Thursday, January 21, 2010

Happy Endings: An Epiphany Too Late?


I'm still in a "happily ever after" drought as I continue my foray into literature (via an American Lit college course) and I can't wait to read some "literature" with a happy ending (I know they do happen, I just haven't read any yet).

Oh, why does it have to all end in tragedy? Did Winterbourne in DAISY MILLER: A STUDY (Henry James) have to be so entrenched in his social context as an upper class American in European high society that he couldn't appreciate Daisy's free spirit? Did he have to realize he'd lost a chance of happiness only after she had died of malaria? Did he have to have his epiphany too late?

Doesn't your romance loving heart ache? Where's the rainbow? Sometimes, I can't wait. I have the tendency to imagine different choices for characters who would be much happier, in the end, if they only made different choices.

But I see that there are a series of choices and a journey of character change needed for a believable happy ending. Believe me, if there had been a happy ending, with Winterbourne accepting Daisy at the end it would have been unsatisfactory. Fresh in my mind would be his uncomplimentary thoughts and words. To his aunt:

"It is very true," Winterbourne pursued, "that Daisy and her mama have not yet risen to that stage of - - what shall I call it? - - of culture, at which the idea of catching a count or a marchese begins. I believe that they are intellectually incapable of that conception."

A very, very unlikely hero. Even with his epiphany, if he had not undergone some serious character changes to make him worthy, a romance reader, would of course hate him for his lack of compassion and not wish for Daisy to be with such a character.

But could, I wonder, a romance writer redeem a "spineless snob" into a deserving hero? Oh, I can't help but see the ways...and they involve a lot of suffering - - not just a little - - but a lot on his part. This would include some begging for forgiveness and proving himself worthy once he realized how wrong he'd been. Yes, I'm a blood thirsty romance writer! But, oh, if it's pulled off...the reward could be great.

Really, modern genre romance is very special. Said another way, it is, in fact, a specialty. It seeks and delivers a deeper understanding of literature's universal truths:

The best literature is about the old universal truths, such as love, honor, pride, compassion and sacrifice. -- William Faulkner

But for genre romance, there is the added element of redemption. We don't want perfect characters, but we want characters to be redeemed and worthy of the happily ever after.

Meanwhile, as I wait for a happy ending (when I'm not imagining my own), I'm discovering a deeper appreciation of the timelessness of these universal truths. I almost think the difference in genre romance may be in how the romance writer examines these universal truths and follows up with using her specialty to transform the character's epiphany into a believable happy ending.
Have you read romances where the character has an epiphany too late for a believable happy ending? Can you imagine Winterbourne or another unlikely hero becoming redeemed?

4 comments:

  1. With some of the classic male writers, I believe thier view on life topics, especially their view on women, clouded their work. I'm pretty sure Henry James did not think highly of women, and it comes through in his work. I've only read Portrait of a Lady, but everything else I've heard tells me it's a common attribute.

    I'm wondering if Winterbourne's words weren't the real life thoughts of Henry.

    When thinking of a snobby hero, Mr. Darcy comes to mind. Though we all know he wasn't at all what he seemed to be at the beginning of the story. But that proposal. Ouch!

    Eloisa James is good at redeeming seemingly irredeemable heroes. And heroines for that matter. In the original Duchesses series, no one would have thought Mayne could be redeemed. Not after what he did to Helene. But several books later, after he'd swept every reader off her feet, he became a hero for all time.

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  2. Terri, that's what I was thinking...that James really did feel the way he wrote - - and from this one short story, I didn't really like him. I kind of brought that up in class and didn't feel I was too far left field, but she didn't say yes or no, but suggested I read more of his work. Is this the "you must learn this for yourself, grasshopper" answer? *LOL*

    I have read some snobby heroes and loved their journey to coming to their senses. One that comes to mind is Jill Barnett's Bewitched. It's been a long time, but that one sticks with me for being so humorous with the hero being an upppity duke afraid of social embarrassment, but coming around to loving a witch. :)

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  3. I don't think there was one happy ending that I read during lit class. It almost makes you wonder if a happy ending disqualifies it as 'literature'.

    There have been a few when I've wondered how in the world can he/she be redeemed. One that really sticks in my mind is Whitney, My Love. I'm not sure that he was uppity, but he was a jerk.

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  4. Renee, yes, it does seem like a happy ending sometimes disqualifies it as literature. I'd say earlier works in the romantic period had happier endings. Not guaranteed, though. I think we're lucky to live in modern times of the romance genre where we KNOW we can get that guarantee. Or not, if we go outside the genre. I'm sooo ready for a guarantee of HEA. :)

    I'm starting to think that much literature is a "slice of life" and whether the hero or heroine stays the same or changes, it's more that the writer is saying to the reader..."you be the judge." With all that "free thinking" I guess it's no wonder I keep imagining my own endings!

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