Happy Endings - A Book Blog

Katherine Longshore 5 Tuesday, June 26, 2012
It's book blog week again, and I'm so glad Talia started us off so well with all the new books coming out in the next few months (top of my list?  SKINNY and SILVER, of course.)  But our theme for this week's book blog is our favorite books from when we were younger.

Right up until I was about fourteen, I hated books with unhappy endings.  The Outsiders.  The Red Pony.  We read these books for school, and they made me so unhappy I would throw the book across the room.

But then, suddenly, things changed.  I read A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, and I still threw the book across the room, but I loved it.  I read it again.  And again.  And I knew that this book didn't need a happy ending for me to love it.  Because the conclusion of the book was true - in an emotional sense - as well as unhappy.  It was satisfying.  It seemed meant to be.  So I went on to read many more unhappy yet deeply satisfying endings.  Gone With the Wind.  Of Mice and Men.  One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  And I loved every single one.

And then I read E.M. Forster's A ROOM WITH A VIEW.  What can I say?  I'm a sucker for romance.  And even more of a sucker for Italy.  And the absolute worst sucker for handsome English men.

The first half of the novel is set in Florence, where Lucy Honeychurch has gone on "tour" with her spinster cousin, Charlotte.  The room in question is the one they acquire after complaining that they don't have view promised them by the pensione in which they're staying, and a philosopher and his son trade with them -- not the done thing in Edwardian England, where Victorian morals were still firmly ingrained.  Lucy surprises herself by falling in love not just with Italy, but with George Emerson, the philosopher's son, but manages to convince herself otherwise, returning to England and her middle-class family.

The ending of the book is a happy one - romantically.  At the age of 17, I thought it the most romantic book I had ever read.  And then I saw the Merchant/Ivory film and swooned afresh.  I even pretended to wander the streets of new towns without my Baedecker - the guidebook with which Lucy and all good English people traveled.

Several years later, I moved to England.  Wanting to revisit some of my old literary haunts, I checked Forster's book out of the Tonbridge public library.

And discovered an epilogue.

All of the American editions I'd read (and I'd read a few) did not include this epilogue.  But the hardbound copy I discovered in Tonbridge did.

In it, Lucy returns to Florence after World War I, and rents for herself the room with the view.  She stays there alone.  Because George was killed in the war.

I threw the book across the room.  But I understood.  Because it was true.  So many young Englishmen died in the war.  Sometimes, I prefer to believe that Lucy and George's story ends before the war.  When we can suspend them in amber, in their happiness.  But statistically, George was doomed, and Forster's epilogue illustrates this.

At 17, I may not have seen the epilogue in the same way I do now.  Sure, I read books with unhappy endings.  But the romantic in me desperately wanted Lucy and George, there in the window, the Arno and Florence behind them, forever.


Sob!!! The epilogue makes George's resilience to relish life and his innate goodness so very tragic and admirable, too. Sob, sob!!!

No, No, No! I didn't just read that! That is one of my most favorite books and movies! I never read that epilogue. I even had a British professor when I did a comparison of the book to the movie and he NEVER mentioned the epilogue. I didn't read it. I don't believe George went to war. He was too idealistic. Let snippy Cecil go to war! Cut the epilogue out of your book. George lives!

Did you know there is a young author called Hannah Sternberg that wrote a book based on A Room With a View called Queens of All The Earth. It's pretty good, set in Spain.

I've got tissues handy, PB!

And I'm so sorry, Heather! Wipe it from your memory! And never, ever watch the BBC adaptation of the book.
I must go in search of Queens of the Earth, though I can't imagine Spain as an alternate setting to Italy...

I wouldn't watch anything but the Merchant Ivory, they do such beautiful films. Have you seen/read Howard's End. That doesn't have a happy ending. Is there an epilogue to that as well??

Queens of All the Earth is set in present day, but the scenes are all there. Just changed up a bit to update it.

I agree about Merchant/Ivory, Heather. Loved Howard's End despite the unhappy ending (and I haven't heard of an epilogue for that one!)

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