Some people drink to deal with stress, others binge on junk food. I turn to Jane Austen. I've got both recent versions of Pride and Prejudice on DVD, the BBC version when I've got a whole day to sit and watch the story in every detail, and the Keira Knightly version for when I have only a few hours. I also indulge in Clueless, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility, and have most of her books on my Kindle. There's nothing like a happy ending to turn my mood around. That's why I go to such great lengths to write happy endings.
Which many would say bars me from writing "serious literature" - but I write science fiction too, so it should be obvious to everyone that I don't much care what the literary establishment thinks of me. I'm always amused, though, at people's attitudes towards a happy ending. Stories that end on a high note are "fluff", harmless but trivial.
Yet a happy ending isn't rewarding if the character's conflicts are trivial. Take Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennet, the heroine, isn't the prettiest girl in her family. That would be her sister, Jane. Her fortune isn't assured. She and her sisters cannot inherit from their father and Jane's all but confirmed engagement to a wealthy man has been abruptly cut off. By the middle of the book, Elizabeth has had two marriage proposals that would save her family, one from Mr. Collins, the man who will inherit her father's estate, and the other from Mr. Darcy, an arrogant, disagreeable fellow who is fabulously rich. Because Elizabeth wants a happy marriage, she turns them both down, which in that era means she dooms not just herself, but her entire family. Even worse, her younger sister, Lydia, runs off with a man with no money, no honor, and no intention of making her an honest woman. All of the Bennett sisters are tainted by association, their marriage prospects are gone, and they will be turned out of their home upon the death of Mr. Bennet.
These aren't "fluff" concerns, and it would have been easy for Austen to make this book a tragedy. She could have ended it just after Lydia's elopement, but it is her decision not to end the story there that makes the happy ending possible. I think life is like that too. In order to find our happy endings, we have to resolve not to say "The End" until we pass through our dark times and trials and find a way to succeed.
Austen found a way to create a happy ending for Elizabeth Bennet that was believable and satisfying. A vitriol fueled visit from Mr. Darcy's aunt sets the wheels in motion. What appears to be a lost cause for the Bennet sisters contains the cleverly hidden elements that turn the tables on all of their ill-wishers. The sisters rise triumphant from what looked like certain doom. Pride and Prejudice's ending proves that Austen is a master storyteller, because a lesser storyteller would never have been able to turn the plot so completely and convincingly around.
Which is why I turn to Jane Austen, not to escape my life, but to learn how to change it. Happiness isn't easy. Feeling like you're on top of your troubles and in control of your life takes hard work, creativity, and endless patience. As they say, when you're walking through the valley of darkness, keep walking! To live our lives from happy ending to happy ending is a skill which I'll admit I haven't mastered yet. Until I get there, I'll practice in my writing. And every time I fail, I've got a drawer full of Jane Austen movies and books to lift my spirits and keep me going. Here's to not saying "The End" until we find our happy endings.
My book, Time and Eternity, is about twenty-five year old Alice O'Donnell, who receives something that looks an awful lot like a revelation from God that her dream will come true. In many books, this might be the beginning of endless bliss, but in real life? Yeah. It's the beginning of a tough journey in which she questions her sanity. Everything that should go right for the revelation to come true, goes wrong. Answers aren't easy and I won't tell you how it all is resolved, but I promise that there's a happy ending.