Finally, here’s a book that features a female character who isn’t madly desirous of having sex. Some might want to put her in the newly emerging category of “asexual.” However, it’s possible Florence is closer to just being an average woman, a woman who keeps the secret of her disinclination too long. Or more accurately, she is too frank in revealing her disinclination about sex at the wrong time. Most women who feel as Florence does probably never so pointedly and so articulately get around to revealing the truth of their feelings.
The tragedy of this story is that both Florence and Edward are ultimately honest about their urges or lack thereof, and the eternal mismatch between men and women becomes all too tangible a wall between them. Most couples go through life keeping such potentially deal-breaking differences a dark secret. Men don’t openly speak to the women in their lives about the often murky-violent nature of their imaginings and their urges. And women don’t admit to men (and often not even to themselves) how little they are interested in having sex. The revelation of this mismatch, this disparity, would mean never having a second date - much less a marriage.
This book is very well written. Both Florence and Edward are given their say without the author imposing his judgment upon them. It’s not so much a novel as a set of book-ended reflections, each human book-end necessarily having its back to the other, however much the two have to support between them.
It’s much better to read this book than to see the movie made from it. This philosophical theme didn’t really lend itself to being portrayed on the big screen. What’s more, the movie made a number of seriously eroding changes to each character’s viewpoint. For example, the movie left a more insinuating suggestion that Florence’s distaste for sex was the result of having been sexually abused. This implication was injected into Florence’s back-story in the movie even though other aspects of her biography would clearly refute the likelihood of any abuse. In both movie and book, she is shown pouring over marriage manuals, trying to learn about men’s anatomy and physiology and trying to get an inkling of what to expect on her wedding night and beyond. If she had been abused, she wouldn’t have been so totally clueless about the mechanics of sex. So that movie implication makes no sense. It just once again denies a woman her natural inclination and orientation.
So the book “On Chesil Beach, is the source to go to. I highly recommend it for the beauty and poignancy of its writing and for the truth it at last allows. I might almost suggest it as required reading for couples, if that word “required” didn’t make such a chore of it. But it might at last open the way to frank discussions that have so far been suppressed between men and women. It might promote a better understanding between potential partners - for better or for worse.