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Page last updated at 06:37 GMT, Tuesday, 4 August 2009 07:37 UK
Famous last words

Open book

The opening lines of great novels have achieved a literary status all of their own.

Whether 'It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen' (1984) or 'Call me Ishmael.' (Moby Dick), their resonances have seduced readers down the years.

But what of the last lines of great works of literature? Writer and broadcaster Tom Sutcliffe recently argued that first lines can make an impression without the reader having had read the whole novel - whereas the impression of last lines rests on the preceding pages.

The first line has to arrest the reader, seduce them so they continue with the book - but by the final line the author already has them.

Today has asked our erudite listeners for their thoughts on the best endings from novels. Here is just a sample of your thoughts. Tell us your favourite last words using the form at the bottom of the page.


Has to be the brilliant Great Expectations: "I took her hand in mine, and we went out of the ruined place; and, as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the forge, so, the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, I saw no shadow of another parting from her."
David Stanley, Twickenham

I nominate F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby - "So we beat on, boats against the current, drawn back ceaselessly into the past."
Mick Chandler, Kenilworth, UK

For me, the greatest finale, although maybe you have to have read the book to quite appreciate its significance, is the ending of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World:

"Just under the crown of the arch dangled a pair of feet.

'Mr Savage'

Slowly, very slowly, like two unhurried compass needles, the feet turned towards the right; north, north-east, east, south-east, south, south-west; the paused, and after a few seconds, turned as unhurriedly back towards the left. South-south-west, south, south-east, east ..."
Simon Hunter, London

"and yes I said yes I will Yes" James Joyce's Ulysses
Florence Minnis, York, UK

"He drew a deep breath. 'Well, I'm back' he said"... so Sam Gamgee ends Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. In understated relief, quintessentially English!
Debby Plummer, Manchester UK

"And, like he suspected, there is a moment, when ascension has stopped, but before the drop, where everything pauses. Neither falling nor flying. An instant where time is frozen. It doesn't last as long as in the cartoons. It could be less than a second. But it's long enough to consider, with arms outstretched and bare feet together, if it might be better not to struggle anymore." Boy A, by Jonathan Trigell
Henry Davenport, Manchester UK

The eponymous "How Green Was My Valley, then, and the Valley of them that have gone".
Roger Maguire, Carshalton, Surrey

"And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea." Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
Peter Laing, St Peter Port, Guernsey

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte. "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 anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth."
Dr A Peter Fletcher, Halstead Essex UK

"After all, tomorrow is another day!"

Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
Alison Dwyer, Manchester, UK

"He had a moment of pure unmotived joy, one of those laconic moments when the world seems to exist for no other purpose. While it lasted he was reconciled to his life, to the slow treachery of mind and body, to the derisive shortness of the moments between the misery and ecstasy of youth and the long brutally slow decline ... For a moment he forgave Anne for dying.
Chris Parker, Crouch End, London

Charles Darwin, Origin of Species. "There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved."
Dr A Peter Fletcher, Halsread, Essex, UK

"The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky — seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness." Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness.
Clement Larrive, Hennebont, France

"So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing." Is The House At Pooh Corner a novel? Perhaps not. But it must have the ultimate tear jerker ending.
Ian Kennett, Harlow, Essex.

Reluctantly I find myself drawn back to the final words of Thomas Hardy in The Mayor of Casterbridge, which ends with the words "Happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain." Reading this many years ago I remember labelling him as just a cynical old man, but now, though I hate to admit it, I think he may have got it just right!
Gill Tubman, Ballynahinch, Northern Ireland

"For all to be accomplished, for me to feel less lonely, all that remained to hope was that on the day of my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration." Albert Camus' L'etranger (better in French)
Portia, London

"Oxen and wain-ropes would not bring me back again to that accursed island; and the worst dreams that I ever have are when I hear the surf booming about its coasts, or start upright in bed, with the sharp voice of Captain Flint still ringing in my ears: 'Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!'" Treasure Island
Peter Gasson, Aylesbury, Bucks, UK

The best last words of any book I've read have to be "this is not an exit". The perfect end to Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho.
Cass Moxon, London

"And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming, And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor; And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor Shall be lifted - nevermore!" Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven
Athos Athanasiou, London

"Adam and Eve take their leave of the Garden of Eden: They, hand in hand with wandring steps and slow, Through Eden took their solitarie way. Milton's Paradise Lost."
Peter Taylor, Whalley, Lancashire

Best last line is from The Great Gatsby: "And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." End of For Whom the Bell Tolls is also pretty marvellous: "After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain." I love this project. Last lines are magnificent, and neglected.
Tania Kindersley, Aboyne, Scotland

From Brave Little Soldier by Nolan Kenny. "The jets roared at full power as the aircraft lumbered down the runway and clawed it's way into the sullen sky. It banked towards the east ..... and his long forgotten home."
Ken Hilton, London

When Adam Ewing informs his father of his intention to join the Abolitonist cause, in David Mitchell's The Cloud Atlas, his father warns him that his dying breath will reveal that his life amounted to "no more than one drop in a limitless ocean".

The last line is; "Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops."
Sandie Buckley, Dorset, UK

I would concur with the Great Gatsby and also suggest The Poisonwood Bible which holds you until the last words: "You are afraid that you might forget, but you never will. You will forgive and remember. Think of the vine that curls from the small square plot that was once my heart. That is the only marker you need. Move on. Walk forward into the light."
Rosalyn Palmer, Nottingham, UK

This is a bit of a cheat, as it is the closing line of a film. However, the closing line is written on a title card and the film is based on a work of literature. The film is Barry Lyndon, based on the novel by William Makepeace Thackeray and ends: "It was in the reign of George III that the above-named personages lived and quarreled; good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now."

The book does not finish like this, so I suppose the credit for this ending should go to Stanley Kubrick, who wrote the screenplay.
Steve Taylor, Southampton, UK

"Amen! Even so come, Lord Jesus". The last words of Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Eyre. For years I wondered why she had ended it with those words, then, after I became a Christian, I read the second to last sentence of the Bible: "Amen! Even so come, Lord Jesus", and I immediately remembered Jane Eyre and thought, "Ah! that's where it comes from".
Janice Betson, Littlehampton, England

Albert Camus, The Plague (La Peste): He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.
John Thetidos, Oxford, England

The end of 'Heart of Darkness' would have been my first choice, so I will opt for the wonderfully poetic cadence of James Joyce's 'The Dead' instead:

"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."
Marcus Carding, Congleton, UK

"To us - and snails, God bless them!" (The Book and the Brotherhood: Iris Murdoch)
Gill Bellamy, Tring, Hertfordshire

The last two words of Scott Turrow's Personal Injuries are great, but I am not going to spoil your pleasure by telling you them. I had this book in the audio version, so I could not know what was coming. It's a good read, covering sleaze, love, and, in the end, an issue that Today has been discussing recently. Read it, but don't give out those last words.
CG, Norwich, England

After 60 years I still recall a last line in a Just William story. After William and the gang had looked after a neighbour's baby, she thanked William and expressed her undying gratitude. "… but that was before she saw the baby!"
Peter Greaves, Hertford, UK

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