Graham Swift was born in 1949 in London, and it is not simply a mere biographical detail since his birth coincides with the beginning of the Nuclear Era, which has repercussions on his works. He is among the most highly regarded British writers in the 1990s. His reputation rests largely on the merits of two novels, Waterland, which was nominated for England's prestigious Booker Prize in 1983 and Last Orders, which won the Booker Prize in 1996. With three other novels, The Sweet Shop Owner (1980), Shuttlecock (1981), Out of This World (1988) and a collection of short stories, Learning to Swim and Other stories (1976), Swift has established himself as one of Britain's leading writers. He is considered a master storyteller and an inquisitive, ceaselessly analytical artist, one whose works embrace both the dramatic and the enigmatic. Thus, his reputation as a key figure in contemporary British literature is particularly deserved. Graham Swift has also co-edited with David Profumo, The Magic Wheel: An Anthology of Fishing in Literature (1985).
Swift writes intricately structured psychological fiction marked by a sophisticated use of symbol, allusion and metaphor. His central themes include the relationship between the present and the past, the nature of historical inquiry, and the emotional strains of domestic life. These concerns interweave in his fiction, resulting in several levels of meaning. Although some critics fault Swift for a tendency towards verbosity and claim that he is more concerned with ideas than with characters and settings, he is often praised for his subtle yet sophisticated narrative style and his insights into family life.
One novel, Ever After , published in 1992, deserves a particular attention. Like its predecessors, it is concerned with complex and repeating family patterns, the sins of one generation visited on the next, dubious paternity, marital infidelity and buried secrets. However, the interest of this study lies in the fact that in Ever After those themes have matured to a significant extent. It is particularly striking in the way the narrator commits himself to exploring around perspectives, to undermining his own assertions, squeezing the reader between the pincers of past and present, being ironic at the expense of what somebody did not know, but somebody now does. Thus, one becomes progressively aware of the fact that the main interest in Ever After results in utterance. The effect it creates is rather like that of a multiple-stage theatre in which the audience has to visualize at one and the same time various plots which only prove to be interrelated at the end.
The central character in Ever After is a middle-aged man called Bill Unwin, the widower of an actress, who himself survived a recent brush with death. He has two remarkable tales to tell. One, ranging from post-war Paris and the Soho of the 1950s to contemporary entanglements, sexual and scholarly, in the far from other-worldly groves of academe, is the vivid account of his own life. The other, pieced together from the private notebooks of a Victorian ancestor, Matthew Pearce, is the story of a good and simple man whose happiness is destroyed by his compulsive search for truth. Through these notebooks, Bill is drawn, as Matthew was drawn before, to the painful contemplation of life itself.
Swift has given Bill Unwin an authentic voice, which is at times, nonetheless, deeply irritating. Unwin is forever quibbling, hesitating and can hardly get through a sentence without stopping to examine what all the separate words mean. In itself, this is astutely observed. A man in Unwin's situation might fear that even the most ordinary words can conceal traps. Therefore, this novel is complex in form and often involves multiple, intertwined narratives with tangled sub-Jamesian sentences, broken up by quasi-sentences with no main verb. It is evident after only two or three pages that Swift has created for himself a huge problem. When he undertakes to see the world through Unwin's eyes, Swift must, if he is to remain faithful to the narrative voice, accept the limitations imposed by his viewpoint. He can explicate this viewpoint; he can deepen it and show us why this pitiable man looks at the world as he does, but he cannot shrug off Unwin's clammy hand. A lesser writer would do so, of course. A lesser writer would not keep the voice credible; he would subside into liveliness, slide back into hope or woo the reader with some cheap entertainment. Swift, however, is relentless: Unwin will be Unwin all through.
It would have been too easy for Graham Swift to elaborate the most simple three-tier novel: "to be born, to love and to die". Ever After finds its originality in reshaping this most commonly accepted process: "to die, to be born, then to love". It gives the novel a completely different viewpoint and a new rhythm, which overturns the vision of the whole structure. As to the author, he considers the structure and shape of a novel "in terms of rhythm, movement, pace and tension [...]. And it isn't a very intellectual process. It's very much a sort of musical thing" (Smith, G9). The adjective "musical" is particularly significant in Ever After since the rhythm is built upon a movement in three time very much like the waltz. However, Swift innovatively beats an inverted time.
"To die" appears to be the first beat of the musical cadence played irrevocably backwards.
The epigraph "et mentem mortalia tangunt", taken from the first book of Virgil's Aeneid, sets the tonality of this novel at the onset. Death will definitely be one one main focus in the narrative.
In Virgil's epic poem written in 29 B.C., Aeneas, in the Sixth Book, is entrusted with the power to go to the Underworld, an unseen world where he meets his father's shadow. This makes him perceive a prestigious future for Rome up to the reign of Augustus. Obviously, there is an underlying ironical similarity between Aeneas looking for his father to know about Rome's destiny, and Bill Unwin's search for the life of one of his ancestors to unravel his own identity. The past seems to stand for an unknown world, an almost unreal world which can grant an inkling of the future. The parallel drawn between the shadow of Aeneas' father and the ghost of Hamlet's father is presumably a clue to the global understanding of Ever After. Bill Unwin, who identifies with Hamlet throughout the novel, could easily play the part of Aeneas, seeking his own father. The only difference is that Bill's father is not his real father. The whole substance of the main plot lies in his loss of identity.
The incipit of the novel conveys an equivalent message: "These are, I should warn you, the words of a dead man" (chap. 1, p. 1). This is a portentous and surprising beginning which aims at surprising the reader. The first contact with the reader almost proves to be an antithesis, "words" and "dead" having a quaint opposite connotation. Another statement like "The words of a dying man" might have been less striking, but less puzzling too! Graham Swift does not intend to help the reader in the understanding of the novel: in fact, he has to play an active part in the whole process. As Swift puts it in an interview:
I don't see myself as writing comfortable books, and I don't think it's my task -- or any serious writer's task -- to make things easy for the reader. You are not there to massage the reader. [Smith, p. G9]
The second sentence of the incipit provides a due rectification. "The words of a dead man" are replaced by "the ramblings of a prematurely aged one", which starts the narrative up again whereas the former sentence leads the account to a passive deadlock. For, Bill Unwin is not dead, he is only a failed suicide. He sits, convalescing, in the garden of the Oxford College where he holds a fellowship. He is well aware that he is sheltered from the harsh reality of the wider world. But the facts of his own life are brutal enough. He has suffered three bereavements in eighteen months. He has lost his mother, his wife Ruth, who was an actress, and his American stepfather, Sam Ellison.
Death is definitely inscribed in the whole text and takes various forms. In chapter one, death is part of a dream and it is evoked in the same words as in Pilgrim's Progress :
I had hardly been here a few weeks when I began to have a dream. Out there in the dark, in the 'real world', is a prowling, snarling out, all tattoos and bared teeth. He too, like us, is a social scrap, he has plenty of brawn and spite, and one day, he is going to break through our precious, time-honoured walls and beat our estimable brains out. (p. 2)
Here, death stands for what is outside the walls of the College, in other words, "the real world", which seems to be the mortal enemy, and takes the human shape of a "prowling [ . . . ] social scrap". Paradoxically, dream introduces the concept of reality. As far as the narrator-protagonist is concerned, reality which is described as "flimsy, perishing, stricken, doomed" (p.2).
In the same chapter, death is also presented as an inner experience, a kind of duel. The word "death" itself progressively moves from a collective meaning to an individual one.
But only very recently, have I looked the beast itself hard in the face. Not just looked it in the face but wanted it to devour me. I am talking of that experience, given to few, of being returned to life after almost death. I am talking, in my case, of attempted self-slaughter (p.3).
The personification of death is strongly akin to that of The Lord of the Flies, which occurs after the dialogue between "the beast" and Simon, one of the children on the desert island:
Simon found he was looking into a vast mouth. There was blackness within, a blackness that spread. Simon was inside the mouth. He fell down and lost consciousness. [chap. 8, p. 159]
The same metaphor is echoed in Ever After but, this time, death is represented in monstrous and bestial terms. Nevertheless, the biblical sense of death is not forgotten in the novel since the metaphorical figure of Adam's Fall is expressively described in chapter nine when Matthew Pearce discovers the skeletal remains of an ichthyosaurus:
The long, toothed jaw; the massive eye that stares through millions of years. He is the creature: the creature is him. He feels something open up inside him, and he feels himself starting to fall, and fall, through himself. He lurches on to the path, as if outward movement will stop the inward falling, as if to stop himself falling he must get to sea level. (pp. 101-102)
Matthew falls inside himself and also falls in a physical sense, which implies that he has lost his eternal life, granted by God in the Bible. He is Adam, he is a mortal who wanted to learn about The Tree of Knowledge, to know what is true and what is not, what is good and what is evil. But in Genesis, this is called pretence and the Divine Punishment is Death. The ichthyosaurus in the novel might stand for the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden because its presence provokes the bone of contention between Matthew and the rigours of the Victorian world embodied by the Rector.
Although death has a powerful and rhythmical recurrence in the text, it is not shown as a deadlock or as an end in itself. The act of dying is paradoxically a dynamic process which generates a "New world. A new life -- a new name" (221), in a nutshell, a new birth.
Birth is the second beat of the three-time novel and it does not only propel the diegesis forward but gives also a pendulum movement to the narrative.
Both chapter six and chapter seventeen open with these tritest words: "I was born". This is not a mere repetition but rather a "Sésame ouvre-toi du récit" as Marc Porée explains in his study of Waterland (119), which shares obvious and constructive similarities with Ever After. In the former, the narrator insists on the etymological meaning of repetition: "It is a turning round, a completion of a cycle, almost every revolution contains within itself an opposite if less obvious tendency: the idea of return. A redemption; a restoration." [Waterland, p. 119]
Chapter six is presented like the beginning of an autobiography with a narrator who talks about his dead father and the relationship he maintains with his stepfather. All through the chapter, the "turning round" phenomenon occurs when the protagonist expresses his inner feelings about his father:
If the truth be known, when we returned to England I didn't grieve for my dead father. I didn't want to grieve for him. I didn't want to think of my father as the man who had fired a gun at his head. I grieved for my adorable ballet-girls who, even then, were alive, [ . . . ] Only when the image of my ballet-girls faded did grief for my father emerge to take its place. (pp. 58 and 63)
Here the repetition is built upon a series of oppositions, which creates a circular narrative. The word "grief" is interchangeable and becomes an unsettled basis which fits either one plot or the other.
In chapter seventeen, the repetition "apparaît sous son double visage: facteur d'asservissement et terrain favorable à l'éclosion, symbolique de la différence" (Porée, p. 179). Even if chapter seventeen has the same beginning as chapter six, its difference produces a sudden revival, not only in the storyline but also in the structure of the novel itself. It is all the more interesting as this renewal is foreshadowed at the end of chapter sixteen by a dozen jumbled hypotheses, all starting with the subject relative pronoun "that", woven into the text to originate unsteadiness and destruction:
That she did or didn't know I was another man' son. That she would or wouldn't have [ . . . ]
That he killed himself [ . . . ]
That she didn't know it [ . . . ]
That she told him he wasn't my father [ . . . ]
That she was a murderous bitch [ . . . ]
That . . .
That . . .
I doubt it [Ever After, chap. 16, pp. 195-96]
The idea of renewal in the syntactic structure of the novel is also echoed by Matthew Pearce, in the Victorian story line, when he writes in his Notebooks about the Rector's hives and the natural instinct of the bees, which, according to him, has nothing to do with God's will:
. . . as if, there and then, I had lifted up the wooden roof of one of the hives and, upon a mindless whim, dashed to pieces the little insect Jerusalem within? And yet invincible instinct ! they would have repaired it at once. (p. 182)
The word "repaired" is crucial for the recurrent notions of birth and re-birth in the whole plot. It could have very well been replaced by the word "renewed", which would have shown even more convincingly that the process of destruction was the precondition for that of rebirth.
Chapter seventeen can be rightly considered as a re-writing of chapter six. In other words, both chapters are not only superimposed in the narrative in such a way that the one underneath can still be read, but also piled up in the book proper like geological stratas. In fact, chapter six deals with the narrator's childhood and the "real" life he led with a "false" father, whereas in chapter seventeen, the narrator wholly invents a "false" life with a "real" father. On the one hand, there is the life the narrator led in Paris with his mother and a father he thought to be his real father and, on the other hand, the tale of another life the narrator might have spent in Aldermaston with his real father who was an engine driver. The balance between what is "false" and what is "real" constitutes the true core of Ever After. Up to chapter twelve, the narrator seems as ignorant as the reader of the identity of his real father. The astounding revelation seems to be disclosed at the same time to the narrator and to the reader. Both chapter six and chapter seventeen develop what Gérard Genette calls a "palimpsest" and what he defines as:
un parchemin dont on a gratté la première inscription pour lui en substituer une autre, mais où cette opération n'a pas irrémédiablement effacé le texte primitif, en sorte qu'on peut y lire l'ancien sous le nouveau, comme par transparence. Cet état de choses montre, au figuré, qu'un texte peut toujours en cacher un autre, mais qu'il le dissimule rarement tout à fait, et qu'il se prête le plus souvent à une double lecture où se superposent, au moins, un hypertexte et son hypotexte (last page).
Palimpsests were widely used from the seventh century up to the twelfth century. The study of palimpsests started for real during the Renaissance with the use of chemical products which enabled primitive writings to be brought to life again. In the metaphorical sense, one can duly regard Ever After as a palimpsest in itself because it has two main narrative layers. The first one, starting from chapter one to chapter twelve, which corresponds to the external layer that has been scratched out, and the second one, ranging from chapter seventeen to the end of the novel, symbolizes the primitive text. In chapter twelve, the narrator learns from Sam Ellison who his real father was. The following four chapters express the collapse of the original diegetic basis, the spiritual crisis which destroys the Pearces, the XIXth century family, and the narrator's complete loss of identity. In the four interlinking chapters, all the plots gather and merge so as to give birth to a new novel, the incipit of which is, once again, "I was born" (p. 197). A palimpsest encompasses two ideas at the same time: that of destruction and that of renewal. Since Ever After can be considered as a palimpsest, it is not exaggerated to state that the pictorial palimpsest in chapter seventeen is a superb "mise en abyme":
I could look out on a vista which might have formed the model for one of those contrived scenes on a children's encyclopaedia, depicting the theme of the 'Old and New'. River, canal, and railway line were all in view. At a single moment, in the background, the old water-mill on the Kennet, in the middle distance, a barge on the canal; and in the foreground a train racing for the cutting; while no less than three road bridges provided a fair opportunity for some gleaming motor-car [ . . . ] to be brought simultaneously into the picture. I must have seen it once -- many times -- that living palimpsest . . . (p.199)
Here, the palimpsest is associated with a "living" picture, in which all the layers can be made out at once. It illustrates the diegesis of History, from the water-mill up to the motor-car. However, it is quite confusing to figure out whether reality adheres to the picture or whether it is the picture which adheres to reality. Although the unique vision forms an anachronistic picture, it seems to disclose the fact that Evolution has no definite poles, except the pages of "encyclopaedias!"
Both death and birth give a cyclical movement to the novel, thus assuring a balanced rhythm which prevents the story line from falling flat. They also delineate the different breaking points in the text and act mainly as premonitory indicators. Death and birth might be considered as ambivalences with no polarities are in the novel. However, it is quite clear, from the remarks made above, that both participate in the working-out of a single mechanism: renewal. At last, the two terms and ideas become totally entangled in Ever After, one making the other "bounce" rhythmically into the diegesis.
However, what gives continuity to the leading thread of the plot is Love with a capital 'L'. It fills the distance between birth and death, thus establishing the framework of the narrative dynamics. Love remains what encompasses the two words and puts them on the same perspective.
It might be a common a thing to state that love is the central spring that energizes plots in novels, or to put it in Graham Swift's way: " Forget the other stuff. Stick to the love-interest. The ever-popular love interest. What the audience wants"! [chap 18, 220]
First of all, love is undoubtedly associated with the concept of time, with the idea that love undergoes, like the human species, a genealogical process. In fact, it is through Matthew's manuscripts and the narrator's reaction towards them that we are ushered into the book's deeper levels, as far as love is concerned. John Pearce, Matthew's father, was a clockmaker. One of his clocks is still in the family, handed on as a wedding present from one generation to the next. The narrator pictures the clockmaker at work, not just marking time but manufacturing it. The metaphor of the "Grand Horloger" is lurking behind the lines and is reminiscent of "The Watch" (from Learning How to Swim) in which the narrator's great-grandfather is also a clockmaker: "He created a clock which would not only function perpetually without winding, but from which time itself, that invisible yet palpable essence, could actually be gleaned."
In Ever After, the clock has a motto engraved on it: "Amor Vincit Omnia" . It is put into italics and it is in Latin like the epigraph as if to deliver a definite and arbitrary statement like an order of God for instance. It appears in this form several times in the novel, a reminder of the crucial importance of the primary principle. The interpretation given by the narrator's mother goes as far as to deconstruct the untouchable myth: " 'It's Latin, darling. You'll learn Latin at school. "Love conquers all". If only it were true' " (chap 4, 46). The last remark uttered by the mother might be taken as an innocuous one but the deconstruction of love is already well established at the beginning of the story line. It is even enhanced by the narrator's voice:
Here, the clock is presented as an ambivalent "token" both of "good will" and bad will which stands for love's materialization. According to the narrator's view, the clock "should have" been of good omen and happiness "should have" ensued from its legacy from one generation to the next. The modal "should" indicates very clearly the discrepancy between the narrator's expectation and reality. The same scheme is adopted in the recurrent use of the adverbial expression "Ever After" at the end of chapter four when the narrator looks into Matthew's life: "he might have gone on living happily Ever After" (p.49). Again, the modal "might" prevents the outcome from having a happy conclusion. The adverb "Ever After" is often encountered at the end of children's stories, especially fairy-tales, under the ready-made formula: "They lived happily Ever After". However, Ever After is not a fairy-tale even if its title, repeated several times in the novel, is heavy with magical connotations. In fact, it has repercussions in the whole narrative as in chapter six:
It is a moot point why this little clock which presided not only over Matthew's marriage but over his scandalous divorce, and seems to have presided over a good many marred marriages, including my mother's to my father, should have become such a token of nuptial good will. (p. 47)
It is worth lingering a while on the occurences of the phrase "Ever After" throughout the text. It appears five times in the first half of the book as if to establish right from the beginning the "fairy-tale propensity". It is used on three occasions as far as the relationship between Matthew Pearce and his wife is concerned. On pages 49 and 89, the adverbial term "Ever After" acts as a witness of the duality between love and knowledge. If Matthew had been ignorant of Darwin's speculations, "he might have gone on living happily Ever After". This sentence ends chapter four and the place of the adverb corresponds here to its usual position in fairy-tales. If Matthew had not seen an ichthyosaurus, "he might have fallen in love with this pretty invalid and lived happily ever after". But this time, the adverb is written down at the beginning of chapter nine so as to deny immediately the concept of a fairy-tale. In the same chapter, on page 107, the adverb "ever after" is replaced by a noun phrase: "the auguries of happy-ever-afters", which removes some "fairy-tale propensity" from the text. Here, the use of the plural robs the term "ever after>" of its magical connotation. The adverbial phrase "ever after" is also applied to the narrator's love for his late wife at the end of chapter seven, in the same way it was to Matthew's love for Elizabeth: "I might have lived thenceforward happily ever after". In chapter ten, the usual formula is reduced to the most simple form: "Happiness ever after". This time, it does not appear as a trite observation but as a crucial statement in the name of Romantic love. In addition to the five occurences, the phrase "ever afterwards" (114, 260), which is completely integrated to the syntax, almost goes unnoticed.
I was born in December 1936, in the very week that a King of England gave up his crown in order to marry the woman he loved. But I have always felt that the timing of my arrival imbued my life with a sort of fairy-tale propensity. [57: the narrator is talking about the time of his own birth.]
To play on words, Ever After "might" have been a fairy-tale but the reader is not allowed to think so: "Romantic love" is "a made-up thing. A concoction of the poets. Jack shall have Jill. Amor Vincit Omnia" (111). The same idea is expressed by his stepfather in chapter twelve: "I don't believe in this there's-a-girl-for-every-boy-and-a-boy-for-every-girl stuff" (p.157). The singled-out assertions unavoidably put into question the fairy tale dimenson of the novel. According to André Jolles, one of the main characteristics of a fairy-tale is to answer to the reader's expectations and judgements, what he calls: "la morale naïve" (190-91). Jolles emphazises the idea that fairy-tales have nothing to do with reality because they describe a separate world in which reality and fiction cannot interact. According to André Jolles' book, Swift's novel may appear as a kind of "anti-conte" , even if this is a slight overstatement since the narrative is scattered with hints of magic. Jolles prefers the oxymoron "conte tragique" to the word "anti-conte" because it brings out a surprisingly new connotation:
In chapter nine, the picture of Matthew and Elizabeth looks like a "conte tragique": "like best lovers of old, he and Elizabeth dwell on different sides of a divide" (p. 108). The "divide" like "la rivière trop profonde" marks out a breaking point which seems to be impossible to transcend, and it is precisely in this inability to go beyond, to fill a void, to build a bridge, that tragedy finds its best expression. It is precisely because Matthew and Elizabeth are "best lovers of old" that they are separated. To quote André Jolles, "le tragique survient, selon une formule brève mais parfaitement juste, quand ce qui doit être ne peut pas être ou quand ce qui ne peut pas être doit être."
Il doit exister un anti-conte. De fait, il existe. Prenons l'histoire du prince et de la princesse qui ne peuvent se rejoindre parce qu'ils sont séparés par une rivière trop profonde, et nous aurons sous les yeux l'actualisation nette de cette Forme simple. Ces histoires correspondent à l'univers tragique et le cours tragique des choses s'y contracte en un geste verbal qui est
et qui porte en soi la séparation et la mort.
In Ever After, love goes hand in hand with separation and therefore with death. They are not only set on the same ground but even blended together so as to suggest a causal relation: "Do people kill themselves for love?" (chap. 16, p. 195) The question is worthy of the kind of philosophic debate that Swift enjoys broaching. The last sentence of the novel, "He took his life, he took his life" (chap 22, p. 261), seems to suggest a positive answer: people do kill themselves because of love. It is not a mere coincidence in the structure of the novel if just before the utterance of the last sentence of the novel, Bill Unwin and his wife-to-be live their first night of love. Death and love are irrevocably brought on the same level, that of tragedy:
In some respects, Ever After can be regarded as a "conte tragique" with a pervading allegory of impossible love. However, the narrative thread discloses a more optimistic version of love: that of dreams and literature. The whole novel is punctuated with dreams, referring either to death or to love. They stand for "micro-tales" which do not deeply modify the diegesis but undoubtedly participate in bringing out emotion and attraction. The last dream evoked by the narrator corresponds to the time when he and his wife-to-be were new lovers and when they had not reached "the substance of love" (p. 76) yet, just "the dream, the starry promise" (p. 76):
And so it is that he tells her, what he has never told anyone before, about his -- father. That he took his life. How strange, how incomprehensible, that whispered phrase. How unreal, even as he speaks it. How impossible that either of these two people, whose lives, this night, have never been so richly possessed, so richly embraced, will ever come to such a pass. He took his life, he took his life. (pp. 260 and 261)
And I didn't know I loved her till I'd dreamt of her. I didn't know it was the real thing until an illusion had signalled it. Until she'd stepped out of her real existence into this other existence of which only I knew... [p. 251]
Here, dream seems to beget love, and "illusion" to originate reality, as if it were through imagination, "this other existence", that reality, "the real existence", could be apprehended. Reversing concepts is not unusual for Graham Swift who is fond of mixing subject matter in order to show that nothing should have a rigid definition. His readers are not there to settle into comfortable and reassuring ideas.
Beside dreamed love, another kind of love provides the last beat of the three-time novel with a cathartic effect: love of literature and, the praise of words themselves. Love of literature, in the text, bears in itself the traces of a state of harmony. By way of illustration, chapter seven is the only one to deal with literature as subject matter:
Literature is beautiful -- yes the thing about a poem is that it's beautiful, beautiful! I admit it is stating the obvious. But why shirk the obvious ? A great deal of literature is only (only!) the obvious transformed into the sublime. Why do the most tired and worn thoughts return to us, in another's words, like some redeeming balm ? [ . . . ] but the words hold us with their poise. They catch us up and speak to us in their eloquence and equilibrium, and just for a little moment, the obvious is luminous, darkness is matched with light and life is reconciled with death. (pp. 70-71)
The terms "sublime" and "redeeming balm" share together the notion of catharsis. The powerful statement "redeeming balm" gives a sacred and nearly divine hint to the universe of the words. In medical terms, "balm" is used to make ointments that heal wounds and lessen pain. Here, words are introduced like a healing balm which puts "darkness" and "light", "life" and "death" on the same level. Ambivalences no longer exist because words bring about reconciliation and therefore redemption. It is only when polarities have merged into a single unit, when "equilibrium" has eventually been reached, that harmony can be begotten. Although the word "harmony" itself is not written in black and white in the text, it is all the more vividly inscribed between the lines. Harmony stands for the absolute which encapsulates the sense of a beginning as well as of an ending (see Kermode). In the realm of words, time is not the witness of the irrevocable passing of hours or the unfolding narrative thread. Time's function is to concentrate upon "the simplest, tritest words" (p. 71), to make their apology, to "only (only!)" (p. 70) emphasize their beauty. In short, time belongs to stillness. The love of words is part of the immutability which always seems to be impossible to reach except "just for a little moment" (p. 70). It is precisely in that fragile "little moment" that one might hope to encounter transcendental love for literature. In chapter six, the protagonist, evokes "the love of literature" which is, according to him, "a pure and genuine love" (p.64). It is also in the same chapter that the term "fairy-tale" is repeated twice (p.57). Ever After may finally bear its title because of the magnificent outlet left in the whole novel for the love of literature and the consecration of words.
In conclusion, in Ever After, the vital cycle is voluntarily inverted and it is not by accident if the novel ends with love, the last beat of the three-time narrative. Isn't it love which prevails after death, birth and even rebirth? Graham Swift is among those few writers who not only give semantic thickness to each particular word and thought, but also know how to deal with feeling. As Swift puts it himself in an interview: "Whatever else one can do with a novel, I think the most important is to provoke feeling, one does write from the heart. The head does a lot on top of that, but the core of the book is feeling." [Smith]
Genette, Gérard. Palimpsestes : La Littérature au second degré. Paris: Collection Seuil, 1982.
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. London: Faber and Faber, 1954.
Jolles, André. Formes simples. Paris: Collection Seuil, 1972, Chapitre sur le conte, p. 190/191.
Kermode, Frank. Sense of an Ending: Study in the theory of fiction, Galaxy Editions, 1969.
Porée, Marc. "Différences et Répétition dans Waterland de Graham Swift", Tropismes 4, 1989.
Swift, Graham. Waterland. Picador Edition, 1984.
_____. Learning to Swim and Other Stories. Vintage International, 1982.
_____. Ever After. Picador Edition, 1992.
Smith, Amanda. "Graham Swift." Publishers Weekly, February 17, 1992.
Last modified 19 March 2002