I decided I wanted to freely address my take on the plot of The Sense of an Ending. I couldn't help getting hung up on "solving" the plot, even though I suspect that Barnes is more interested in memory. As a psychologist, I can tell you that it is well established that our memories are narrative constructs we tell ourselves. If history is "that certainty produced when the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation," this story illustrates what happens when the "imperfections" of memory are confronted with more than "adequate" documentation. Tony tells himself that he has lived a calm, inoffensive, undramatic life. He sees himself as harmless and innocuous.
In Chapter One, he describes his letter to Adrian and Veronica: "As far as I can remember [!], I told him pretty much what I thought of their joint moral scruples." Pretty mild, right? What a shock for him (and for the reader) when we get an opportunity to read the actual letter. The Tony that we "know" from the main text doesn't seem to be the sort of person who has either the malice or the wit to write such a shockingly cruel letter. He has to cope with his youthful behavior. Like Steven, I certainly hope that I am never confronted by evidence that would rock my world and shatter my image of myself.
But there's more: the page from Adrian's diary. We can't really decode it when it's introduced. Only when we have already been provided with more pieces of the story can we interpret it.
a¹ is Adrian, a² is Anthony, s is Sarah, v is Veronica, and b is baby.
baby = Sarah -Veronica + Adrian
Or, more significantly:
Anthony + Veronica + Adrian X Sarah = baby
In the morning when the others are out, Sarah, Veronica's mother, does indeed make a pass at Tony. He is too innocent to recognize it. It doesn't seem to occur to him that an older woman could find him attractive. He only sees that she is betraying her daughter by warning him about her.
I don't know why the others are all out. I have a patient who was sexually abused for much of her childhood by both her father and her brother. She now feels intense shame that she enjoyed both the attention and the behavior itself when she was young. For awhile, it created a "special bond" between the three of them, with her mother on the outside. Tony keeps believing that Veronica is "damaged," and he even speculates on sexual abuse. By the time my patient was Veronica's age, she felt horror and revulsion toward her father and brother and deep personal shame. But it doesn't have to be that way. I have watched an adult woman fiercely defend her father who molested her and attack her mother who failed to protect her.
In any event, I believe that it is not possible that Veronica was pimping her boyfriends to her mother. If she were, then it would not follow that she would blame Tony for Adrian's suicide. Adrian's affair with her mother was behind Veronica's back.
Tony wrote in his vicious letter: "Even her own mother warned me against her. If I were you, I'd check things out with Mum…Of course, you'll have to do this behind Veronica's back." Considering what Veronica eventually learned about Adrian, she no doubt interpreted this as encouraging an affair between Adrian and her mother. Very likely, she believes that Tony did have sex with her mother that morning. Since the affair between Adrian and Sarah directly resulted in his suicide, Veronica calls the £500 "blood money."
Mum seems to have been quite the tart. After her husband's death, she moved to London and "took in lodgers" even though she did not need the rent money.
This is why Anthony is in the equation. All three, Adrian, Veronica, and Sarah, credit Anthony with bringing Adrian and Mum together. I also note that the baby is designated b, because the diary entry, and the suicide, precede the baby's birth. He does not yet have a name.
Adrian kills himself when he realizes that he has made Veronica's mother pregnant (at 40 or so). It is possible that the life described in the suicide note as "a gift bestowed without anyone asking for it" refers to the baby and not Adrian. (This may be reading in too much).
In any event, Adrian killed himself and Sarah gave birth to a retarded child–twin tragedies that Veronica blames directly on Tony. Consider in retrospect the cruelty of: "It would be unjust to inflict on some innocent foetus the prospect of discovering that it was the fruit of your [Adrian's] loins."
Sarah sent the £500 as a kind of thank you for introducing her to Adrian. This seems about the average amount of a small bequest of gratitude. Although she claims that she is "not sure of [her] own motives," she intended Tony to have Adrian's diary, which would explain the situation. Under the circumstances, I think it is perfectly understandable that Veronica would not let Tony have it.
I may have more thoughts, but I'll save them for another time.
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