The Consolation of Form: the Theoretical and Historical Significance of Frank Kermode’s The Sense of an Ending

  • Daniel R. Schwarz


The publication of Frank Kermode’s The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction in 1967 caused considerable excitement among literary faculties in America. For at a time when the relevance of literary study was being called into question by the Vietnam War, the Anti-War protest movement, and the resulting fissures between university and society, Kermode’s book argued that literary study was central to our lives; or, as Kermode puts it in his first paragraph, to ‘making sense of the ways we try to make sense of our lives’ (p. 3).1 He shows that our imaginative responses to life (including the category of life which we call literature) are shaped by our condition of mortality and by our desperate desire to repress, overcome and ignore that condition by means of sense-making structures provided by our imagination. For, we are ‘in the middest, desiring these moments of significance which harmonize origin and end’ (p. 48).


Literary Criticism Literary Text Biblical Text Figural Interpretation Literary Fiction 
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  1. 2.
    Frank Kermode, Romantic Image (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1957).Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    Joseph Frank, ‘Spatial Form: An Answer to Critics’, Critical Inquiry, 4 (Winter 1977) p. 246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 7.
    Quoted in William K. Wimsatt, Jr and Cleanth Brooks, Literary Criticism (New York: Vintage, 1967) 1st edn 1957, p. 29.Google Scholar
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    Erich Auerbach, Mimesis, trans. by Willard Trask (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1957) original edn 1953, p. 64.Google Scholar
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    Frank Lentricchia, After the New Criticism (University of Chicago Press, 1980) p. 33.Google Scholar
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    Gerald Graff, Literature Against Itself (University of Chicago Press, 1979) p. 169.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Daniel R. Schwarz 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel R. Schwarz
    • 1
  1. 1.Cornell UniversityUSA

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