Briony has trouble deciding how she should feel after reading Robbie’s letter to Cecilia. She is convinced that the contradictions she sees in the scenario have ushered her into adult emotion—a consciousness that would improve her writing. Robbie’s letter has introduced an element of threat, and Briony is confident that Cecilia will need her protection and help combatting Robbie’s dark, male impulses.
Yet again, Briony sees the interaction between Cecilia and Robbie in terms centered on herself—as an experience that both will make her mature, improve her writing, and demands that she become a hero. Briony crafts a narrative in which Robbie is a one-dimensional villain, simply because this narrative aligns with her limited, immature view of the world.
As she prepares for dinner, Briony tries to write about the interaction she witnessed between Cecilia and Robbie. Though her aim is to not be judgmental, Briony finds that “she could never forgive Robbie his disgusting mind.” She is torn about whether she should write an ordinary diary entry or a more creative piece.
Here, Briony treats Robbie like a character in one of her stories. In so doing, she makes a classic literary blunder: she does not allow characters the capacity for emotion that is different from her own. Robbie’s mind is “disgusting” because Briony’s perspective is too narrow for her to imagine that his letter could be anything but disgusting.
Lola comes by Briony’s room and sits on Briony’s bed. She is covered in scratches and chafing, and explains that her younger brothers have been torturing her all evening. Lola begins to cry, and Briony starts to feel more sympathy towards her. Lola’s moment of weakness makes Briony feel more powerful, and Briony comforts her older cousin happily, trying to take on an air of wisdom.
Briony uses this situation to treat Lola like the flimsy nettles that she thrashed a few chapters before. She gains satisfaction, and confidence in her own power, from seeing Lola’s weakness and vulnerability. Later, it will come to be unclear whether Lola is even being honest here—whether the scratching and chafing comes from her brothers or from Paul’s sexual aggression. It is ironic that Briony has set herself up to be a hero by protecting her sister, when Lola really does need protection and no one—not Briony, not Emily—even notices.
As Lola cleans up, Briony tells her of her interaction with Robbie, and the salacious contents of the letter that she has intercepted. Lola calls Robbie a “maniac,” and the two girls decide that Robbie has deceived them for years with a façade of friendliness. They decide that the police should be notified.
Lola’s input pushes Briony’s narrative to a new level, to one that could have serious real-world consequences. It is not clear how serious Briony really is about contact the police at this point. It is possible that Lola’s rather strong response to Robbie’s letter stems from having already been sexually molested by Paul Marshall.
As Lola continues to get ready, Briony descends to dinner and considers what strategy will be best to protect Cecilia from Robbie. As she moves through the house, she passes the library door and is surprised to find it closed. She hears a muffled noise coming from within. For a reason she doesn’t quite understand, she opens the door. In the dark, she sees Robbie and Cecilia hunched in the corner over a pile of books. She sees that Robbie is grasping Cecilia and interprets their positioning to mean that Robbie is restraining Cecilia against her will. Cecilia, startled, paces out past Briony, and Briony is surprised that her older sister shows no sign of “gratitude or relief.” Robbie adjusts his clothing sheepishly in the corner, and Briony runs off to find Cecilia.
Once again, Briony notices something out of line with her conception of the world and decides to intervene. Though this sexual encounter is certainly consensual, Briony’s preconceived notions about Robbie and total naivety about sex lead her to believe that this is yet another manifestation of his violent, disgusting nature. Even when Cecilia seems deeply disturbed by Briony’s intrusion, rather than relieved, Briony does not doubt her own convictions about Robbie’s villainy.