Reading all your responses has crystallised something for me that I’ve been thinking for a long time: That there’s a gap between my expectations as a reader and what I do as a writer. The reader me desperately wanted a good ending1 for Lily Bart in House of Mirth and was furious with Edith Wharton for all the misery. Why, Wharton, why?!
The writer me though is unmoved by such readerly desires. I write the books the way they have to be writ. They have their own logic and I cannot force them to go where they don’t want to go. Trust me, I tried to force Magic’s Child to go in the direction I had planned for it. Wound up having to rewrite that ending a kajillion times until finally it was somewhere near where it was supposed to be. Yes, some readers are unhappy with it. Whatcha gunna do?
It fascinates me that, on the one hand, I can be angry with a writer for breaking my heart while, on the other hand, I’m more than happy to break readers’ hearts with some of my own stories and novels.
As a reader I would like to go back in time and force Edith Wharton to make it better for Lily Bart. Kind of a la Stephen King’s Misery. But, you know, without kidnapping or breaking ankles. But were I her I would tell me where to go. It’s not her fault I was under the misapprehension that she was the USA’s Jane Austen. Wharton wrote the best book she could with the ending that made sense given the world and characters she had created. My desire for the ending to be Pollyanna’d is my problem, not hers.
As a writer, nothing will convince me that we owe our readers anything other than the very best books we can write. And, we’ll be the judges of that, thank you very much.
As a reader, who just read a book she was not in the right space for, I think all you smelly writers can go rot in hell.
Yeah, sometimes it’s confusing to be me.
Thanks, so much for the wonderful comments on happy endings. It was lovely to see such a diversity of views.
- That good ending does not include Lily winding up with that spineless loser Selden, by the way. [↩]