In Search of the "Telling Detail": Ian McEwan, Briony Tallis, and the Demands of Authorship


  • Matthew Duffus Gardner-Webb University



Much scholarly interest surrounding Ian McEwan's Atonement has focused on the abrupt shift that occurs in the novel's final section, "London, 1999." This essay argues that this section makes it clear that the main story of the novel is not Briony, Robbie, and Cecilia's entanglement due to Lola's teenaged rape but Briony's development as a writer, her kunstlerroman. As such, it is crucial to the novel, not simply a metafictional ploy, because it illuminates the lengths she has gone to in writing her final book and fulfilling her youthful promise. McEwan's response to a real-life plagiarism accusation reinforces his depiction of Briony as an author who searches for "the telling detail," as opposed to one who sticks to verifiable, historical accuracy.

Author Biography

Matthew Duffus, Gardner-Webb University

Matthew Duffus is Instructor of English at Gardner-Webb University, in Boiling Springs, North Carolina.


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How to Cite

Duffus, M. (2017). In Search of the "Telling Detail": Ian McEwan, Briony Tallis, and the Demands of Authorship. Pivot: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies and Thought, 6(1).