Happily Ever After

I once had a teacher who claimed there was no such thing as a happy ending in “great” literature. By great, I can only assume she meant those classic novels which are still taught and/or have been revered and loved throughout history (The Great Gatsby, Moby Dick, The Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath, etc).
This brings me to my question of the day – What is the best novel with a happy ending? As in, truly, 100% happy. (I have a thesis-like response at the ready for anyone who says Pride and Prejudice!)

In the way that most “great” writers are tainted by pain, loss, or addiction, do novels need to suffer the same fate in order to be respected?

14 thoughts on “Happily Ever After

  1. Bittersweet tends to feel best for a 'serious' novel, but hey, if you can be nominated for a best picture Oscar and have a happy ending (like Slumdog Millionaire), why can't a serious novel have a sappy happy ending?

    You just have to earn it. If the main character suffers enough, I think the reader will forgive a happy ending. And since I like happy endings, I suppose I should make my characters suffer more. (Sorry characters.)


  2. @Josh & Michelle – I'm not usually satisfied when happy = tying up loose ends either. Life just isn't like that. But…

    @Ben – I think you might have found it! I wouldn't say “loose ends” are tied by the end of A Christmas Carol, but there's definitely redemption where redemption was needed. I think that's pretty happy AND satisfying.


  3. Well, by your definition, A Christmas Carol is great literature. It's taught, revered, and loved, especially by people who aren't studying English literature. That's a rare thing for a book first published in 1843.


  4. I think this would all depend on the definition of a happy ending. Stories that tie up all the loose ends happily just don't seem to become what is considered “great” literature.


  5. I'm not sure I can think of one off the top of my head! Usually, though, if everything is sickly sweetly happily ever after at the end of any story I'm not truly satisfied. To me, life is about the disappointments as much as the successes, and to have an ending that's perfectly happily ever after, it doesn't feel real enough to satisfy me. This is a great thing to think about. I'll be mulling it over. 🙂


  6. Sarah,

    Your answer to everyone is exactly what I was thinking. I'm pretty sure I'll now spend a great deal of time tonight racking my brain, trying to remember a great book I might have read that had a happy ending. 🙂


  7. @Jaimie – Oh, Jane Austen. Her characters only SEEM happy by the end!

    @everyone – I agree that novels don't need to be sad or even ambiguous about their happiness in order to be great. I just can't think of one that's not!


  8. I feel compelled to end novels on a sad note or at least not fulfill all the whims of the protagonist. Yet, if I modify my ending to be happier, even if it seems unlikely, I get better reviews regarding my writing style.


  9. As long as I feel satisfied by the end it doesn't matter to me if it's happy or sad. If it's sad it has to be part of the story and not just put in there for emotional impact.

    I was deeply unsatisfied with the ending of The Lovely Bones, a little bit unsatisfied with The Adoration of Jenna Fox – but there’s a sequel in the works.

    Is there ever a 100% truly happy ending?


  10. I think life isn't PERFICT so, the so called PERFICT ending (to which I think is being referenced to here) is unrealistic–if not impossible.

    Personally, I like complicated ending regardless of happy or sad. For my favorite ending I will point to 'The Count of Monte Cristo'–not too happy but not completly sad either, but it fits the story perfictly!


  11. While I do believe that the writer's work does benefit from the writing going through – and sometimes overcoming – intense and negative emotional states of mind (I find it creates a better depth for the work), I don't think that all “great” novels need to have sad endings.

    As for the best novel that ends in 100% happiness? Hard to say, and happiness depends on the individual, but I would say “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. Fantastic book.


  12. Um… Pride and Prejudice? *braces*

    Anne of Green Gables. I WOULD add The Lord of the Rings, but why do I sob at the end if it's perfectly happy? I don't think it is.

    The most unabashedly happy ending I've ever seen is A Midsummer Night's Dream, but that's a play.


  13. Most people always talk about a journey being the most important part.

    If the book is good, what difference does it make if it ends happily or not. It doesn't have to end badly for it to be good.

    Aren't movies the same way? Some movies end on a good note and others don't. It depends on the story itself.


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