Most mainstream Victorian authors like Elizabeth Gaskell generally aren’t known for the sensuality of their writing, but the Brontës weren’t the only ones who could write about passion. Here are some evocative quotations from Gaskell’s Mary Barton, a novel about the working class in 1830s Manchester:
. . . triumphant fire . . . sent forth its infernal tongues from every window hole, licking the black walls with amorous fierceness . . .
Jem felt a strange leap of joy in his heart, and knew the power she had of comforting him. He did not speak, as though fearing to destroy by sound or motion the happiness of that moment, when her soft hand’s touch thrilled through his frame, and her silvery voice was whispering tenderness in his ear. Yes! it might be very wrong; he could almost hate himself for it; with death and woe so surrounding him, it yet was happiness, was bliss, to be so spoken to by Mary.
Meanwhile, her words — or, even more, her tones — would maintain their hold on Jem Wilson’s memory. A thrill would yet come over him when he remembered how her hand had rested on his arm. The thought of her mingled with all his grief, and it was profound, for the loss of his brothers.
What were these hollow vanities to her, now she had discovered the passionate secret of her soul?
This quotation from a tale told by old Job Legh is about passion of a sort, and it’s a marvelous image that captures the imagination:
So says she, quite quick, and stealing a look at her husband’s back, as looked all ear, if ever a back did . . .