Heading Off Into the Sunset: Happy Endings and the Critics Who Hate Them

Have you stopped by Goodreads?  Goodreads is a networking site like Facebook for book lovers, a comfortable place online to hang out with other readers and discuss books.  As an author, I have a profile page, with information about books I’ve read, friends I’ve made, and reviews I’ve written.  Shelfari is similar.  Both sites are worth a look.

Thumbnail image for e in sanibel sunset.jpgLast week another Goodreader told me about the film The Jane Austen Book Club, (based on a novel by Karen Joy Fowler).  In turn I told my husband, who, after rolling his eyes the appropriate number of times, Netflixed it for Mother’s Day.

This is not a movie review. We both loved the movie, despite a lack of car chases, exploding buildings, and graphic sex.  Not because we’re wusses.  Our last movie was Quantum of Solace, which had plenty of the first two but a surprising lack of the third. No, we loved The Jane Austen Book Club because when we turned off television, we felt better about the world.  Engaging women faced problems with the help of new friends and found love and happiness. Exactly what can be wrong with that?

Apparently plenty. 

Reading through the reviews of Jane Austen as well as my own recent movies, which were well received on German television, I’ve been interested to see just how much fuss is being made about happy endings.  Plus, because these happy endings have to do with finding love, the assumption seems to be that women who read and watch stories with romance in them only want to be happily married and have no other goals in life.  Which is a lot like saying that men who watch thrillers only yearn to be stalked by maniacal assassins.

Interviews I give to the press seem to concentrate on this point, as well.  Why do I write happy endings?  Do I think they are unrealistic?  Do I think that romance and love are major components of real life?  Why am I obsessed with making people feel good?

Although it’s unfathomable why these questions need answers, let me set the record straight.

do believe in happy endings.  I also believe there are obstacles to achieving them, and since I have a working brain, I know not every outcome will be happy.  I believe romance and love are major components of real life, and without them, many of us wouldn’t be here.  I believe dwelling on unhappiness almost ensures it will triumph. I believe that in striving for happiness for ourselves and others, we become happier people, because the journey is often more important than the destination.

The oddest thing about this kind of commentary?  That, in the name of feminism, reviewers feel they must criticize love and relationships, things most women hold dear.  Does anyone else see the irony? 

If we’re not striving for happiness, what exactly are we striving for?  Is that a question worth pondering?


  1. stacybuckeye on May 14, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    I love happy endings! Now, I could not read happy endings only, but for the most part I enjoy an uplifting book that leaves me happier than when I started.
    Thanks for the happy endings you provide!

  2. Emilie Richards on May 14, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    Thanks so much, Stacy. Some of my favorite novels haven’t had classically happy endings, but when I’m finished reading, I somehow feel better about the world. That’s a happy ending within the reader, even if it’s not a happy ending within the story.

  3. Marjorie on May 15, 2009 at 11:37 am

    Dear Emilie,
    I couldn’t have stated this issue nearly as well as you, although I might have attempted it, because its something akin to how I believe too! I am a big fan of happy endings, warm cozy characters and stories, and the ebbings of heart/soul underpinnings that set the stage for a book or film to linger around in your mind long after you’ve read/seen it. Although, I appreciate the odd adventure/action film (Live Free, Die Hard comes to mind or National Treasure 1 & 2 or even, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull)… my mainstays are the romantic dramedies, comedies, and dramas! For example, the last films that truly enriched me are: Shopaholic, Last Chance Harvey, Play the Game, the Nanny Diaries, the Women (Norma Shearer), and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.
    Love, Romance, Marriage — these are not the sum all of what make up the fabric of women, but they are key coponents of what some of us strive in a direction towards, which in essence forfills a certain type of happiness that enables us to feel whole; which when absent makes us feeling a longing that something is missing, even if, we are indeed still a well of happiness without it. Its not the pursuit of love or romance that defines us completely, as we are multi-dimensional souls, but merely, its at the heart of our human condition to seek out what most would considerable unrealistic dreams and fancies.
    Again, you have dealt with the topic with eloquence and decourum!

  4. Emilie Richards on May 15, 2009 at 11:47 am

    Thanks for sharing with us. I loved Miss Pettigrew, too. What a great movie.

  5. Ellen Dye on May 18, 2009 at 6:57 am

    I think we do need happy endings. In real life we don’t always get them, a sad fact, but an honest one. I love being able to find them in books 🙂

  6. Sierra Donovan on May 21, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    No real comment here — just a standing ovation! You said it all — and really well.
    Thanks for bringing us those happy endings!

  7. Emilie Richards on May 21, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    And thank you, Sierra.

  8. Lynn Ross - Toledo on May 25, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    Hi, Emilie:
    For entertainment I demand happy endings and only watch movies and read books that guarantee one. That’s why I trust your books. They are believable and they have happy endings. I can find that “other kind” of story by turning to the media or by observing the lives of many of the people around me. Just call me a hopeless romantic. 🙂 Keep writing about the beauty in life that does sometimes happen. Some of us really need that. And for those who don’t, there are plenty of the “other kind.”

  9. Emilie Richards on May 25, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    I much appreciate your support. And it’s good to find old friends commenting on my blog. So glad you stopped by, Lynn.

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