The Sense of an Ending

by

Julian Barnes

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A latecomer to the all-boys school that Tony attends, Adrian joins Tony’s friend group but remains at a certain distance from the others. Like them, he’s fascinated by literature and philosophy—his preferred authors are Camus and Nietzsche—but unlike the others, he is outwardly earnest about his intellectual leanings, embracing seriousness and frustrated that others around him refuse to be as serious. Adrian is recognized by all the school’s teachers as a brilliant young student: one of them even offers (though half in jest) to give Adrian his job when he retires in a few years. Adrian is particularly obsessed with the existentialist question of what makes a life worth living, and whether one can logically deduce such meaning from abstract theorizing. Adrian ultimately goes on to commit suicide years later, and for most of his life, Tony believes that Adrian killed himself because he reasoned his way into it. By the end of the novel, however, it seems that Adrian may have done so for more concrete reasons—he slept with his girlfriend Veronica’s mother, Sarah, who became pregnant. But no airtight conclusion is ever reached about Adrian’s ultimate motives (just as other elements of his life—his parents are divorced and he doesn’t share much about them, for instance—remain hidden too). Instead, the ability to trace causation and responsibility to a single source—something Adrian has always wanted to be able to do—is, in the novel, revealed to be ultimately impossible.

Adrian Finn Quotes in The Sense of an Ending

The The Sense of an Ending quotes below are all either spoken by Adrian Finn or refer to Adrian Finn . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Sense of an Ending published in 2012.
One Quotes

“That’s one of the central problems of history, isn’t it, sir? The question of subjective versus objective interpretation, the fact that we need to know the history of the historian in order to understand the version that is being put in front of us?”

Related Characters: Adrian Finn (speaker)
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

“History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

Related Characters: Adrian Finn (speaker)
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

“I hate the way the English have of not being serious about being serious. I really hate it.”

Related Characters: Adrian Finn (speaker), Anthony (Tony) Webster, Jack Ford
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

I did, eventually, find myself thinking straight. That’s to say, understanding Adrian’s reasons, respecting them, and admiring him. He had a better mind and a more rigorous temperament than me; he thought logically, and then acted on the conclusion of logical thought. Whereas most of us, I suspect, do the opposite: we make an instinctive decision, then build up an infrastructure of reason to justify it. And call the result common sense.

Related Characters: Anthony (Tony) Webster (speaker), Adrian Finn
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:
Two Quotes

“The question of accumulation,” Adrian had written. […] Life isn’t just addition and subtraction. There’s also the accumulation, the multiplication, of loss, of failure.

Related Characters: Adrian Finn (speaker), Anthony (Tony) Webster
Related Symbols: Adrian’s Diary
Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:

Remorse, etymologically, is the action of biting again: that’s what the feeling does to you. Imagine the strength of the bite when I reread my words. They seemed like some ancient curse I had forgotten even uttering. Of course I don’t—I didn’t—believe in curses. That’s to say, in words producing events. But the very action of naming something that subsequently happens—of wishing specific evil, and that evil coming to pass—this still has a shiver of the otherworldly about it.

Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:

No, nothing to do with cleverness; and even less with moral courage. He didn’t grandly refuse an existential gift; he was afraid of the pram in the hall.

Related Characters: Anthony (Tony) Webster (speaker), Adrian Finn
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:

I looked at the chain of responsibility. I saw my initial in there. I remembered that in my ugly letter I had urged Adrian to consult Veronica’s mother. I replayed the words that would forever haunt me. As would Adrian’s unfinished sentence, “So, for instance, if Tony…”

Related Symbols: Adrian’s Diary
Page Number: 162-163
Explanation and Analysis:
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Adrian Finn Character Timeline in The Sense of an Ending

The timeline below shows where the character Adrian Finn appears in The Sense of an Ending. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
One
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Adrian Finn, tall and shy, arrived at school long after friend groups were decided and formed,... (full context)
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...to their relief, who replied vaguely that there was unrest. Old Joe Hunt turned to Adrian, who replied that according to one line of historical thought, all one can say about... (full context)
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At the break, Tony introduced himself and said he was impressed by his line; Adrian said he was disappointed the teacher didn’t explore his idea in depth. Tony thought that... (full context)
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Phil Dixon handed out a poem with no identifying information and asked Adrian what the poem was about. He immediately replied, “Eros and Thanatos,” clarifying, “Sex and Death,”... (full context)
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Adrian was slowly absorbed into Tony’s group, but without adopting their attitudes. He joined the responses... (full context)
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Tony now recalls Colin complaining about his parents being “bastards”: Adrian ironically asked if they were like Henry the Eighth. The cause of Colin’s anger was... (full context)
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...all systems were corrupt and that there was no better alternative than “hedonistic chaos.” But Adrian pushed them to consider how philosophy might be applied to life. They all had their... (full context)
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Old Joe Hunt asked Adrian what he thought. He said that assigning responsibility was always a cop-out: by blaming one... (full context)
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...assembly, the headmaster announced that Robson of the Science Sixth had died over the weekend. Adrian repeated, “Eros and Thanatos,” to the others, saying that Thanatos had won again. The boys... (full context)
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...debated how he knew how to do it, and wondered what his girlfriend was like. Adrian then said that according to Camus, suicide was the only true, fundamental philosophical question. Ultimately,... (full context)
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Tony remembers grilling Adrian about his parents’ divorce, the only remotely novelistic-seeming event in their lives. He deflected their... (full context)
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Adrian characteristically said that history is the certainty that results from imperfect memory, joined to inadequate... (full context)
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Hunt, after a while, replied that Adrian might underestimate historians, who have always had to deal with lack of direct evidence. There... (full context)
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Tony and his friends dispersed: Adrian won a scholarship to Cambridge, while Tony headed to Bristol to “read” (study) history. They... (full context)
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...Alex what his father did, and his answer (marine insurance) surprised Tony. She asked if Adrian knew anyone she did at Cambridge, and her talk of dons and colleges made Tony... (full context)
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After Veronica left, Tony asked his friends what they thought. Adrian said he’d heard of Jack and knew of the people he went around with. When... (full context)
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...should be, how his story should continue. Six months later, he received a letter from Adrian—rare, since Adrian was working hard for finals. Tony assumed he’d do postgraduate work, then academia... (full context)
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Tony felt angry and bitter at this ethical posturing, the idea that Adrian would stop having sex with Veronica if Tony objected (unless, he thought, she was “stringing... (full context)
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...a 2:1). He did spend some time imagining how Veronica would complain about him to Adrian. (full context)
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...as he can now remember, said what he thought of their “moral scruples.” He advised Adrian to be prudent, since Veronica seemed to him to have suffered “damage” a long time... (full context)
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Tony never heard back from Adrian, and began to lose touch with Colin and Alex too. After graduating, he left for... (full context)
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...his mail. At the top of the pile was a letter from Alex, saying that Adrian had killed himself. Alex had called Tony’s mother, who’d said she didn’t know where he... (full context)
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...a response to disappointed love. None of these criteria applied either to Robson or to Adrian. Adrian’s letter to the coroner said that life was a gift given without anyone asking... (full context)
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Alex and Tony discussed how Adrian killed himself: he cut his wrists in the bath during a weekend when his flatmates... (full context)
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Adrian had asked to be cremated and his ashes to be scattered: he considered it a... (full context)
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Alex said that the last time he saw Adrian, he’d said he was in love. Silently calling Veronica a bitch, Tony decided that Veronica... (full context)
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Back home, Tony conveyed some of the conversation to his mother. Tony’s mother said that Adrian was too clever—that someone like that could argue himself into anything, leaving common sense behind.... (full context)
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Finally, Tony came around to understanding and admiring Adrian’s reasons, his logical reasoning—so different than the knee-jerk way most people make decisions. He decided... (full context)
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...old memories—turning past into anecdote already. They recalled, though, that they had never been to Adrian’s home, though he’d been to all of theirs. They swore to repeat the reunion annually.... (full context)
Two
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...as friends die and leave you to revisit your former self. He thinks back to Adrian’s line about the imperfections of history. Lots of official history has happened in Tony’s life,... (full context)
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...letter from Mrs. Ford. She says she thinks he should have what is attached, since Adrian always spoke warmly of him. She isn’t quite sure of her motives, but is sorry... (full context)
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...to ask what else he’s been left. She replies that it’s a diary belonging to Adrian Finn. Veronica Ford apparently has said she isn’t yet ready to part with it. Tony... (full context)
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...and grateful: he tries to return to the few things he remembers about Jack, including Adrian’s harsh judgment about the way English people have a way of not being serious about... (full context)
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Finally, Tony receives a letter from Mrs. Marriott containing what she calls a “fragment” of Adrian’s diary, from what seems like a page at random. The text is written in numbered... (full context)
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Tony is first struck by how admirable Adrian still seems, how intense his rational argumentation still remains. He suggests that if psychologists were... (full context)
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Tony finds himself comparing his life to Adrian’s: he wonders, thinking of a certain poet, if his life had “increased” in richness and... (full context)
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...he never asked for a meeting, then finally asks her if she’ll let him have Adrian’s diary. Veronica replies that she’s burnt it. First theft, then arson, Tony thinks angrily. But... (full context)
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...with a theory: she needed to say something in person, which was that she’d burnt Adrian’s diary—something that she wouldn’t have wanted in writing. (full context)
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The letter, reproduced in the text, is addressed to Adrian but also to Veronica, whom he calls the “Bitch.” Tony says he hopes that the... (full context)
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...that he’ll be his own character witness should he try to make any fuss about Adrian’s diary. He thinks, then, about how this was the last piece of communication Adrian received... (full context)
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The next day, Tony keeps thinking about himself, Adrian, and Veronica, and about how much more hurtful people can be when young. He thinks... (full context)
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Tony then thinks about Adrian again, about how compared to Adrian he’d always been a “muddler,” settling for life’s banal... (full context)
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Tony thinks back to Adrian’s diary and what he had written about “accumulation”: life is not just the addition or... (full context)
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Tony envies the clarity of Adrian’s life: in your twenties, he reflects, you have much greater certainty of what life is,... (full context)
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...have carried resentment for it over many years: this would perhaps justify her destruction of Adrian’s diary. (full context)
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...their memories won’t be any better than his, and imagines the painful things about him, Adrian, and Veronica they might say. Mrs. Ford is dead, and Jack abroad: Veronica is the... (full context)
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...eyes, color, and expression, “corroborated” by his height and bone structure. This had to be Adrian’s son. Tony’s first reaction is to think about what he wrote in his letter to... (full context)
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...life. Now he has some answers: she had gotten pregnant, and perhaps the trauma of Adrian’s suicide had affected her unborn child. Her son can’t function independently and needs constant support.... (full context)
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...own, and now must return to his own past to reevaluate it. He thinks of Adrian, his philosopher friend whose intellectual acumen and noble gesture of suicide has reemphasized, as time... (full context)
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...on good terms with everyone. He now has a special kind of remorse, for hurting someone—Adrian—who thought he knew how to avoid being hurt. (full context)
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...them. The care worker goes over to Tony and, introducing himself as Terry, says that “Adrian” (Jr.) is upset by Tony’s presence. Tony apologizes, saying he doesn’t want to upset anyone... (full context)
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...Tony minds him asking who he is: Tony replies that he was a friend of Adrian (Jr.)’s father many years ago, and used to know Adrian’s mother Veronica quite well too:... (full context)
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Terry replies that what Tony is saying doesn’t make sense. First, Tony clarifies: he knows Adrian’s mother as Veronica, but Mary is her second name, which is what Adrian calls her... (full context)
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Later, at home, Tony “gets it all”: why Mrs. Ford had Adrian’s diary, why she said his last months were happy, what Veronica meant by blood money,... (full context)
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...done wrong. He thinks of everything he could never know or understand. He thinks of Adrian’s definition of history, of a carefree woman frying eggs, unconcerned when one breaks, then later... (full context)