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Death and Ending

I have decided to focus on the ending for this final blog post because it can completely change any novel despite your pre-conceived notions. The ending ties a novel together and often answers many of the questions we as readers ask throughout the story. In Tess of the d’Urbervilles, the ending was absolutely not what I expected and this in turn lead to increased enjoyment of the novel. Another novel that utilizes ending in a dramatic and rather bittersweet way is George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss. While both of these endings involve death, I see Hardy’s ending as much more dramatic than Eliot’s. A third novel that had an ending that interests me is Lady Audley’s Secret. In this novel, Mary Elizabeth Braddon employs an ending that involves death but involves much more happiness and new life. I find it interesting that all of these novels end in death, although these deaths do not always seem to be portrayed in a negative manner.

The death of Maggie and Tom at the end of The Mill on the Floss has a very bittersweet feel to it. “…but brother and sister had gone down in an embrace never to be parted: living through again in one supreme moment the days when they had clasped their little hands in love, and roamed the daisied fields together” (Eliot 517). Their relationship had been so toxic throughout the novel, and I find it very interesting that Eliot ended it on this note. It is almost as if Maggie is getting the devotion she always wanted from Tom in their death.

In Lady Audley’s Secret, the death does not really have that much of an impact on the novel. Rather, it is mentioned in passing in the concluding paragraph. “It is more than a year since a black-edged letter, written upon foreign paper, came to Robert Audley, to announce the death of a certain Madame Taylor, who had expired peacefully at Villebrumeuse, dying after a long illness…” (Braddon 445). I would say this novel has a happy ending. The entire concluding paragraph tells of the moved-on lives of the other characters and how well they are all doing. Lady Audley’s death is almost thrown into the conclusion as an afterthought. This is contrasts to the ending of The Mill on the Floss, which centers around the death of the main characters. Still, I would not say that either of these novels have an absolutely awful ending.

Tess of the d’Urbervilles is an entirely different story. While the two novels discussed previously both end in death, neither of them are absolutely heart-wrenching. Tess’s death leaves the reader heartbroken and has a much darker effect than the other deaths. “The two speechless gazers bent themselves down to earth, as if in prayer, and remained thus a long time, absolutely motionless: the flag continued to wave silently. As soon as they had strength they arose, joined hands again, and went on” (Hardy 396). Tess ends up being executed because she stabbed Alec to death, and she did this because he basically ruined her life. In this scene, Angel and Tess’s younger sister watch as the black flag is raised to signify Tess’s death. They almost seem to forget about it right after it happens, as they move on. This ending is absolutely heart-wrenching and eclipses both of the deaths in the other novels in my opinion. It is not just the fact that Tess was executed that makes this so awful. It is also the fact that she was so close to finally having the life she wanted. It was all taken away from her in an instant because of the choice she made to murder Alec. Then again, if she had not murdered Alec, she probably would not have gotten to be with Angel again. There really was no way out for Tess, and she ends up dying to signify this.

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