Study Guide

Atonement Allusions

By Ian McEwan

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Literary, Artistic, and Philosophical References

  • W.H. Auden, The Dance of Death (1.8.44)
  • W.H. Auden, "In Memory of W.B. Yeats" (2.102) (2.244, quotation from the last stanza)
  • W.H. Auden, Poems (1.8.7)
  • Jane Austen (1.8.44) (1.12.11)
  • Jane Austen, Emma (2.80)
  • Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey—See the "What's Up With The Epigraph?" section. Also, check out the name of the hotel that operates in the old Tallis home at the end of the book. It's called "Tilney's Hotel" (4.29).
  • Henri Bergson (3.225)
  • Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Triton Fountain from the Piazza Barberini in Rome—The Tallises' fountain is a copy of Bernini's fountain. You can see a picture of the original in the "Images" section.
  • The Bible (1.9.69)—specifically the loaves and fishes miracle when Jesus transformed a small amount of food into an enormous feast. (Now you get the reference that Leon didn't!)
  • Book of Common Prayer (1.1.14, 3.262)—The title for a number of related prayer books used in the Anglican Church.
  • Elizabeth Bowen (3.225)
  • Lord Byron (2.101)
  • Marc Chagall (1.4.2)
  • Geoffrey Chaucer (3.21)
  • Cyril Connolly (2.100, 3.297)—The rejection letter Briony receives is supposed to be from Connolly, whose initials—C.C.—are at the end.
  • Joseph Conrad (1.8.44, 1.12.11)
  • Noël Coward, Private Lives (1.9.67)
  • George Crabbe, The Village (1.8.44) (3.343)
  • Criterion magazine (1.8.7)
  • Charles Dickens (1.12.11)
  • T.S. Eliot (1.8.7, 1.8.44)
  • Fauvists (1.8.1)
  • Henry Fielding (1.2.25-1.2.28)
  • Sigmund Freud (1.8.5, 1.8.42, 1.8.50)
  • Sigmund Freud, Three Essays on Sexuality (1.8.11)
  • William Gainsborough (1.11.2)
  • W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan (1.9.67)
  • Griselda, or Patient Griselda (2.80)—A folktale.
  • Horizon magazine (2.100, 3.22, 3.24)—An influential literary magazine edited by Cyril Connolly.
  • A.E. Housman, A Shropshire Lad (1.8.7, 1.8.44, 1.11.67, 2.102, 3.343)
  • A.E. Housman, "XVIII: Oh, When I Was In Love With You" (2.321)
  • Gray's Anatomy (1.8.7, 1.8.15, 1.8.50, 3.343)—This is a reference to the human anatomy textbook written by Henry Gray, not the television drama (sorry guys).
  • Johann Gregorius Höroldt (1.2.12)
  • John Keats (1.8.11)
  • D.H. Lawrence, mentioned (1.8.44)
  • D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterly's Lover (1.11.50)—Lady Chatterly's Lover was banned for its sexual content, which is why Robbie had to get his version "under the table."
  • F.R. Leavis (1.8.42)
  • Rosamund Lehmann, Dusty Answer (3.225)
  • John Milton (3.12)
  • John Milton, Paradise Lost (1.9.69)
  • Wolfgang Mozart (3.23)
  • Giuseppe Orioli (1.11.50)—The Florentine bookseller who published the uncensored first edition of D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover.
  • Wilfred Owen (1.8.44)
  • Francesco Petrarch (1.8.11)
  • Nikolaus Pevsner (1.2.18)
  • The Princess and the Frog fairy tale (1.3.23)
  • Prometheus (2.80)—A classical myth.
  • Samuel Richardson, Clarissa (1.2.7, 1.2.19-1.2.28, 1.2.43, 1.9.69)—Richardson's Clarissa, from 1748, is one of the longest novels in the English language, which is perhaps part of why it's taking Cecilia so long to read it. The title character, Clarissa, is raped (which suggests a parallel with Lola in Atonement), and is also betrayed by her family (which suggests a parallel with Cecilia herself).
  • Nicholas Revett (1.7.1)
  • Romaunt of the Rose, also called Romance of the Rose, or Roman de la Rose (1.8.11)
  • William Shakespeare, mentioned throughout
  • William Shakespeare, Hamlet (1.5.44-1.5.46)—Lola and Paul, neither of whom has read the play, quote its most famous line "To be or not to be, that is the question." Atonement is itself concerned with questions of reality and fiction, of course. For example, if Briony is telling this story (as we learn she is at the end of the novel) then it's hard to see how she can know that this scene occurred. Lola and Paul certainly wouldn't have told her, and we learn in part 4 that she never talks to Pierrot about his sister.
  • William Shakespeare, King Lear (4.4)
  • William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night (1.8.8, 1.11.37, 2.80)
  • Rabindrath Tagore (1.1.9)
  • Quintus Tertullian (1.1.9)
  • Venus and Adonis (2.80)—The reference seems to be to the classical myth, rather than to any specific work based on the myth.
  • Antonio Vivaldi, The Four Seasons (4.30)
  • Richard Wagner, Tristan und Isolde (2.80)
  • Virginia Woolf (3.222)
  • Virginia Woolf, The Waves (3.23)
  • William Butler Yeats (2.102)

Historical References

  • Abyssinia Question (1.1.12)—This refers to the Abyssinian Crisis of 1937, in which a conflict between Italy and Ethiopia ended peace in Europe. It was a significant event on the road to World War II.
  • King August (1.2.12)—Probably a reference to Frederick Augustus I, also known as Augustus II the Strong, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania in the late 1600 and early 1700s.
  • Bluestockings (1.6.2)—A term for intellectual women, referring specifically to a group of British female intellectuals in the 1700s.
  • Bray-Dunes, first mention (2.240)—A commune in the Northern part of France. Dunkirk is near Bray-Dunes. It was the site of the Dunkirk evacuation.
  • British Expeditionary Force (BEF)—Discussed throughout Part 2. The BEF was the British force in Europe from 1939-1940, before its defeat by the Nazis.
  • Winston Churchill (3.9) (3.232)
  • Crimean War (3.16)
  • Daily Sketch (1.8.19)—A British tabloid newspaper founded in 1909.
  • Dunkirk—Dunkirk is a French town across the English Channel from Britain. It is also famous as the site of the British evacuation from France in 1940 after defeat by the Nazis. The retreat and evacuation at Dunkirk are the background for all of Part 2.
  • Girton College, Cambridge, first mentioned (1.6.2)—Cecilia's school, and the first residential college for women in England. It was established in 1869.
  • Lord Gort (2.146)—The commander of the British Expeditionary Force.
  • Liddell Hart (3.37)—A military theorist. It's not clear which of his books is referred to here, though the most likely is probably The Defence of Britain, published in 1939.
  • Adolf Hitler (1.4.35)
  • HLI, or Highland Light Infantry (2.126)—A regiment of the British army, manned by Scots.
  • Luftwaffe (2.107)—The Nazi air force.
  • The Maginot Line (2.218, 3.29)—A line of fortifications established by the French to protect against German aggression before World War II. It proved ineffective.
  • The Munich Agreement (2.88)—A treaty in 1938 that permitted Germany to annex part of Czechoslovakia.
  • Florence Nightingale (3.5, 3.16)
  • Rearmament (1.1.12, 1.12.19)—The debate during the run-up to World War II about whether, and to what extent, Britain should arm itself to confront German aggression.
  • Rotterdam Bombing (3.29)
  • Statement Relating to Defense (1.12.19)—A government white paper published in 1935 that started the rearmament of Britain in the run-up to World War II.
  • Sunday Graphic (3.29)—A tabloid newspaper.
  • Verdun (1.2.10)—Verdun is a town in France; it is also the name of one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War. It lasted from February to December, 1916.
  • Wandsworth Prison (2.217)

Pop Culture References

  • Brylcreem (2.269)
  • Cruella De Vil (4.11)—The villain of Dodie Smith's 1956 novel, The Hundred and One Dalmatians. Briony is probably thinking, though, of the famous 1961 Disney animated film, 101 Dalmatians.
  • Shirley Temple (1.9.5)

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