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Happiness Happens in Classic Literature

By Megan Powell, Magali Prel and Natasha Smith

In honour of August being international Happiness Happens Month, we thought this was the perfect opportunity to explore some of our favourite happy endings. It should be noted, however, that this was not an easy feat as classic literature often favours a more profound and emotional narrative. A lot of our favourites are of the sadder variety, so uncovering our favourite happy reads proved to be a fun exercise. While it might be wise to declare a spoiler alert for this article, we think that knowing the endings explored here will not detract from the overall experience of reading the novels. Like most examples from literature, meanings are subject to interpretation, so here are our favourite novels that contain some form of a happy ending. Let this list serve as a reminder to continually do and read what makes you happy!

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Mansfield Park is Austen’s third published novel and it focuses on the moral development of her characters. The novel follows Fanny Price who is sent to live with her wealthy relatives, the Bertrams, as a child. Most of them are unwelcoming, which does not help her timidity and shyness. But even though many of the characters treat Fanny disagreeably and unveil their adulterous, immoral personalities, the novel ultimately has a joyous ending where Fanny is rewarded with true happiness through a deserved marriage to her cousin Edmund. Fanny’s other cousins, Maria and Julia, are shown to rival one another when it comes to love matches. Here it is evident that Maria has married not for love, but for wealth and status, highlighting her shallow nature and foreshadowing the inevitable breakdown of her marriage. Many of the characters’ fates are decided by their manipulative natures and harsh acts, exemplified not only through Maria, but the Crawfords too, who plot and scheme for each other at the expense of others. The deserving characters are rewarded and Edmund, the only person who treats Fanny with actual kindness from her arrival, weds her. It seems the characters can learn from their mistakes, which perhaps offers happy endings for the others too given that accountability and reform are hinted at, providing hope for future growth and maturity.

An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde

An Ideal Husband is a play written by Oscar Wilde that was first performed in 1895 in London. The story revolves around the lives of Sir Robert Chiltern, a highly respected politician, and his wife, Lady Gertrude Chiltern. In the beginning of the play, Sir Robert is believed to be the embodiment of moral virtue and political integrity. However, this image becomes tainted when Mrs Cheveley, a manipulative socialite, is found to possess a secret document that reveals a youthful slip committed by Sir Robert on which his entire fortune is based. She tries to coerce Sir Robert into supporting her fraudulent scheme in exchange for her silence.

Throughout the play, Wilde employs wit to satirise moral hypocrisy in the Victorian era, highlighting the gap between public appearances and the private lives of his characters. The main themes discussed in this play are forgiveness, redemption and the true quality of honour, which Wilde explores by challenging the notion of an idealised figure and confronting the characters with their real natures.

Despite Sir Robert’s doomed past, the play has a happy ending. The play ends with a reaffirmation of love, trust and moral integrity. The characters have admitted their flaws and indiscretions, which leads to resolution and reconciliation. Wilde ensures that the play concludes with a sense of optimism for most of the characters.

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

In classic literature, the feat of happiness is sometimes achieved with an underlying message, or after one has been explored. This best explains the ending in John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids. Published in 1955, this science fiction classic is profound in displaying Wyndham’s social message, one that infers a happy ending. This dystopian novel explores a genetically mutated post-apocalyptic society and how the constraints of society destroy any abnormalities, human or not. Throughout the novel, a group of young characters David, Rosalind and Petra discover their telepathic abilities but are faced with prejudice. As the characters keep their abilities hidden, Wyndham is able to promote the idea that change should be embraced and that perfection is an impossible ideal. While this novel is an essential critical commentary on society, the happy ending is contained in the notion that David and the others finally find contentment and home in a place of acceptance.


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