Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Non-sense of an Ending

Lovely blog squib up at The New Yorker by the indispensable Joan Acocella, this on "the great novels," as in "they end badly."  I think she is right on although I will contribute a suggestion as to the reason. Specifically, the problem is that novels must end, while life does not.  You come to the point where you almost appreciate someone like Stendhal in the Charterhouse of Parma who seems to say "enough, already, I'm bored with this people, let's pack them off to their several fates and be done with it"--no tricks, no insult to the intelligence of the reader, just "show's over folks, time to go home."

But she did startle me with one respect. She says that one who shares her view is/was E. M. Forster; she quotes his Aspects of the Novel (blankety blank Control-C is not working today). Per Acocella, Forster says that "every novel's ending is a letdown."

Did Forster say that?  Oh dear. Then I read it, in about 1957, when I devoured all of the (extant) Forster at a gulp, including the Aspects.  And here all these years I thought the insight was original with me. Ah well, they say that debtors have shorter memories than creditors...

E. M. Forster, in “Aspects of the Novel,” said that nearly every novel’s ending is a letdown. “This is because the plot requires to be wound up. Why is this necessary? Why is there not a convention which allows a novelist to stop as soon as he feels muddled or bored? Alas, he has to round things off, and usually the characters go dead while he is at work.”

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Jimbo said...

It is those novels that are esconced in their time and place like say John Updike's novels (Rabbit Run etc.) that do have the inevitable letdown. And many others like those. But the great majority of great novel writers are writing out of time and place novels,i.e. that they are transporting the reader to a different time and place that may be magical or foreign.

So the novel is alive and well and, in fact, novel. that's the point.

Jimbo said...

By the way, your captcha would put Dali to shame. Really weird.