Atonement

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Emily Tallis Character Analysis

Briony and Cecilia’s mother, and the wife of Jack Tallis. She is a relatively hands-free parent, in part because she suffers from debilitating migraines. She is something of a snob, and less enthusiastic than her husband about the Tallis family’s efforts to fund Robbie’s education. She also resents her sister—Lola’s mother—who she sees as always stealing attention.

Emily Tallis Quotes in Atonement

The Atonement quotes below are all either spoken by Emily Tallis or refer to Emily Tallis. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Anchor Books edition of Atonement published in 2003.
Part 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

Poor darling Briony, the softest little thing, doing her all to entertain her hard-bitten wiry cousins with the play she had written from her heart. To love her was to be soothed. But how to protect her against failure, against that Lola, the incarnation of Emily’s youngest sister who had been just as precocious and scheming at that age, and who had recently plotted her way out of a marriage, into what she wanted everyone to call a nervous breakdown.

Related Characters: Briony Tallis, Lola Quincy , Emily Tallis
Related Symbols: The Trials of Arabella
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

The book shifts in perspective once again to the viewpoint of Briony and Cecilia's mother, Emily, who suffers from severe migraines and retreats periodically to her room to rest and to think. In this passage, the narration takes on the stream of Emily's consciousness as she considers Briony and what she sees as the potentially damaging power that Lola holds over her (just as, presumably, Lola's mother held power over Emily herself when they were children).

Although Emily is one of the few adults whose perspective is described, at least at this point in the novel, her limited view on what is really going on between Briony, Lola, and the others only further underlines how little any one person can claim to be all-knowing. Emily does think of Briony as naive, but not in the harmful way that we have seen - rather, for her Briony's innocence is something to be cherished and protected against the evil that only exists beyond her.

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Part 1, Chapter 12 Quotes

She liked [Robbie] well enough, and was pleased for Grace Turner that he had turned out to be bright. But really, he was a hobby of Jack’s, living proof of some leveling principle he had pursued through the years. When he spoke about Robbie, which wasn’t often, it was with a touch of self-righteous vindication.

Related Characters: Robbie Turner, Emily Tallis, Jack Tallis
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:

Emily is in her room musing on various things as usual, rather than going out and helping to look for the twins. Her thoughts turn here to Robbie, whom Emily considers in a distanced, even cold way, even though he is such a part of the fabric of the family household. Emily contrasts her own views to that of her husband's, but neither position ends up seeming very generous. Of course, Jack's "principle" of equality is seen through Emily's eyes, so he may be more earnest than she gives him credit for, but if Robbie is no more than a "hobby" for him, that suggests that Jack still thinks of him as lesser than other people of his own class, able to be molded and tinkered with like an object. 

Emily, in turn, is frank about failing to care for or about Robbie - for her, class relations should remain as they are. But she also thinks about Robbie instrumentally, using him largely as a means by which to critique her husband and find more things to complain about him. 

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Emily Tallis Character Timeline in Atonement

The timeline below shows where the character Emily Tallis appears in Atonement. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1
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...begins to harangue them about rehearsing her play, but her older sister, Cecilia, and mother, Emily, try to make the other children feel at home. (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 6
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After eating lunch and ensuring that the children will behave, Emily Tallis retreats to her bedroom. She is tormented by a weight that sits on her... (full context)
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Emily dozes off, and when she wakes she continues to think about Briony’s self-consciousness and talent.... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 8
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...may be a good idea to send Briony ahead with his letter to Cecilia, lest Emily see him passing Cecilia a note and disapprove, or Cecilia reject his contact entirely. He... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 9
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...the cantankerous cook, Betty, snapping at other servants. After a terse discussion, Betty, Cecilia, and Emily decide on what menu best suits the summer heat. Cecilia goes for a stroll outside... (full context)
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As Leon and Cecilia walk back towards the house, they hear Emily reprimanding Briony and telling her to get ready for dinner. When Briony walks past Cecilia,... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 11
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Briony tells Robbie to leave Pierrot alone. Mrs. Tallis asks her daughter to apologize, as Robbie’s remark was perfectly harmless. Briony apologizes reluctantly. The... (full context)
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...this view is mistaken, and points out the scratches that Lola suffered at their hands. Emily seems shocked by her niece’s wounds. Paul volunteers that he saw the twins attacking Lola... (full context)
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As the family tends to Lola’s wounds, Briony finds an envelope left on Jackson’s seat. Emily demands that she not open the letter. Once her daughter has handed it over, Emily... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 12
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Emily prepares to telephone PC Vockins, the village constable. She thinks more about Lola’s injuries and... (full context)
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Emily stays seated inside and muses that her refusal to “join in” the searching seems like... (full context)
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Nevertheless, Emily thinks, Briony was out of line in her treatment of Robbie at the dinner. Paul... (full context)
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...but tries to calm himself. He tells his mother that she should sit down, and Emily is terrified that Leon’s news is so bad that he wants her to be seated... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 14
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...to a policeman, who reads it impassively. Another policeman reads it, as does Leon, and Emily demands to read it. Finally, Cecilia sees what they are doing and indignantly tells them... (full context)
Part 2
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...Cecilia’s estrangement from her family: since Robbie’s sentencing in 1935, she has not spoken to Emily, Jack, Leon, or Briony. She corresponds with Robbie through Grace, who has moved off the... (full context)
Part 3
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...is repulsed by this behavior and writes curt letters home. The letters she receives from Emily in return describe the evacuees the Tallises have taken into their home. Emily also relays... (full context)