She rubbed her nose with the heel of her hand. And then she asked, “Do you want to practice kissing?”

I didn’t know what to answer. I already knew how to kiss, didn’t I? Was there something more to learn? But while these questions were going through my head, Clementine was going ahead with the lesson. She came around to face me. With a grave expression she put her arms around my neck.

The necessary special effects are not in my possession, but what I’d like for you to imagine is Clementine’s white face coming close to mine, her sleepy eyes closing, her medicine-sweet lips puckering up, and all the other sounds of the world going silent — the rustling of our dresses, her mother counting leg lifts downstairs, the airplane outside making an exclamation mark in the sky — all silent, as Clementine’s highly educated, eight-year-old lips met mine.

And then, somewhere below this, my heart reacting.

Not a thump exactly. Not even a leap. But a kind of swish, like a frog kicking off from a muddy bank. My heart, that amphibian, moving that moment between two elements: one, excitement; the other, fear. I tried to pay attention. I tried to hold up my end of things. But Clementine was way ahead of me. She swiveled her head back and forth the way actresses did in the movies. I started doing the same, but out of the corner of her mouth she scolded, “You’re the man.” So I stopped. I stood stiffly with arms at my sides. Finally Clementine broke off the kiss. She looked at me blankly a moment, and then responded, “Not bad for your first time.”

Lolita and Humbert Humbert in Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

For its sheer creepiness and genius lyric discomfort — and the way we squirm in our seats whenever we read it.

Hardly had the car come to a standstill than Lolita positively flowed into my arms. Not daring, not daring let myself go — not even daring let myself realize that this (sweet wetness and trembling fire) was the beginning of the ineffable life which, ably assisted by fate, I had finally willed into being — not daring really kiss her, I touched her hot, opening lips with the utmost piety, tiny sips, nothing salacious; but she, with an impatient wriggle, pressed her mouth to mine so hard that I felt her big front teeth and shared in the peppermint taste of her saliva. I knew, of course, it was but an innocent game on her part, a bit of backfisch foolery in imitation of some simulacrum of fake romance, and since (as the psychotherapist, as well as the rapist, will tell you) the limits and rules of such girlish games are fluid, or at least too childishly subtle for the senior partner to grasp — I was dreadfully afraid I might go too far and cause her to start back in revulsion and terror.

Haidée and Juan in Don Juan by Lord Byron

A kiss you really can compare to a summer’s day.

They look’d up to the sky, whose floating glow Spread like a rosy ocean, vast and bright; They gazed upon the glittering sea below, Whence the broad moon rose circling into sight; They heard the wave’s splash, and the wind so low, And saw each other’s dark eyes darting light Into each other — and, beholding this, Their lips drew near, and clung into a kiss;

A long, long kiss, a kiss of youth, and love, And beauty, all concentrating like rays Into one focus, kindled from above; Such kisses as belong to early days, Where heart, and soul, and sense, in concert move, And the blood’s lava, and the pulse a blaze, Each kiss a heart-quake, — for a kiss’s strength, I think, it much be reckon’d by its length.

By length I mean duration; theirs endured Heaven knows how long — no doubt they never reckon’d’ And if they had, they could not have secured The sum of their sensations to a second: They had not spoken; but they felt allured, As if their souls and lips each other beckon’d, Which, being join’d, like swarming bees they clung — Their hearts the flowers from whence the honey sprung.