Gresham College Lectures

Endings in the Novel, from Austen and Dickens to Edward St Aubyn and Rachel Cusk

April 20, 2023 Gresham College
Endings in the Novel, from Austen and Dickens to Edward St Aubyn and Rachel Cusk
Gresham College Lectures
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Gresham College Lectures
Endings in the Novel, from Austen and Dickens to Edward St Aubyn and Rachel Cusk
Apr 20, 2023
Gresham College

More than anything else, the end matters to the novel reader. Novelists, including Austen and Dickens, sometimes changed their minds about their endings, using these changes of mind to explore how an ending satisfies, or fails to satisfy, our expectations.

The lecture will explore the rise of the indeterminate ending, from Henry James on. And it will suggest how an ending can, for worse as well as for better, retrospectively change our experience of a novel.

A lecture by John Mullan recorded on 5 April 2023 at Barnard's Inn Hall, London.

The transcript and downloadable versions of the lecture are available from the Gresham College website:

Gresham College has offered free public lectures for over 400 years, thanks to the generosity of our supporters. There are currently over 2,500 lectures free to access. We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to learn from some of the greatest minds. To support Gresham's mission, please consider making a donation:


Support the Show.

Show Notes Transcript

More than anything else, the end matters to the novel reader. Novelists, including Austen and Dickens, sometimes changed their minds about their endings, using these changes of mind to explore how an ending satisfies, or fails to satisfy, our expectations.

The lecture will explore the rise of the indeterminate ending, from Henry James on. And it will suggest how an ending can, for worse as well as for better, retrospectively change our experience of a novel.

A lecture by John Mullan recorded on 5 April 2023 at Barnard's Inn Hall, London.

The transcript and downloadable versions of the lecture are available from the Gresham College website:

Gresham College has offered free public lectures for over 400 years, thanks to the generosity of our supporters. There are currently over 2,500 lectures free to access. We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to learn from some of the greatest minds. To support Gresham's mission, please consider making a donation:


Support the Show.

Speaker 1 (00:00:05):
Thank you very much for coming. This is the last of the lectures I've been giving over the last three years that makes it sound like quite, uh, quite a lot of lectures, in fact, only nine. Um, and because it's, it's the last one I thought, two things. I thought, I thought, first of all, I'll wear a suit and tie <laugh>, and secondly, I will end with endings. Um, and in fact my, uh, I was gonna go to the first slide, but this slide, which isn't, isn't of my own devising. Richard did it, has satisfied a curiosity in me. How will, how will Richard, who's our tech guy, illustrate something as abstract as endings in fiction? I think he's done it rather brilliantly. And actually I hope it will turn out, surprisingly, quite Aly, surprisingly to me, a kiss. Um, think how many endings of television or film narratives end with a kiss and how few novels do. 

Speaker 1 (00:01:15):
Well, we're gonna look maybe why that is, but also we will have one novel this evening, which looks as though it's ending with a kiss and justifying. Therefore, that picture, my previous lecture, um, in this series on historical fiction, ended with this, which is an ending. It's, uh, the end of Hillary Mantel's, the Mirror and the Light, which is itself, the end of her trilogy, Thomas Cromwell trilogy, sometimes called a wolf hall. Bring up the bodies and the mirror and the light. And I'm not gonna read it out, actually, it's the only one I'm not gonna read out cuz I read it so effectively last time and talk so ruly and feelingly about it, that I could never reproduce the inspiration of that moment. Um, but, but it's a good place to start something on endings for me, because of course, the force of mantel's ending is that we always knew where we were headed. 

Speaker 1 (00:02:24):
We always knew how this novel had to end. Everything in the novels is narrated from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell. He gets executed, the novel ends, and indeed talking about her composition of the, the final, uh, volume, Hillary Ma Hillary Mantel, often humorously referred to the fact that she, and we knew where we were going. The pressure upon her was to do justice, which think she did in her final couple of pages to the moment when the person through whose consciousness were experiencing events dies. And there's a special pressure on an ending to a sequence of novels, what the French call a Ramal flu sl the reader has come a long, long way. If they've read all the novels, Hillary Mantel, you'll have come through 1,932 pages to get to this. So she's got something to live up to <laugh>. And we know what that's like. 

Speaker 1 (00:03:35):
We know what it's like. I mean, I suppose though, the most famous, widely publicized, modern example was the publication in 2007 of, yes, I'm gonna mention it, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows. Um, the seven volume of that series and the speculation about how that book, which was advertised years and advances going to be the last one in the series, how it would end. I remember there was a, a guardian article in which children were asked to predict how it would end. And all those, with any nows went Baltimore will die. Yes. In that unsentimental way of the child reader. And of course they were right, they were right. He had to die. And of course, when he died, you saw in retrospect how he, he had to sort of kill himself, didn't he? Yes. Cuz it was a children's, uh, children's novel. He sort of, I won't go into the details, but it's sort of, he does it to himself, but he had to go for the novels to end. 

Speaker 1 (00:04:46):
And actually that, that business of reader speculating and wondering how a sequence of novels will end, is replicated a great deal through, uh, through popular culture, through television narrative. And you'll know that whenever there's a successful, uh, multi-part, uh, television narrative, the newspapers before the final series, if it's announced to be the final series, we'll run features on what's gonna happen. And various people will guess Happy Valley, how's it gonna end? Tommy Leroy has to die. He kills himself. Funny, that same trick. And at the moment, they're all running features on how succession is going to end. Surely Logan Roy can't live if the Siri, if the, if the narrative is going to come to an ending. And I thought I'd start by looking at a couple of endings in fiction, which feature novelists, uh, encountering the same sort of challenge. The challenge of a sequence of novels coming to an ending and, uh, leaving us at once satisfied, um, but also with the certainty that nothing else can follow. 

Speaker 1 (00:06:08):
This is the ending of Edwardson Orbin, semi autobiographical, maybe even three quarters autobiographical may even, maybe even nine tenths autobiographical sequence of novels, which are often called the Patrick Melrose novels began with Nevermind in 1992 and ended with at last, uh, in 2011. And I think it's the most brilliant. I mean, if, if there's a genre called auto fiction, um, um, which has emerged in the last 30 or 40 years in Europe, I think this is the most brilliant and certainly the most brilliantly well-written example. Um, and this novel, the sequence of novels recalled and turned into fiction. Uh, all sorts of appalling events and experiences above all. Um, his monstrous Edwardson Alban's monstrous father who raped him when he was a child and continued abusing him for years, and who, uh, whose death is featured in the second volume, bad news, but who as it were, keeps coming back to life in the protagonist memory through the following volumes. 

Speaker 1 (00:07:28):
So here we are in the fifth book in the series, it's emphatically and sardonically entitled at last. And the events, I mean appropriately, really, I guess for a sequence of novels that has, has spanned for decades. The events of the last one are concentrated on one day, the day of his mother's funeral, Patrick's mother's funeral, his hopeless, complicit mother. Um, and it begins with the funeral and ends with the news or nearly ends with the news of a telephone call telling him that his father's venomous friend Nicholas Pratt, who's a sort of, who's a sort of sidekick monster to his father, um, a terrible person, a wonderful character for the reader, has suddenly died on his way home from the funeral. And it's a kind of comic release and tragic comic release. And at the end of the chapter before the last chapter, Patrick's ex-wife Mary, has invited him to supper with her and his two children and he's declined. 

Speaker 1 (00:08:44):
And he's, she's told him he can always change his mind. One of his children, Thomas says, in fact, you should change your mind because that's what it's for. And he says, no. He goes off to his little, his little, uh, Kensington flat in the attic of a block and to, to sort of feel sorry for himself and maybe phone the attractive waitress in the restaurant, the end of the street. And then he changes his mind. Patrick slid back down in his chair and sprawled in front of the view, he noticed how his tears cooled as they ran down his cheeks, washed eyes and a tired and empty feeling. Was that what other people meant by peaceful? There must be more to it than that. But he didn't claim to be an expert. He suddenly wanted to see his children, real children, not the ghosts of their ancestors', childhoods real children with a reasonable chance of enjoying their lives. 

Speaker 1 (00:09:52):
He picked up the phone and dialed Mary's number. He was going to change his mind. After all, that's what Thomas said. It was for so good to end on a child's dry wit, but also ending with something signaled by that title. This is, uh, um, the end of a series of novels which has dramatized not just the protagonist sufferings as a child, but his alcohol alcoholism breakdown of his marriage, his drug addiction. Maybe now he's sort of coming out of it, but also cuz it's auto fiction. It's a sort of signal that there's a relationship between the writing of the novels and the author's own experience. Finally, he stopped writing about himself. He's gonna write about other things. Here's the end of another, uh, sequence of autobiographically based novels. Um, in 2014, 16 and 18, Rachel Cuss published a sequence of three novels called Outline, transit and kudos all narrated by an un self-revealing character called Fay, who seems to have a lot in common with Rachel Cusk and who spends her time listening to and reporting the self-absorbed monologues of the character she meets. 

Speaker 1 (00:11:30):
And actually things happen to Faye, but you only find out about them implicitly or parenthetically, empathetically. Uh, she has a husband, her marriage breaks up, she falls in love with somebody else, she marries again. But these things are just sort of mentioned in the margins most of the time. It's just the transcripts of what these, I have to say, extremely incautious people she meets say to her. So each of these gripping actually weirdly gripping, but entirely plotless novels could go on forever. So each has to be brought to an end. And this is the end of the final one. Kudos the third and final one. And, um, you'll notice something, uh, strange about it, which is the font. So all the novels are in a sori font. That means a font without the funny little curic uses at the, the, the foot and heads of the letters, which were thought for a long time to be the only things that make reading bearable on the eye. 

Speaker 1 (00:12:35):
We're all used to cifs now because of course, um, it's, it's, it's, the emails are all cifs. Um, and we're used to those funny names like Helvetica and Calibrium gra, don't we? But anyway, um, this is, uh, one called Optima, which, uh, Kuski uses for all three of the novels. And it's as if I suppose graphically, it, it's indicating the unex expressiveness, the strange and unsettling neutrality of the narration. Um, and what's happening in the last, the third of the novels, kudos is that our narrator has traveled, who's a novelist who lives in North London, has traveled to a literary conference in an unnamed Mediterranean country. There she listens to the soliloquy of fellow writers and journalists who are all pretty much unbearable egomaniacs. The men talk entirely about themselves, that women talk about the men. And Faye records it all near the end, she takes a break from the literary self obsessions of her fellow conferences and goes to the beach, the nearby beach for a swim. 

Speaker 1 (00:14:07):
And I don't know, I don't quite understand why maybe it is actually a newest beach, but all the people on the beach seem to be naked and they almost all seem to be men. And Faye gets into a swimming costume and swims out to sea. And as she's swimming, she, she looks back to the shore and sees a huge burly man with a great curling black beard and a rounded stomach and thighs like hams. I quote, walk towards her. It appears he's like some strange character out of pagan mythology. And this is the very end of the novel. He came to a halt just where the waves broke and he stood there in his nakedness like a deity, relend and grinning. Then he grasped his thick penis and began to urinate into the water. The flow came out so abundantly that it made a fat glittering jet like a rope of gold. 

Speaker 1 (00:15:17):
He was casting into the sea. He looked at me with black eyes full of malevolent delight while the golden jet poured Unceasingly fourth from him until it seemed impossible that he could contain any more. The water bore me up heaving as if I lay on the breast of some si creature while the man emptied himself into its depths. I looked into his cruel Mary eyes and I waited for him to stop. Um, several of the reviews of this novel. Of course, reviews can't give away the ending. This is why what we're doing is so much literary criticism. I always say to people, the difference between reviewing and literary criticism is literary criticism talks about the endings. And so the reviewers couldn't do this, but several of them said, wait till you get to the end. It's weird. <laugh> the narrator as ever, is a sort of, uh, disembodied witness to what's going on. 

Speaker 1 (00:16:20):
And the ending for me changed the way I thought I'd read what had already happened. The ending made, I think any reader consider how much of the trilogy that's preceded this passage is indeed about the more or less malevolent exercise of masculine power, as if she's alerting you to things which she made you not quite notice at the time, but now you do. And that's a fascinating thing about an ending of a novel. I think whether good, bad, whether satisfactory or unsatisfactory, it so often changes what we've already read. Um, it's worthwhile thinking before I give some, I'm gonna give some examples of that, um, and of the troubles that it has given novelists. But I think it's worthwhile thinking a little bit first about what an ending is. Um, and I suppose this is one of my very, very favorites, um, endings, uh, uh, in in, in all the fiction I've read. 

Speaker 1 (00:17:33):
And it's, it's a kind of really useful epitome of an ending cuz it's Fran Franz Kafka's the trial And the trial was an entirely unfinished novel. Kafka left it unfinished at his death. He left an assortment of unnumbered manuscripts in separate folders with chapter titles, but no, yes, no numbers to indicate what order they'd go in. And indeed some chapters which he'd only just started and never finished, and which you don't get in in the book. So it was still totally a work in progress. And indeed, as you might know, he told, he left instructions for his literary executor, max Broad, to destroy it, which Max Broad didn't do. Praise the Lord. Um, so we have one of the greatest novels ever written, um, because Max Broad disobeyed the instructions in Kafka's will. Um, and the final chapter, it looks like the final chapter was written quite early in the process of composition. 

Speaker 1 (00:18:40):
So Kafka wrote the end before he'd wrote lots of bits near the beginning and he entitled it Ender. Um, and it's about a, uh, a man yours of car, Joseph k who's accused of a crime which is never made explicit for reasons he doesn't understand by a bureaucracy he cannot penetrate. And near the end what happens is that two men, very sinisterly, both wearing top hats, perhaps they're officials, they call for him at his house. He knows that he must accompany them. They walk him outta the town into the countryside and it becomes clear they're going to kill him and you're gonna indulge him. Cause I'm really in English. But I have got perfunctory German, I'm gonna read it in German as well because it's great in German <laugh>, but the hands of one of the men. And this is the very, very end. But the hands of one of the men were already at Kay's throat while the other thrusts the knife deep into his heart and twisted it there twice with failing eyes case or the two of them cheek by cheek close in front of his face, watching the final act like a dog. 

Speaker 1 (00:19:59):
He said it was as if the shame of it would outlive him. 

Speaker 1 (00:20:08):
Abk le GaN, her van, van Anger and Anand Theta esp Alta de Well, the may have been unfinished, but it's pretty ended. I would say it's about as ended as an end can be. Um, and brilliantly not just of course with the protagonist death, but his clinching perception that as a victim, it's actually his. That's the shame. The mysterious bureaucracy's final triumph is to let him realize that he's to blame. So the ending of course, matters very much to the reader. It's where the contracts fulfilled. Promises are kept or not questions answered. A botched ending can change what we thought of all that went before. Remember I was trying to say that with respect to the Cusk ending, there's a great Philip Larkin poem. It's a very short one, um, called as Good as a Mile about the experience of throwing an apple core into a waste paper basket and missing, yes, the shi core misses failure spreading back up the arm <laugh>. 

Speaker 1 (00:22:06):
It's a fantastic locking phrase. And I think that can happen with narrative too. Um, uh, you can all probably think of your own examples of endings, which by disappointing, um, somehow made the exper change the experience you'd already had of what went before. Um, and, and, and novelists very much don't want you to have that, um, that disappointment and, uh, know very much that an ending has to fulfill what's already taken place. So I wanted to look now at three or four endings where the novelist, famous novelist, a famous book changed their minds and in the change of minds, um, let us see how an ending might have disappointed us. Okay? I know this is a rubbish picture, okay? But it's a rubbish picture of something very, very special. Um, and if you were unlucky Tom Math to be my students, you'd be having to guess it. 

Speaker 1 (00:23:18):
And there'd be a Twix bar for the winner. Um, it's actually a very unusual thing because it's a manuscript. It's owned by the British Library of a page from a Jane Austin novel. We only have one manuscript, um, uh, or several pages of it, of any of Jane Austin's completed fiction. And it's very telling, um, she wasn't fussed about preserving her manuscripts. It's very telling that the only reason we got it is because it's a bit of a novel she didn't use. It's a bit of persuasion and it's the ending of persuasion the last two chapters. And it's an ending. She changed her mind about. Now in this ending, the manuscript ending, um, Admiral Croft invites our heroine and Elliot into his lodgings in bath, supposedly to see his wife with whom Anne's on friendly terms. But in fact, because he knows that Captain Wentworth, the man that Anne rejected eight years before, the man she still loves is there. And Admiral Croft, uh, manufactures this meeting and then leaves the two of them together. Captain Wentworth Nonplussed tells Ann that Admiral Croft has told him that he thinks Ann is engaged to slimy, sinister Mr. Elliot, the heir of Kellen Hall. And it gives him a chance to deny it vehemently, which he does. 

Speaker 1 (00:25:10):
So we get this. He was a moment silent. She turned her eyes toward him for the first time since his reentering the room. The punctuation, by the way, is exactly the punctuation Austin uses in in manuscript. His color was varying, and he was looking at her with all the power and keenness, which she believed. That's her spelling. She found I before he, except after Sue, was not a rule that she was familiar with, which she believed no other eyes than his possessed no truth in any such report. He repeated no truth in any part of it, none. He had been standing by a chair enjoying the relief. There's that spelling again of leaning on it or play or playing with it. He now sat down, drew a little nearer to her, and looked with an expression, which had something more than penetration in it. Something softer. 

Speaker 1 (00:26:05):
Her countenance did not discourage. It was a silent, but a very powerful dialogue on his side. Supplication on her's, acceptance, still a little nearer and a hand taken and pressed. And Anne, my own dear, and bursting forth in the fullness of exquisite feeling and all suspense and indecision were over. They were reunited, they were restored to all that had been lost. She wrote after this finish, July 18th, 1816. Um, but thank goodness she then had second thoughts after sleeping on it. And I think this is only an extract from a whole chapter that she completely scrapped. But, um, we could spend plenty of time on why? Well, I mean, you know, for a normal novelist, it'd be okay, but for Jane Austen, it's really not that good. And in particular, surely she saw the failure spreading up the arm. What some really specific things wrong with it. 

Speaker 1 (00:27:14):
So for instance, as I've just described, it relies on a subterfuge by Admiral Croft, who is, if you've read the book, you'll know the most honest and open character in world fiction. Um, suddenly he's become superstitious and sly. Um, it even involves, I mean, there's lots and lots of little things. My, the thing which tells me that it's all wrong, wrong, wrong, is saying, and my own Dear Anne, um, captain Wentworth only uses Anne's first name once in the whole novel. You know this, don't you? Only once. And that's in blind panic when Louisa Musgrove has precipitated her, precipitated herself off the cob at Lyme and is lying unconscious, perhaps dying. And somebody says, um, Anne can go and find a doctor. And he goes, no one better than Anne. Um, course, obviously the only sensible person endorse it. Um, um, and he's right. He's right. 

Speaker 1 (00:28:20):
But of course, in this scraped ending, Austin makes him go. And my own dear Anne, um, and it's all not good enough. She had second thoughts and she produced something brilliant instead. And this is a bit of the ending that you'll be familiar with in a crowded room at the White Heart Inn in Bath. And it's important that it is crowded, that this is all going on while other people are idiotically talking all around. How appropriate, because it's a novel where the heroin is always surrounded, it seems, by other people talking Idiotically Anne is discussing in this room with Captain Har, captain Wentworth's friend, whether a man's or a woman's feelings are likely to last the longest, because they've recently heard that Captain Bennett, who is deep in mourning for the death of his fiance, captain Harville's sister, has now gone and got engaged to Louisa Musgrove. 

Speaker 1 (00:29:37):
And as they talk, captain Wentworth about, about the retentiveness of or otherwise of feelings, captain Wentworth sits writing at a desk nearby at one electric moment, he drops his pen. As he rises to leave, he pushes a letter evidently for Anne towards her. And I, I didn't have room for the whole letter, but this is the end of it for you alone, I think, and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these 10 days? Could I have read your feelings as I think you must have penetrated mine? I can hardly write. I'm every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice. But I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others too good, too excellent creature. You do us justice indeed, you do do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most un deviating. In fw, I must go uncertain of my fate, but I shall return hid or follow your party as soon as possible. A word, a look will be enough to decide whether I enter your father's house this evening or never. 

Speaker 1 (00:31:13):
And of course, how much better in its indirectness. He cannot speak to her, of course, he cannot speak to and say those easy things of the previous, uh, um, ending. The rejected ending. It has to write them, push them across the, the desk. In all his uncertainty, the uncertainty about her feelings, which is so easily dispelled in the rejected ending is still preserved here. And of course, it allows for the brilliant bit, which even TV can't get wrong when she then goes out into the street and meets him with Charles Musgrove. And in this wonderful novel all about feelings between people, amongst others who understand nothing about what's going on, she's able to look at him. That's all she has to do. And he knows Austen altered the how of her ending in this radical way. But of course, she was never in doubt. And I think the readers never into doubt about the where of the ending, where it was going to go. 

Speaker 1 (00:32:28):
But later, novelists will entertain doubts about that. Here is the ending of Charlotte Bronte's final novel. Um, my, I think her best novel ette, but it's a funny sort of ending. So very briefly, uh, for those of you not familiar with it, um, violet is a place, not a person. The letter is Brussels, where Charlotte Bronte herself had attended a Pon Your na a a sort of girl's school. And, uh, that is the setting for a large part of the action of her novel. It's narrated in the first person by Lucy Snow, the heroin. And after many vicissitudes at the end of the novel, she has finally found love with Paul Emmanuel, her fellow teacher at the girl's school, a particularly spiky and irascible character. Um, and he's actually, he's got an inheritance. He's set up a new school for her in ette, which she's now running and they've declared their love to each other. 

Speaker 1 (00:33:50):
But he's had to travel to Guadalupe for three years on family business. And now at the very end, he is returning to marry her. But it's Charlotte Bronte, I'm afraid as he sails back, a tempest rages in the Atlantic. These are the last four paragraphs of the novel. There's nothing after this. That storm, ROED frenzied for seven days. It did not cease till the Atlantic was strewn with Rex. It did not lull till the deeps had gorged there full of sustenance. Not till the destroying angel of Tempest had achieved his perfect work. Would he fold the wings? Whose waft was thunder? The tremor of whose plumes was storm? Pretty high rhetoric here. Peace be still. Oh, a thousand weepers, praying in agony on waiting shores. Listen for that voice. But it was not uttered, not utter till when the hush came sun could not feel, feel it till when the sun returned. 

Speaker 1 (00:35:00):
His light was night to some hear pause, pause at once. There is enough said trouble. No quiet kind heart leave sunny imagination's hope, let it be theirs to conceive the delight of joy. Born again, fresh out of great terror. The cat, the ratter of rescue from peril, the wondrous reprieve from dread, the fruition of return. Let them picture union and a happy succeeding life. I think that paragraph says you want a happy ending? Oh, dream on. But if you like Madame prospered all the days of her life, so did p si Las Madam Valor fulfilled her 90th year before she died. Farewell. Um, the C three characters at the end, by the way, although and who prosper and live long and, and, and sort of, um, comfortable lives are the three characters who have conspired through the novel to thwart Lu's relationship with Paul like Manuel. 

Speaker 1 (00:36:06):
Okay? They do fine. Um, but you might say, I mean, why write it like that? Why write it like that? And as, uh, what in any seminar group, if you're teaching this one blessedly, ingenuous reader will to the relief of everybody else actually asked the question, everybody's thinking of, has he drowned <laugh>, we have a bit of information about this, which may or may not be reliable. I mean, I think the information is reliable, but it may not be a reliable guide to Bronte's intentions. Bronte's friend Elizabeth Gaskill in her life of Charlotte Bronte, her posthumous life of Charlotte Bronte recalled the novelist, who was a great, great friend of hers, telling her that she'd made the ending of Violet uncertain to placate placate her father. The Reverend Patrick Bronte. I'm quoting from, uh, Gaskill here. Mr. Bronte was anxious that ette should end well as he disliked novels, which left a melancholy impression upon the mind. 

Speaker 1 (00:37:26):
<laugh> chefs like my dad. Um, so by Gaskell's account, having decided that Paul Emmanuel would diet sea all at Charlotte Bronte could do, says Gaskill again, I quote her words, is in compliance with her father's wish was so to veil the fate, inocular words as to leave it to the character and discernment of her readers to interpret her meaning. So the wonderful notion, she wrote an ending, which Patrick Bronte thought was happy, but everybody else would realize was unhappy. But it's, it's since felt, I think, to many readers. I mean, you'll have to decide. You have to read, I'm afraid, the whole of elect to decide this, not just the ending. And if you haven't ever done that, it's worth it. It really, really is. But you might feel like many readers have felt a kind of failure of nerve here. Do we believe the story about her dad? 

Speaker 1 (00:38:29):
Or is this a sort of final un bronte, like bending the expectations of Victorian readers? How many great Victorian novels that aren't written by Thomas Hardy do have unhappy endings? Anyway, uh, uh, an ending has to work within convention, of course, and or at least most novels and most novelists feel that they do. And here is one, uh, not so long after elect by a novelist who indeed great admire of Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, which seems almost almost to obey the conventions of Victorian fiction. You'll have to see what you think. So this is great expectations. Now, in his thirties, our narrator seems wrong to call him hero because he's acted by his own account so badly, so often. But anyway, our narrator returns to the grounds of Ms. Haim's demolished home, sat his house where he encounters the woman to whom he lost his heart, decades earlier, and who he's loved hopelessly ever since Estella pip, our narrator has heard that Estella's brutish husband Bentley drum is dead, kicked to death by a horse that he was mistreating. 

Speaker 1 (00:40:09):
There is proper poetic justice for you, and she's a widow. They are both older, wiser melancholy. Their meeting in the dusk is a reconciliation as they look back on the past. But you said to me, returned Estella very earnestly. God bless you, God forgive you. And if you could say that to me, then you will not hesitate to say that to me now. Now, when suffering has been stronger than all other teaching and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be, I have been bent and broken, but I hope into a better shape be as considerate and good to me as you were. And tell me, we are friends. We are friends. Said I rising and bending over her as she rose from the bench and will continue friends apart, said Estella. I took her hand in mine and we went out the ruined place. 

Speaker 1 (00:41:11):
And as the morning miss had risen long ago when I first left the forge. So the evening miss we're rising now. And in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me. I saw no shadow of another parting from her. Um, sort of a happy ending. I saw no shadow of another parting from her. She hasn't said anything, but he, in that sort of double negative seems to indicate to any reader, receptive for a happy ending that they're never gonna part. And it's certainly much nearer happy ending that what Dickens originally wrote when he first wrote the last installment of great expectations, drum old's, dead was dead. But Estella has remarried. She's married Aroha doctor. I think that is as blameless as you can get in the sort of Dickens world. She's absolutely not available. Pip meets her, not Kent, but in a street in London. 

Speaker 1 (00:42:19):
She's in a carriage. He is accompanied by a child, little Pip, who's the son of Joe Garry, who was his only sort of friend as a child and who's also is his brother-in-law. And Biddy, whom after the death of Mrs. Joe, Joe Garri, marries Biddy, the woman Pip could have married the woman who actually loved Pip. So, uh, a very different situation. And this is the exchange. Estella speaks. Oh, sorry. Um, uh, yes, Estella speaks. I am greatly changed. I know, but I thought you'd like to shake hands with Estella too. Pip, lift up that pretty child and let me kiss it. She supposed the child, I think to be my child. I was very glad afterwards to have had the interview for in her face and in her voice and in her touch. She gave me the assurance that suffering had been stronger than Ms. 

Speaker 1 (00:43:23):
Haim's teaching and had given her a heart to understand what my heart used to be. I think it's a wonderfully melancholy ending, allowing, and this is a crucial thing. Dickens, he's a genius with parentheses. Whenever he does something in brackets, he's doing something really extraordinary. And this is no exception. He allows them, he allows not just for an unhappy ending, but he allows pip and a stellar to part on a misunderstanding. She thinks the child is his. And so she thinks, oh, he's married, he's happy, he's okay, but he's not married, he's not happy. Emphatically he's not okay. Um, and Dickens left it like that and more than one friend, but in particular his friend and fellow, though deeply mediocre novelist ball were lit, said, told Dickins that his readers would not stand for it. They would be outraged. He must change it. And they'd getting happy endings for almost 30 years. 

Speaker 1 (00:44:37):
They weren't going to put up with it. And Dickens was persuaded to comply. I have done it in as few words as possible, he said. And that's the ending, the original ending that, uh, uh, you read, I read to you, um, uh, a pity, I think a kind of failure of nerve, you might say, but also, I mean, there is, uh, there is a genuine problem with great expectations about how to end it. I'm, I, I don't know if any of you are watching the current adaptation. I, I, adaptation seems almost the wrong word for it. Transformation, let's say on bbc. But I mean, it's a striking thing that every single one of the 13 film and TV adaptations of great expectations finds it necessary to change the ending. Even the the wonderful David Lie film sort of changes the ending satis house. Oh, it's not destroyed. 

Speaker 1 (00:45:31):
Estella's living in it. Oh, in income's pip date, uh, John Mills rips open the curtains lets in the sunlight and runs out, hand in hand with her. Um, over and over end. The ending gets changed. I'm not gonna, I have actually seen, cuz I saw an advanced, uh, uh, verse copy of it. I have actually seen the last episode of the current BBC dramatization. I can't tell you what's in it, but I can confine that he changes the ending <laugh>. Uh, so later novelists would actually mock this. I think this sort of Victorian thing about a novel needing a happy ending, needing an ending where people get their, what they deserve, where good people are rewarded. Um, and here's a mocker, um, Henry James. One would say that being good means representing virtuous and aspiring characters placed in prominent positions. Another would say that it depends for a happy ending on a distribution at the last of prizes, pensions, husbands, wives, babies, millions appended paragraphs and cheerful remarks. 

Speaker 1 (00:46:45):
Um, Henry James himself thought a great deal about endings and became the pioneer of what we've come to call and be used to in all sorts of narrative forms on the screen, as well as on the page, as the indeterminate ending. Here is the ending of his most famous novel, the Portrait of a Lady as it first appeared. And many of you will have paperback copies, um, if they were purchased more than about a year ago, which are different from this. Um, so what's happened? So this is in 1881, it was serialized and it came out in a one volume addition. In 1882, Isabel Archer, the heroin, is married to the sadistic Gilbert Osmond. Against his wishes, she leaves their home in Italy to travel to England, where her cousin and confidant Ralph touch it, is dying of tuberculosis after Ralph's death, which takes place in the last chapter, her former suitor American, like her, Casper Goodwood, meets her in the garden of the Touch it's House garden court and tells her that he still loves her. 

Speaker 1 (00:48:11):
He begs her to leave her husband for him. They, she can do it. They don't have to care what anybody thinks. They're American, they're rich, they can do it. He doesn't say those two things, but those are very, very important to why he feels he can say it. And they have a kiss, a passionate kiss like lightning, and then she flees back into the house. Two days later, Casper goes to London to find her. But her friend Henrietta tells him that he's too late. She came here yesterday and spent the night, but this morning she started for Rome. Casper Goodwood was not looking at her. His eyes were fastened on the doorstep. Oh, she started, he sta and without finishing his phrase or looking up, he turned away. Henrietta had come out closing the door behind her, and now she put out her hand and grasped his arm. 

Speaker 1 (00:49:11):
Look here, Mr. Goodwood. She said, just you wait on which he looked up at her and that was the ending. Yeah, quite an ending. And we have to remember indeterminate in lots of ways because of course, most importantly, uh, um, Isabel is on route to Italy, back to our husband. She came back to the marriage. Is she going back to rescue his daughter Poppy, whom she loves from him? What's gonna happen? Um, it's indeterminate, but evidently it was indeterminate in the wrong way. At least one contemporary review took this ending as, as implying that Isabel would leave her husband for Goodwood. And actually there's a, there's a great anecdote, which I think is fairly reliable, that, uh, soon after the publication of the novel, um, Henry James was at a dinner party and somebody said to him, oh, you know, great ending and I'm really pleased that, um, um, Isabel, uh, and and Casper are gonna get together. 

Speaker 1 (00:50:14):
And he went, no, no, no, no. And anyway, he rewrote it. He rewrote it, he rewrote it. He wrote, rewrote the novel in many, many ways for the 1908, uh, uh, New York edition. Um, and, uh, this ending, well, this is the ending, which in fact used to be the ending of the penguin edition of the Portugal lady. But it's recently been redone and it's reverted to the, um, uh, earlier edition. This is how it appeared in 1908 with Henry James' revisions. She came here yesterday and spent the night, but this morning she started for Rome. Casper Goodwood was not looking at her. His eyes were fastened on the doorstep. Oh, she started, you know, so he put a question mark in now, <laugh>, oh, she started, he's stad. And without finishing his phrase or looking up, he stiffly averted himself. That's new. But he couldn't otherwise move. 

Speaker 1 (00:51:22):
That's new. He is reacting in shock. He realizes it's all hope is gone. Henrietta had come out closing the door behind her, and now she put out her hand and grasped his arm. Look here, Mr. Goodwood. She said, just you wait on which he looked up at her. That's where we ended, wasn't it? But now we end like this, but only to guess from her face with a revulsion that she simply meant. He was young. She stood shining at him with that cheap comfort and it added on the spot. 30 years to his life, she walked him away with her. However, as if she had given him. Now the key to patience, it's re it's difficult to know what to what, what to prefer. Um, this seems compared to the previous one, so explicit, so much pushing on us what the ending is telling us because readers hadn't been intelligent enough to get it first time round yet that last sentence is wonderful. I think she walked him away with her, however, as if she had given him. Now the key to patience, sad to lose that. I think it's a really tough ending in either version and adaptations just cannot stomach it. Even Jane Campions often engrossing film adaptation just flins away from it in this version. Well, this is my experiment. Let's see if this works. Haha. 

Speaker 2 (00:53:00):
Ah, this is 

Speaker 1 (00:53:03):
The how the Jane Campion film ends. 

Speaker 2 (00:53:15):

Speaker 3 (00:53:15):
Only for once, 

Speaker 2 (00:53:16):
Listen to me. 

Speaker 3 (00:53:19):
Why shouldn't we be happy? Why, why when it's here before us, when it's so easy, we can do absolutely as we please to whom under the sun do we owe anything? 

Speaker 4 (00:53:34):
I be you to go away. 

Speaker 2 (00:53:38):
Don't say that. Don't kill 

Speaker 1 (00:54:11):
In the book. It's high summer, but directors just love snow. 

Speaker 1 (00:54:58):
Okay? That's not what Henry James wanted. <laugh> okay? A good film. And with its own indeterminacy of ending, of course she turns back and looks into the snowy garden and what's she gonna do? What's she gonna do? But in the novel, of course she has done something, she's gone back to her husband and we just don't like that. Um, that John Malkovich. No, no, no, no. Um, so Jane Campion is loyal enough to James to produce her own kind of indeterminacy, but nothing like in the novel. And James himself comments with a little bit of pride, I think, on the uncertainty that he managed to generate amongst his readers. The obvious criticism he's talking about the ending of, um, uh, the portrait of a lady. The obvious criticism, of course will be that it's not finished, but I've not seen the heroin to the end of her situation that I have left her on there. 

Speaker 1 (00:56:02):
This is both true and false. The whole of anything is never told. You can only take what groups together. What I have done has that unity it groups together, it's complete in itself. And the rest may be taken up or not later. The rest may be taken up or not later as if he's going to write a sequel to it. Well actually other novelists have done. John Banville published a sequel to the Portrait Ville Lady five years ago, Mrs. Osmond, which takes up the undetermined ending of Henry James. Here's an ending cuz I thought somebody might ask me for a favorite ending. So I answered the question I asked myself. And, and for, I might go back to the passage because there is a sort of, there is a sort of circular motion here. This was the passage with which I ended the first lecture, first of my Gresham lectures, uh, nearly three years ago. 

Speaker 1 (00:57:04):
And it seemed appropriate because of course one thing endings often do is go back to the beginnings of novels. Um, like that Hillary mantel ending. And it's a wonderful ending to Kasha gurus, uh, uh, novel, never let me go. Um, uh, narrated by Kathy h a human clone in England in the 1990s, an alternative reality. And Kathy h of course is, uh, has been bred like her fellow clones to provide internal organs for the rest of the population. She will eventually complete. That means her organs will be harvested and she will die. Meanwhile, she's a carer for others and she drives around the country caring for those who have already begun donating. And she ends up one day somewhere in Norfolk, she has this idea norfolk's the place where everything sort of washes up. And in this field in Norfolk, I was thinking about the rubbish, the flying plastic in the branches, the shoreline of the old stuff, odd stuff caught along the fencing. 

Speaker 1 (00:58:20):
And I half coz my eyes and imagined this was the spot where everything I'd ever lost since my childhood had washed up. And I was now standing here in front of it. And if I waited long enough, a tiny figure would appear on the horizon across the field and gradually get larger until I'd see it was Tommy. And he'd wave, maybe even call the fantasy, never got beyond that or I didn't let it. And though the tears rolled down my face, I wasn't sobbing or out of control, I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be. That last utterly in elegance sentence is as good as Henry James in a different way, is as good an ending of a 21st century novelist. Any I know it fulfills all that's gone before with the resonance of its colloquial, ordinariness weighted a bit wherever it was I was supposed to be. It completes a novel whose whole point is the inadequacy of its narrator. Kathy h doesn't have the words to rebel against her cruel destiny. She accepts of hate contravening all the conventions of sci-fi, much to the fury of many a sci-fi fan and how well it shows that an unhappy ending can be just as pleasurable, just as satisfying as a happy one. Thanks very much. 

Speaker 5 (01:00:05):
Thank you very much John. Rather unsurprisingly, you have, um, preempted two of the questions online, your favorite and the saddest <laugh> in the last one. Yeah. So, um, can we have some questions from the audience? If anyone would like to ask one, otherwise I shall revert to the people who are watching online. What do you think of modern authors like George r r Mountain who seem to subvert the rules by killing everybody who might matter off all the way through the level before? 

Speaker 1 (01:00:33):
Yeah, I'm not sure that's about ending though. Yes, George r r Martin, I have actually read surprisingly, surprisingly, for money, the first four volumes of 

Speaker 1 (01:00:47):
The Chronicle of Fire and Ice or whatever it's re it's actual name is in book form. And, um, he does indeed kill off people. And that's his, that's one of his, um, one of his tricks, one of his skills in a way. Um, but also I would say I talked at the beginning about, um, sequence novels, Roal Flav. I think it's fairly clear that even if you're a fan of George RL Martin's writing, um, he's in trouble about how to end it. But TV series seem to me in massive trouble about how to end it and I think might be produced as an example of one of those. I don't really want to talk about Game of Thrones too much, but one of examples in the minds of lots of fans of an ending, which spoiled lots of things that had gone before. I think lots of people felt that. Um, but the TV adapters were trying to cope with what George Al Martin had the problems he'd sort of created for himself writing these books. I think there's a gentleman there who'd like to, isn't he still writing them, still wondering about how he's gonna end it. Oh, 

Speaker 6 (01:01:53):
It's just a question. Um, with the example you've got on the screen there, it's in first person, so it's a lot easier to create a sort of indeterminate ending. Um, would you say it's harder to do it when you write in third person as opposed to first? 

Speaker 7 (01:02:08):

Speaker 1 (01:02:10):
So it, it's easier to, I lost some of what you said in a first person. It's easier to create, what did you say? More in more indeterminate, right? Because the, unless the person dies, they're gonna go off and do something else. Um, I think that, uh, the, probably the, the, the, the problem is that in the 18th and 19th century novelist novels narrated in the third person generated a lot of expectations and conventions about how the author would, as it were, be there to wind things up for you. Okay? So of course the author has decided what to do here, but the, the narrator author of March 18th and 19th Century Fiction, um, became somebody who apportioned fate, as it were, told you everybody's destiny and could do that and was expected to do that. And I think that actually, um, for some 19th century readers that made endings much more satisfactory. 

Speaker 1 (01:03:20):
Um, that it was more difficult for a first person narration to tell you what had happened to all the other characters. And and we know this in sort of, you know, film and TV sometimes replicate it with funny sort of epilogues or, or even before the titles at the end they'll tell you what happened to some of the other characters. And that's, it's a, a reproduction of what happens at the end of not just 19th century, it's all started by Henry Fielding in the 18th century. What has happened though, I think in the late 20th century is that, um, it's become very difficult, perhaps impossible to write a novel with a sort of omniscient narrator. I mean, this is a bigger topic than just endings, but it shows in endings and we will accept any kind of first person narrator in literary fiction. And the more inarticulate the better, and the more uncomprehending the better, and the more hampered and hamstrung the better. But it seems very difficult now to imagine a contemporary equivalent of George Elliot or Henry James, um, or even Thomas Hardy actually, um, novelists who would tell you at the end what, you know, more or less what had happened to everybody. So I think, um, our ideas of what better and worse have changed. 

Speaker 8 (01:04:52):
Um, thank you. I'm just wondering, um, have you seen a tendency in unsatisfactory endings, like something that they always have that just e even whether they're happy or sad or, you know, um, ambiguous and ending. Have you ever seen like themes that just, you're like, this is just a horrible ending 

Speaker 1 (01:05:14):
<laugh>? Well, I, I can report one experience I had, which is a sort of practical thing about how people write novels. I've interviewed many novelists over the years and discovered some things about how many do it. Um, and one year, many years it was about, um, uh, 13, 14 years ago, maybe even longer when I, I I was a booker prize judge and I had to read 130 odd novels in that year. And I did notice something which was quite a lot of novelists seemed to really know how they wanted to start a novel. Yeah. Um, and then a few had already thought about how they were gonna end it. And one practical difference between a good ending and a bad ending is I think simply that, um, the good endings are ones which are encoded in the beginning, if you see what I mean. If you read how Dickens is working notes, he with his later fiction, he knows where he's going. And so when you get there, you have an experience of a reader of, of course, of course. But that relies on the novelist planning, I think. 

Speaker 5 (01:06:27):
Um, I'm Martin Elliott. I'm currently the provost here and I get the pleasure of saying a few words at the end of this. I hate hope I'm not the slimy, sinister Mr. Which you mentioned. 

Speaker 1 (01:06:38):
I think it spelled differently, it pelt differently. 

Speaker 5 (01:06:41):
I do hope so, <laugh>. Anyway, very sadly, this is, um, the last of John's series of nine lectures as you heard. And, um, it's been a tour de force far as I'm concerned. I've thoroughly enjoyed it. He's brought his considerable intellectual heft, uh, but also his wonderful media hon, and presentation skills. If you've heard again tonight or they're honed <laugh>, they're, they're well honed. And he's taken us from the beginnings of novel to tonight's endings. And along the way he's considered crime, which we heard novelists cannot but relish the supernatural, quoting from those wonderful axon novels by Hillary mantel, which I absolutely adore. Um, and plotting, which came with its own spoiler alert cuz he told us what the plots were all the way through <laugh>, uh, and adultery, concluding that the old adultery plot may be irresistible. I think they're probably truth in all of those things. 

Speaker 5 (01:07:40):
He's selected excellent writing and it's been stunningly analyzed, but he's also been a delight listening to him read so much. And I'm absolutely sure that an acting career is just around the corner. <laugh>. I also want to pay tribute to you John's loyal audience because, uh, without acception, we, in fact, we were commenting on it earlier, he said the, the most searching, the most informed and most the most intelligent questions of pretty well any of the Gresham lecturers. And I hope he's found them suitably taxing <laugh>. So on behalf of everyone at Gresham College, thank you for all your excellent lectures during this series and for you've brought to the college in other ways. We've much appreciated it. And as we hand you back to UCL to get on with your life, we hope we'll be able to welcome you back here in the future. And ladies and gentlemen, please thank Professor John Mullan in the usual. Thanks.