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Old 07-12-2019, 10:23 AM
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Most WTF Endings in Classic Books


I've just finished reading The Grapes of Wrath, which I had picked up years ago on a flea market (one of the many "might-as-well-read-this books" that I buy second-hand) and ended up liking it quite a bit more than I expected. I didn't love it, found it a bit preachy and black-and-white, but still : a fine book and a very vivid picture of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression era.

But that ending. WTF ? I think I get what Steinbeck was aiming for but it was still unexpected, borderline gratuituous and... well, really weird.
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Mais je porte accroché au plus haut des entrailles
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Old 07-12-2019, 10:48 AM
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When I saw the thread title I thought, ooh, i’ll Be the first to mention The Grapes of Wrath! But of course it was the reason the OP was posting.

But though the ending was widely derided at the time, I didn’t think it was all that WTF— it’s about life going on though tragedy, finding a way.

Everybody should read GOW, but for those curious as to what the ending is:

SPOILER:
a young pregnant “Okie” woman in the 30’s has a stillborn baby due to malnutrition and poor prenatal care, so she uses her breastmilk to nurse a starving man.
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Old 07-12-2019, 10:58 AM
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I suppose I lack empathy for victims of bullying, but I didn't think the ending of Brave New World was necessary.

Ahab's end in Moby Dick seemed a bit abrupt to me. I sort of prefer they way the Gregory Peck movie handled it.

The abrupt left turn at the end of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle annoys me, but the public reaction amuses me.

from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Jungle
Quote:
Sinclair wrote the novel to portray the harsh conditions and exploited lives of immigrants in the United States in Chicago and similar industrialized cities. His primary purpose in describing the meat industry and its working conditions was to advance socialism in the United States.[2] However, most readers were more concerned with several passages exposing health violations and unsanitary practices in the American meat packing industry during the early 20th century, which greatly contributed to a public outcry which led to reforms including the Meat Inspection Act. Sinclair famously said of the public reaction, "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."
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Old 07-12-2019, 11:20 AM
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...But though the ending was widely derided at the time, I didn’t think it was all that WTF— it’s about life going on though tragedy, finding a way.
That's pretty much how I read it, indeed.

SPOILER:
a young pregnant “Okie” woman in the 30’s has a stillborn baby due to malnutrition and poor prenatal care, so she uses her breastmilk to nurse a starving man.


And these are the very last lines...

The last paragraph is tonally completely different from the 400+ pages that preceded it in every respect and... just brutal in it's out-of-the-blue weirdness.
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Mais je porte accroché au plus haut des entrailles
À la place où la foudre a frappé trop souvent
Un cœur où chaque mot a laissé son entaille
Et d’où ma vie s’égoutte au moindre mouvement
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Old 07-12-2019, 11:42 AM
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Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy might be stretching the definition of "classic," but it's over 50 years old and his books are destined to be classics, so I'm going with it.

The entire novel is already WTF, with the main plot of a brother and sister in Appalachia who have a baby together. The brother abandons the baby in the woods after birth, telling his sister it died in childbirth, and the sister eventually learns the truth and goes in search of it.

After plenty of disturbing and WTF events, it ends with
SPOILER:
the baby being eaten alive by a trio of murderers, who are either real men, manifestations of biblical reapers, or a projection of the brother himself. This is followed by the brother talking to blind man, then watching the man walk into a swamp where he will surely die, and the brother thinking "someone should tell a blind man about a swamp before sending him that way."
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Old 07-12-2019, 11:43 AM
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Like each of his three novels, Franz Kafka's "Das Schloss" ("The Castle") is a fragment, and famously ends mid sentence:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Franz Kafka
Sie reichte K. die zitternde Hand und ließ ihn neben sich hinsetzen, mühselig sprach sie, man hatte Mühe, sie zu verstehen, aber was sie sagte...

[my translation:]

She offered K. her trembling hand and let him sit next to her, she spoke ardously, it was difficult to understand her, but what she said...
We will never know what she said, as well as what became of K.'s troubles with the monstrous bureaucracy of the castle, but somehow this abrupt ending fits the nightmarish air of the novel, indicating a neverending horror by chance.
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Old 07-12-2019, 12:12 PM
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I found the ending to Tess of the D'urbervilles disturbing.
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Old 07-12-2019, 01:20 PM
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I'd pick The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. When Tom Sawyer shows up near the end and starts making ridiculous escape plans for Jim, the whole story shifts from an American tragedy to a bad comical farce.
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Old 07-12-2019, 01:25 PM
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I suppose I lack empathy for victims of bullying, but I didn't think the ending of Brave New World was necessary.
High school story regarding Brave New World. I had a class called Utopia, where we read books based on utopias or anti-utopias. We were up to Brave New World, which I had actually already read. One guy was sitting in the back of class goofing off a bit. The teacher asked him if he had finished the book. He said that he had. She asked how it ended. He said the main character had steel toed boots on and was acting like a compass. The teacher and myself were the only two who laughed at that, since nobody else had completed the book.
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Old 07-12-2019, 01:49 PM
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I'd pick The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. When Tom Sawyer shows up near the end and starts making ridiculous escape plans for Jim, the whole story shifts from an American tragedy to a bad comical farce.
This is the one I was going to mention. I've seen some scholars claim that the ending is just misunderstood. But I feel that Twain just had a bad day and botched it.
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Old 07-12-2019, 02:02 PM
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But I feel that Twain just had a bad day and botched it.
I thought he just decided to wind things up quickly.
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Old 07-12-2019, 02:46 PM
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I'd pick The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. When Tom Sawyer shows up near the end and starts making ridiculous escape plans for Jim, the whole story shifts from an American tragedy to a bad comical farce.
Twain was parodying other novels of the time where the hero had a convoluted plan to achieve his goal. I believe the target of the satire was Sir Walter Scott, who is name-checked.

The parody goes on too long, and since no one reads Scott these days, it's not funny because you don't know the source.
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Old 07-12-2019, 03:08 PM
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I'd pick The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. When Tom Sawyer shows up near the end and starts making ridiculous escape plans for Jim, the whole story shifts from an American tragedy to a bad comical farce.
Are you attempting to find a motive in this narrative, a moral in it, or a plot? You should be prosecuted, banished, or shot.

I read the ending to GOW the same as solost. Life sucks, it goes on anyway, and you do what you have to. Think of it as existentialist.

The king of WTF ending was Charles Dickens. He wrote Great Expectations as a serial, chapter by chapter. When he ended it with Pip and Estella not living happily ever after, reader were outraged, so he tacked on a new chapter with a happy ending.
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Old 07-12-2019, 03:10 PM
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Twain was parodying other novels of the time where the hero had a convoluted plan to achieve his goal. I believe the target of the satire was Sir Walter Scott, who is name-checked.

The parody goes on too long, and since no one reads Scott these days, it's not funny because you don't know the source.
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Old 07-12-2019, 03:30 PM
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Twain was parodying other novels of the time where the hero had a convoluted plan to achieve his goal. I believe the target of the satire was Sir Walter Scott, who is name-checked.

The parody goes on too long, and since no one reads Scott these days, it's not funny because you don't know the source.
Just like Twain parodied other 'literary' forms earlier, with the depressive girl writing horrible poems about dead birds and people falling down wells.

They got him out,
And emptied him. Alas, it was too late.
His soul had gone for to sport aloft,
In the realms of the good and great.


I think the idea of the ending is to show that Huck is now back in 'sivilization', not on the river. On the river he has learned that Jim has feelings, and Huck becomes more of a man. Once he returns to the small town, Tom, who is still a child, pulls him back into fantasy with no regard for Jim's feelings. Tom withholds that Jim was set free, just for the sake of a fantasy.

Then at the end of the novel, Huck rejects civilization and its imposed fantasies, to head out for the wilderness where he can be a man again.

It's still the weakest part of a great novel.

My WTF ending to a good/great novel is The African Queen, which is thoroughly anti-climatic.
SPOILER:
After all that risk and effort, and falling in love, it just peters out. Then a ship shows up out of the blue and blows up the Germans. Uh, okay.

Regards,
Shodan
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Old 07-12-2019, 03:39 PM
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I always thought Tom Joad's "Where there is injustice, I'll be there," speech was a lot weirder than the breastfeeding. It's the great, epic story of the American dustbowl and economic migrants, and then right at the end he starts talking like he's Batman.
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Old 07-12-2019, 03:40 PM
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When I heard that Disney was making their version of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, I prayed that they wouldn't change the ending to make it more kid friendly. Sadly, the ending from the book didn't meet the standard of cute, happy endings.

SPOILER:
When Quasimodo sees the gypsies, he assumes they are there to hurt Esmeralda, so he drives them off. Likewise, he thinks the king's men want to rescue her, and tries to help them find her. She is rescued by Frollo and Gringoire. But after yet another failed attempt to win her love, Frollo betrays Esmeralda by handing her to the troops and watches while she is being hanged. When Frollo laughs during Esmeralda's hanging, Quasimodo pushes him from the height of Notre Dame to his death. Quasimodo goes to the cemetery, hugs Esmeralda's body, and dies of starvation with her.
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Old 07-12-2019, 04:20 PM
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Originally Posted by Shodan View Post
Just like Twain parodied other 'literary' forms earlier, with the depressive girl writing horrible poems about dead birds and people falling down wells.

They got him out,
And emptied him. Alas, it was too late.
His soul had gone for to sport aloft,
In the realms of the good and great.
The odd thing is a high school student reading that part of Huckleberry Finn today would probably think the character was an early example of a goth teenage girl.
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Old 07-12-2019, 04:21 PM
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I always thought Tom Joad's "Where there is injustice, I'll be there," speech was a lot weirder than the breastfeeding. It's the great, epic story of the American dustbowl and economic migrants, and then right at the end he starts talking like he's Batman.
I don't believe I've heard it described so well.
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Old 07-12-2019, 04:25 PM
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My WTF ending to a good/great novel is The African Queen, which is thoroughly anti-climatic.
SPOILER:
After all that risk and effort, and falling in love, it just peters out. Then a ship shows up out of the blue and blows up the Germans. Uh, okay.

Regards,
Shodan
Rose realizes the class difference between herself and Charlie. It's tragic. Is it a reflection on British society and class structure, or on Rose?
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Old 07-12-2019, 05:09 PM
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Atlas Shrugged was 800 or so pages of Objectivist philosophy, then turned into a pulp sci-fi novel for the last few chapters.

I'm not really certain if that made it better or worse, but it was certainly unexpected.

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Old 07-12-2019, 05:46 PM
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I think Grapes of Wrath's ending is even weirder when you consider Ma Joad's comments on it. "I knew you would do it." Really? You knew your daughter would spontaneously start breast feeding an old dying guy? Even though in order to save him, she'd have to go back and keep doing it over and over? And you just sort of telepathically sensed this because nothing was said out loud between you two before it happened? Seriously? You thought to yourself before this happened, you thought, "I'll bet Rosasharn lets the starving guy suck her milk out of her tits, that crazy young'un." And then Rosasharn goes and does it?

Say Ma Joad, why don't you think to yourself, "Pa, go out and rob us a bank, and we'll all go on the run and meet back up with Tom someday." Maybe that'll be a better movie ending than that drippy speech about women and rivers and whatnot.
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Old 07-12-2019, 06:16 PM
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The ending of Grapes of Wrath is indeed unusual, but there are two passages that really pissed me off:

Quote:
And now a light truck approached, and as it came near, the driver saw the turtle and swerved to hit it. His front wheel struck the edge of the shell, flipped the turtle like a tiddly-wink, spun it like a coin, and rolled it off the highway.
Quote:
Al did not answer him. He looked straight ahead. The truck rattled and banged over the road. A cat whipped out from the side of the road and Al swerved to hit it, but the wheels missed and the cat leaped into the grass.
What the fucking fuck....? These made any possible sympathy I had for the main characters evaporate. You stupid dumbass shitkicker Okie scumbags, life is already hard enough, you're driving a broken-down truck in tenuous shape and you're going out of your way to inflict more misery, putting your vehicle and indeed your survival at risk? FUUUCK YOU! I hope you starve, you ignorant white-trash pieces of shit. I hope some rich guy's goon cracks your fucking skull with a baton and spills what little brains you have in the dirt.


This has been an annoyance to me for some years, now.
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Old 07-12-2019, 06:37 PM
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The turtle is a connection to the beginning of the novel when he takes the turtle to his little brother. Is it a comparison of how people functioned during the depression?
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Old 07-12-2019, 07:00 PM
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I suppose I lack empathy for victims of bullying, but I didn't think the ending of Brave New World was necessary.
I don't think the ending is so much about bullying as it is about the "Brave New World" where people are shallow and just want cheap thrills and "orgy-porgy", as opposed to John Savage, who thinks and feels deeply and finds that he can't live in that world--in that way, the ending is necessary and inevitable.

One book with an ending that really has me shaking my head is Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. The beautiful and intelligent Isabel Archer
SPOILER:
goes back to her emotionally abusive husband? And her friend tells Goodwood, a man with whom Isabel could be happy:
“Look here, Mr. Goodwood,” she said; “just you wait!”

On which he looked up at her—but only to guess, from her face, with a revulsion, that she simply meant he was young. She stood shining at him with that cheap comfort, and it added, on the spot, thirty years to his life. She walked him away with her, however, as if she had given him now the key to patience.


And how about the ending/epilogue of War and Peace? The beautiful, sensitive, artistic, vibrant Natasha
SPOILER:

lets herself go completely, gets fat, doesn't care about anything but her babies and their poop. "She valued the company of those to whom she could come striding disheveled from the nursery in her dressing gown, and with joyful face show a yellow instead of a green stain on baby’s napkin, and from whom she could hear reassuring words to the effect that baby was much better."

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Old 07-12-2019, 07:19 PM
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When I heard that Disney was making their version of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, I prayed that they wouldn't change the ending to make it more kid friendly. Sadly, the ending from the book didn't meet the standard of cute, happy endings.
I had the same thought. That book has one of the grimmest endings in literature.

For another Disneyfication of a horrible ending, there's Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid

SPOILER:
After sacrificing her voice and going through excruciating pain every time she walks on her new legs for the sake of winning the Prince's love, she loses him to another. She is then told the only way she can save her life is to stab the Prince in the heart as he sleeps and let his blood flow over her legs, which her sisters urge her to do. She refuses, and dies, or at least is turned into sea-foam. But this is seen as a happy ending because after three centuries of doing good deeds for people she can earn a soul and get into heaven.

Last edited by Colibri; 07-12-2019 at 07:19 PM.
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Old 07-12-2019, 07:47 PM
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And now a light truck approached, and as it came near, the driver saw the turtle and swerved to hit it. His front wheel struck the edge of the shell, flipped the turtle like a tiddly-wink, spun it like a coin, and rolled it off the highway.
Oh my God! The Okies are Replicants!

"I've...seen things you people wouldn't believe. Oil wells on fire in the panhandle of Oklahoma. I watched dust storms darken the sky over the Great Plains. All those moments will be lost in time, like...tears in rain. Time to die."
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Old 07-12-2019, 07:58 PM
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I found the ending to Tess of the D'urbervilles disturbing.
Then whatever you do, don't read Jude the Obscure.
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Old 07-12-2019, 08:15 PM
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Oh my God! The Okies are Replicants!

"I've...seen things you people wouldn't believe. Oil wells on fire in the panhandle of Oklahoma. I watched dust storms darken the sky over the Great Plains. All those moments will be lost in time, like...tears in rain. Time to die."
So was Anthony Bourdain. I didn't like the way his story ended either.

"I've eaten things you people wouldn't believe. Greek cheese on fire off a shoulder of Lamb. I ate sea-beans that glitter in their dark sauce near the Tannhäuser Cafe. All those dishes will be lost in time, like beer in rain. Time to dine."
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Old 07-13-2019, 02:24 AM
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I always thought Tom Joad's "Where there is injustice, I'll be there," speech was a lot weirder than the breastfeeding. It's the great, epic story of the American dustbowl and economic migrants, and then right at the end he starts talking like he's Batman.
This didn't bother me too much. Sure, it's a bit clunky, but someone who had led a narrow life getting a social conscience ? That makes sense to me.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Two Many Cats
I think Grapes of Wrath's ending is even weirder when you consider Ma Joad's comments on it. "I knew you would do it." Really? You knew your daughter would spontaneously start breast feeding an old dying guy? Even though in order to save him, she'd have to go back and keep doing it over and over? And you just sort of telepathically sensed this because nothing was said out loud between you two before it happened? Seriously? You thought to yourself before this happened, you thought, "I'll bet Rosasharn lets the starving guy suck her milk out of her tits, that crazy young'un." And then Rosasharn goes and does it?
This, and the fact that up until then, Rosasharn had been a "central but minor" character. Her role in the story was basically "pregnant young woman in the background" with all the difficulties this added to the family's predicament. She doesn't do or say much throughout the book apart from whining from time to time. It's understandable given her situation but still exasperatingly self-centered, and quite a contrast with the selfless, strong Ma.

Her initiative at he end is completely out of character, but it could have been the point where she gets depth, the start of a new part focusing on her taking over the leading role from Ma. Instead of that, the book just ends there.
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Mais je porte accroché au plus haut des entrailles
À la place où la foudre a frappé trop souvent
Un cœur où chaque mot a laissé son entaille
Et d’où ma vie s’égoutte au moindre mouvement
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Old 07-13-2019, 03:43 AM
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My first thought here was also The Grapes of Wrath, for me it's more 'wow' than WTF, but I didn't realise so many other people thought the same way.

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One book with an ending that really has me shaking my head is Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. The beautiful and intelligent Isabel Archer ...
Yes. I got first class marks for essays at honours level on Portrait of a Lady and Henry James's literary criticism, but the ending is WTF for me. I still don't understand why it's supposed to make sense.
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Old 07-13-2019, 08:54 AM
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Gone With the Wind. Now what?
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Old 07-13-2019, 09:58 AM
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Then whatever you do, don't read Jude the Obscure.
I have, but I don't remember much of it.
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Old 07-13-2019, 10:41 AM
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Like each of his three novels, Franz Kafka's "Das Schloss" ("The Castle") is a fragment, and famously ends mid sentence....
I think A Sentimental Journey by Laurence Sterne may end in mid sentence as well. But who knows?

Quote:
So that when I stretched out my hand, I caught hold of the fille de chambre's -------
Maybe that is a complete sentence. Hard to say. Odd book.

j
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Old 07-13-2019, 10:48 AM
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It might be my favorite novel but the climax of The Stand is a muddled mess.
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Old 07-13-2019, 11:15 AM
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I found the ending to Tess of the D'urbervilles disturbing.
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Then whatever you do, don't read Jude the Obscure.
I was forced to read Tess of the D'Urbervilles in high school. It made me vow to never read anything by Hardy ever again.

I just read the plot summary of Jude the Obscure. Sheesh. I'm glad I never tried to read it.
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Old 07-13-2019, 12:16 PM
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I was forced to read Tess of the D'Urbervilles in high school. It made me vow to never read anything by Hardy ever again.

I just read the plot summary of Jude the Obscure. Sheesh. I'm glad I never tried to read it.
I had to do a term paper on Jude the Obscure. It made me vow to never read anything by Hardy ever again.

Did he ever write anything that didn't end in doom and despair?
  #38  
Old 07-13-2019, 12:27 PM
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It might be my favorite novel but the climax of The Stand is a muddled mess.
Oh good lord (heh), this is true. The ending of "It" is the same for me.
  #39  
Old 07-13-2019, 01:35 PM
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I had to do a term paper on Jude the Obscure. It made me vow to never read anything by Hardy ever again.

Did he ever write anything that didn't end in doom and despair?
Far From the Madding Crowd, I guess. It's sort of a happy ending, at least by Hardy's standards.
  #40  
Old 07-13-2019, 03:04 PM
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Far From the Madding Crowd, I guess. It's sort of a happy ending, at least by Hardy's standards.
I'll have to read that, it is so...unhardyish.
  #41  
Old 07-13-2019, 03:35 PM
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The abrupt left turn at the end of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle annoys me, but the public reaction amuses me.
I knew about the socialist ending of The Jungle, so that didn't surprise me. However, I was definitely surprised by the super-racist "lazy Negroes are moving north and taking all our jobs" segment immediately before it.
  #42  
Old 07-13-2019, 09:24 PM
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Bernard Malamud's novel, The Natural, has a lot in common with the movie. But in the end of the novel, Hobbs accepts a bribe and throws the last game.
  #43  
Old 07-13-2019, 10:34 PM
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Smilla’s Sense of Snow. Fantastic book that took a hard left near the end.
  #44  
Old 07-13-2019, 11:05 PM
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I knew about the socialist ending of The Jungle, so that didn't surprise me. However, I was definitely surprised by the super-racist "lazy Negroes are moving north and taking all our jobs" segment immediately before it.
Is that where there's a strike at the packinghouse and Jurgis and the others are working as "scabs"?


Supposedly that was based on a real strike where a big factor of the strike was the immigrants that were working there didnt want "lazy negros" working there because even tho they were black they were paid more because they were " American"
  #45  
Old 07-14-2019, 12:17 PM
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I thought he just decided to wind things up quickly.
This was definitely in Charles Dickens’s mind when he wrapped up David Copperfield by packing all the loose-end characters onto a boat and shipping them off to Australia to seek their fortunes.

Speaking of Dickens, Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust certainly contains a WTF ending, but it’s not an annoying one. It’s the most gloriously horrifying ending in all 20th century literature.
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Last edited by Ukulele Ike; 07-14-2019 at 12:19 PM.
  #46  
Old 07-14-2019, 12:19 PM
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Gone With the Wind. Now what?
Actually, I thought "Gone with the Wind" had a perfect ending. Scarlett realizes at long last that it's Rhett she loves and not Ashley, but it's too late. Rhett no longer loves her. But in true Scarlett fashion, she refuses to accept defeat, and plans to pursue Rhett after a rest stop at Tara.

Of course, that story was botched by Alexandra Ripley, but that's another thread.
  #47  
Old 07-14-2019, 12:45 PM
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At the end of James Barrie's Peter & Wendy, a grown Wendy asks Peter about Tinker Bell. She's not only dead, but he doesn't even remember her, and just says "They don't last a long time."
  #48  
Old 07-14-2019, 12:47 PM
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Smilla’s Sense of Snow. Fantastic book that took a hard left near the end.
I would agree. But it didn't take a "hard left turn," it completely changed genres.
  #49  
Old 07-14-2019, 04:52 PM
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The ending of Robert Tressel's Ragged-trousered philantropists - bible of socialism, left me cold - bleak future of penury and dead children alleviated by rich man giving him money?

Seemed at odds with the skill and wit of the book, I didn't understand it.
  #50  
Old 07-14-2019, 06:11 PM
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I always thought Tom Joad's "Where there is injustice, I'll be there," speech was a lot weirder than the breastfeeding. It's the great, epic story of the American dustbowl and economic migrants, and then right at the end he starts talking like he's Batman.
I may be way off base here (not having read GoW), but is it possible that the Three Amigos were satirising this speech?
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