(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The fabulistic nature of this very brief story is indicated initially by the detached tone of its narrator and by the absence of any social context in which its events take place. There is no plot as such; instead, the story very briefly recounts the narrator’s experience at the Marchesa Montetristo’s last evening party and the memorable nature of its “extraordinary conclusion,” in which the artificial island on which the Marchesa lives breaks up and sinks into the sea. Most of the story focuses on the narrator’s recounting of the various important guests he meets during the party.

Perhaps the key word in “A World Ends” is “artificial,” for what characterizes the Marchesa and her guests is their allegiance to art and artifice rather than an affirmation of social reality—which is why the Marchesa’s home is on an artificial island set apart from the real world. The Marchesa hates the mainland because it is hurtful to her spiritual equilibrium; thus she devotes her life to the antique and the forgotten—qualities that she believes typify the “true and eternal.” In fact, the reason the narrator is invited to the party, his one real claim to fame, is that he has sold her the bathtub in which the French revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat was murdered.

All the guests are distinguished by their artistic talents: a woman famous for her rhythmic-expressionistic dance, a famous flutist, a renowned intellectual, an astrologer, a preserver of Celtic customs, a neomystic—all of whom the narrator introduces as if they should be well-known to the reader. In short, as he says, they are the most eminent figures of the age, but all the characters in the story suggest their aesthetic rather than actual existence. Even the...

(The entire section is 716 words.)