No writer sits down to write, saying to herself, “I’m starting a great classic novel that will have some amazing closing sentences.” No, she has most likely just come home from work – perhaps as a shop assistant, or a school teacher, maybe a lawyer or a laboratory worker – and keen to get started on realising the idea that’s been burning away in her imagination. That idea could end in a classic novel though.
Jane Austen did not know, when she sat down to write Pride and Prejudice, that it would one day be regarded as one of the greatest novels ever written, and certainly a major classic. Herman Melville worked hard for several years, writing Moby Dick. Sales were very poor to begin with, but he didn’t expect anything better.
If these two writers could come back to life they would be surprised to the point of disbelief to see the status of their novels. Each of these novels are considered to have one of the most famous opening sentences in all fiction:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
“Call me Ishmael”
A novel’s opening sentence is a vital component of a novel, but what about the ending, and specifically the final sentence? How does a story that’s been so full, so engrossing, becoming a part of a reader’s life as she reads it, end?
Starting with Pride and Prejudice and Moby Dick, here are the closing sentences from 25 of the most influential works of fiction ever written:
“With the Gardiners, they were always on the most intimate terms. Darcy, as well as Elizabeth, really loved them, and they were both sensible of the warmest gratitude towards persons who, by bringing her into Derbyshire, had been the means of uniting them.”Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice is the ultimate romance story. It begins with the arrival of two men in a community where there are several young marriageable women, and ends with a sigh of satisfaction at the success of two of the romances that ensue.
“Buoyed up by that coffin, for almost one whole day and night, I floated on a soft and dirgelike main. The unharming sharks, they glided by as if with padlocks on their mouths; the savage sea-hawks sailed with sheathed beaks. On the second day, a sail drew near, nearer, and picked me up at last. It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan.”Moby Dick by Herman Melville
That nicely rounds up the story, told to the reader after the narrator’s introduction in the opening line, “Call me Ishmael” in which the reader is directly addressed and invited into the narrator’s personal life.
“It’s funny. Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
“Beloved.”Beloved, Toni Morrison
“And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, everyone!”A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
“After all, tomorrow is another day.”Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
“She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously.”The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
“He was soon borne away by the waves, and lost in darkness and distance.”Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
“But that is the beginning of a new story—the story of the gradual renewal of a man, the story of his gradual regeneration, of his passing from one world into another, of his initiation into a new unknown life. That might be the subject of a new story, but our present story is ended.”Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
“Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood: and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago: and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.”Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
“He loved Big Brother.”Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
“The knife came down, missing him by inches, and he took off.”Catch 22, Joseph Heller
“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.”Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
“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.”Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
“He runs. Ah: runs. Runs.”Rabbit Runs, John Updike
“‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Isn’t it pretty to think so?’“The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
“It was then that I began to sit on my bed and stare out at the nibbling squirrels, and to make up poems from intense abstraction, hour after unmarked hour, imagination scarcely faltering once, rhythm hardly skipping a beat, while sisters called me, suns rose and fell, and the poems I made, which I never remembered, were the first and last of that time…”Cider with Rosie, Laurie Lee
“He now has more patients than the devil himself could handle; the authorities treat him with deference and public opinion supports him. He has just been awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honour.”Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done, it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.“A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
“He turned away to give them time to pull themselves together, and waited, allowing his eyes to rest on the trim cruiser in the distance.”Lord of the Flies, William Golding
“The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the utmost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky – seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.“Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
“One bird said to Billy Pilgrim, ‘Poo-tee-weet'”Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut
“An excellent year’s progress.”Brigid Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
“Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.”A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce
“It begins like this: Barrabas came to us by sea…”The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende
That’s our pick of the best closing sentences from classic novels. What did you think – any other candidates we’re missing? Let us know in the comments section below.