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The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction with a New Epilogue (Bryn Mawr) [Paperback]

Frank Kermode
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 April 2000 Bryn Mawr
Frank Kermode is one of our most distinguished and beloved critics of English literature. Here, he contributes a new epilogue to his collection of classic lectures on the relationship of fiction to age-old concepts of apocalyptic chaos and crisis. Prompted by the approach of the millennium, he revisits the book which brings his highly concentrated insights to bear on some of the most unyielding philosophical and aesthetic enigmas. Examining the works of writers from Plato to William Burroughs, Kermode shows how they have persistently imposed their "fictions" upon the face of eternity and how these have reflected the apocalyptic spirit. Kermode then discusses literature at a time when new fictive explanations, as used by Spenser and Shakespeare, were being devised to fit a world of uncertain beginning and end. He goes on to deal perceptively with modern literature - with "traditionalists" such as Yeats, Eliot, and Joyce, as well as contemporary "schismatics," the French "new novelists," and such seminal figures as Jean-Paul Sartre and Samuel Beckett. Whether weighing the difference between modern and earlier modes of apocalyptic thought, considering the degeneration of fiction into myth, or commenting on the vogue of the Absurd, Kermode is distinctly lucid, persuasive, witty, and prodigal of ideas.

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The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction with a New Epilogue (Bryn Mawr) + The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative (Charles Eliot Norton Lectures) (The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 220 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 2 edition (6 April 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195136128
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195136128
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 14.2 x 21.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 288,883 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

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Product Description


"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.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
It is not expected of critics as it is of poets that they should help us to make sense of our lives; they are bound only to attempt the lesser feat of making sense of the ways we try to make sense of our lives. Read the first page
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Necessary Reading 2 Nov 2008
I discovered Kermode thanks to this book more than 10 years ago, and after reading this essay I bought almost everything he wrote, and I can tell you I was never disappointed. Kermode is both deep and simple, sensible and surprising. He is one of those supremely gifted literary critics who teach you to read, at any age. He can show you both the simplicity of complexity and the complexity of simplicity. Everybody knows that stories have a beginning, and end, and something in between: Kermode makes you understand what it really means, and what are the consequences of this only apparently trivial fact. I do recommend this book especially to young students of literature, to those who wish to become critics: this is one of the models that one should imitate, a critic that teaches you criticism simply taking you with him in his interpretive journeys. With such a Vergil, you may feel you're Dante.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Shape of Art. 11 Aug 2014
I first bought this as an undergraduate and have dipped into it many times since, as it is a book of many allusions and the product of much thought by a clever and widely read man. I only settled to read it systematically at 30. It is undoubtedly brilliant; I would recommend it to all, with the proviso that only the brightest would find it immediately congenial since, as a Common Reader I find it knotty still; it is not easy. It is a learned, uncompromising account of the way that humanity is reconciled to Form through the nature of our condition. It says something for the calibre of its original audience at Bryn Mawr - the book's genesis was as a series of lectures - that they should be thought fit for such profound, often recondite thinking, taking in Aristotle, the Church Fathers and Eric Auerbach, Frye et al to note only a few. But lest I give the impression that Kermode is pretentious, he is the reverse. No, mine is assuredly NOT a criticism, I merely note that this searching examination of the fitting of form to matter in literature is not an easy read. He has read
much and thought much. If the term were not so out of fashion, I would call him the last belles-letterist, but he is not the last of anything. If art is to 'Make it New' then this criticism allows us to see afresh. This is an edifying book, as all of his are; no Kermode book is other than valuable and he is much missed.
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8 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Frank Kermode Rocks 8 Jan 2001
By A Customer
It is worth reading anything that Frank Kermode cares to write. His recent book on Shakespeare is one of the few truly indispensable works in that very over-crowded sector, and this book is every bit as lucid, intelligent, revelatory and impressive as "Shakespeare's Language" is. Frank Kermode ROCKS! A "must have".
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.6 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profound Reflections on Literary (and Historical) Endings 15 May 2007
By M. L. Asselin - Published on
I've just finished re-reading Frank Kermode's THE SENSE OF AN ENDING, a series of lectures he gave at Bryn Mawr College in 1965. (The version I have does not have the new epilogue.) The basic theme of his lectures is how and the extent to which fiction is ordered and oriented to beginnings and, in particular, endings. In the course of these lectures, Kermode examines concepts such as chronos, kairos, aevum, and apocalypse, and extends his discussions beyond the realm of literature to make observations on history and the way we experience time. In this area, he is particularly influenced by the work of the French art historian, Henri Focillon. Kermode was also influenced by the times in which he presented these lectures: the threat of a nuclear apocalypse had been louring on the horizon for several years, and the end of the twentieth century was rapidly approaching.

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.
21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Foundational 6 Sep 2006
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Apocalyptic literature is one area of novels that is permanent fixed with the ending of a time period, and by nature it has to be. When authors attempt through their literature to prophecy how the future will end up because of social beliefs or actions today or to predict the timing of future events based on oftentimes religious beliefs, they are wrong much of the time. Their reactions, as Kermode describes, are typical. They assume that their belief is still correct but that they were flawed in their analysis of the information, which propels them to reinterpret the facts and try again. It is self-perpetuating.

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
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, suggestive, and funny 4 April 2012
By William Cook Miller - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
Kermode's book is often blurbed as being about "endings" in fictions. It is that -- but more. This is a book with an almost unprecedented ratio of stunning insights to total pages. It teaches one not just how to attend to literature, not just how to attend to history, but how to attend to attention -- how, in short, to attend to one's own place in time. And it's really very funny to boot. Some sample zingers:

"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.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Book 5 Dec 2013
By Rowan - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Brilliant. No one is more a critics critic, in the best sense of the word. If you want to think deeply about literature, this is the book for you,
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a classic, and readable 12 Oct 2010
By peter12345 - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A classic that needs no recommendation from me. To "listen" to Kermode improves your mind, and not only about fiction.
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