CLiC – To Exit: Literatures of Ending

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in or organising a conference


C. R. F. Irvine (University of St Andrews) - ‘Lateness in Literature’

The clash between the 'Old Master' archetype, achieving a serene culmination of artistic power in later works, and the writings of Adorno and Said, who portray artists embracing the discordant and fragmented as they approach their end, highlights a significant tension in theorising ‘Late Style’. This contradiction between the ‘schools’ of lateness raises fundamental questions about the nature of 'lateness' itself, and most prominently, Gordon McMullan, particularly through his Shakespearean focus, has underscored issues arising from biographical uncertainty as well as notable gaps in our understanding of 'lateness' and its scope.

This paper looks to reconcile this tension, and address our understanding of what an ‘ending’ is to construct a cohesive framework with which we can approach what is already a rich area in art and music scholarship: the comprehension of the concept of an artist's ‘ending’. Shifting the focus away from McMullan's Shakespeare-centric view, this paper aims to present a broader tradition of late work extending from antiquity, with- and against which modern figures have worked when approaching their own ends. This can include the Virgillian impulse to destroy politically engaged and innovative works upon one’s death, like Kafka; a Chaucerian recanting of now-beloved and indisputably influential works on the grounds of immaturity and immorality, like Auden; or the common attempt to revisit one’s poetic beginnings in what Robert Butler calls a ‘Life Review’ like Wordsworth, attempting to avoid following his decline into ‘Wordswords’ or ‘Worstworst’. By opening up the concept of ‘lateness’ to young and older creators, those who foresee death looming over them and those who actively choose their exit, and, too, individuals whose careers conclude by ways other than death, this paper establishes a new, comprehensive perspective of late style, capable of accommodating the concurrent individuality and universality inherent in 'lateness'.
Period7 Nov 2023
Event typeConference
LocationWorcester, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Lateness
  • Literature
  • Ending
  • Poetics
  • Modern and Contemporary Literature
  • T. S. Eliot
  • Death Studies
  • W. H. Auden
  • William Wordsworth
  • Derek Mahon
  • Michael Donaghy
  • W. B. Yeats
  • Seamus Heaney
  • Hope Mirrlees
  • Edward Said
  • Theodor Adorno
  • Posterity
  • Biography