Thursday, July 31, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Endings

This week's BTT topic:
What are your favourite final sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its last sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the last line?

Yes, I did see this one coming. And at first I had a few qualms about listing some of my favorites, since they might function as "spoilers" for anyone who hasn't read the books. So for this post I'm just going to assume that everyone has read the same books I have. There – consider yourself warned.

OK, same as last week – I don't think I've ever liked or disliked a book simply because of its last line. In fact, since I left school, I don't generally finish books I don't like – so if I've gotten to the last line, chances are I've enjoyed the book at least enough to get all the way through it.

Well, the lit crit world has produced many volumes about beginnings and endings and their various aspects and functions and differences, yada yada yada. But for now, I'll just say that endings are very different from beginnings – a single final sentence isn't usually going to bring an entire story rushing back to the reader. At least, not this reader. So while I may find the endings of some books particularly memorable, it most likely won't be just the last sentence I'll remember.

With a few notable exceptions, of course.

I've deliberately left out Shakespeare and all other "drama" because I felt that would be a little like cheating. After all, the final lines are almost always the most memorable parts of plays. Anyway, here goes – starting with what I think are probably my two favorite endings in all of literature:

In the midst of the word he was trying to say,
In the midst of his laughter and glee,
He had softly and suddenly vanished away –
For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.
[The Hunting of the Snark, Lewis Carroll]

. . . and so there ain't nothing more to write about, and I am rotten glad of it, because if I'd a knowed what a trouble it was to make a book I wouldn't a tackled it, and ain't a-going to no more. But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before. [The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain]
I think Barbara Pym does endings better than just about any modern writer. Here are a couple of examples:

She remembered that her mother had said something about wanting to let the cottage to a former student, who was writing a novel and recovering from an unhappy love affair. But this was not going to happen, for Emma was going to stay in the village herself. She could write a novel and even, as she was beginning to realize, embark on a love affair which need not necessarily be an unhappy one. [A Few Green Leaves, Barbara Pym]

And then another picture came into my mind. Julian Malory, standing by the electric fire, wearing his speckled mackintosh, holding a couple of ping-pong bats and quoting a not very appropriate bit of Keats. He might need to be protected from the women who were going to live in his house. So, what with my duty there and the work I was going to do for Everard, it seemed as if I might be going to have what Helena called 'a full life' after all. [Excellent Women, Barbara Pym]
And then these endings, in no particular order:

"I'll think of it all tomorrow, at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I'll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day." [Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell - Well, I had to include that one, didn't I?]

The cannons of his adversary were thundering in the tattered morning when the Majesty of England drew himself up to meet the future with a peaceful heart. EXPLICIT LIBER REGIS QUONDAM REGISQUE FUTURI. The Beginning. [The Once and Future King, T.H. White]

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. [The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald]

"The division seems rather unfair," I remarked. "You have done all the work in this business. I get a wife out of it, Jones gets the credit, pray, what remains for you?"
"For me," said Sherlock Holmes, "there still remains the cocaine bottle." And he stretched his long white hand up for it.
[The Sign of the Four, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle]

He was laughing under his breath, like a cruel wolf, as he leaned over to light his last cigarette. Books play that kind of trick, he thought. And everyone gets the devil he deserves. [The Club Dumas, Arturo Pérez-Reverte; translated from the Spanish by Sonia Soto]

"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known." [A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens - Another must have.]

Then they packed up their bags and shrugged on their coats and uttered their thanks and were gone. [The Hills at Home, Nancy Clark]

Hill House itself, not sane, stood against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, its walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone. [The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson]

Reader, I married him. [Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë. This isn't the last line of the book, but it should be. It's the opening sentence of the final chapter.]

. . . and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. [Ulysses, James Joyce]

I'm sure if I thought about it a little more, I could come up with others. Maybe I will. But for now, I'll just let Molly have the final say.


  1. Have you read the sequel to The Hills at Home, Joy? I haven't, but I wonder if I should.

    Huck Finn has a great ending. I wish I'd thought of it when I was putting mine together.

  2. You finished Ulysses? I couldn't go beyond page 4!

    Here is my BTT post

  3. sfp--
    Haven't read the one she wrote right after the first one. I've heard it's a lot different. I've just bought the third book in the series ("July and August") and it's next on my "to read" list this summer - and I'm very excited!

    Well, I read it for a class on the modern English novel, so I had to force my way through it. I have to admit, that last passage is about all I remember of it!

  4. Gone with the Wind probably has the most memorable ending because it's so embedded in our culture. I think everyone remembers Rhett saying, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" and the last line you quoted. It's the only one I actually remembered when I read the question! You've got some good other ones, too, and I agree with you about Jane Eyre.

  5. Once again, you have written an impressive answer.

  6. Nice work on this one! I'm so glad someone remembered The Once and Future King . I haven't read it since high school (note to self: must reread soon) but remember loving that ending.

  7. Oh! How could I have forgotten Jane Eyre's "Reader, I married him."? I've always loved that.

    I'm enjoying reading everyone's post, mostly because it's like, "Oh, yeah! I remember that!" and "Oooh, gotta put that on my wishlist."

    I have The Once and Future King on Mt. TBR, btw... It's deep in the mountain, though.

  8. Brilliant post! I did skip over the Barbara Pym part because I am trying to find more of her books and I didn't want anything spoiled. "The Haunting of Hill House" -- makes me want to stop with the Miss Read and go re-read Shirley Jackson!

  9. I never read it but I like the one from Club Dumas.

  10. I love Huckleberry Finn. I have Tom Sawyer's last lines in mine! :D

  11. re: your comment on my blog about The Gargoyle...the first 50 pages or so, in which the narrator describes his burns and the recovery process, are pretty difficult, but they're not gratuitously gory, and the remainder of the book is simply beautiful...keep it on the TBR!

  12. Excellent list! I particularly like the ending to Huckleberry Finn.

    Thanks for visiting our post at 5 Minutes for Books!

  13. I always thought "Reader, I married him," was the best line in the book and should have been the last. My sister, who hates Jane Eyre, thinks it's the only good line in the book. She's the same weirdo who reads the last lines first, so that's her fault. :)



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