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Unsettling endings in English-language fiction

La fin en question dans la littérature anglophone

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Published on Monday, January 19, 2015


This conference seeks to shed new light on the final sections of English language film and literary works from all periods, and to theorize unsettling excipits, whether last lines, last verses, last scenes, or last words.




The untangling of the fictional plot known as “the end” is generally the locus of closure, catharsis, or even morality. Endings provide a strong narrative signal that marks the end of a fictional landscape in the same manner that a border stone (finis, in Latin) signals the farther reaches of a territory. Yet many endings do not satisfyingly conclude, or, at least, will not release us so easily from the nets of the text, thus calling into question the very mechanisms—narrative, philosophical and cognitive—of completion.

Setting aside the delineation issues the topic will inevitably raise (for, after all, where does the end begin?), this one-day conference will focus specifically on endings that are more disruptive than conclusive. While many texts do provide a satisfactory resolution, others can appear troubling, frustrating or unsettling. What should we make of the dissonance we feel when an ending seems somehow incompatible with the rest of the work it is meant to complete? What are the consequences for the coherence of the work and the fluidity of the reader’s experience? How does this rift between the reader’s expectations and the work itself (what Jauss called the “aesthetic distance”[1]) alter the modalities of reception? How have the codes of poetic justice, the happy ending or the tearjerker evolved throughout the history of hermeneutic practices?  

This conference seeks to shed new light on the final sections of English language film and literary works from all periods, and to theorize unsettling excipits, whether last lines, last verses, last scenes, or last words.

Proposals may consider but are not limited to:

  • So-called traditional endings, which can be construed as perfunctory concessions to the norm or didactic gimmicks which do not truly revoke the transgressions carried out by the text (see for instance the domestic conclusion of Jane Eyre). Such endings would then become self-consciously superfluous, resembling the end Henry James ironically compared to “a distribution […] of prizes, pensions, husbands, wives, babies, millions, appended paragraphs, and cheerful remarks”[2].
  • Unsatisfying endings experienced as lackluster, disappointing or obscure (see the reception of the Lost series’ finale for instance), or else overly abrupt endings of the deus ex machina variety, whereby a bold artifice brings a complicated intrigue to a swift resolution (e.g. the arrival of the naval officer in Lord of the Flies).
  • Endings which deviate from generic expectations, such as forme fixe poems that choose to add or subtract a final line, thus raising questions relevant to more general considerations of rhythm and the relationship of endings to narrative cadence.
  • Revised and rectified endings, as exemplified by Conan Doyle killing off Sherlock Holmes only to revive him eight years later, or the original ending of Great Expectations by Dickens, which was revised and replaced by an alternative ending following the advice of fellow writer Bulwer-Lytton.
  • Endings and serial forms: where do episodes, seasons, sequels and sagas actually end? What can be said about the fact that production studios now tend to re-orient endings according to audience reception?
  • Endings in film: what conventions are used in film (fade-out, cut-to-black, freeze-frame shots etc.) and how are they subverted? What might the gradual disappearance of ending signals indicate (e.g. the fate of “The End” title cards, or the minimization – if not downright suppression – of final credits through the insertion of bloopers, teasers etc.)?
  • Cyclic endings, anti-endings, nonexistent or open endings. How can one account for these mutations generalized by modernism and postmodernism, and which display a clear disjunction between closure and conclusion?
  • Unfinished works and the quest to complete them undertaken by speculating critics, editorial teams and legatees (see the discussions around works such as Billy Budd, Sailor, by H. Melville, The Pale King, by D. Foster Wallace or The Original of Laura by V. Nabokov), which might well be perceived as a collective desire for ending(s) – or conversely as an anxiety of incompletion. In the end, how are unfinished works to be read?

[1] Hans Robert Jauss, Toward an Aesthetic of Reception, trans. Timothy Bahti. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982.

[2] Henry James, The Art of Criticism, University of Chicago Press, 1986, 168.

Submission guidelines

  • The conference is open to all
  • Abstracts should be 350 words maximum, submitted with a short biographical note
  • Abstracts and questions should be submitted to: laboratoire.ovale@gmail.com
  • Language of abstracts and papers: French or English
  • Papers must not exceed 20 minutes in duration


  • Submission deadline: March 10th, 2015

  • Feedback: starting April, 5th 2015

A selection of papers might be considered for publication in the academicjournal Sillages Critiques. The conference will be held in Paris, at the Maison de la Recherche of Paris-Sorbonne University (28, rue Serpente, 75006 Paris).  

Scientific committee

  • Lucille Hagège,
  • Isabelle Montin,
  • Sigolène Vivier

OVALE research seminar - Paris-IV Sorbonne University   


  • Maison de la Recherche - 26, rue Serpente
    Paris, France (75006)


  • Tuesday, March 10, 2015


  • fin, film, oeuvre


  • OVALE Laboratoire
    courriel : laboratoire [dot] ovale [at] gmail [dot] com

Information source

  • sigolène vivier
    courriel : laboratoire [dot] ovale [at] gmail [dot] com


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Unsettling endings in English-language fiction », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, January 19, 2015, https://calenda.org/314582

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