Abstract of thesis:
In my analysis of The End of the Affair (1951), I examine how memory and narrative are presented as problematic existential complexes at work in the story and the discourse. My main claim is that the first-person narrator, Maurice Bendrix, embarks on a futile quest to define his own self through the means of memory and the narrative scheme. The project is futile not only because memory and narrative are epistemologically and ontologically problematic, but also because God has intruded upon the protagonist’s memory. In a comparable way to Augustine’s claim that human beings can conceive of God in memory, this thesis purports to show how Bendrix finds God in memory. This discovery relates specifically to the workings of space, as space has the property to evoke different temporalities in an encounter with a human being. In other words, space can be seen as a fusion of different temporalities.
Since memory relates in a curious way to beginnings and endings, this thesis offers a close-reading of the title, dedication, epigraph and the two opening paragraphs and connects them to the overall thematics of the novel.
As I address aspects such as the narrator’s temporal manipulation of the narrative, the dichotomous spatial arrangements of the novel, his motivation for writing and the nature of what he is writing, attention is drawn to the predicament in which the protagonist finds himself. The seemingly contradictory nature of his narrative – at once a diatribe against God and a confession of belief – is an expression of the existential opposition which is set up between human free-will and divine predetermination. While Bendrix’s narrative is, in one sense, a recognition of God, it is also an attempt to see himself as self-defined, that is, defined without God. The irony of the novel is that the faculty of memory and the medium of narrative, which at the same time motivate and enable this 'search for self', are also the factors which prevent the desired resolution to his project.
The title of my thesis arises out of Bendrix’s situation as he writes down his account in 1949. The thesis argues that the protagonist is spiritually dead and that he longs for death since that would imply annihilation of memory – and in the final analysis, of God. But if God exists, as Bendrix surely believes, God may be whom he is confronted with when he moves behind that temporal veil, which is death. Thus Bendrix longs for and postpones death. His is a no-win situation where life is stuck in limbo. There is movement in memory and movement in narrative, but this movement accentuates only a ‘running to stand still’ in the passing of time.