Advanced

The Sense of an Ending — in Life and Narrative: Mme de Staël and Stendhal

Mörte Alling, Annika LU and Cabak Rédei, Anna LU (2012) Narrative Matters 2012 - Life and Narrative
Abstract
The sense of an ending – in Life and Narrative"

The view that narratives are mediations of reality, has been put forward, among others by Jerome Bruner (1991). This presentation will concentrate on one important aspect of the relation between life and narrative, namely the end. What happens at the ending of a literary work – to the reader, to the protagonists, to the narrator – could it be related to how human beings react and behave at the end of their lives?

According to literary critics like Peter Brooks (1985) and Armine Kotin Mortimer (1984), readers approaching the end of a narrative search for « a total metaphor », an « ultimate » meaning of the story as a whole. In cases where the story relates the life of a... (More)
The sense of an ending – in Life and Narrative"

The view that narratives are mediations of reality, has been put forward, among others by Jerome Bruner (1991). This presentation will concentrate on one important aspect of the relation between life and narrative, namely the end. What happens at the ending of a literary work – to the reader, to the protagonists, to the narrator – could it be related to how human beings react and behave at the end of their lives?

According to literary critics like Peter Brooks (1985) and Armine Kotin Mortimer (1984), readers approaching the end of a narrative search for « a total metaphor », an « ultimate » meaning of the story as a whole. In cases where the story relates the life of a character, and ends with his or her death, this search for a global meaning is at work at several levels simultaneously; sensing the end approach the character reassesses his life and tries to grasp an overall meaning of it, sometimes reaching a moment of truth or new knowledge. Questions that are posed centre around the quality of life (was it a happy life or an unhappy one?) and around the possible lesson that the protagonist might have learned from the experiences of life. In addition, the reader might ask himself why the author chose to expose these particular experiences to us and what implications all of this might have in the reader’s own life.

We would like to relate these considerations to some theories and experiments within cognitive science about the human need in general to evaluate the quality of a life at its end. Rozin and Stellar (2009), for instance, suggest that posthumous happy effects within the frames of studies in short life accounts, may be a result of a generic human process, which they call ‘retroactive re-evaluation’.

Our point of departure will be some examples from endings in the French history of literature, namely from Germaine de Staël’s autobiography Dix années d’exil, Balzac’s novel Illusions perdues and Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le Noir. One may assume that the endings have different implications for the reader, the first being a non-fictive narrative and the other two fictive ones.



References: Brooks, Peter (1984). Reading for the Plot. Design and Intention in Narrative, Harvard University Press. Bruner, J (1991). The Narrative Construction of Reality. Critical Inquiry, Vol. 18, No, 1, pp. 1-21. Mortimer, Armine Kotin (1985). La Clôture narrative, José Corti.

Rozin P, Stellar J (2009). Posthumous events affect rated quality and happiness of lives. Judgement and Decision Making, Vol. 4. No. 4, June, pp. 273-279. (Less)
Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:
author
organization
publishing date
type
Contribution to conference
publication status
unpublished
subject
pages
21 pages
conference name
Narrative Matters 2012 - Life and Narrative
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
d6781269-b070-4ad5-8d69-1e80c107e91b (old id 2863351)
alternative location
http://my.aup.edu/conference/narrative-matters-2012
date added to LUP
2012-08-06 09:34:40
date last changed
2016-04-16 09:11:45
@misc{d6781269-b070-4ad5-8d69-1e80c107e91b,
  abstract     = {The sense of an ending – in Life and Narrative"<br/><br>
The view that narratives are mediations of reality, has been put forward, among others by Jerome Bruner (1991). This presentation will concentrate on one important aspect of the relation between life and narrative, namely the end. What happens at the ending of a literary work – to the reader, to the protagonists, to the narrator – could it be related to how human beings react and behave at the end of their lives?<br/><br>
According to literary critics like Peter Brooks (1985) and Armine Kotin Mortimer (1984), readers approaching the end of a narrative search for « a total metaphor », an « ultimate » meaning of the story as a whole. In cases where the story relates the life of a character, and ends with his or her death, this search for a global meaning is at work at several levels simultaneously; sensing the end approach the character reassesses his life and tries to grasp an overall meaning of it, sometimes reaching a moment of truth or new knowledge. Questions that are posed centre around the quality of life (was it a happy life or an unhappy one?) and around the possible lesson that the protagonist might have learned from the experiences of life. In addition, the reader might ask himself why the author chose to expose these particular experiences to us and what implications all of this might have in the reader’s own life.<br/><br>
We would like to relate these considerations to some theories and experiments within cognitive science about the human need in general to evaluate the quality of a life at its end. Rozin and Stellar (2009), for instance, suggest that posthumous happy effects within the frames of studies in short life accounts, may be a result of a generic human process, which they call ‘retroactive re-evaluation’.<br/><br>
Our point of departure will be some examples from endings in the French history of literature, namely from Germaine de Staël’s autobiography Dix années d’exil, Balzac’s novel Illusions perdues and Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le Noir. One may assume that the endings have different implications for the reader, the first being a non-fictive narrative and the other two fictive ones.<br/><br>
<br/><br>
References: Brooks, Peter (1984). Reading for the Plot. Design and Intention in Narrative, Harvard University Press. Bruner, J (1991). The Narrative Construction of Reality. Critical Inquiry, Vol. 18, No, 1, pp. 1-21. Mortimer, Armine Kotin (1985). La Clôture narrative, José Corti.<br/><br>
Rozin P, Stellar J (2009). Posthumous events affect rated quality and happiness of lives. Judgement and Decision Making, Vol. 4. No. 4, June, pp. 273-279.},
  author       = {Mörte Alling, Annika and Cabak Rédei, Anna},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {21},
  title        = {The Sense of an Ending — in Life and Narrative: Mme de Staël and Stendhal},
  year         = {2012},
}