When you read a story do you need a Happily Ever After (HEA) or does a Happy For Now (HFN) suffice? It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about since last weekend when I participated in a contemporary romance panel at the Romance Writers of America-New York City chapter’s Romance Festival. Many in the panel audience knew little about Austenesque and even less about contemporary Austenesque, so I enjoyed talking up the genre.
Conversation got around to the Happily Ever After, a characteristic so intrinsic to the romance genre that it’s hard to imagine a romance novel without one. In Jane Austen’s novels, HEA equals marriage. So in many works of JAFF, HEA also equals marriage.
But, in these modern times, there are other ideas about what constitutes a HEA. Marriage isn’t a woman’s only option towards fulfillment and happiness. And with modern couples getting married later in life, sometimes ending a story with a white wedding doesn’t ring true. Something that often bugs me about some contemporary romances is the insistence on an epilogue that takes place five or ten years later depicting the characters’ married life with two children running around in a white-picket-fence-enclosed backyard. I’m not saying I don’t want the hero and heroine to get married, or that it isn’t fun to envision. Only that it isn’t necessary for me to feel satisfied at the end of the story.
Maya Rodale, a bestselling author of Regency romance, writes that the HEA “isn’t the ring or the guy, it’s getting to be happy.” I want to know that the hero and heroine will be happy. That through loving each other, they’ve evolved and found fulfillment in their romance and their lives.
When I wrote The Muse, I couldn’t picture my Lizzy and Darcy, two complex characters with complex histories, easily laying aside their issues and baggage, and walking down the aisle together by the end of the story. I could picture them making a start. I could picture them forging the beginnings of a strong and lasting relationship. But I didn’t feel wedded to the Happily Ever After – marriage – that Jane Austen had to write.
What do you think? Do you need Lizzy and Darcy to be married by the end of a story? Or, are you okay with a Happy For Now ending?