· Worksheet: The Sense of an Ending
While reading the novel, keep following
points in your ‘memory’:
1. Title of the Novel – the
Sense of an Ending.
a. The Ending seems to be
that of the old man Anthony Webster who is near the ‘end’ of his journey of
life. He ponders – feels nostalgic about the ‘past’. As humans near their end,
they crave more for their youthful days. Santiago of ‘The Old Man and the Sea’
also dreams of lions, his fist-fight of younger days and of Manolin when he
quite feeble and near his end. . . thus you can illustrate examples of memory
reconstruction of past events from the novel.
b. But, that is not the
sense which title conveys. It is part truth. The other part of the sense of an
ending is presented in this quote: “You get towards the end of life – no, not
life itself, but of something else: the end of any likelihood of change in that
life.” (Page 86). Something is ending, in a sense, that it is changing; taking
new shape; developing new understanding; reaching to newer perspective; some
dawning of new understanding – not about the outside world, but that of self –
c. Apart from this, there
are two lives ending in suicide in the novel. That of Robson and Adrian. It
leads into the debate on the issue of suicide – issue of eros and thanatos.
2. The beginning of the
begins with a kind hazy, vague, blurred fast moving scenes in the beginning of
a movie – like shiny wrist (it gets clear later on page
no. 78 – “I thought of my inner wrist looking shiny, of my shirt sleeve furled
to the elbow.”); steam rising from a wet sink as
a hot frying pan (it gets clear on page 23); gouts of sperm circling a plughole
(it gets clear on page 68); river rushing nonsensically upstream (it gets clear
on page 72); bathwater long gone cold behind a locked door (it gets clear on
3. The scenes in the school
classroom and discussion on:
o Unrest during the reign of King Henry the Eighth in England >
novel ends with the word ‘unrest’ > the word recurs 7 times in the novel.
o Philosophy: “I can’t know what it is that I don’t know.”
o History: lies of victorious or self-delusion of the defeated –
memories of those who are neither defeated nor victorious
o Anthony Webster’s affair with Veronica Mary Elizabeth Ford
o Weekend visit to Kent > Fords class consciousness > Father
Mr. Ford and Son Jack > curious behaviour of Mrs. Sarah Ford > Kitchen
> breakfast of eggs > hot pan in wet sink > waving hand at waist
height by Sarah
o Their breakup > stagnation disliked by Veronica > Tony is
peaceable with stagnation > Veronica calls his attitude ‘cowardly’ > Tony
considers himself ‘peaceable’ > letter from her mother Mrs. Sarah (letter
non-existent, only memory)
o Letter from Adrian (letter non-existent, only memory)> about
his ‘going out’ and affair with Veronica > Tony warns against Veronica’s
dumping, virginity, ‘damage’ etc in reply letter to Adrian
o Completes his studies > long vacation in States for 6 months
> Affair with Annie, and then to separate without
recrimination or blame >‘easy come, easy go’> meantime Adrain commits
suicide > he remains unaware
· Comes back home > letters from Alex > about suicide of
Adrian > interesting debate on the idea of Suicide: “philosophically
self-evident that suicide was every free person’s right: a logical act when
faced with terminal illness or senility (medical suicide - euthanasia; a heroic
one when faced with torture or the avoidable deaths of others (Soldiers,
warriors rush on the battlefield); a glamorous one in the fury of disappointed
love (Romeo-Juliet etc) . . . or spiritual suicides (people taking samathis
> living people buried > or suicide is ‘knowingly walk towards death’ and
embrace it with deliberate attempt to kill oneself (like Bhagat Singh or Swami
o Adrian had explained his reasoning
(for suicide): that life is a gift bestowed without anyone asking for it; that
the thinking person has a philosophical duty to examine both the nature of life
and the conditions it comes with; and that if this person decides to renounce
the gift no one asks for, it is a moral and human duty to act on the
consequences of that decision.
o Tony’s marriage with Margaret > her remarrying restaurant man >
daughter Susan > her two children > Tony retires > does work of
charity for Hospital distributing and recommending books > waiting for his
turn . . .
o Part one ends with: “And that’s a life, isn’t it? Some
achievements and some disappointments. It’s been interesting to me, though I
wouldn’t complain or be amazed if others found it less so. Maybe, in a way,
Adrian knew what he was doing. Not that I would have missed my own life for
anything, you understand. I survived. “He survived to tell the tale”—that’s
what people say, don’t they? History isn’t the lies of the victors, as I once
glibly assured Old Joe Hunt; I know that now. It’s more the memories of
the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated.
4. In part 2 of the move, we
o how many things he narrated from his memory turn out to be
o how Julian Barnes uses memory-narration of Tony to exemplify the
theory of deconstruction > which also resemble Post-modernism
o how the words like ‘memory’, ‘damage’, ‘unrest, ‘history’ etc are
revisited to give deeper significance (Ref: Ferdinand de Saussure’s
Sign>Signifier>Signified; Derrida’s ‘trace of meaning, decentering
meaning, differAnce, free play of meaning etc)
o Quest for Adrian’s diary for Tony is like King Arthur’s Knight’s
quest for Holy Grail > when it is found > what happens?
o how the narrative turns out to be thriller with some secrets,
suspense to be uncovered > and a shocking surprise!
can we reconstruct entire narrative as an objective reader and what difference
does it make from than of memory-narrative of Tony?
5. Please give your
responses to these points in the comments below this blog:
o What is the meaning of phrase ‘Blood Money’ in Veronica’s reply
o How do you decipher the equation: b = s – v x/+ a1 or a2 + v + a1
X s = b?
o Adrian’s diary is willed to Tony by Sarah Ford. Why did Sarah Ford
own it? Why was it in the possession of Veronica?
o Was the mentally retarded middle aged ‘Adrian’, Tony’s friend who
did not commit suicide and was suffering from trauma and thus gone mad, and was
living with hidden identity?
o How was Veronica related to Adrian, the one suffering in
o Do you see any missing block – some dot which is not getting
connected with the whole or dot missing to get full sense of the novel - in the
plot of this psychological thriller?
o Do you see any possible reason in the suicide of Adrian Finn?
o In the light of new revelations, how do you read character of
Veronica? Instinctive, manipulative, calculating, stubborn, haughty,
sacrificial, trustworthy, good Samaritan?
What do you mean by Unreliable Narrator? Is Tony Webster
classifiable as Unreliable Narrator?
Questions ‘The Sense of an Ending’:
novel in two parts, narrates almost similar events but from different
perspectives. Surprisingly, perspectives are from Tony Webster’s conscious
memory-recollection. Make an attempt to tell the story in linear narrative
including events from both the parts of ‘The Sense of an Ending’.
"History is that certainty produced at the point
where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation."
How far can you agree with this definition of Adrian? Justify you answer with
reference to your reading of ‘The Sense of an Ending’.
Discussion with Old Joe Hunt, the teacher in school. Pg
4-5 (something happened), pg 10-11 (can’t know-don’t know, history of
historians, pg 16-17 (lies of victory, onion, memory – documentation), pg 56
(neither victorious, nor defeated)
“The question of subjective versus objective
interpretation, the fact that we need to know the history of the historian in
order to understand the version that is being put in front of us.” Do you
agree? Give substantial illustrations from ‘The Sense of an Ending’.
Explain how through the memory of Tony Webster, Julian
Barnes justifies the universal truth that ‘one cannot know what one does not
“History isn’t the lies of the victors . . . It’s more
the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious nor
defeated.” Justify this view of Tony Webster with the help of your reading of
‘The Sense of an Ending’. (Qtd. From pg 56)
“You still don’t get it. You never did, and you never
will. So stop even trying”. Justify with reference to the universal reality
that Anthony Webster faces about seeing, perceiving and understanding events of
real life in Julian Barnes’s ‘The Sense of an Ending’
Barnes's Booker-long listed novella is a meditation on ageing, memory and
regret.” Justine Jordan
80 – In email to Veronica Tony: “. . . one of the differences between youth and
age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are
old, we invent different pasts for others.
81 – nostalgia = feeling of regret and guilt
105 – the memory becomes a thing of shreds and patches. It is a bit like the black
box airplanes carry to record what happens in a crash. If nothing goes wrong,
the tape erases itself. Therefore, if you do crash, it is obvious why you did;
if you do not, and then the log of your journey is much less clear.
would be a mistake to dismiss this as a mere psychological thriller. It is in
fact a tragedy, like Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, which it
resembles.” Anita Brookner
Governess tries to save kids from haunting memory of sexually abused children
in form of ghost visitation – ultimate death of Miles, the boy – debate on the
real existence of Ghost or mere representation of haunting memory)
a book about history and how we recall events.” Robin Leggett
Sense of an Ending, fittingly, deals with grave existential
questions.” A. J. Kirby)
the theme of suicide: Two suicides – Robson and Adrian Finn. Pg 17 – Robson’s
suicide. Pg 47-49 – Adrian Finn’s suicide)
Barnes plays with the maxim that it’s better to regret the things you have done
than the things you haven’t, and thus rages against living life complacently.”
A. J. Kirby
Sense of an Ending” looks at the ways in which people distort or tailor the
past in an effort to mythologize their own lives. - Michiko Kakutani.
your argument in light of Roland Barthes views: ‘Myth converts history into
nature. And the task of the mythographer is to rediscover the element of
history (truth-fact-past) that motivates the myth, to elicit what is specific
to a given time and place, asking what interests are served by the
naturalization of particular convictions and values.’
Sense of an Ending is a short book, but not a slight one. In it,
Julian Barnes reveals crystalline truths that have taken a lifetime to harden.
He has honed their edges, and polished them to a high gleam.”- Liesl
recurs as a motif in the novel. Whom do you think is ‘damaged’ and who is the
: the letter written by Tony to Adrain and Veronica
damages Veronica’s relation with Adrain
leads Adrain to meet Sarah Ford > their affair
pregnancy > which may have lead to Adrain Finn’s suicide!
child, names Adrain is born with metal retardness > damage caused by suicide
of Adrain to Sarah while she is pregnant > or her middle-aged pregnancy
letter damages several lives > Veronica, Adrain, Sarah and young Adrain
is not the main point; character and life are Barnes’ focus.” - Whispering Gums
It would be injustice to Barnes if we say that the novel
is plotless or poorly constructed plot. It has a beginning, middle and the end.
He is able to pull readers towards climax and the effect of peripatetia and
anagnorisis leads to the catastrophe – the final revelation of the identity of
40 years old abnormal Adrian helps in holding on the plot.
And yet, the telling of life, the history, the memory
seen through a particular character is very important in this novel.
At times, the plot seem to suffer because of the
character’s meditating memory and nostalgic hindsight on past life.
book’s plot reads like that of a thriller paperback: full of
vengeful ex-girlfriends, youth suicide, and illicit sex.” Explain. (Geoff Mak)
and Thanatos . . . Sex and death. . . Or love and death, if you prefer. The
erotic principle, in any case, coming into conflict with the death principle.
And what ensues from that conflict.” How far this statement encircles the
central theme of the novel The Sense of an Ending’. (Key:
First explain concept of Eros and Thanatos and then illustrate from the text –
love and suicide incident – and conflict in the memory of narrator)
The Beginning of the novel. Write a critique on
the beginning of the novel.
“The argument in both the beginning and end of the book,”
said Barnes, “is about where responsibility lies. And to what extent something
like a suicide is entirely the responsibility of the person who has done it, or
is there a whole chain of responsibility. And there usually is.”
The Title – ‘The Sense of an Ending’.
Discussion on ‘History’ in school. Write a critique on the
classroom scene where teacher and students discuss ‘History’.
The Ending of ‘The Sense of an Ending’: Psychological
thriller, suspense, the group of mentally retarded young people in 30s >
Initially, Tony cannot see (You just don’t get it, do you? But then you never
did – Veronica) the features of Adrian in one of the young man > suddenly
realizes > realization dawn on him > yet another time ‘did not get it
right > thought him to be Veronica and Adrian’s son > the truth, the
secret is revealed, rather casually > he is ‘Adrian, son of Sarah &
brother of Veronica > Tony joins the dots – blood money as per Veronica,
Sarah’s 500 pounds for the happiness she had with Adrian, Veronica sacrifices
her happiness and takes care of mentally retarded Adrian, veronica as
instinctive or manipulative (rather who is calculative and manipulative), all
his allegations for Veronica and Adrian came to be true for his own character,
not only his ‘words’ in the letter to Adrian came ‘life’, but what he said and
thought and memorized as true history of survivor, proved to be limited
interpretation of the events, it rather mirrored Tony’s true self to himself –
leads to the deep introspection about oneself, when one passes judgments on
Prose style: “Elegant, witty and playful, and he
often employs techniques associated with postmodern writing - unreliable
narrators, a self-conscious linguistic style, an intertextual blending of
different narrative forms - which serve to foreground the process of literary
creation, the gap between experience and language, and the subjectivity of
'truth' and 'reality”.
an essay on ‘The Sense of an Ending’ as a Postmodernist novel.
Key: Postmodernism borrows from modernism
disillusionment with the givens of society; a penchant for irony; the
self-conscious “play” within the work of art; fragmentation and ambiguity; and
a destructured, decentered, dehumanized subject. But while modernism presented
a fragmented view of human history (as in Eliot’s The Waste Land – ), this fragmentation was seen as tragic. Despite
their pessimism, modernist works still hope, following Matthew Arnold a
generation before, that art may e able to provide the unity, coherence, and
meaning that has been lost in most of modern life, as church and nation have
failed to do. One can locate this hope, faint as it sometimes is, in such
memorable passages as the Molly Bloom section that closes Joyce’s Ullysses (1922). In contrast, postmodernism not only does
not mourn the loss of meaning but celebrates the activity of fragmentation.
Whereas modernism still seeks a rational meaning in a work of art,
postmodernism explores the provisionality and irrationality of art.
narrator: “Was this their exact exchange? Almost
certainly not. Still, it is my best memory of their exchange.” (Pg 19)
In the introduction to the Folio Society
edition of the novel he wrote a couple of years ago, he called it ‘the most
perfectly deployed example of the unreliable narrator’, and explained its
method thus: ‘The storyteller isn’t up to the level of his own story; he is a
bumbler obliged to convey an intrigue of operatic passion which he himself only
partially understands. . . . ’. In light of this remark, give your critique of
the narrative style in ‘The Sense of an Ending’.
“The point is not about the ‘ugliness of
letter’ which causes ‘damage’; it is rather about what he ‘thinks’ about it and
how he ‘memorizes’ it”. Explain with reference to your reading of ‘The Sense of
‘It is not about what we ‘do’, it is about
how we ‘remember’ what we have done?’. Illustrate with reference to the novel
‘The Sense of an Ending’.
How is the so-called ‘ugly letter’ mentioned
in Part One of the novel? How does the real letter presented in Part Two to the
readers prove the point of ‘adequacy of document’ and ‘imperfections of memory’
in the history?
“Real literature was about psychological,
emotional and social truth as demonstrated by the actions and reflections of
its protagonists; the novel was about character developed over time.” How does
this line from the novel illustrate character development of ‘Anthony Webster’
in ‘The Sense of an Ending’?
Julian Barnes reference to ‘accumulation’ and
‘responsibility’ is an attempt to secularize Hindu Karmic philosophy in
rational language to make it understandable to the generation of 21st century.
How far do you agree with it.
Barnes dramatizes this
chain of responsibility against a backdrop of class difference : Justify
your answer. (See answer in ‘Class Difference print out or in the interview on this weblink)
Julian Barnes center in
not to discuss ‘class difference’ or ‘culture’. They are rather shifted on the
periphery of his discourse that centers on ‘memory’, ‘history’, ‘time’ and
‘quest for truth’. Illustrate with your reading of ‘The Sense of an Ending’.
Literature - mirror - photograph - x-ray
image - axe to break frozen self - dry coconut
Cultural degradation – in
form of teenage affairs, sexual behaviour, pregnant girls in school,
teenage-adult suicides, easy-come-easy-go-relations, divorce etc
Class difference – Fords
vs Webster & the damage caused by such behaviour
Barnes’s centre in not
these issues of British Middle Class culture or society. Why?
What does the text do as a
part of philosophical thinking?
It centers on ‘why people
lie – falsehood; question of truth.
Here it is not the truth
or falsehood of others or told to others; it is rather the ones told to the
Why we memorize false
facts? Why we construct convenient memory?
Explain Ann Gray’s three propositions on
‘knowability’ with illustrations from the novel ‘The Sense of an Ending’.
Identifying what is
acknowledging the relationship of the knower and the known
What is the procedure for
thought it was a book that spoke to the humankind in the 21st Century."
Dame Stella Rimington (chair of the judges for
the 2011 Man Booker Prize.)
1. The ‘inadequacy
of documentation’ and the damage caused by it – The people of 21st
century ‘keep record’ of their thinking, travels, doings and happening over
social media and in cyber space. If document like a letter once written by Tony
and then imperfectly memorized by him in complacent way caused ‘great unrest’
to him, what can ‘life documented on cyber space’ do if revisited? It gives one
of those questions to 21st century people which Edward Snowded alarmed
people against political powers / governments. People may be posting several
things. It may not be illegal today. But the power redefines the rules and
something that was once neither legal nor illegal, turns down to be illegal. Which may bring great unrest to an
2. Secondly, 21st century habit of
communication is not letter writing. It is email or sms. There is difference in
communication in letter writing and eCommunication. There is a lot of time between the written letter and
its posting and postman delivering to the given address. The communication can
be stopped at various point if we realize that the words used in letter should
not have been used. We can tear the letter before posting or retrieve from post
office before it is delivered. In email or sms, that is not possible. Once
clicked, it is gone. No regret or remorse can stop it from delivering. Then,
all these messages over whatsapp or social media are saved by people. We may
have forgotten that we have communicated as such. But it may come back to us as
screen shot of our forgotten communication. The damage caused by such communication is terrible. The 21st
cen people will have to grapple with it. The letter of Tony when read by him at
older age gives him great unrest. He says he is not that Tony who wrote this
letter. It was the yonger, angrier, damaged, envious Tony. Thus, this becomes
significant to 21st readers to understand that what we communicate
today, may come back to us and it may give great unrest.
3. Thirdly, like the metaphor of black box in
airplane, we do not read our memory until and unless we meet with an accident
in our relations. If there is no accident, we do not visit our memory. After
accident, unlike in black box, we start looking at past events with newer
developments in relations. We colour past events with new insights. We memorise
it not the way it happened, but the way other events are shaping our relations.
We construct chain of events / chain of responsibilities in our memory about
past events with reference to new or recent happenings. This is something very
significant for the 21st cen people whose life moves much faster
than that of people of all previous ages/centuries.
4. Lastly, in this Post-truth era, it is
significant to realize that we cannot rely even our own memory. Our memory may
be imperfect. We may have constructed it to comfort or console us. The events
may have happened it quite an antithetical way then the way we have memorized it.
The inadequacy of document will lead us to believe in the lies we have
imperfectly memories and thus historicized.
Which of the following book cover suits well with the central theme of the novel: