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Response Paper 2: On Chesil Beach

In the book On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan, we follow the story of two virgins, Edward and Florence, who have just been wed. The couple was married in a small and intimate way, and they have decided to spend their honeymoon on Chesil Beach in a small little hotel, hence the book’s namesake. Though the couple loves each other, they have both come from very different backgrounds. Edward comes from a poor family, with a mother who has suffered brain damage, and a father who makes his living as a teacher. Edward’s passion in life is history. Florence on the other hand comes from money, with a businessman father, and a mother who is an Oxford grad. Florence’s dream in life is to pursue her musical career and become a first chair violinist in the orchestra.
The central conflict in the book stem’s from Florence’s fear of consummating her marriage with Edward. Florence has no desire to have sex with anyone, and she especially is not interested in having sex with Edward. Edward on the other hand has been looking forward to having sex, especially with Florence. When the moment comes, for the two of them to have sex, Edward gets too excited and finishes before he has begun to touch Florence. Florence having not wanted to have sex anyway, feels gross and ashamed about the entire situation, and runs out of the hotel. Edward chases after her angrily. Once the two have reunited outside, they finally express their true feelings surrounding the topic of sex. Florence reveals that she is absolutely terrified of it, and Edward reveals that he wants it more than anything. Because Florence loves Edward and knows that sex is something he seems to need, she offers to open up their relationship so that he can sleep with other women. Though in this arrangement Edward would be able to get have all of his needs met, he believes that Florence’s refusal to have sex with him is in violation of their wedding vows. Eventually the conflict continues to escalate, and they decide that what is best, is for them to separate.
For me, this book highlights why communication, in both relationships and sex, is so important. Though Florence and Edward loved each other and felt they knew enough about one another to enter into a lifelong commitment, they never communicated their needs to one another. Given the time that the book takes place, it can be assumed that sex was not something that parents talked in detail to their children about, and was still expected to be something that exclusively happened between a husband and a wife. If Florence and Edward had had proper sex education, they would have known that communication was key, and that they should’ve had a conversation surrounding their sexual needs and expectations prior to committing to one another, or at bare minimum, had a conversation before they attempted to have sex with one another on their honeymoon.
Additionally, this book also reminded me how important it is to be taught that your partner does not have to fill every role in your life. Your partner for example can fill the role as both your best friend and your sexual partner, but they don’t necessarily have to. Asking someone to be the main source of your happiness in all areas of life is often too big for one single person, and instead, it can be healthier for multiple people to fill these various roles. For example, Florence kind of had the right idea when she offered for Edward to fill his sexual needs with other women, since she did not feel comfortable being the person to fill this particular role in his life.

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