1. What do the novel's opening lines tell us about Edward and
Florence? How did your perceptions of them change throughout the
subsequent pages? What details did you eventually know about them
that they never fully revealed to one another?
2. Is Edward's libido truly the primary reason he proposes
marriage, or were other factors involved (perhaps ones he did not
even admit to himself)? Are relationships harmed or helped by
cultural restrictions against sex before marriage? Would this
marriage have taken place if the couple had met when birth-control
pills were no longer just a rumor?
3. Edward replays the words "with my body I thee worship" in his
mind. What might have been the intention in including that line
when this version of the marriage ceremony was written? How does it
make Edward feel?
4. Ian McEwan describes the novel's time period as an era when
youth was not glorified but adulthood was. We are also told that
Edward was born in 1940, while his parents contemplated possible
outcomes of the war with Germany. At what point did Edward and
Florence's solemnity become viewed as old-fashioned? What
contributed to that shift? What are your recollections, or those
shared by relatives who lived it, of the emerging youth culture of
the late 1960s and '70s?
5. Were Florence and Edward incompatible in ways beyond sexual
ones? What do their difficulties in bed say about their
relationship altogether? Or is sex an isolated aspect of a
6. Chapter two describes how Florence and Edward met; the first
paragraph tells us that they were too sophisticated to believe in
destiny. How would you characterize the kind of love they
developed? What made them believe they were perfect for one
another? Are any two people perfect for one another?
7. What did Edward's decision to go to London for college
indicate about his goals? What was Florence's dream for her future?
Was marriage a greater social necessity for her, as a woman? Would
her career as a classical musician necessarily have been sacrificed
if she had remained with Edward?
8. Compare Edward's upbringing to Florence's. How did their
parents affect their attitudes toward life? How did the limitations
of Edward's mother shape his feelings about responsibility and
women? Was Florence drawn to her mother's competitiveness?
9. To what extent was the financial gulf between Edward and
Florence a source of trouble? How might the relationship have
unfolded, particularly during this time period, if Edward, not
Florence, had been the spouse with financial security?
10. Chapter four recounts the moment when Edward tells Florence
he loves her because she's "square," not in spite of it. Are their
opposing tastes the product of their temperaments or the episodes
in their young lives? What is your understanding of her revulsion
11. Discuss the novel's setting, which forms its title. What is
the effect of the creaky hotel McEwan creates, and the crashing
permanent waves on a beach where the temperatures are still chilly
in June? What does it say about the newlyweds that this is the
scene of their wedding night?
12. In the end, Edward explores various "what ifs." Would their
marriage have lasted if he had consented to her request for
platonic living arrangements? What are the best ways to predict
whether a couple can sustain a marriage?
13. How would Edward and Florence have fared in the twenty-first
century? Has the nature of love changed as western society has
14. The author tells us that the marriage ended because Edward
was callous, and that as Florence ran from him, she was at the same
time desperately in love with him. Why did Edward respond the way
he did? Why was it so difficult for them to be honest about their
feelings? How would you have reacted that night?
15. Discuss the structure of On Chesil Beach
. What is the effect of reading such a compressed
storyline, weaving one night with the years before and after it?
How did it shape your reading to see only Edward's point of view in
the end? What might Florence's perspective have looked like?
16. In what ways does On Chesil Beach
represent a departure for Ian McEwan? In what ways does it enhance
the themes in his previous fiction?