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Open ending

Related: unresolvedness - fiction - plot device - story - technique

More 'endings' :fate


An ending where the reader is left unresolved as to what will happen after the story has ended. [Aug 2006]

Open endings in 19th century literature

I recently gave the concept of a happy ending some attention in a post concerned with feelgood films and romantic comedies. When I was writing that post I was thinking about the concept of 'open endings' but could not find much (the nearest being cliffhanger plot device in serial fiction). Today, by chance, after finishing a page on Thomas Hardy's 1895 novel Jude the Obscure. I found an article by Robert Schweik commenting on 'open endings' in 19th century novels such as Madame Bovary (1857) The Sentimental Education (1869) and Jude the Obscure (1985).

A greater willingness to find new kinds of endings was one notable consequence of the growing rage for innovation in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century art, and those innovations were put to an enormously wide range of artistic purposes. Among these was the use of a complex of devices for creating a more open-ended art work--one which, in Robert Martin Adams' phrase, included 'a major unresolved conflict with the intent of displaying its unresolvedness'. ...

Some few signs of an increasing willingness of novelists to exploit such endings began to appear after the middle of the nineteenth century in England and on the Continent. For example, in both Madame Bovary (1857) and The Sentimental Education (1869), Flaubert gave the final words to a character who speaks simplistic banalities that leave the reader with no concluding authorial overview which might create a surer sense of resolution. Of the multiple endings Dickens wrote to Great Expectations (1861), the first would have denied readers the sense of resolution that comes from the conventional use of a marriage to suggest an achieved happiness. Hardy, too, claimed that in the composition of The Return of the Native he had intended to have a more 'open' ending--again without a marriage--but was discouraged from doing so by the conventions required by serial publication. --http://www.yale.edu/hardysoc/VPBOX/robert.htm [Aug 2005]

See also: ambivalence - ambiguity - 1800s literature - modernist literature

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