The subtle, tense, and often evasive prose of Ian McEwan's novel Saturday reads as an extended contemporary analogy of the themes anchored in Matthew Arnold's celebrated poem, "Dover Beach" (2132). The connection becomes point-blank at the critical scene in Saturday when a young woman saves herself from sexual assault by reciting "Dover Beach," the only poem she has completely in mind. "Dover Beach" serves as a poetic deus ex machina and interposes, like the Greek god from a machine, to buffer her from assault with the power of poetry to transform the mind. In Saturday, Henry Perowne leads a comfortable life, though troubled by terrorism, alarums of protest, and his own ambivalence toward the war in Iraq. It saddens him, just as the eternal recurrence strife and loss of faith in Christianity saddens Matthew Arnold's speaker. Perowne is confounded and anxious about the events of 9/11 and the war in Iraq. Wealth and optimism can shield him from the storm clouds of his age, and even love, which Arnold prescribes, seems no more to Perowne than sexual relief (McEwan, passim). Arnold's poem relays the sad Sophoclean notes, reminding him he must make peace with the shifting shingles of the world and his human burden in it.
Arnold, Matthew. "Dover Beach." Norton Anthology of British
Literature. Eds. Abrams et al. New York: Norton, 1987.
Holland, Norman N. The Dynamics of Literary Response. New York: