When a book ends (particularly when I love the novel), it feels something like a death. There’s a finality to the final words, even as the characters (and all that they’ve experienced) still resonate long after the book has been long closed (and put back on the shelf).

As much as you love books, have you thrown a book across the room when you reached the last page–so full of grief (or even anger) that it’s over, or that you’ve reached the final words? And, it may not even have ended the way you’d hoped or planned? How you react to the last words of a book says a great deal about you–a reader, a writer and a human being… How can we ever really say “goodbye” to characters we’ve come to know and love? Perhaps (as a writer, or as an imaginative human being), you’ll continue the story, in your own words (if for no other reason than because the fate of the character is haunting your dreams, and you or they need their continuing saga to be told).

Here are the last lines. (I’m sure you’ll add many more to this list, but here’s a start!)

  1. “Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!” – Herman Melville, “Bartleby the Scrivener” (short story)
  2. “And here she is, herself, Clarissa, not Mrs. Dalloway anymore; there is no one now to call her that. Here she is with another hour before her. ‘Come in, Mrs. Brown,’ she says. ‘Everything’s ready.'” – Michael Cunningham, The Hours
  3. “Are there any questions?” – Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
  4. “Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.” – Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
  5. “But I reckon 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.” – Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  6. “But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” – George Eliot, Middlemarch
  7. “Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.” – J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
  8. “Everything we need that is not food or love is here in the tabloid racks. The tales of the supernatural and the extraterrestrial. The miracle vitamins, the cures for cancer, the remedies for obesity. The cults of the famous and the dead.” – Don DeLillo, White Noise
  9. “Go, my book, and help destroy the world as it is.” – Russell Banks, Continental Drift
  10. “He loved Big Brother.” – George Orwell, 1984
  11. “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 Honor.” – Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary
  12. “He reached the top of the bank in a single, powerful leap. Hazel followed; and together they slipped away, running easily down through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom.” – Richard Adams, Watership Down
  13. “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.” – William Golding, The Lord of the Flies
  14. “He was soon borne away by the waves, and lost in darkness and distance.” – Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
  15. “He would be there all night, and he would be there when Gem waked up in the morning.” – Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird
  16. “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.” – James Joyce, Dubliners, “The Dead” (short story)
  17. “I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita.” – Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
  18. “I don’t hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark; I don’t. I don’t! I don’t hate it! I don’t hate it!” – William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!
  19. “I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.” – Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights
  20. “I shall feel proud and satisfied to have been the first author to enjoy the full fruit of his writings, as I desired, because my only desire has been to make men hate those false, absurd histories in books of chivalry, which thanks to the exploits of my real Don Quixote are even now tottering, and without any doubt will soon tumble to the ground. Farewell.” – Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote
  21. “I told you and I told you there was nothing to be afraid of.” – Jon Stone, The Monster at the End of This Book
  22. “If I were a younger man, I would write a history of human stupidity; and I would climb to the top of Mount McCabe and lie down on my back with my history for a pillow; and I would take from the ground some of the blue-white poison that makes statues of men; and I would make a statue of myself, lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle
  23. “In your rocking-chair, by your window dreaming, shall you long, alone. In your rocking-chair, by your window, shall you dream such happiness as you may never feel.” – Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie
  24. “I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.” – James Joyce, Ulysses
  25. “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.” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
  26. “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” – E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web
  27. “It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan.” – Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
  28. “Just a moment, I’ve almost finished If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino.” – Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler
  29. “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.” – Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  30. “Later on he will understand how some men so loved her, that they did dare much for her sake.” – Bram Stoker, Dracula
  31. “Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye and sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day and into the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him—and it was still hot.” – Maurice Sendak, 
Where the Wild Things Are
  32. “Might I trouble you then to be ready in half an hour, and we can stop at Marcini’s for a little dinner on the way?” – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles
  33. “My husband remained there some time after me to settle our affairs, and at first I had intended to go back to him, but at his desire I altered that resolution, and he is come over to England also, where we resolve to spend the remainder of our years in sincere penitence for the wicked lives we have lived.” – Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders
  34. “My troubles are now over, and I am at home; and often before I am quite awake, I fancy I am still in the orchard at Birtwick, standing with my old friends under the apple trees.” – Anna Sewell, Black Beauty
  35. “Oh, my girls, however long you may live, I never can wish you a greater happiness than this.” – Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
  36. “She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously.” – John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath
  37. “So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out… the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old…” – Jack Kerouac, On the Road
  38. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
  39. “The eyes and faces all turned themselves towards me, and guiding myself by them, as by a magical thread, I stepped into the room.” – Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
  40. “The knife came down, missing him by inches, and he took off.” – Joseph Heller, Catch-22
  41. “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
  42. “The old man was dreaming about the lions.” – Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man And The Sea
  43. “Then starting home, he walked toward the trees, and under them, leaving behind him the big sky, the whisper of wind voices in the wind-bent wheat.” – Truman Capote, In Cold Blood
  44. “There was the hum of bees, and the musky odor of pinks filled the air.” – Kate Chopin, The Awakening
  45. “Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.” – Margaret Mitchell, Gone With The Wind
  46. “Up out of the lampshade, startled by the overhead light, flew a large nocturnal butterfly that began circling the room. The strains of the piano and violin rose up weakly from below.” – Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  47. “Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper.” – Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
  48. “Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past.” – Willa Cather, My Antonia
  49. “Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?” – Ralph Ellison, The Invisible Man
  50. “Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.” – Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

It’s so hard to just let a book go. So, after you’ve memorized these final lines–and added many of your own favorites (use the comments below to share your selection of last words)–jot down some thoughts of how you envision a continuation? What paths do the characters follow? How did their lives unfold?

Sometimes, in real life, an event so unendurable has happened (a loss, or an epiphany, or just something we can’t grasp)–it feels like our lives must end (even as we continue to draw breath, and walk around). Perhaps we should see our intertwining lives as more of a novel, or a series of short stories. One work ends, but we find ourselves in the midst of another story–that’s just begun. Embrace the continuation of the greatest stories!

Final words are not always end…

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