Happy endings (or not)

I like it when books and movies aren’t necessarily tied up neatly with a satin bow at the end;  I like when there are a few question marks unanswered, and the finish leaves you with a little room for wonder and conjecture.  In other words, me ‘n’ chick flicks do not get along.  However, I don’t like tragedies, either, where everything is unrelentingly bleak, everybody dies, relationships are broken and left unmended.

Earlier this year, Martin and I watched, in three weekly installments, Tess of the D’Urbervilles on PBS’ Mastperpiece Theater.  (Note — spoilers, sort of, ahead.)  I started out thinking that it was Dickensian, with everyone’s lot in life apparently sad and destined for disaster, but with hope, redemption, justice, and a rich uncle glimmering around the corner.  I kept waiting for it… waiting for it…  Nope.  No one was redeemed.  The inheritance never showed up.  The plights of all were destined for disaster.  I recall watching it, wholly unacquainted with the story and realizing only at about 90% of the way through it, that there was no way that the story was going to be pulled out of the hole that Thomas Hardy had dug.  Martin and I both felt totally slimed at the serial’s end, and we turned to each other and said in unison, “Well that sucks,” as the credits rolled.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter to me what kind of social commentary Hardy was attempting, or even accomplishing.  I felt as manipulated by his pessimistic literary devices as I do when watching an unrelentingly, unrealistically sappy and happy chick flick.

After being totally delighted by all of Jane Austen’s works last year, I decided to work my way through the Brontë sisters’ books.  It’s been much more hit-or-miss.  Villette — unsatisfying and a tad creepy (but, hey, there’s a free e-book download, here!).  Jane Eyre — beautiful and satisfying, perfect in many ways, though the plethora of fortunate, plot-advancing coincidences maddened me.

Now, I’m reading Wuthering Heights.  I’m about 40% of the way through it, and it’s starting to smack of Tess.

At the wonderful book club I’m a part of (wonderful because of the ladies involved — enough alike to thoroughly enjoy each other’s company, yet dissimilar enough to have rousing discussion, unique perspectives, and disagreement), we discussed Jane Eyre last Saturday, and my friend Erin was “outed” by our friend Allison as someone who reads the end of the book first.  I was shocked.  😀  Though I understand her reasoning — she would rather enjoy a more leisurely and thorough reading of the book, than fly through it just to see how the story is resolved — I don’t think I have ever, ever done that.  Seems book-sacreligious or something.

Oddly enough, though, Emily Brontë included a family tree (of the characters) at the beginning of the Wuthering Heights, revealing many of the shockers on the outset.  But… I am, again, wholly unacquainted with the story itself, and I have found myself referring continually to that family tree, thinking, “He marries her???  How does that come to be???  She dies when???  Tragic.  Oh, look, her death coincides with the birthdate of her daughter.  She dies in birth.  Oh…”

So, in a way, it’s like reading the last few chapters.  At least, that’s what I’m telling myself, trying to convince myself it wouldn’t be so bad to read the last few pages of the book, because I don’t want to invest myself in it and have the story turn out to be a tragedy.  And,  Emily Brontë already told us a good 90% of the story, there on the first page!

However, if you’ve read it, don’t tell me the outcome.

I probably won’t skip ahead.  I’m going to be really upset, though, if it’s all pessimistic at the end.

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About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on July 24, 2009, in Books I'm Reading, Friendships, Movies, TV. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. newbeginnings09

    Did you know Jane Eyre is a study in schizophrenia? That is the mental disorder that Bronte depicted in her character Mrs. Rochester. Having spent recent weeks studying all things related to scz (schizophrenia) I found that interesting — that it was written about a century and a half ago — and appalling, since the character is supposed to be half beast, half human, and completely horrifying. Bronte was even criticized for her depiction of the ill woman. I haven’t read the book, and I doubt I will because frustrations abound inside my home over the lack of understanding towards people who are mentally ill. The media seems particularly ready to skew these folks.
    SCZ is our latest dx for my husband. He’s not an easy man, and this is not an easy disease, but he’s by no means a beast. Even if he were, I think it wouldn’t be fair to say such a thing without pointing out that it’s a brain disease, such as Alzheimers and dementia, and it can’t be helped. Of course they didn’t know that in 1847.
    Your opinion on her characterization of Mrs. Rochester? I LOVE finding out how you think and view such things!

    NewBeginnings
    ps: I generally don’t like sappy love stories movies either, and refuse to read romance novels!

    • My opinion is that Bronte just invented some hideous disorder — maybe a mix of schizophrenia plus some “King Nebuchadnezzar” from Daniel 4:33, where he “began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws.” Plus, there’s also some mention of Bertha/Mrs. Rochester’s disorder being induced by both heredity and alcoholism. In general, though I LOVE LOVE LOVE Bronte’s very thorough characterization, pretty much everyone is the *extreme* of whatever it is that they embody, Bertha included.

      By the way… there have been lots of studies linking schizophrenia with gluten intolerance. Some doubt the connection, and no one is suggesting that gluten CAUSES schizophrenia, but many people have had significant relief of schizophrenia symptoms on a gluten free (or gluten-free, casein-free) diet. Also, people with celiac disease are 3x more likely to develop schizophrenia than the general population. (It’s still rare, even among celiacs, but I do believe it would be worthwhile to have your husband tested for CD — it’s an easy blood test; he wouldn’t even need to have the biopsy done; even though that’s the “gold standard” for celiac diagnosis, most doctors nowadays are satisfied with a positive blood test.) http://www.celiac.com/articles/21809/1/Gluten-Tied-to-Schizophrenia/Page1.html

      • newbeginnings09

        I agree 100% that there is probably a great link between his mental issues and his food intake, Karen! Convincing him is another story. He doesn’t want to even consider it. That’s silly to me, since we’ve discovered our son’s casein allergy caused a lot of his behavioral issues, and while by no means *cured* of sensory processing disorder, he’s at least managable now! SCZ is, for all intents, a sensory disorder too, so it makes perfect sense to me.
        Maybe I can convince his dr to test him w/o telling him? That might be mean in some people’s eyes, but in mine, whatever it takes to survive this disease, I’ll do.

  2. I, too, hated Tess of the D’ubervilles. Squalid and melodramatic and pretty much only about, you know, one thing.

    I read the ends of books first also because I get a lot of satisfaction in asking, and answering, “how is the author going to get from here to there?” an impossible question if one doesn’t know where “there” is. Questions of craft. I have had to train myself to stop predicting the endings of movies, out loud, during the first act, based on the foreshadowing. The imagery and plot mechanisms tend to be heavy-handed in movies. “Did you see how he picked up that hand mirror? He’s making a decision about declaring his love. But it won’t work out, the mirror just broke. She’ll end up with the guy in the junker car.”
    I think on some occasions most of us like know the endings. Why else do so many people read Tom Clancy books, if not to see the hero win?

  3. I’m totally with you on the mostly happy endings. Since I was a kid I have had a really hard time dealing with sad endings. And I also read the ends of pretty much every book I read. It’s almost like a compulsion. I need to see what the ending is like, so I know if it’s worth reading… and like Erin, I like to see how they fill in the story between the beginning and the end.

    On a sidenote, Dickens didn’t always have happy endings either. His novel called “The Old Curiosity Shop” is one of the most depressing I have ever read, although it’s also really soppy and melodramatic. 🙂

    My question is, why is so much “literature” ugly and squalid and depressing? I hate reading depressing literature! The world is full of horror and evil, and all the so-called literature writers of today (and many in the past) have the most depressing and hopeless take on humanity. And I think that most people would rather read something that makes them feel like there is some hope. But at the same time, it shouldn’t all be too concise and happy and nobody dying, because that’s not life either.

    • My friend Kathy (longtime friend and in the bookclub, too!) calls the goal “Good Art + Good Message.” It’s really tough to find books that are BOTH.

      • You’re absolutely correct. I think that’s why I end up reading a lot of well-written children’s literature. In good kid’s lit the hope is still there and the message is still there, but so is the plotline and the character development.

  4. I agree with the discussion on mental illness and celiac. My grandmother had multiple meltal illnesses and died without ever being healthy but now that myself and my mother have been diagnosed I can’t help but see the connection between her problems (mental as well as GI) and undiagnosed celiac. Too bad she didn’t know, but thank the Lord I will likely be spared from that trajedy.

    The book is another matter! If I remember right I had to read Wuthering Heights as quickly as possible because I was totally depressed the whole time reading it! 🙂 I’m wierd that I LIKE that and no I can’t read the end first either! I love books but alone time has been pretty scarce lately. Enjoy your miserable book! Heehee

  5. Jane Eyre is one of my all-time favorite books. There is a musical based on the book; the songs are just lovely.

    I do appreciate books without tied-up-neatly endings, because life is not like that. One of my favorite books is The Little Friend by Donna Tartt (she also wrote The Secret History, another good book, but not as good, IMO, as TLF). It’s Southern Gothic at its best, like Flannery O’Connor (ooooh, you might like Flannery O’Connor. She said all her stories and books were about grace being granted to an individual who was not ready or willing to accept it); the ending isn’t neatly tied up, there are plots that are left open-ended….just like life. And the prose is, in my humble opinion, stunning.

    That said, Donna Tartt is an author people either love or loathe. But her stories stick with you, either way.

    Never liked Austen very much. I do like Pride and Prejudice, but only after watching the miniseries with Colin Firth (heh). The book Emma (and the eponymous heroine in that book) irritated me so dang much I wanted to slap her around a bit.

  6. Jane Eyre lovers and haters, of course, owe it to themselves to read Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys at some point – fabulous novel written from the perspective of the first Mrs Rochester.

    If you hated Tess, whatever you do, avoid Jude the Obscure! Especially the actual novel – the film is a model of optimism in comparison.

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