On Monday, Knebworth House posted this bit of literary history to Instagram:
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On this day in 1861 Charles Dickens came to stay with Edward Bulwer Lytton at Knebworth House for four days. During the visit Bulwer suggested a happier ending to the story Dickens was completing, Great Expectations. Dickens took the advice and Estella & Pip ended up together. #charlesdickens #greatexpectations #1861 #dickens #edwardbulwerlytton #knebworthhouse #hertfordshire #visitherts #historichouses
Knebworth House is a privately run stately home about half an hour drive from where I write this. Unlike most such places, the family lives there. (Part of the house and garden is private.) However, most of the house and the magnificent grounds are open to the public.
The current owner is a descendant in its line of previous family owners stretching back over two centuries. One of them was 19th century author Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Today Bulwer-Lytton’s best known novel is probably his 1834 The Last Days of Pompeii, which has been adapted numerous times for film and television, with the most recent well-known one in English being 1984’s US network television miniseries.
That Charles Dickens post from the house got me thinking more about “happiness.” It is interesting there that Bulwer-Lytton may have influenced Dickens to bring characters together because he thought readers would probably have liked to have seen that and even Dickens apparently agreed. Yet I don’t think we demand “happy endings” as readers nearly as much as endings that make some sense.
As a writer, you know you cannot just turn sworn enemies into best buddies in the last two pages. You know you would feel cheated reading something like that, so of course your readers too would probably think… “What?” If we feel “happiness” is being forced on us just for the sake of “happy happy happy,” we may suspect we have accidentally picked up a children’s book.
“And they lived happily ever after.” That is the famous ending to Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. (Sorry if that was a spoiler. LOL!) We watched it the other night; the first time I ever saw it start to finish.
It is indeed fantastic. It is pacy and holds your attention. It is also rated by Disney itself as for “6+ years of age,” but I thought a couple of scenes could probably still scare the heck out of many a 6 year old.
As for we adults now well past “age 6,” we know “happily ever after” endings like those in that film are of course fiction. I think what we crave is to see some positive affirmation somewhere near the end, or at the end, that it was hopefully all worth it in some way. Naturally we may also compare ourselves to what those characters experience.
Consider, for example, The Great Gatsby. Its ending is probably on target. Anything else would have seemed not quite right.
That from me is NOT technically an END. (I am not giving away the ending outright on here! LOL!) It does, though, sum up I feel a moment that may feel like an end. It is one of those times we feel some personal achievement and life accomplishment – and it is a feeling that may also last only a few seconds.
Now, that IS A LAST PAGE of one of my first three novels. I am not revealing which one it is. Nor will I reveal who “she” is or even who “he” is.
However, I will say this much here: that is, basically, how I see life. We do have times when we are truly “happy.” When we are, we should sear those moments into our memories and treasure them, because more often than we want to admit we will never see anything quite like them again…
…which makes them all the more precious and important to us.
In our house here in Bedfordshire, which we bought a little more than a year ago, the previous owners left that on the dining room wall. It is a stencil that will go when we get around finally to painting that wall. (Who puts that on a dining room wall? Seriously?) But one supposes its sentiments are worthwhile remembering – particularly in these extra-difficult times.
Have a good Tuesday, wherever you are. Hopefully, this is a very “happy” day for you in some way. 🙂