beginnings + endings

what is it about the way something starts? or how it is punctuated?

we look at bookends (“occur or be positioned at the end or on either side of something”) as important markers.

why? what is important about the initial bang to set something off? is it a literary tip of the hat or handshake? or what is it about needing to have something end on a particular note in order to frame all that came before it?

a few (famous) opening lines of novels:

Call me Ishmael. – Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

A screaming comes across the sky. – Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. – Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

I am an invisible man. – Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. – James Joyce, Ulysses

All this happened, more or less. – Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. – Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

a few endings to novels:

…you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on. –Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. –F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

(My personal favorite:) …I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. –James Joyce, Ulysses

Are there any questions? –Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

You have fallen into art—return to life –William H. Gass, Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife

He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance. –Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

He never sleeps, the judge. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die. –Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

Now everybody— –Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow



2 thoughts on “beginnings + endings

  1. MaryStuart says:

    Thanks Ellen! That was great! The only thing I would add is that although this topic came up because our favorite opening and closing lines of books kept coming up in our last discussion, opening and closing lines are not the only way to go with the topic. I’m sure that’s obvious by now but I just wanted to be clear that we started with “bookends” but that is not where we have to end up.

    • ellen says:

      duuuuuuh. ha, no i agree! i was hoping to bang out the first thing that comes to mind in terms of the topic + our initial idea here so that our discussion at the next meeting can take on new directions!

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