On Chesil Beach Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 46 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of On Chesil Beach.
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On Chesil Beach Summary & Study Guide Description

On Chesil Beach Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan.

The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Knof, Alfred A. and McEwan, Ian. On Chesil Beach. Canada – Random House, 2007.

The novel is an intimate, detailed recounting of how two people struggle to reconcile very different expectations of their wedding night. Chapters set in the present alternate with chapters set in the past, which describe how Florence and Edward (the newlywed couple) came to be who, and where, they are.

The novel begins in the early evening, as Florence and Edward are sitting down to their poorly cooked wedding night dinner. Although the air is chilly, they sit outside on the patio of the hotel where they are staying, enjoying the view of the beach and the sound of the waves. As narration describes how they nervously play with their food and make uncomfortable small talk, it also describes their respective attitudes towards sex in general, and towards their impending first time in particular. Florence, an extremely focused and disciplined classical musician, is extremely apprehensive, feeling very uncomfortable at the thought of being penetrated. Edward, on the other hand, is both excited and nervous, desperate to love his new wife in both physical and emotional ways he has been looking forward to for months. Eventually, an unexpectedly awkward conversation leads Florence to impulsively suggest they go to the bedroom. Edward eagerly agrees.

As they move to the bedroom, narration shifts into the past, describing the awkward, solitary childhoods that Edward and Florence have in common. Florence’s childhood is portrayed as being focused almost entirely on classical music, while Edward’s is portrayed as being built around the awkward relationship between his strict schoolmaster father and his inattentive mother, psychologically damaged as a result of an accident.

Back in the present, Florence’s reluctance to engage in sex begins to ease just a little as careful caresses from Edward begin to awaken, in her, the stirrings of physical desire. On Edward’s part, he struggles with both his physical desire and his sensitivity to Florence’s nervousness. Their mutual love for each other slowly builds, and Florence eventually finds herself able to start guiding Edward’s penis into her vagina. But this, the first time she actually touches him there, is too stimulating for him, and he ejaculates all over her. Instinctively repulsed, Florence cries out, wipes herself off, and rushes out of the room.

The next chapter describes the circumstances of their meeting, how their relationship developed, and how they each met the other’s family, with the result that both families seemed welcoming of their relationship. There are hints, in this chapter, of a sexually inappropriate relationship between Florence and her father, at the same time as there are hints that Florence and Edward are desperately, deeply, in love with each other.

In the final chapter, Edward pursues Florence out onto the beach, where they have a confrontation that causes both of them to say angry things that they almost immediately regret. Florence goes back to the hotel, and ultimately leaves both it and the marriage, which is soon annulled. Narration them sums up the next several decades of Edward’s life, in which he settles into a multi-faceted career, a few failed relationships, and a decades-long resentment of the professionally successful Florence, who is glancingly portrayed as being occasionally regretful about what happened. The novel ends with a return to an image of the two on the beach, Edward watching Florence walk away.  

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