The horror of endnotes

You sit down to read a novel, you’re just hitting the rhythm, when to your dismay, you realize that at the end of the coming sentence there is an annoying little number.  Now, not only have you lost the flow, but you face a dilemma.

Two options remain in front of you:

1. Go immediately to the end of the book, flicking through endless pages, and discover the hidden gem that this little number is hiding.

or

2. Go on with your reading, ignoring its existence, and silently cursing it and all coming miniature numbers to come.

Footnotes and endnotes.  They are cumbersome, and while sometimes useful, most often just disruptive.  As a student I’ll be the first to admit that I have extended my use of footnotes to get away with a longer word count.  To some extent it’s understandable in research to cite and place extraneous information in a different area.  (Truth be told I am incredibly biased towards footnotes, as it takes a lot less effort to go to the bottom of the page then to flick through the 10 end pages.)

However, when it comes to a novel, should we embrace the Oxford Editions’ use of liberal endnoting? Granted, the notes are there to supply educated readers with extra information such as contextual references, and tidbits on the author’s life that may have contributed to a certain phrase, wording etc.  However, readers become so consumed by the facts that they forget the train of the story.  For example, in Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto, suspense plays a key role in the author’s attempt to instill terror in the reader and beckon in the effects of the sublime.  How can we, as readers, truly appreciate the brilliance of this if we are constantly flicking to the end of the book?

If the book is not being read purely for pleasure but some level of critical analysis, does this mean that the reader should disregard novels as telling stories, and merely focus on their literary merit and how it interacts with 1. other texts 2. its cultural placement 3. the author’s intentions and 4. contemporary readers’  responses?  Does studying literature mean that we can no longer enjoy the suspense and poetical flow of a good novel, but must surrender ourselves to the tyranny of tiny numbers? The answer may be that Oxford Editions should only be purchased after having already read the novel, but purchasing two versions seems unnecessary.  I thus produce a plea to publishers, ban the silly footnoting from novels, save it for the endless literary criticism that is sure to come.  Let us sit back and read and be intellectually stimulated by what we bring to the novel, not by what editors dictate to us as being important pieces of information that we lack!

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