Thursday, March 09, 2006

The 2nd happiest ending in literature

In the London Times Ben Macintyre has an interesting essay about happy endings in literature.

According to a survey commissioned for World Book Day, most readers would rather read a novel that ends happily ever after. To Kill a Mockingbird was voted the second happiest ending in all of literature--and it inspired the sardonic title to Macintyre's article, "To Cuddle a Mockingbird."

Apparently only 2% of the polled readers prefer a novel with an unhappy ending; most respondents thought books like 1984 could benefit from an uplifting ending.

1984 with a happy ending? It's only one man's opinion but that strikes me as moronic.

Or maybe there are two of us with that view. Here's Macintyre's summing up:

No writer worth the name sets out to produce happy or unhappy endings, let alone seeks to alter existing literature to produce one or the other. It is not the mere happiness or unhappiness of fiction that grips us, but the questions it asks, the people and situations it creates, the complexity of emotions it stirs. Some of the greatest endings in literature are neither uplifting nor distressing, but inquiring. Bleak House finishes on an unwritten question mark: “even supposing —”. Molly Bloom’s soliloquy at the end of Ulysses is a climactic affirmation, “his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes”, that echoes long after the book is closed.

I am particularly fond of the last line of War and Peace, which, in its very stodginess, makes the rest of the book seem even more wonderful: “In the present case, it is as essential to surmount a consciousness of an unreal freedom and to recognise a dependence not perceived by our senses.”

We should not demand that a last line makes us either happy or sad, but thoughtful; it is this that ensures great literature lives, happily, ever after.

--Marshal Zeringue

Note--The author of the novel voted to have the happiest ending in all literature had this to say about it:
"Upon the whole... I am well satisfied enough. The work is rather too light, and bright, and sparkling; it wants [i.e. needs] shade; it wants to be stretched out here and there with a long chapter of sense, if it could be had; if not, of solemn specious nonsense, about something unconnected with the story: an essay on writing, a critique on Walter Scott, or the history of Buonaparté, or anything that would form a contrast and bring the reader with increased delight to the playfulness and general epigrammatism of the general style."