The Sense of an Ending

by

Julian Barnes

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Adrian’s Diary Symbol Analysis

Adrian’s Diary Symbol Icon

After her death, Veronica Ford’s mother, Mrs. Sarah Ford, leaves Tony two documents—a letter and Adrian’s diary—as well as five hundred pounds. Tony had only met Sarah Ford once before, at a rather uncomfortable weekend he spent with Veronica at her parents’ home, and is mystified by this bequest—especially once it turns out that Veronica is refusing to hand over the diary.

The novel is to a certain extent structured around Tony’s attempt to gain access to this diary. Tony believes that reading the diary will allow him to understand why Mrs. Ford left it to him, and what he doesn’t remember or didn’t understand about his long-ago relationship to Veronica: in addition, he imagines it might serve as “corroboration” for his own innocence, allowing him to undo vague feelings of guilt or responsibility for the way he treated Veronica in the past.

The diary is just the kind of physical evidence that Adrian himself cites in history class at school, as a straightforward means of understanding history. By reading the diaries of historical figures, historians can understand motivations, causes, and effects of long-ago events. His own diary thus represents this ideal of historical evidence—but it also symbolizes the complexities and even impossibility, according to Barnes, of ever seizing the past as it actually was. In part this is because Veronica burns the diary—or at least that’s what she tells Tony—thus underlining how such pieces of evidence are fragile and potentially ephemeral. But even the fragment of the diary that Tony does read, a single page, is a mystery itself: it will take the rest of the novel for Tony to have any idea what it meant. Things are complicated even further by the fact that the diary is one person’s account of what happened—and it’s an account that’s necessarily biased, both because it’s one person’s view, and because Adrian, at least, carefully planned his suicide and thus knew that his diary would be read as evidence. Diaries may well give some kind of glimpse into the past, but that glimpse, the novel suggests, will always be a partial, biased, and even deceptive one.

Adrian’s Diary Quotes in The Sense of an Ending

The The Sense of an Ending quotes below all refer to the symbol of Adrian’s Diary. 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:
Memory, Manipulation, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
). 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.
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:

What had begun as a determination to obtain property bequeathed to me had morphed into something much larger, something which bore on the whole of my life, on time and memory. And desire. I thought—at some level of my being, I actually thought—that I could go back to the beginning and change things. That I could make the blood flow backwards.

Related Symbols: Severn Bore, Adrian’s Diary
Page Number: 142
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’s Diary Symbol Timeline in The Sense of an Ending

The timeline below shows where the symbol Adrian’s Diary appears in The Sense of an Ending. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Two
History, Narrative, and Truth Theme Icon
Responsibility, Agency, and Guilt Theme Icon
...he calls her 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... (full context)
Memory, Manipulation, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
History, Narrative, and Truth Theme Icon
Responsibility, Agency, and Guilt Theme Icon
...with T.J. Gunnell, the lawyer advises Tony not to doggedly pursue Veronica’s “theft” of the diary—the police wouldn’t be eager to pursue charges against a woman who just lost her mother.... (full context)
History, Narrative, and Truth Theme Icon
Responsibility, Agency, and Guilt Theme Icon
Tony realizes that he wants the diary so badly because it might be evidence, or “corroboration”: it might jump-start some aspect of... (full context)
Memory, Manipulation, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
History, Narrative, and Truth Theme Icon
Responsibility, Agency, and Guilt Theme Icon
Philosophy vs. Reality Theme Icon
...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 paragraphs,... (full context)
Memory, Manipulation, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
Responsibility, Agency, and Guilt Theme Icon
Sex, Class, and Power Theme Icon
...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 he... (full context)
History, Narrative, and Truth Theme Icon
Responsibility, Agency, and Guilt Theme Icon
Philosophy vs. Reality Theme Icon
...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)
Memory, Manipulation, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
History, Narrative, and Truth Theme Icon
Responsibility, Agency, and Guilt Theme Icon
Sex, Class, and Power Theme Icon
...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 from... (full context)
Memory, Manipulation, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
History, Narrative, and Truth Theme Icon
Responsibility, Agency, and Guilt Theme Icon
Philosophy vs. Reality Theme Icon
Tony thinks back to Adrian’s diary and what he had written about “accumulation”: life is not just the addition or subtraction... (full context)
History, Narrative, and Truth Theme Icon
Sex, Class, and Power Theme Icon
...carried resentment for it over many years: this would perhaps justify her destruction of Adrian’s diary. (full context)
Memory, Manipulation, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
Responsibility, Agency, and Guilt Theme Icon
Sex, Class, and Power Theme Icon
...to his desire to put his affairs in order—which requires getting his hands on that diary. He writes to Jack, saying Veronica has been just as mystifying to him as she’s... (full context)
Memory, Manipulation, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
History, Narrative, and Truth Theme Icon
Responsibility, Agency, and Guilt Theme Icon
Sex, Class, and Power Theme Icon
...she’d given him any time at all, and it makes sense that she’d burn Adrian’s diary. (full context)
Memory, Manipulation, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
Responsibility, Agency, and Guilt Theme Icon
...sick and dying, volunteering at the hospital. He asks Mr. Gunnell not to pursue the diary affair. He thinks of how little has happened to him over the years. (full context)
Memory, Manipulation, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
History, Narrative, and Truth Theme Icon
Responsibility, Agency, and Guilt Theme Icon
Sex, Class, and Power Theme Icon
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, and... (full context)