Why “The Stages”?

The Stages probably isn’t the most memorable title for a first novel, but it’s the one I chose for mine.  Over the novel’s four-or-five-year development I tried out other titles, all of them having something to do with Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher whose writings inspired me to write my novel.  One early title was “The Catastrophe.”  That was the term Kierkegaard used in his journals when referring to his direct attack on the Danish Lutheran Church–he thought his writings would register as “a catastrophe” and force radical change.  But how many people would know this bit of Kierkegaard’s biography, and what expectations would I create with a title like “The Catastrophe”?  The novel isn’t a thriller.  No buildings explode.  No towns are laid waste.  So I discarded that title as too obscure and too likely to misdirect.

Then came “Kierkegaard’s Desk.”  That wasn’t a bad title–it put the focus on a specific, real object that plays an important role in the novel.  Kierkegaard’s writing desk, in the novel’s fictional world, hides a manuscript that has gone undetected for over a century and a half.  When the manuscript is discovered, close to the time of Kierkegaard’s 200th birthday, the action begins.  I still like the title–I even tried out a variation of it, “Søren’s Desk,” but in the end decided that either part of the Danish philosopher’s name would cause too many English readers to stumble just trying to pronounce the book’s title.

Finally, it was “The Stages.”  Why?  An epigraph taken from Kierkegaard’s Stages on Life’s Way appears at the beginning of the novel and explains the title’s main meaning.  It refers to Kierkegaard’s three stages of existence: the Aesthetic, the Ethical, and the Religious.  Kierkegaard considered these three categories to be his most valuable contribution to philosophy.  Structurally, my novel is divided into three parts, each one corresponding to one of Kierkegaard’s “stages.”  Of course, there are also “stages” to a crime and to a criminal investigation, both important features of the novel.  The narrator has lost a loved one and is going through the “stages” of grief.  I’m sure there are other meanings of “stages” that alert readers will find, including ones I wasn’t aware of while writing.

Choosing a title wasn’t easy for me, but I’m happy with “The Stages.”  It may sound dull at first, but I think the title will pick up resonance as readers engage with the novel.  At least I hope so.