Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Concluding has been called Green’s most pessimistic and his most poetic novel, for it presents a Kafkaesque, dreamlike or nightmarish world filled with grotesque imagery and meaningless action. The novel is a fantasy that takes place “sometime in the future, somewhere in England.” As such, it is surely Green’s most indeterminate novel. The fact that he has chosen to name it Concluding thus constitutes a self-conscious irony calculated to make the reader consider the abstract nature of irresolution itself.

Several critics have pointed out that since the novel is not rooted in any concrete social reality, it cannot be read in any way except figuratively. Instead of having a dramatic structure, or even a narrative structure, the work has a lyrical or musical structure. This use of lyrical structure is a common device for Green. In many of his novels, the casual reader may believe that he or she is reading a social satire; the image pattern of his works, however, often creates a counterpoint to the action. Indeed, it is usually this symbolic pattern that constitutes Green’s primary concern.

Concluding has been called a masterpiece by some critics, whereas others complain that it is too obscure. In its movement from a realistic situation to a dreamlike fantasy, the novel heavily depends on an elaborate structure of imagery and symbolism. References to the woods around the institution, to animals, to colors, to vegetation, and to other seemingly realistic details actually symbolically reflect the basic theme of individualism versus conformity which the novel projects. Some critics have noted that Concluding marks the last effort Green made to write a symbolist fiction before he turned, in subsequent novels, to focusing almost solely on dialogue to construct his narrative.

Henry Green is, like his more famous predecessor, Henry James, one of those writers whom one either loves or hates. Although he has never been a popular novelist, he has been the subject of several critical studies in the past decade and has been called, as a result of receiving much praise from other novelists, a writer’s writer who, even though he may not be appreciated by the masses, is admired by his literary colleagues.