Dear Readers,

I now consider this blog to be my Juvenelia. Have fun perusing the archives, and find me at my new haunt, here.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Best Last Lines in Literature

We love talking about first lines, but now (thanks to political blogger Matt Yglesias) here's the American Book Review's list of 100 best last lines, as a PDF. It's a little heavy on the po-mo but a GREAT conversation starter.

Here's how I'd arrange my top 15 on the list, based on books I've actually read, and last lines that have made me gasp, sob, cry, shake my head, or think. (The ranking #s from the official list precede them) I think it makes my populist/Victorian/feminist taste very clear. There's a lot of Joyce in here because he's such a master at building you up to a crescendo and then making your brain explode with his last words.

3. So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
–F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925) [You win, Scotty]

4. I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. –James Joyce, Ulysses (1922) [YES! the actual last sentence goes on for pages and pages. I copied out a bigger chunk of the soliloquy here]

11. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the
universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead. –James Joyce, “The Dead” in Dubliners (1914) [utterly perfect, comes to mind all the time]

29. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive:
for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that
things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the
number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs. –George
Eliot, Middlemarch (1871–72) [A tear-jerker and profound, too. I've written about this one here]

5. But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt
Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there
before. –Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) [Just brilliant last line. I <3> Huck.]

14. Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity! –Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener (1853) [My HLP was just talking with me about how Bartleby is the first countercultural hero in Am-Lit]

45. Are there any questions? –Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (1986) [Um, yes, there are a ton. So ironic.]

46. It was a fine cry—loud and long—but it had no bottom and it had no top, just
circles and circles of sorrow. –Toni Morrison, Sula (1973) [This one made me cry, too. Wrote about this here]

77. “Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.” –Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind (1936) [A cliche, but true.]

99. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see. –Zora
Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) [Really triumphant, life-affirming last line, for a heroine who's seen so much death]

56. He knelt by the bed and bent over her, draining their last moment to its lees;
and in the silence there passed between them the word which made all clear. –Edith
Wharton, The House of Mirth (1905) [Wrote about this here--NEVER fails to make me cry]

64. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the
rain. –Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (1929) [Wahhhh]

52. Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody. –J. D.
Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951) [Wahhhh, part 2]

59. Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead. –James Joyce, A
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) [So clear, yet so mysterious, a great line to utter when you're on the cusp of a new beginning or endeavor]

41. I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering
among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the
grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth. –Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (1847) [gee, Mr. Lockwood, how could anybody ever imagine such a thing? Maybe by reading the last 300 pages?]

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