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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

Chapter 11 - Concluding


Chapter XLIX: The conclusion, in which nothing is concluded

Samuel Johnson, Rasselas (1759)

The anxiety, which in this state of their attachment must be the portion of Henry and Catherine, and of all who loved either, as to its final event, can hardly extend, I fear, to the bosom of my readers, who will see in the tell-tale compression of the pages before them, that we are hastening together to perfect felicity.

Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1817)

The endings of novels are always bad, argued E. M. Forster, because everything needs to be satisfactorily wrapped up: “no wonder that nothing is heard but hammering and screwing.” It would be much more rewarding if novelists could simply persevere until they got too bored or confused to keep going. But whether we write six-page papers or six-hundred-page novels, all of us who write know how much an ending matters: this is where we are expected to provide clarity and revelation, to make readers feel that they have spent their time well in reading everything that has gone before. And it is because novelists know how much pressure we put on endings that so many of them joke about the high expectations we bring to their closing chapters. In Johnson's concluding chapter of Rasselas “nothing is concluded,” while Austen puts an end to the suspenseful delay of Northanger Abbey (will the lovers Henry and Catherine overcome parental opposition?

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