"When Desert Armies Stand Ready to Fight": Re-Reading McEwan's Saturday and Arnold's "Dover Beach"
- Partial Answers: Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 6, Number 1, January 2008
- pp. 181-206
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This paper examines the climactic scene in Ian McEwan's novel 2005 Saturday in which the protagonist's pregnant poet daughter fends off a home invasion by reciting Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach." My broader goal is to demonstrate that McEwan constructs not a nostalgic longing for a Victorian past, but rather a moment of neo-Victorianism: one that turns to Victorian reflections upon domestic and foreign politics, history, and the literary form in order to make meaning in a contemporary literary or cultural text. The essay explores the phenomenologies (and politics) of reading and re-reading, and works toward the idea that certain acts of postmodernist re-reading lead to a kind of reflection on literary influence that originates (at least for McEwan) with nineteenth-century literature. McEwan's scene of the reading and rereading of "Dover Beach" in Saturday presents the Arnold poem as an always already reread text — in the sense both that it is a text that rereads itself (containing within the space of the poem oppositional readings of the self and the community), and that it is a text that rereads other, prior texts.