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The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction (with a New Epilogue) Paperback – April 6, 2000
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"An impressively learned, eloquent, and brilliant defense of a non-schismatic view of human time."--Leo Bersani, The New York Times
"A packed, original, highly stimulating book,"--David Lodge
About the Author
Frank Kermode was formerly King Edward VII Professor of English Literature, Cambridge University.
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Kermode's topic, that things of this life require a sense that a beginning and an ending exist, feels on first glance absolutely correct all the time. But his claim that we need definitive endpoints to feel a sense of purpose works for novels (the genre he discusses most frequently) does not necessarily show itself true in the short story genre. In short stories, the imitated reality is more like a snapshot of life than a part of life that starts and finishes. Many short stories, like Edgar Allen Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," Andrea Barrett's "Servants of the Map," and T. Coraghessan Boyle's "The Love of My Life," do follow the tick-tock chronos phenomenon most present in novels, but many short story authors like Raymond Carver in "Kindling" and "Cathedral" leave the reader with a sense that although there may be a beginning and end to the conflict in the story there is not an end to that character's life, even though the book itself has to come to a close. The character's life continues on after the reader leaves the story, and oftentimes the conflict also remains unresolved.
That said, Kermode's theoretical approach to endings in literature is foundational to the study of novels and writing in general. It is a work worth reading.
Reviewed by Jonathan Stephens
"If we forget that fictions are fictive we regress to myth (as when the Neo-Platonists forgot the fictiveness of Plato's fictions and Professor Frye forgets the fictiveness of all fictions."
"Having compared the novel-reader with an infant and a primitive, one can go further can compare him with a psychopath; and this I shall shortly be doing."
"Karl Popper, in a biting phrase, once called historicism the 'substitution of historical prophecy for conscience.' But of modern eschatology one can say that it has done exactly the opposite, and substituted conscience, or something subtler, for historical prophecy."
In short, a real classic of literary criticism, as provoking now as ever, and a lot of fun.
This slender volume is both challenging and illuminating. Kermode presupposes that the listener/reader is well versed in English and French literature, particularly that of the early twentieth century. His audience is definitely his erudite peers; he does not condescend to pull up others with less of a grasp of his subject. But even this poor student has found great inspiration in his words. His analysis of endings, in literature as well as life, has informed my own studies. Kermode's lectures are well worth reading and re-reading.