— So This Happened

Two Jane Austen characters kissed, and it took us 200 years to find out

If there’s one thing that’s bound to get Jane Austen lovers hot under the collar, it’s the subject of kissing. Writers of Hollywood screenplays and steamy online fan-fiction have been trying to get Austen’s characters to lock lips for years, which causes complete outrage amongst the Austen purists who think this sort of thing is awfully undignified. It’s such a big deal that when the BBC released a film adaptation of Austen’s Persuasion and had a promotional poster of two characters locking lips, there was widespread outcry from Austen-ites. The only thing we can all agree on is that there’s absolutely no kissing in any of Jane Austen’s actual books. Right?

Wrong. An Austen expert from University College London, Professor John Mullan, has just come forward to stir up all our wildest dreams, and point out the illicit mouth-to-mouth action that may have been going on right underneath our noses. Professor Mullan has read Emma no less than 15 times (a man after my own heart), and on his most recent reading had the most exciting ‘Eureka’ moment since… well, that guy who had the first ‘Eureka’ moment. (I can’t remember exactly what he’d figured out, but it definitely wasn’t a revelation of this epic proportion.)

The scene that caught his attention involves the charming but thoughtless Frank Churchill, and the penniless Jane Fairfax, to whom he is secretly engaged. Like, super secretly. Not even the reader knows at this point. So when Emma walks into a room to find the two of them alone with Jane’s sleeping aunt, Frank hell-bent on fixing a pair of glasses while Jane stares at the piano, we don’t think that much of it.

But hang on, why is Jane “standing with her back to them, intent on her pianoforte”? Unless pianos have changed pretty significantly since Regency England, standing near one is not the best way to practice your technique. And why is Frank so “deedily occupied” with some old lady’s spectacles? Professor Mullan has the theory I have been waiting my whole life to hear: They’ve actually just broken off from a kiss.

“Mrs Bates is asleep and Jane has found herself, in effect, on her own with the man with whom she is passionately in love and secretly engaged,” he told the audience at the Hay Festival, according to The Telegraph. “Churchill finds himself alone with the woman he loves. Would he really say, ‘Sorry, can’t talk, I’m mending some glasses? I think they have been at it, in a Regency sort of way.”

“I put it to you they’ve been snogging,” Professor Mullan added. Cue fangirl freak-out.

This is better than Colin Firth’s wet shirt moment in the ’90s BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. This is better than the book Fifty Shades of Mr Darcy (my copy of which is looking rather well-thumbed). Even the purists will no longer have to resort to watching modern adaptations of her books so as not to feel guilty for watching their favorite characters hook up. Here we have a full-on, corset-bursting, sexual tension-ridden, hot and racy almost-make-out sesh right in the middle of an Austen original.

Excuse me, I’m off to re-read Emma about a thousand times.

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