Child neglect is portrayed as an important theme in novels, such as On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan and Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. McEwan and Brontë place different emphases on this topic, yet it still leads us to question the importance of child neglect and how it impinges on personality traits and relationships.

The importance of child neglect is emphasised to varying extents in these novels. Whilst in Wuthering Heights violence and child abuse is conveyed rather overtly, in On Chesil Beach it is more subtly hinted at throughout the novel. For example, in Wuthering Heights, the maltreatment of Heathcliff is very clearly shown through Hindley’s abusive behaviour towards him. Therefore, this also raises questions about the treatment of orphans, in regard to whether they are ostracised by society. The effects of this are patently demonstrated through the development of Heathcliff’s character as he becomes stiffened and bitter by how he has been treated in his past. Furthermore, the fact that he eventually becomes a tyrant himself suggests that Brontë’s intentions are to show the profound effect childhood can have on a person, and that it ultimately results in a vicious cycle of malevolence.

However, in On Chesil Beach, the theme of child neglect is far more understated. This is because it is merely alluded to in various scenes. For instance, the female protagonist’s [Florence Ponting] abusive father is briefly hinted at in a memory she recalls during the novel’s pivotal scene. As well as this, the male protagonist’s [Edward Mayhew] familial suffering is shown through his personal struggles with his Mother’s brain damage, and the loss he feels as a consequence. Therefore, these traumatic childhood experiences could be interpreted as causes of the characters’ struggles with intimacy. Despite this, Ian McEwan and Saoirse Ronan, who plays the role of Florence Ponting in the film-adaptation of the novel, has expressed her stance towards the way that child abuse is depicted in the film. Saoirse Ronan stated, “I decided it was really important to not make it an abuse story.” [Source:] Moreover, Ian McEwan said, “I wanted it to be there, but not to dominate.” [Source:] Therefore, this calls into question the significance of child abuse in the novel and whether or not this was the main cause of the characters’ troubles. Could this also indicate the stigma around this topic?

Alternatively, the aversion to sexuality that is very prominent in On Chesil Beach, has also been interpreted as “Englishness” [Source:]. Therefore, is child abuse and neglect presented as the sole reason for the characters’ struggles? Both the authors suggest that it is an important factor in the characters’ personal development, yet other influences such as culture and class are also emphasised in the novels.