A blissful honeymoon is ruined by a misunderstanding between nervous virgin newlyweds. Edward Mayhew and Florence Ponting are bashful newlyweds who have just arrived at an inn on Chesil Beach. Fresh from their wedding hours earlier, they are anxious to embark on their honeymoon and spend the rest of their lives together. However the two are both virgins and the social code of the early 1960s has not prepared them for the task of consummating their vows. In alternating points of view and through flashback the story of how they met and fell in love is revealed.
The two have very different upbringings. Edward is the poorer of the two and as he grows up he comes to understand the strange circumstances of his isolating childhood. His eccentric mother was the victim of a freak train accident. The brain injury she sustained explains her neglect of Edward and his younger twin sisters. This information, revealed by Edward's schoolteacher father, changes Edward's perspective. At his father's insistence Edward becomes determined to please Florence and make her his wife. He even goes so far as to abstain from all forms of intimacy until their wedding night.
Florence however only feels passionate about her music. She dreams of being a successful violinist and although she loves Edward, she is terrified to have sex with him. Florence tries to remember the things she has learned from her female friends and from a guide book on female anatomy but it does not relieve her repulsion. She grows more and more terrified and begins to have flashbacks that imply she was the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her own father.
Still Edward is insistent and determined and Florence is desperate to please him. When the two are finally in bed together Edward is over eager and Florence misinterprets this, accusing him of having a perverse character flaw. Desperate to hide her own insecurities, Florence runs out to the beach in the middle of the night. Blind with rage Edward follows her and the two argue on the beach. Florence suggests an open marriage arrangement in which Edward is allowed to sleep with other women but not her. Edward is disgusted by this proposition. Florence is ashamed and she leaves the beach and Edward.
The two never speak again. Edward moves on with his life enjoying the new sexual liberation of the '60s. Still he regrets his lost opportunity with Florence and though he cannot bring himself to contact her he reads in the newspaper that she has realized her dream of becoming a successful musician.
Best part of story, including ending:
The story is a humorous look into the anxieties and expectations of new romance.
Best scene in story:
Edward and Florence have a picnic in the woods and it is the first time they are completely comfortable with each other.
Opinion about the main character:
Edward is loving and desperately wants to please Florence any way he can.