Happily Ever After or Happy For Now? — 27 Comments

  1. I’m only happy with a Happy for Now if there’s a sequel. If it’s a historical piece, they need to have a HEA even if its a slightly grey wedding (vs. a bright white) and there are no children and picket fences. If it is a modern piece, I’m a bit more ambivalent. I, of course, need those involved to be happy and fulfilled. Now if that includes a bright white wedding, a picket fence, and muchkins is really not that important to me. I want closure and happiness. If I didn’t, I’d read another genre.

    • Stephanie,

      You’re right. I think for historicals, I’d need the wedding. With moderns, the HEA can take on a few different versions.

      Also, I’ve never heard of a “grey wedding” before. What is that?

  2. For me, really being made to think about it, I think I want the Happy Ever After whatever the setting. I thought I would say that if it was a modern interpretation I wouldn’t mind, but on reflection, I feel like the end of ‘PrettyWoman’; I want the whole fairy tale.’ I fully believe couples can live together happily without the piece of paper but I want my happy Austen heroes and heroines fully committed with the statement that they want to be together forever. I don’t mind if I get an epilogue or not. I am sometimes disappointed when one appears when I was hoping there might be a sequel!

    • Yes, I suppose that’s why many (myself included) love the JAFF or romance genres – we want the fairy tale!

      I’m ambivalent about sequels. Sometimes it makes total sense. And sometimes I wish the author had just wrapped it up with the epilogue. (I think I’m referring mostly to sequels in the Young Adult genre.)

  3. I think it depends on the story and the characters. Happy for now allows us to imagine a future with as many different endings as we choose to conjure up, although there are some characters that demand an HEA. Generally with Darcy and Elizabeth fan fic, we are put through an emotional wringer, and it is a relief when they finally get things sorted out. In their case, it is a kindness to the reader that they get a fairy tale wedding and ride off into the sunset, or into London anyway. When I was in college, I always wanted to write a paper called, “Love And The Gothic Novel.”, and explore why so many of the novels I loved at age 14 ended with a wedding as if a wedding were the only resolution, and the only way a woman could be happy. The same might be true with Regency or any romance novels as well. Why do we require a wedding for the novel to be complete? Are we conditioned to expect this and do we see it so much that we feel cheated if we don’t get it, even if we don’t care? For me, if a story ends in a good place, that is enough, and I am content. There are very few stories that require a sequel, and lately we are beset with serial novels. Whenever I am confronted with one, I want to tell the author to just write the damned story, and if it takes five hundred pages, then publish five hundred pages, but don’t chop it up into five books. That is maddening. Very often I pass on reading a book at all if the description says first in a series. I have a fickle attention span with everything, and I have stopped watching programs that I formerly liked because sometimes enough is too much. Same with books. We read to be take out of ourselves and to suspend reality, so for me it generally doesn’t entail prequels, sequels, etc. but in some cases, with a really good story, I look forward to a sequel at some point. If we are truly invested in characters and their story, a sequel would be deeply satisfying, and interesting. It depends on what day of the week you ask me I suppose! With my attitudes, I am surprised that I love fan fic as much as I do, and it almost seems unreal that I read it! Good question and I wish I had a good answer, because I really vacillate a lot between two or more opinions.

    • Mari,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. There’s a lot I agree with! I love P&P so much that I need the fanfic, sequels, prequels, modernizations, etc. But I do agree that there are some stories that don’t need to be told in a 3-book series. Or, worse yet, when they make a movie based on the 3-book series and then break the last book down into Movie Pt. 1 and Movie Pt. 2. Grrr. But now we’re just getting into marketing pet peeves.

      I like when a writer trusts me and my imagination. I don’t need to know everything. I don’t need a timeline of every happy moment in the hero & heroine’s future. I just need the assurance that everything is going to be okay for them. Then I can spend the time filling in the blanks myself.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. I’m not a romance reader, I’m more into science fiction/fantasy…but I do love a good Darcy and Elizabeth story. I read Pride and Prejudice stories for pure pleasure and enjoyment and if it’s not a Darcy and Elizabeth, married with a HEA, then I don’t read it. I read for the escape from the real world and into the world of my favorite couple. Don’t really care what happens to everyone else, as long as D&E have their HEA!
    I can handle some angst as long as it’s believable for the period. Real life is tough enough, so that’s my relaxation.
    I only enjoy reading Regency stories although I have read a few really good fantasy stories that are set in the Regency era, too. That’s just how I see D&E in my mind and it’s what I enjoy reading.

    • Makes sense. I don’t think I could read a Regency story that didn’t end with a HEA wedding either. Thanks for chiming in!

  5. This is so interesting. I think of HEA as something occurring only in fairy tales. I’ve heard the words – recognized that we are supposed to think that Darcy and Elizabeth, for example, went on to a life with only happiness, but I also know that JA wrote about real life, and real life doesn’t work that way. So, to me, even if the words say “happily ever after”, I read it as “happy for now”. That’s all we get. (I’m not really this cynical – but it sure comes out that way, hahaha). There are no guarantees, and I think that the heroines in JA’s books know that. So I really don’t need it. Clearly, I’m going to write my own story anyway, lol.

    • Julie,

      I agree with you. (And I don’t call it cynicism. I call it realism. Hehe.) Imagine if the last moment of pain we had was when we were 20 or 27 years old! That would be wonderful indeed!

      I enjoy stories in which characters have to fight for their relationship, in which the relationships grow and change. I get bored reading P&P sequels that only show how much in love E & D are and what a perfect couple they are. Jane herself said that pictures of perfection made her sick. Well, me too! I think that’s what bugs be about the “10 Years Later Epilogue.” They always seem to imply after that initial misunderstanding or fight, that the hero/heroine never have to work on anything else in their relationship. I don’t think that’s realistic.

      Thanks for weighing in! Let me know when you’ve written your HFN story. 😉

      • That’s it! Realism, hahaha. I don’t actually have any plans to write a story – I just meant that I fill in what HEA means – what their life will go on to be like, but it’s all in my head. (That’s what everyone says! ;-p)

        For instance, I don’t think for a minute that Darcy and Elizabeth will ever find a way for Lady Catherine to be welcome in their home for more than half an hour at a time…. I also think that they’ll figure out a way for Mrs. Bennet to not spend any time at Pemberley with them, even if they have to “send her to London” to see what’s in the warehouses for Kitty’s latest gown. While I’m sure Mr. Bennet would love to spend a lot of time in the Pemberley library, I expect that a little of HIM would go a long way, too, hahaha. They may have to escape to Bath every time he shows up – he won’t notice, I’m sure…

  6. If HEA equals marriage, then yes. In the books that go beyond the wedding, there are usually life trials, conflict, and angst abounding, as there is in real life. HEA is really just happy for now, even in JAFF. For me, in Regency D & E, there has to be HEA, that is marriage, even if there are some trials in a epilogue or sequels, the strength of their love is what helps them grow and survive.The strength of their love and respect for each other is the true attraction of D & E.
    In a general Regency, marriage and love is the point. There is not much choice for respectable women in the Regency.
    In moderns, I don’t care much for D & E moderns, except for two authors. You lose at lot of D & E in the 20th and 21st Centuries. They just don’t resonate with me. The personalities do not seem to translate into modern terms, which is probably because circumstances surrounding them are radically different than during the Regency.

    • Kathy,

      I agree that in Regency stories HEA needs to equal marriage.

      Obviously, I do love P&P moderns, but I can understand your perspective. Some things don’t move well into modern times of course (like the Wickham/Lydia storyline, which had much more urgency in Regency times than it ever would in modern times.) For me, what was interesting as a writer was seeing if I could tease out the characteristics and conflicts between D & E and translate them into a modern setting. I love moderns because I love seeing how the issues translate.

      Thanks for weighing in!

  7. This is an interesting discussion. I have been unhappy with the way the genre is developing (I don’t know if this is quite the word). The tendency for people of iffy talent to quickly have “short stories” published by Amazon is one of the symptoms. (I have been called harsh by some in the community. However, I am concerned about the quality of the novels. Sourcebooks is no longer a press which is interested in the genre. I wonder why (without being told a lot of BS by the company PR office. I do believe that agented representation is a good way to regain respect.) Anyway, there have been a number of novels in the genre which did disappoint for one reason or another — it was not one issue. Some of it could possibly have been rectified with an excellent editor. Another author let her Lizzie go amok into mental health issues and did not realize it (I am a retired medical/psychiatric librarian and am very aware of the DSM). She needed to have a psychologist or even social worker give her some advice (this happened in 2 of her novels set in modern day).
    Some authors just don’t have good beta readers.
    Now, for a Devil’s Advocate view of a variation which had some real potential. There are around 2 variations on the market which have Elizabeth falling in love and marrying a titled gentleman (now, take THAT you snob, Mr. Darcy!). In both, she does give birth to an heir; however, the authors “conveniently” kill off the husband, one to illness, the other to an accident. (Of course, there have been others where Darcy marries Anne and she expires, usually with childbirth.) Why don’t we just make these permanent and see where they will go? Inquiring minds want to know.

  8. Even an HEA isn’t a HEA, due to the realities of life, as Julie mentioned. I think of it more as an EA, with Darcy and Elizabeth handling whatever comes their way due to the strength of their love and commitment. The epilogue can be reassuring, though not necessary to me since I can use my imagination. D & E are special and part of what makes them that way is neither one of them have been in love before, so it is a singular experience with all the confusion, vulnerability, pain, and insecurity being in love brings. That is why I don’t really like the modern versions. It’s depressing for me to read about D & E with a history of bad relationships causing them to be cynical. It’s accurate for sure, just not D & E! I guess another thing I love about them is their intensity and exclusivity- no one else will do for either of them! And that usually means marriage in any era, even though it doesn’t mean always happily or easily.

    • Tracy,

      I’ve been thinking about your comment about D & E being each other’s only love. I’m not sure if I’ve ever thought that. In fact, I found both Darcy and Elizabeth pretty pompous (and even cynical) at the beginning of the book. I also don’t think they’re destined by fate for each other; they both have to earn their love through humility and hard work. I do think there is something very modern about that, which is why I love them and P&P.

      Thanks for making me think about something new and for commenting!

  9. I love Jane Austen’s HEAs, but have never thought that D & E would never have fights, but would work through them. After 40 years of marriage, I know what it takes; when you’re ready to give up in anger and frustration, you have to take a step back and remember why you married them in the first place, what a wonderful person they still are, and you forgive yourself and them for your impatience and temper and hold on tight! What gets me about the modern novels is that people are not willing to make a real commitment to a relationship, not willing to hold off on the sex until they know more about the person and if this person has the qualities they want in a partner. I made my now husband wait for 2 weeks while I weighed the pros and cons when he proposed. It was well worth it, but worth even more to hold on tight and not give up. I have always told my husband that he has a life sentence, and God willing, we will make it to the end.

    But I do wish that people would think more about the importance of commitment in marriage and the protection the commitment provides when you find the right guy, and for your children. We fight regularly, but we do forgive each other and start again, and I have to tell you that the intimate relations have never been better!

    Sorry if I offend, but I do think women should not give in so readily to this modern idea of free sex, as it belittles women. Current so-called modern values use and abuse women, even if they claim women’s lib, it makes women more sex objects more than ever before.

    Sorry for that, but I had to get it out. I do read mostly HEA because the world has so many problems every day that I do need to get a fix regularly of HEA with ODC. Thanks.

    • You bring up some interesting points. My issue in many contemporary romance novels is that love and lust are often combined or mistaken for each other. The hero and heroine may have a lot of hot sex, but do they really know each other? I think that’s why I have a hard time swallowing a wedding in the last chapter of many of them because I don’t have confidence they’ll actually have a happy marriage! In that sense, a “Happy For Now” makes me feel less anxious about the future prospects.

  10. I totally agree with Evelyn about HEA and the story ending in marriage. I too am particular about modern D&E stories and read mostly regency.Thank you for the thought provoking post.

  11. I enjoy the HEA… I think many of us expect it in a JAFF read. But where the real talent lies is in writing a book that allows the reader to experience all the angst and twists, wondering how the HEA will happen. So while I was reading Starnes’ novels this past week and “Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth” by Kincaid, I was mesmerized with the plot and character development well enough to read well into the night wondering how ODC was getting their HEA!! And by the way… I love an epilogue and a crafty author always finds a way to create one that isn’t so predictable!!

  12. Only fitting that you should raise this issue, Jessica, since the first time I ever gave much consideration to it was after reading The Muse for the first time. Though generally not fond of modernizations, I loved your book so much because it neatly fit into a modern setting all the important elements of the original: the essential characters of both Elizabeth and Darcy, including their goodness, their flaws and their deep passions (negative and positive); their lack of communication and understanding of each other; and the cultural and societal difficulties of their world. I agree that the relationship is so worthwhile because they had to work so hard for it–in some ways, more so in The Muse than in the original. The ending of your book gave me some pause, but then I decided that a successful ending for me is one where E&D are simply “together.” After overcoming all the strife, it seemed to me that being happy in love, and in relatively peaceful cohabitation, HFN was good enough for me, especially in today’s world. (I agree, though, that a Regency-era story should include a wedding.)

    One more point I’d like to make: Some commentators objected to E&D having prior relationships, which is sort of a given in modernizations. It is also true in some of the Regency-era variations (such as those where Darcy is married to Anne). It’s all in the writing. Certainly in The Muse (but also in some of the other stories), it is clear that the relationship between E&D is very special and unlike anything else they’ve known. In fact, I find it adds to the aura of destiny when they seem to discover that they are truly “meant for each other” because, from experience, they know that no one else will ever do.

    • Thanks for your thoughts on The Muse. I like when characters work hard for their relationship and are rewarded with happiness in the end – be it forever or just for now.

  13. Such an interesting post and discussion! I agree that with Regency romances, the way to happiness for many women is a good marriage – they otherwise have few choices and possibly face a lot of hardship. It’s a subtlety that they need marriage for HEA, but I think it makes a lot of sense for the time (I know, we’re talking about fiction!). I do prefer HEA for moderns as well — but like other commenters have said, that doesn’t mean no one ever has serious conflicts or anything like that. I like to see evidence that they’re committed because they really love and support each other — I think that in a traditional sense, we often expect that means marriage. And as everyone has said, if there was a lot of angst and conflict leading to the end, you want the couple to be rewarded with some happy time together! I think Helga put it very well that you want to have the feeling of “destiny” in your ending, and not that the main characters are going to tire of one another and go their separate ways after a couple of years.

    On sequels, I remember reading a trilogy set in the first world war Great Britain, and there was an HEA for the main character. I loved that ending and all the couple went through to get there, it was so poignant and so special. Then I years later I found the author had written a fourth to the series, a “sequel” and I read that — she had totally wrecked the earlier HEA with a huge about-face from the main character that I thought just stomped on the earlier story. So I guess that’s where I don’t need the dose of reality THAT much – sure that happens in real life, but if I’m reading more for escapism and hoping for a positive message that couples can stick together and make it work, then I don’t think I want to read the “ever after” where it all implodes!

    P.S. I loved The Muse. May I ask if you are a ballet dancer yourself?

  14. Pingback: I need a hero | Jolie Mason

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