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Frank Kermode
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The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction (Mary Flexner Lecture)

3.97  ·  Rating Details ·  441 Ratings  ·  35 Reviews
Frank Kermode is one of our most distinguished 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 & crisis. Prompted by the approach of the millennium, he revisits the book which brings his highly concentrated insights to bear on some of the mos ...more
Published 1967 by Oxford University Press
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Dec 26, 2014 Janet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a sublime book that asks the big questions of the writer--what is fiction? how is formed? what is its purpose in human life? Invaluable for both readers and writers concerned with meaning and how it's constructed in a work of fiction. My journal is filled with quotes from this book:

"The difference between myths and fiction--people know that fictions are fiction."

"Anti-semitism is a degenerate fiction, a myth. King Lear is a fiction. Myth operates within the diagrams of ritual, which pre
Riku Sayuj

Early in this work, Kermode discusses the differences between myth and fiction as he defines them, and the way that popular stories stick close to established conventions, while major works tend to vary them more and more.
'The story that proceeded very simply to its obviously predestined end, would be nearer myth than the novel or drama.'

This ‘tragic reversal’, is postulated to be important in 'sophisticated' fictions. Furthermore, it depends on our confidence of the end:
'it is a disconfirmat
Feb 16, 2016 verbava rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-literature
пишучи текст про літературу, френк кермоуд водночас розповідає про цілісність людського життя, про хронос і кайрос, про темпоральність і вічність, про пам'ять генезису й очікування апокаліпсису та, як підказує назва, про відчуття завершеності. хоча, звісно, все воно, навіть коли про час, насамперед про книжечки.
можливо, це найкраща апологія літератури, з якою мені доведеться зустрітися. шість розділів-лекцій із різних боків – іноді вдаючи, наче їм зовсім про інше йдеться, – підходять до того, на
Mar 10, 2012 Teresa rated it really liked it
Recommended to Teresa by: Troy
I'm not learned enough or well-read enough to understand every single thing Kermode is getting at in his series of talks, combined in this one slim volume, but what I did understand impressed me very much. And when I did understand, it wasn't dense reading at all.

See the quotes in my comments below.
Chris Schaeffer
May 03, 2012 Chris Schaeffer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Can I talk about how weirded out I was when I walked into a bookstore and saw piles of books called 'The Sense of An Ending' all over the place? My heart was all aflutter, my head was light. I was so stoked for the poor, late Mr. Kermode, his hour come at last.

Nope, it was some Julian Barnes thing. Shame on you, dude.
Three Faces of the End of the World: Empire, Decadence, and Crisis

I am currently reading “The Sense of an Ending”by Frank Kermode, a little piece of literary criticism examining the relationship between theological apocalypses and fictional narratives as means of making sense of reality. Originally a series of lectures written in 1965, the ideas that Kermode draws together are perhaps even more important for today – in an age where the world ends every imaginable way in our entertainments, where
Christopher Rush
Feb 05, 2016 Christopher Rush rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Allow me to paraphrase an exact quotation: "Blah, blah, blah, blahbiddy-blah-blah blah." That's about as profound, meaningful, necessary, and helpful Mr. Kermode gets with this decaying collection of palaver and bushwa masquerading as profundity and erudition. I'm sure Mr. Kermode was an intelligent, capable human being with joys and sorrows and all that, but this series of prize-winning lectures is as disappointing a pile of nonsense for which anyone could possibly hope. Beginning with concrete ...more
J. Alfred
Interesting, difficult stuff. Kermode links our human novelizing techniques or tendencies with our equally human tendencies to anticipate the end of the world, to rearrange facts to suit our theories, and to give a personal meaning to seemingly unrelated events. He balances this with our educated, "clerkly" responsibility to be skeptical of broad narratives of this type and says that somewhere in this mix is life itself; that life and poetry have the same crux or secret.
Mary Victoria
May 10, 2010 Mary Victoria rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a difficult read but delivers great insights on the use of eschatological devices in fiction (apocalypse, end time scenarios, etc.) Sometimes I felt I had to hack through all the scholarly references with a machete... but Kermode makes excellent points and it is well worth the effort to understand them. That said... this is not light reading. Two pages knock you out better than a nightcap.
Erik Graff
Jul 09, 2011 Erik Graff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Kermode fans
Recommended to Erik by: Brian Harris
Shelves: literature
This was one of the "must read" books circulating amongst us during my final semester at Grinnell College. A new professor of German literature was on campus and his lectures were having a enormous influence in my circle. So popular were his classes that people unenrolled in them commonly attended. Beyond that, books that he would recommend, or even just mention in passing, were looked into and disseminated. Of especial influence on me were the recommendations of Robert Gehorsam, a friend who mi ...more
May 01, 2012 Bryant rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Why is there not more literary criticism of this sort? Kermode combines close reading with the development of a general theory about endings, literary and 'real-life,' and how these final events stand in relation to each other. Part of what makes the book so refreshing is that his criticism is developed *through* his readings of various works. It is not a general theory of language applied to fiction, nor is it an explicit reaction to a critical mode of the past. Yet while the book has at times ...more
Jul 15, 2016 Bruce rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've been wanting to read this for a long time, given my interest in fictional endings, and while it's rich in implications and supplemental information, it all boils down to the question: If fiction is of interest as a mirror of reality, why are we readers so enamored of endings -- since obviously stories in life never end, except through death? Kermode makes much of the observation that the rise of the novel roughly coincides with the decline of religious faith, thus supplanting belief in heav ...more
Apr 13, 2015 D rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting throughout, from the merely curious to the fascinating. Jumping off the Book of Revelation, he hops across time and the importance of the end in making sense of things. (As with The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative, Kermode provides refreshing insight on the Bible, though he doesn't devote as much space to it here.) He somehow cites and quotes just about everyone from antiquity on up, though he gives much space to Wallace Stevens (I suspect his book on Stevens p ...more
Jan 30, 2014 Salvatore rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What thoughts on what endings in life, in fiction, in poetry, in time, in religion, in you mean! Why does so much hinge on the ending, why does the narrative seem to change and force you to reflect on what you finished? Is it possible to avoid that? And if so, at what cost? Does The End pervade everything before it? And if so how then can we look at Time, since it's Past, Present, and Future then...?
Lovely writing, some fascinating ideas (and some lacking in evidence). I've been trained for years to eschew this kind of criticism, but it's precisely the kind of erudite, sweeping argument I hope to write someday. So, hello paradox.
Sannie Hald
Read chapter two for my course 'Time in British Literature' ...
Steen Christiansen
Kermode's classic book not only on the apocalyptic but also of modernism and the difference between them. Written before the phrase of postmodernism, it is evident that Kermode paves the way for a better understanding of what being new after modernism means. One of Kermode's most compelling and problematic arguments is that nothing is wholly new (I agree) and if it were, it would simply be noise and therefore meaningless (I disagree, noise is a constant part of making things new. All we need are ...more
Roof Beam Reader
Fascinating! Not what one expects from a narrative theory text, but this one does predate the narrative analysis movement just a bit. Much more philosophical than analytic, in my opinion. Interesting ideas, though - and particularly appropriate for those interested in the idea of apocalypse and of life in medias res.
Mar 08, 2013 Courtney rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not literature literate enough for this... I had no idea what Kermode was referencing, and to be honest I read it for a class...

Unless you're a literature buff, try to avoid this one.

Kermode doesn't even cite his references, so if you don't know them; tough.
Jun 21, 2012 Jjbbone rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think I MIGHT up my rating because I finished this book quite a while ago. It keeps stirring up in my mind. Memory. Is so wispy. So dependent on who we were at the time. So seen through cracked glass. Reconsidering what is true, what really happened, is haunting.
Oh, to be a white dude in academia in the 1960s. Ideas are interesting, but wow. If I went around making sweeping claims like that I'd be kicked out on my arse quick smart.

And yet. It's super useful to me. Someone else has already made the sweeping claims!
Sep 03, 2014 Peter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays-bio-etc
This is a must read for readers. Kermode is brilliant in his analysis of human psychology and the stories we like to tell. Apocalyse now, anyone? Because I am aging, it must be all coming to an end soon, or eventually, which will seem like an instant … later.
Mar 14, 2014 Kasper rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Insightful. There is no writer quite like Frank Kermode... Here, he makes unique and compelling arguments about two different types of endings, those in narrative and the fake closures eschatological fiction conjure up in our minds.
Apr 07, 2011 Sara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
critique on the theory of modern lit pertaining to the apocalyptic. the end of the lectures get a bit boring if you dont know the literature kermode is referencing but the beginning is chalk-full of interesting ideas.
Rex Jones
Aug 03, 2012 Rex Jones rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For people my age, this book was great for thinking about the choices I've made and why I made them. Also for thinking of how I might choose differently, even though, I have to say, I don't have regrets.
Jesse Field
"Having compared the novel-reader with an infant and a primitive, one can go further and call him a psychopath; and this I shall shortly be doing." -- "Fictions"
May 03, 2011 Rachel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: grad-school
This boggled my mind so much I'm not sure what rating to give it. I like some of his points, but I honestly wish he were a bit more direct about them in parts.
Sally Ryan
Feb 17, 2012 Sally Ryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very unusual book, and I enjoyed the voice of the narrator. It is a pensive and not an uplifting read, but thought provoking and I was engaged.
Feb 11, 2013 CG FEWSTON rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Highly intelligent. Thought provoking. Any literature professor teaching fiction should read these lectures. A strong recommend.
Sep 14, 2013 Sheri rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
Sat down and read this book from cover to cover in one sitting. Terrific read with great twist at the end.
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Sir John Frank Kermode was a highly regarded British literary critic best known for his seminal critical work The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction, published in 1967 (revised 2003).
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“It is ourselves we encounter whenever we invent fictions.” 12 likes
“You sometimes hear people say, with a certain pride in their clerical resistance to the myth, that the nineteenth century really ended not in 1900 but in 1914. But there are different ways of measuring an epoch. 1914 has obvious qualifications; but if you wanted to defend the neater, more mythical date, you could do very well. In 1900 Nietzsche died; Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams; 1900 was the date of Husserl Logic, and of Russell's Critical Exposition of the Philosophy of Leibniz. With an exquisite sense of timing Planck published his quantum hypothesis in the very last days of the century, December 1900. Thus, within a few months, were published works which transformed or transvalued spirituality, the relation of language to knowing, and the very locus of human uncertainty, henceforth to be thought of not as an imperfection of the human apparatus but part of the nature of things, a condition of what we may know. 1900, like 1400 and 1600 and 1000, has the look of a year that ends a saeculum. The mood of fin de siècle is confronted by a harsh historical finis saeculi. There is something satisfying about it, some confirmation of the rightness of the patterns we impose. But as Focillon observed, the anxiety reflected by the fin de siècle is perpetual, and people don't wait for centuries to end before they express it. Any date can be justified on some calculation or other.

And of course we have it now, the sense of an ending. It has not diminished, and is as endemic to what we call modernism as apocalyptic utopianism is to political revolution. When we live in the mood of end-dominated crisis, certain now-familiar patterns of assumption become evident. Yeats will help me to illustrate them.

For Yeats, an age would end in 1927; the year passed without apocalypse, as end-years do; but this is hardly material. 'When I was writing A Vision,' he said, 'I had constantly the word "terror" impressed upon me, and once the old Stoic prophecy of earthquake, fire and flood at the end of an age, but this I did not take literally.' Yeats is certainly an apocalyptic poet, but he does not take it literally, and this, I think, is characteristic of the attitude not only of modern poets but of the modern literary public to the apocalyptic elements. All the same, like us, he believed them in some fashion, and associated apocalypse with war. At the turning point of time he filled his poems with images of decadence, and praised war because he saw in it, ignorantly we may think, the means of renewal. 'The danger is that there will be no war.... Love war because of its horror, that belief may be changed, civilization renewed.' He saw his time as a time of transition, the last moment before a new annunciation, a new gyre. There was horror to come: 'thunder of feet, tumult of images.' But out of a desolate reality would come renewal. In short, we can find in Yeats all the elements of the apocalyptic paradigm that concern us.”
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