Bad Timing: The Problematics of Intimacy in On Chesil Beach

by Claire Kahane

September 20, 2011


McEwan’s fiction has recurrently been concerned with the question of time and human actions appropriate to it, often representing temporal transgressions as perverse regressions and childish misrecognitions. On Chesil Beach takes that concern with appropriate timing literally, concretizing it in the novel’s very structure as well as plot. The novel’s “climax” -- the protagonist’s ejaculatio praecox on his wedding night—disrupts the conventional expectations of the wedding night--a corporeal enactment of intimacy gone wrong through bad timing-- and too abruptly turns the characters’ lives in separate directions.  But unlike conventional narrative, this precocious climax occurs midway in the novel, leaving a psychic remainder that unwinds in an extended denouement, but one that traces only the male character’s post-wedding night fate, and sustains the ironic detachment of the narrative voice.


            Hans Loewald once noted that in psychoanalysis, temporality involves a reciprocal relationship between past, present and future.[i] This reciprocity, which undermines the more conventional linear notion of time as a continuum moving in succession from past through present to future, is as characteristic of modern fiction as it is of psychoanalysis.  It certainly characterizes time in the fiction of Ian McEwan, which often foregrounds the protagonist’s relation to temporality as a major theme.  More particularly, McEwan exploits psychoanalytic understandings of the effects of trauma on time by representing the ways in which temporal relations are disrupted and perverted by traumatic contingencies.  Consider, for example, The Child in Time, Enduring Love, and Saturday: each is structured by the complex temporality of what Freud called Nachträglichkeit, [initially translated as “deferred action,” but more recently by the Laplanche-inspired neologism, the nominative “afterward”] in which a traumatic event in present time compels a character’s obsessional return to a past enigmatic moment that itself becomes traumatic through this linkage, forming a kind of perverse temporal knot of reciprocal relations that shapes the character’s future.  In this sense, timing is all.

            On Chesil Beach takes the question of time and timing very literally, concretizing that concern in the novel’s very structure as well as central action.  Indeed, what is arguably the novel’s “climax” -- the male protagonist’s ejaculatio praecox on his wedding night—can be read as an example of bad timing in its most corporeal form.  It disrupts not only the conventional expectations of the wedding night-- the physical consummation of intimacy-- and in an abrupt reversal, causes the characters to separate (a good illustration of the Lacanian mantra, “there is no sexual relation”), but also the erotic structure that drives traditional narrative. Classically, a narrative builds tension through linear time in a rising action that peaks in a climax, followed by a brief denouement that points to a resolution.  But the “precocious” climax in On Chesil Beach occurs midway in the novel, leaving a psychic remainder that unwinds in an extended denouement.  Indeed, the narrative structure seems itself to mime the corporeal trajectory of premature ejaculation and detumescence, thus suggesting to this psychoanalytically attuned reader an underlying fantasy of phallic impotence--a helplessness before the contingencies of experience--that has been a recurrent theme in McEwan’s fiction. 

              In the longer novels, this pattern of early climax and extended denouement often results in an attenuation—a flagging of narrative energy in the middle of the novel although it is usually recuperated in the end.  But On Chesil Beach is a novella; its very form demands condensation; and as a result, it does not suffer from its premature climax.  Quite the contrary; what follows, the denouement, shares the field of narrative energy, reiterating in different ways the critical importance of timing and the power of contingency in human relations.  Ultimately, the repetition of the character’s ejaculatio praecox in the narrative structure itself gives the novella a special kind of internal coherence, a condensation of form and content. 

            Another reason for its success is McEwan’s handling of character: instead of remaining in the consciousness of one character through free indirect discourse, as he does in the earlier novels, in this novella, McEwan splits the narrative consciousness into three subjectivities: that of the story’s two protagonists-- Edward, a budding historical scholar and his new bride, Florence, a talented violinist, but also of a third: the experienced and overarching narrative voice that tells their sad story, and clearly enjoys the telling of it.   

            Indeed, the voice of the narrator plays a separate and important part in the pleasures of the text and its temporalities.   As narrator, McEwan plays with time as its master, speeding it up or slowing it down for its effect on the reader. Thus for example, he slows down durational time in the novel’s first section, scene of the wedding supper, drawing out the characters’ awkward anticipation of what is to come as a resistance to forward motion—the future looms and yet the characters don’t want to leave present time.  Indeed, maintaining a fine tonal balance between the comic and the sad, McEwan virtually conducts, in point and counterpoint, a duet of the other two voices, revealing, from a position of ironic mastery with which the reader is led to identify, a network of misrecognitions on the part of both Florence and Edward that can’t be adjudicated or undone.  Ultimately, as he shows, both repression, the inability to know what one knows, and suppression, the inability to show what one knows, lead to missed connections and lost opportunities that each will mourn in their respective futures. 

            The novel opens first with the retrospective framing of the characters by a somewhat patronizing narrator who invites the reader to share his broader perspective on a past time which the characters inhabit, shifting from—“this their wedding night”—(their present time) to the continuous present time that narrator and reader share:

They were young, educated, and both virgins on this their wedding night, and they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible.  But it is never easy. (3)


Having introduced his theme, [the inhibitions on frank conversation about sexual anxieties], he quickly takes us to the new marital couple, who are sitting by a window having a private wedding night supper in a honeymoon suite overlooking Chesil Beach,   an ancient primal shelf of land that itself literally materializes in its physical structure the accretions of time.[ii]  As Jonathan Lethem has noted (2007),

The geographical distinction that marks Chesil Beach in England is the grading of the shingle — the pebbles, that is — that forms its 18 miles: the pebbles are arranged, by wind and rain, in a spectrum of sizes and textures, so that the beach forms a spatial map of time. Each stone confesses a part of its relation to the whole.

Characteristically concretizing abstractions through vivid physical detail, McEwan describes the view from their window in an exaggerated rhetoric that parodically externalizes their apprehensions:

They could see the beginnings of a footpath, dropping by muddy steps, a way lined by weeds of extravagant size—giant rhubarb and cabbages they looked like, with swollen stalks more than six feet tall, bending under the weight of dark, thick-veined leaves.  (6)

Here McEwan makes even the vegetables—those giant rhubarb with the swollen stalks and thick-veined leaves-- foreshadow Edward’s specific worry about “arriving too soon”—the contemporary euphemism for premature ejaculation-- and Florence’s phobic response to a demanding giant phallus (8). 

            Indeed, though he contextualizes the characters’ responses by pointing to the repressive historical era in which they live, the text focuses on their subjective feelings about sex through heightened physical images that affectively convey to the reader the quality of sensual repulsion or anxiety. Thus, for example, the narrator, who remarks that this was “not a good moment in the history of English cuisine,” makes the wedding meal itself with its “long ago roasted beef in a thickened gravy, soft boiled vegetables, and potatoes of a bluish hue” (5) a material signifier of distaste, inducing an oral repugnance in the reader that foreshadows Florence’s later repugnance in the bedroom when Edward sticks his tongue in her mouth:

When they kissed she immediately felt his tongue, tensed and strong, pushing past her teeth, like some bully shouldering his way into a room. … Her own tongue folded and recoiled in automatic distaste, making even more space for Edward. (35)

            But if the narrator and reader inhabit a more privileged present time of sexual liberation, nevertheless, McEwan effectively manipulates a rhetoric of disgust and shame that unsettles the reader and confirms his own opening assertion, “it is never easy.”  Even the contemporary reader, McEwan’s text insists, will find uncomfortable recognitions in the misrecognitions of the characters.  Thus as the novel proceeds, McEwan’s narrator alternating between the subjectivities of Florence and Edward, gives us voyeuristic access   to the private thoughts of each on “this their wedding night.”  And the ironies abound.

Indeed, when they finally move to the bedroom, the comic irony of their misrecognitions expands almost painfully. To take an example, Florence, suddenly realizing that in marrying Edward she has given him free entrance into her body, moans aloud with regret; Edward hearing her moan, “knew that his happiness was almost complete” (37). When Florence, desperately wishing to be elsewhere but not wanting to offend Edward, puts on a false smile, certain it is unconvincing, Edward sees her eyes as “bright with undeniable passion” and thinks he “had never seen her lovelier” (34).

            Interwoven into this “hideous mute duet” (36), which goes on at some length, are the narrator’s periodic forays into the past to suggest a backstory to the present quandary--their family histories, their class expectations, and most particularly, their different attitudes toward sexuality--a sexuality which for these two virgins evokes apprehensions that neither can acknowledge to the other but which McEwan’s rhetoric insistently and comically foregrounds.  For Florence, a musician attuned to the sensual nuances of sound, language itself, even at its most neutral, can evoke “a visceral dread, a helpless disgust” when referring to sexuality.  Reading a marriage handbook in order to educate herself, Florence “came across certain phrases or words that almost made her gag: mucous membrane, and the sinister and glistening glans …. Almost as frequent was a word that suggested to her nothing but pain, flesh parted before a knife: penetration (8-9).  Spinning out for several pages Florence’s horrified response to such signifiers of the sexual body, McEwan indulges in a comic-sadistic narrative play with loaded words of his own:

the thought of Edward’s testicles pendulous below his engorged penis—another horrifying term—had the potency to make her upper lip curl, and the idea of herself being touched down there by someone else, even someone she loved, was as repulsive as, say a surgical procedure on her eye” (10, italics mine).

It is hard not to hear an allusion to the surrealist Bunuel/Dali film Un Chien Andalu in the last simile, a film which itself had played with the Freudian motif of castration, nor to wonder, given the phrase, “by someone else,” whether McEwan hints here that Florence touches herself.  Indeed, given the place of the violin in psychoanalytic literature—recall Hanna Segal’s classic essay on symbolic equations—perhaps McEwan even means to suggest that Florence’s violin-playing is a sublimation, a (masturbatory) pleasure that defends her from physical intimacy with “someone else.”[iii]

            But the general point is made: Florence is a hysteric, and although the narrator comments that psychoanalysis has not yet become popular “as an exercise in narrative history” (26), McEwan himself, writing from a future time during which psychoanalysis has indeed become popular for its oedipal narrative, exploits Freud’s seduction theory, that hysteria derives from a traumatic seduction by a paternal figure—as his own “exercise in narrative history.” Thus the text provocatively hints that Florence and her father were somehow involved in a sexual transgression on one of the many trips they took together, “just the two of them” (67), and in particular one trip across the channel when she was twelve.[iv]   In a scene interweaving past and present apprehensions, as Florence listens to the sound of Edward undressing in present time,

Here came the past…. It was the smell of the sea that summoned it.  She was twelve years old, lying still like this waiting, shivering in the narrow bunk with polished mahogany sides.  Her mind was a blank, she felt she was in disgrace.… It was late in the evening and her father was moving about the dim cramped cabin, undressing, like Edward now.  She remembered the rustle of clothes, the clink of a belt unfastened or of keys or loose change.  Her only task was to keep her eyes closed and think of a tune she liked.  Or any tune.  She remembered the sweet scent of almost rotten food in the closed air of a boat after a rough trip.  She was usually sick many times on the crossing, and of no use to her father as a sailor, and that surely was the source of her shame.[v] (123)

In this context, the placement of the word “surely” paradoxically evokes doubt, which the text furthers in a number of places. We are told she avoids her father’s touch…”and even Edward has noticed that she and her father “rarely looked at one another… though they exchanged glances when other people were talking, as though sharing a secret criticism” (140).          

            But if Florence doesn’t know “the source of her shame,” disgust itself as a somatic signifier suggests an event absent from memory yet present in mind that must be expelled.  When Edward empties himself on her at the climactic moment, it is as if the past comes flooding back again into the bedroom, insinuating its presence in the present. 

There was another element, far worse in its way and quite beyond her control, summoning memories she had long ago decided were not really hers.  She had taken pride …in mastering her feelings…. But now she was incapable of repressing her primal disgust, her visceral horror at being doused in fluid, in slime from another body…. The feel of it crawling across her skin in thick rivulets, its alien milkiness, its intimate starchy odor, which dragged with it the stench of a shameful secret locked in musty confinement—she could not help herself, she had to be rid of it. (131)

            Of course, Edward knows nothing of Florence’s abhorrence of physical intimacy, but he has his own problems with the conventions of the wedding night.  His one past attempt at sexual intercourse had been foiled by his “arriving too soon” (38), a symptom that within at least one psychoanalytic narrative has been linked to a sadistic orientation whose aim is to soil the woman (the mother) who has disappointed by utilizing bad timing.[vi]  And in McEwan’s novella, both Florence and Edward have mothers--one brain-damaged, the other coldly intellectual--who disappoint.  Thus although the narrator assures us that Edward’s sexual difficulties are not as serious as Florence’s, McEwan gives him also a psychogenic history that belies such assurance, describing as traumatic his discovery, at the age of fourteen, that his noticeably eccentric mother is actually brain-damaged. Within the classic Freudian narrative that the novel seems to follow, this is an upward displacement of a male infantile trauma, the recognition of maternal castration, a recognition that must be acknowledged and assimilated in order to move forward, or perversely disavowed. 

            And indeed, Edward seems to assimilate it.  Shocked by the physical fact of his mother’s radical difference,

Edward, with the adaptability of his years, continued to make the quiet transition from shock to recognition.  Of course, he had always known.  He had been maintained in a state of innocence by the absence of a term for her condition…. Brain-damaged.  The term dissolved intimacy .…  She was brain damaged and he was not. He was not his mother, nor was he his family, and one day he would leave. (90) 

Alienated from his mother, or for that matter from his father, who by default silently has acted out a maternal nurturant role, Edward distances himself from both, and in search of some narcissistic support to sustain his own sense of potency, enters the university, intent on joining the educated class as a historian.[vii]  Not a good prognosis for future intimacy. Indeed, McEwan gives Edward a déclassé attraction to the primitive pleasure of physical aggression that seems beyond the range of neurotic rage at maternal lack, the thrill of which he shamefully recognizes in himself when he comes to the aid of a friend who has been slapped by a bully.

His anger had lifted itself and spiraled into a kind of ecstasy.  With his right hand he gripped the man’s shoulder and spun him around, and, with his left, took him by the throat and pushed him back against a wall.  The man’s head clunked satisfyingly against a cast-iron drainpipe. Still clenching his throat, Edward hit him in the face, just once, but very hard, with a closed fist. (116)

Spurned by his friend because of this vulgar response, Edward learns to suppress the raw impulse to fight.  Yet he is still plagued by a sense of inferiority and remains defensively on the lookout for humiliation, apprehensive about his sexual performance, and, perhaps more generally, about “arriving too soon.”

            Given the nature of their histories and their individual anxieties, both Florence and Edward are clearly set up for the failure of intimacy. As the narrative moves toward its explosive early climax, time slows down excruciatingly for both characters and readers.  And as if locked into their hotel suite with them, we as readers are made privy, millisecond by millisecond, to the minute and quasi-clinical unromantic details of their physical interactions, posed in comic counterpoint to their thoughts.  The sequence is both hilarious, and very sad.  It reaches a crescendo as Florence, wanting to give Edward pleasure, finally brings herself to touch his genitals, and McEwan describes the consequences of that innocent act with sadistically comic gusto:

How could she have known what a terrible mistake she was making?  Had she pulled on the wrong thing?  Had she gripped too tight? He gave out a wail, a complicated series of agonized, rising vowels, the sort of sound she had heard once in a comedy film when the waiter, weaving this way and that, appeared to be about to drop a towering pile of soup plates.

In horror she let go, as Edward, rising up with a bewildered look, his muscular back arching in spasms, emptied himself over her in gouts, in vigorous but diminishing quantities, filling her navel coating her belly thighs, and even a portion of her chin and kneecap in tepid, viscous fluid. (130)

            The aftereffect of this sudden physical release--the details of which seem aggressively meant to arouse the reader’s disgust as well as Florence’s--occurs in two parts: first, slowly, in their subsequent encounter on Chesil Beach, in which they engage in a verbal sparring that rises in an intensity to another mini-climax; in a kind of verbal equivalent of the earlier physical ejaculation, now it is the two of them expelling verbal missiles they cannot control in a helpless repetition of the bedroom scene.   And here again, timing is all. When Florence thinking of Edward’s bedroom ejaculation, blurts out, “It was absolutely revolting,” the narrator notes, “If only the silence that followed had been a few seconds longer, her guilt might have had time to rise up against her, and she might have added something less unkind.”  But as was his wont, “Edward came out swinging” accusing Florence of carrying on as if it were eighteen sixty-two”(175-76).  Thus while the narrator suggests that each might welcome another chance at coming together in a more temperate exchange, at this point in time, and in history, neither has the language for approaching intimacy.

            Yet it seems to me that McEwan faults Edward’s defensive rage more than Florence’s sexual apprehensions for their failure to connect.  Indeed, the narrator seems to approve of Florence’s newfound pleasure in experiencing her own aggressive “harsh and wonderful words” (180) as well as her avant-garde proposal that they have an open marriage without the obligation of marital sex, a proposal Edward with his more limited vision angrily dismisses as an insult, but which he will at a later period in life, during the sixties and its cultural elevation of sensual pleasure, regard as “liberated, and far ahead of its time” (196). Clearly, as McEwan himself had remarked about his earlier shift from perverse fictions to the more nuanced novels that followed, he took some lessons from feminist cultural analyses.  But just as clearly, he enjoys imagining the other, inhabiting difference for a time.

            But this is a story of bad timing, and so Florence and Edward separate on the beach, after which the narrator rapidly sketches Edward’s subsequent and seemingly random trajectory into the future—his overlapping sequence of lovers, his various occupations, and his eventual return to the family cottage to live out his later years, the quick sketch itself suggesting a life lacking substance. The novel ends with his vision of what he has missed, of an absence at the center that becomes embodied in a fantasy of the unborn children he might have had as he remembers his last view of Florence, receding to a blurred point in time on Chesil Beach.[viii]  Ironically, his own life mirrors the historical subject that he had planned to write about: the life of a minor historical figure who falls away from history, for lack of action, by doing nothing.  Detumescence realized in a life.

            There is, however, a provocative hint in the final page of McEwan’s text of yet another layer to the problematics of intimacy: McEwan’s pointed question regarding Edward’s fantasy of the children he might have had -- “what young girl in a headband might have become his loved familiar?”—echoes an earlier scene with a similar wish, when Edward, at a rehearsal of Florence’s quartet, watched her put on her headband and “fell into a reverie, not only about sex with Florence but marriage, and family, and the daughter they might have.  Surely it was a mark of his maturity to contemplate such things.  Perhaps it was just a respectable variation of an old dream of being loved by more than one girl” (153).

            Why does McEwan include, and double, a reference to Edward’s wish for a specifically girl child?  Is the apparently unrespectable “old dream of being loved by more than one girl” Edward’s? Or is this McEwan’s own flirtation with perverse desire? Does he suggest that the respectable desire for a daughter more generally hides a perverse desire to be loved by more than one girl?  Double your pleasure?  If so, as with the very nature of perverse sexuality, which instrumentalizes the other as object, it points again to an anxiety about intimacy which novel represents. Edward seemingly enacts that anxiety in the series of aborted relationships that constitute his life.  Florence, on the other hand, has displaced it in an intimate and long-lived love affair with her music.  But while Florence has successfully sublimated her anxieties in her relation to music, or perhaps because she has, she essentially drops out of the last part of the novel as a subject.  Like most modern writers, McEwan’s imagination is more stimulated by failure than success. It is Edward’s future trajectory, and his sad story, that we follow as it spirals downward and away from the high expectations generated by his first love.[ix]

            But there is a significant exception, however; in a passage describing the fulfillment of Florence’s early ambition to play at Wigmore Hall, McEwan pointedly remarks on her brief glance at a seat in the audience that Edward had once promised to fill. Her glance at the significant absence, at who is not there—is McEwan’s allusion to the lack in her life, to her sad story.  Ultimately, however, this glance at an absence hints at everyone’s sad story, and the underlying theme of the novel--the falling away from the romantic youthful dream of fullness into material history and its temporal constraints.    As the narrator remarked initially, “it is never easy.” 


            In listening with the third ear, as Freud called it, to the resonances of McEwan’s text, I must confess to an ongoing, and intimate, transference-relation to McEwan’s narrative voice.  I hear it always in play with prior texts of British modernism that I too have assimilated; secretly, I claim a kinship with him.  Some voices are easy to hear: for example, the final pages of On Chesil Beach resonate with Henry James’s “The Beast in the Jungle” and Virginia Woolf’s The Waves. (I also hear Jane Austen’s ironic voice in the opening sentence of the novella, a voice beyond the strictures of modernism).  In fact I would suggest that McEwan’s relation to these precursor texts is part of a transference poetics that Harold Bloom had named an anxiety of influence -- a conscious or unconscious rivalry and identification with the great modernists.  In this sense, McEwan is truly a post-modernist; he incorporates them into his fiction, and remakes them in his image.

            But in the midst of writing this paper, I thought I detected another writerly presence that hadn’t been evident to me before. For as I was writing, somewhat ironically, that On Chesil Beach was a sad story, my own words evoked an association to Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, which Ford had originally entitled The Saddest Story.  And suddenly I remembered that “Edward” and “Florence” were the names of its two romantic protagonists!  As I mused on this unexpected conjunction, I recalled that Ford had thought of the structure of The Good Soldier as a minuet, a polite and formal dance among four characters that masked their secret seductions and betrayals.  McEwan also uses a musical analogy when he writes of Florence and Edward being engaged in a “mute duet” (36). Aha, I thought. I was right! Isn’t this an example of McEwan’s habitual intertextual engagement, and doesn’t it again indicate a kind of transference relationship that he has with his precursors, one that I as his sympathetic and transferentially engaged reader am privileged to be able to hear?

            Wanting some kind of confirmation of this intuitive and totally subjective leap, I googled The Good Soldier, and came upon a short piece about the novel and its context by Julian Barnes, a friend of McEwan’s, that included this bit of information:

Recently, I was talking to Ian McEwan, who told me that a few years ago he'd been staying in a house with a well-stocked library. There he found a copy of The Good Soldier, which he read and admired greatly. A while later, he wrote On Chesil Beach, that brilliant novella in which passion, and Englishness, and misunderstanding, lead to emotional catastrophe. Only after publishing the book did he realise that he had unconsciously given his two main characters the names Edward (as in Ashburnham) and Florence (as in Dowell). He is quite happy for me to pass this on.

For obvious reasons, from within my own well-stocked library, I’m quite happy to pass this on as well.




[i] “Superego and Time” in Papers on Psychoanalysis: Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1980.


[ii] See Jonathen Lethem, NY Times, June 3, 2007; online:


[iii] Segal, H. (1957). “Notes on Symbol Formation.” Int. J. Psycho-Anal. 38:391-397.


[iv] As my colleague Marilyn Fabe remarks, “This has always seemed a real weakness in the novella, the suggestion that early incest caused Florence’s sexual disgust. It’s almost as if McEwan is making up for his disquiet around the subject of why a woman might feel disgust for maleness.  Could it be,” she asks, and I with her, “that McEwan projects his own disgust onto a woman, feels guilty about that, and therefore has to reify it by the backstory of what a male (her father) did to her? It’s her problem, not his.”  Yet McEwan also sympathetically portrays Florence’s desire not to be objectified as merely an entrance for the male sex organ, an avant-garde attitude that foreshadows feminist criticism of gender relations a decade later. 


[v] This act of displacement from sexual unpleasure and anxiety to pleasureable music brings to mind the Victorian advice to women on their wedding night: to lie still and think of England.  This displacement also becomes literalized in Florence’s subsequent career as a musician.


[vi] K. Abraham, Ejaculatio Praecox (1917). In: E. Jones, Editor, Selected Papers on Psychoanalysis, Hogarth, London (1949). Interestingly, McEwan’s backstory of Edward is consonant with a psychogenesis of premature ejaculation, as described by Abraham. Summarizing Abraham’s analysis, Daniel Jaffe notes that premature ejaculation is “a pre-genital conversion symptom, in relationship to orality (“spilling the milk before it reaches the lips”) which leads back to a hostile feminine identification, a sadistic orientation… incorporating the intention of soiling and injuring the female partner. He comments that ejaculatio praecox can result ‘from a dread of hurting women, which originates in repressed sadism, due to disappointment in love for the mother and consequent hostility to her.’” (“The Masculine Envy of Woman's Procreative Function” in J Am Psychoanal Assoc 1968 16: 521).   This certainly fits Edward’s relation to his mother and his traumatic discovery of her brain damage. 


[vii] Narcissism is an essential aspect of perversion, which is often a response to a narcissistic wound, based on a desire for union with the first object in which a lost narcissism was vested; Edward must repudiate the brain-damaged mother to sustain his own potency, but the wound remains. For a fuller discussion see Chassaguet-Smirgel in Creativity and Perversion  (London: Free Association Books. 1985).



[viii] The odd detail, slipped into the concluding page, of the unborn children, especially a daughter, that Edward might have had, coupled with the hint of a perverse desire to be intimate with two women, suggests McEwan’s continued attraction to perverse fantasy, about which I have written in the past.


[ix] This rapid spiral downward also recalls the rhythm of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s final pages in Tender is the Night.

To cite this article, use this bibliographical entry: Claire Kahane "Bad Timing: The Problematics of Intimacy in On Chesil Beach". PSYART: A Hyperlink Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts. Available April 12, 2024 [or whatever date you accessed the article].
Received: September 20, 2011, Published: September 20, 2011. Copyright © 2011 Claire Kahane