And they all lived happily ever after…

Towards the end of Year 12, my weary students would often ask “Can we read something with a happy ending next year?” The answer was generally “Probably not.” as a happy endings is a rare event in the literary canon (aka ‘good’ books).

What’s more common is a happyish ending, but there’s a always a ‘but’. Without any serious consideration or note-taking (I might come back to this in a later post), these seem to fall into two main categories:

1. The happy – as it could possibly be given the circumstances – ending

This tends to be the case in more modern fiction such as The Night Circus and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (both discussed in previous posts). These endings are bittersweet and satisfying for the reader who has come to care for the characters, but would feel a deus ex machina miracle twist was cheating on the author’s part. I’d also be tempted to include Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles in this category. Constrained by the plot of The Iliad (not one to mess with!), she constructs a closing episode that the reader feels would bring Patroclus and Achilles peaceful contentment.

2. The happy – if you don’t think about it very much – ending

In classic novels, happy endings tend to fit this model, the final chapter often closing on a wedding. The romantic reunion of Jane and Rochester at the end of Jane Eyre masks a rather worrying situation. Even if we overlook the fact that Rochester has been blinded and his home has burnt to the ground (not exactly ‘happy ever after’ territory), it’s hard to ignore the way he treated his first wife. Perhaps only a maimed Rochester is a safe equal for Jane, or do we assume that she has learnt control (suppress?) herself enough to avoid becoming the next madwoman in the attic?

Spot the phallic symbol…

Dracula is another interesting example – Mina and Jonathan Harker marry and name their son after a friend lost in the battle with the vampire. However, even the vaguest feminist, post-colonial or psychoanalytical reading of the novel raises spectres that this image of a happy family cannot dispel. The ending of Dracula is a celebration of the reassertion of the patriarchal order. The exotic, bestial and yet strangely feminine foreigners have been repelled from English soil (where they were usurping the white male protagonists claims to English women and land) and those terrifyingly sexual women have been put back in their pace with a good group staking.

Of course there are lots novels with happy endings and there are probably many other types of qualified happy ending in literature, but what I’d like to find is a really good book, with a really happy ending. Any suggestions…?

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