Showing posts with label Julian Barnes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Julian Barnes. Show all posts

Thursday 3 February 2022

The Only Story

 The Only Story - Julian Barnes

Julian Barnes, in full Julian Patrick Barnes, pseudonyms Edward Pygge and Dan Kavanagh, (born January 19, 1946, Leicester, England), British critic and author of inventive and intellectual novels about obsessed characters curious about the past. Click here to read more, in brief, about his works).

About the novel - 'The Only Story'

1. Introductory Presentation by Students (2023)


 2. Introductory Presentation by Students (2022): The Only Story - Julian Barnes


 3. Characters | Plot Summary | Timeline | The Only Story


 4. Narrative Pattern | The Only Story


 5. Theme of Love | Passion and Suffering | The Only Story


 6. Memory Novel | Memory and History | The Only Story


 7. Joan | Character Study | The Only Story


 8. Two Ways to Look at Life | The Only Story


 9. Question of Responsibility | The Only Story


 10. Theme of Marriage | Critique of Marriage Institution | The Only Story


'The Only Story' as a Postmodern Novel by Julian Barnes

Crosswords: Symbolic Significance

The Question of Memory

Postmodern Absurdist Critique of 'The Only Story'

Summary of 'The Only Story'

Check your understanding of the novel: Click here to open an online test

Points to Ponder: Questions 

Presentations on 'The Only Story:

Additional Reading Resources:


Wednesday 5 February 2014

The Sense of an Ending: Julian Barnes: Teacher Resource & Worksheet

·        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 – self-revelation
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 novel: novel 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 page 34.)

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   Eros and Thanatos
o   First World War
o   Philosophy: “I can’t know what it is that I don’t know.”
o   Robson’s suicide
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 Vivekanand).
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 have seen:
o   how many things he narrated from his memory turn out to be real/true
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!
o   How 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 email?
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 care-in-the-community?
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?

Study Questions ‘The Sense of an Ending’:
1.            The 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’.
2.            "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’.
3.            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)
4.            “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’.
5.            Explain how through the memory of Tony Webster, Julian Barnes justifies the universal truth that ‘one cannot know what one does not know’.
6.            “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)     
7.            “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’
8.            “Julian Barnes's Booker-long listed novella is a meditation on ageing, memory and regret.” Justine Jordan
a.                Pg. 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.
b.               Pg. 81 – nostalgia = feeling of regret and guilt
c.                Pg 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.
9.            “It 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
a.                (Key: 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)
10.        It's a book about history and how we recall events.” Robin Leggett
11.        The Sense of an Ending, fittingly, deals with grave existential questions.”   A. J. Kirby)
a.                (KEY: the theme of suicide: Two suicides – Robson and Adrian Finn. Pg 17 – Robson’s suicide. Pg 47-49 – Adrian Finn’s suicide)
12.        “Mr. 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
13.        “The 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.
14.        Put 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.’
15.        The 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 Schillinger
16.        ‘Damage’ recurs as a motif in the novel. Whom do you think is ‘damaged’ and who is the ‘damager’?
a.                Damage : the letter written by Tony to Adrain and Veronica
b.               It damages Veronica’s relation with Adrain
c.                Perhaps, leads Adrain to meet Sarah Ford > their affair
d.               Sarah’s pregnancy > which may have lead to Adrain Finn’s suicide!
e.                The 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
f.                 The letter damages several lives > Veronica, Adrain, Sarah and young Adrain
17.        “Plot is not the main point; character and life are Barnes’ focus.” - Whispering Gums
a.                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.
b.               And yet, the telling of life, the history, the memory seen through a particular character is very important in this novel.
c.                At times, the plot seem to suffer because of the character’s meditating memory and nostalgic hindsight on past life.
18.        “The book’s plot reads like that of a thriller paperbackfull of vengeful ex-girlfriends, youth suicide, and illicit sex.” Explain. (Geoff Mak)
19.        “Eros 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)
20.        The Beginning of the novel. Write a critique on the beginning of the novel.
a.                “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.”[1]
21.        The Title – ‘The Sense of an Ending’.
22.        Discussion on ‘History’ in school. Write a critique on the classroom scene where teacher and students discuss ‘History’.
23.        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 others.
24.        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”.
25.        Write an essay on ‘The Sense of an Ending’ as a Postmodernist novel.
a.                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 – [1925]), 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.
26.        Unreliable narrator: “Was this their exact exchange? Almost certainly not. Still, it is my best memory of their exchange.” (Pg 19)
27.        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’.
28.        “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 an Ending’.
29.        ‘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’.
30.        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?
31.        “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’?
32.        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.
33.        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)
1.              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’.
34.        Literature - mirror - photograph - x-ray image - axe to break frozen self - dry coconut    
a.                Cultural degradation – in form of teenage affairs, sexual behaviour, pregnant girls in school, teenage-adult suicides, easy-come-easy-go-relations, divorce etc
b.               Class difference – Fords vs Webster & the damage caused by such behaviour
c.                Barnes’s centre in not these issues of British Middle Class culture or society. Why?
d.               What does the text do as a part of philosophical thinking?
e.                It centers on ‘why people lie – falsehood; question of truth.
f.                 Here it is not the truth or falsehood of others or told to others; it is rather the ones told to the ‘self’.
g.               Why we memorize false facts? Why we construct convenient memory?
35.        Explain Ann Gray’s three propositions on ‘knowability’ with illustrations from the novel ‘The Sense of an Ending’.
a.                Identifying what is knowable
b.               identifying and acknowledging the relationship of the knower and the known
c.                What is the procedure for ‘knowing’?
36.         "We 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.)
a.                 Key:
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 individual.
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.   

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Which of the following book cover suits well with the central theme of the novel: