>What is the most erotic episode in a modern novel?
I am looking for subtlety here, nothing overt.
My vote goes to an episode in Madame Bovary. It is the scene where village doctor Charles Bovary makes a house call to old Rouault, who has broken his leg. Once there he meets the daughter Emma:
As was the custom in the country, [Emma] offered [the doctor] something to drink. He refused, but she insisted, and finally asked him, with a laugh, to join her in a glass of liqueur. So she fetched a bottle of curaçao from the cupboard, reached down two tiny glasses, filled one to the brim, poured just a drop into the other and then, after clinking glasses with him, raised it to her mouth. As it was almost empty, she leaned right back to drink and, with her head tilted, her lips pushed forward and her neck taut, she laughed at finding nothing, while the tip of her tongue, poking between her beautiful teeth, delicately licked at the bottom of the glass.
She sat down and resumed her work, a white cotton stocking she was darning; she sat with her head bent over it, not speaking. Charles did not speak either. A draught of air from under the door stirred a little dust on the flagstones; he watched it slowly move, hearing only the pounding inside his head and the distant cry of a laying hen in the yard. From time to time Emma would freshen her cheeks with her palms, which she then cooled on the knobs of the huge iron firedogs.
The electricity generated by Flaubert in this passage is palpable. It is familiar to any of us (men) that have been victim, willing or otherwise, to a woman who is aware and able to use her sexuality. Charles did not have a chance.
I made the grave error of falling for Emma Bovary in my late teens. It set a high hurdle for the women I met in later years. Perhaps I met only one, the dazzling Irish Brenda, who was able to almost live up to the playfulness and coquettishness of Emma Bovary.