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Marianna Torgovnick. Closure in the Novel. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1981. 238 pp. $16.50. This is a study sure to appear on every library's "must-have" list despite drastically cut budgets. Indeed, its attractions are many: the topic is timely; the scope is broad; the format is attractive; and the cost should not be prohibitive.' A concern for closure, as Torgovnick suggests in the introduction , is as quotidian as walking a dog: "Try to interrupt someone nearing the end of a novel or sporting event or television program, and, unless the person's interest in his activity is minimal, you'll get a request to wait just a moment until the reading or viewing is completed." Her point is well taken: endings hold real human interest and provide a means by which man can order his experience. The introduction serves as a valuable summary of the work to date on the subject of closure, beginning with E.M. Forster and Henry James and citing the work of Barbara Herrnstein Smith, David Richter, and Robert Adams. After charging Frank Kermode's The Sense of the Ending with incompleteness, Torgovnick similarly dismisses two other major studies, René Girard's Deceit, Desire, and the Novel and Alan Friedman's The Turn of the Novel, as marred by "too narrow a selection of texts or too polemical a preference for certain kinds of endings." She, however, may be liable on the same counts. Although, as the dust-jacket claims, she draws "on a wide range of nineteenth and twentieth-century English, French, American, and Russian novels," Torgovnick's choice of texts—Middlemarch, Bleak House, War and Peace, The Scarlet Letter, Vanity Fair, L'Education sentimentale, TTTi Portrait of a Lady, The Ambassadors, The Golden Bowl, Light in August, and The Waves—is limited to one kind of novel drawn from the hat of "great books." We miss, for instance, analyses of works that might make Closure in the Novel the inclusive study it strives to be, say an early novel-] 5 gothic romance, a nouveau roman. Furthermore, Torgovnick herself seems to exhibit a "polemical streak in her insistence that the first ending of The Portrait of a Lady is better, that is more ambiguous and more demanding of the reader, than the "flatter" revised version. The major contribution of Closure in the Novel (or its primary fault, depending on one's theoretical predisposition) is the elaborate vocabulary Torgovnick develops to discuss the endings of novels. This nomenclature consists of four sets of terras. The first set, which describes the relationship of the end to the shape of the fiction, includes two familiar geometrical patterns, those of circularity and parallelism, and a third geometrical metaphor, incompletion. A tangential ending is one that introduces a new topic, while linkage is a strategy that refers to the body of another, often unwritten novel. The second set of terms describes the author's and the reader's perspective on the end of the novel. Torgovnick's terras overview and close-up are analogous to James's "telling" and "showing." Thus, it seems, the literary community has long had ways of talking about the shapes of endings and the reader's and writer's perspectives on them. The critic's third set of terms concerns the relationship between author and reader during closure. When the reader accepts the ending and the meaning the author desires to convey, the relationship can be termed compleraentary. When, on the other hand, the writer must persuade the reader to accept his ending, the relationship is incongruent. The fourth set of terms I find the most troublesome. Here Torgovnick develops the distinction between self-aware authors, "who have mastered their ideas, THE HENRY JAMES REVIEW 149 WINTER, 1983 know what they want to say by way of closure, and successfully go about saying it," and self-deceiving authors, who "may not have fully thought through their ideas." Although she anticipates being charged with committing the intentional fallacy, she does not even flinch when she tells us what Dickens or Tolstoy or Flaubert thought. Neither does she hesitate to claim the ability to reproduce the viewpoint of the ideal reader. Despite...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 149-150
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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