In Search of a Happily-Ever-After

Romance readers crave a happy ending.

Romance writers deliver happy endings.

Some of my guests at Romance Writers on the Journey have asked their visitors to name their all-time favorite book. When I answer the question, I often say Little Women.

I’ve read and enjoyed the book many times and still have the tear-stained unabridged hardcover copy I bought with hard-earned allowed money when I was thirteen.

The fact that Little Women tops the list of my favorite books is odd because romances are my usual fare. Some might say it’s a romance, but the way I see it, Little Women doesn’t quality as one because it doesn’t have a happy ending.

Yeah sure, I know Jo ends up marrying Professor Bhaer, but that ending never satisfied me. She loved Laurie, and he loved her. If the story were a romance, they would have ended up together. Instead, Jo’s baby sister, Amy, got the guy.

Um, no. Not fair. Foul!

What went wrong?

The original story was loosely based upon Alcott’s life and the lives of her sisters. She wrote the first half at the request of her publisher, who wanted a story for girls. It ended before any of the March sisters married and was such a success her publisher asked her to write more of the tale. The second half of what we know as Little Women was originally published as Good Wives.

Since Alcott never married, she was forced to fictionalize the ending. And, personally, I think she flubbed it. She could have had Laurie, if only in the pages of her story. But in a gut-wrenching scene, she dashed his hopes—right along with those of this reader.

If I were into fan fiction, I’d consider writing a new ending, one where Laurie and Jo marry and live happily ever after.


Because I’m a true romantic who believes a romance novel, by design, ends with a HEA and that a romance writer owes it to her readers to deliver one. Some might say that’s narrow and limiting or formulaic, to which I would reply, “I don’t care.”

My stories end with happily-ever-afters. It’s what I want to read, so it’s what I write. 🙂

* * *

If you’re a fan of romances, do you expect a happy ending?

How do you feel if the heroine doesn’t end up with her fellow?

If you’re a romance writer, do your stories have happy endings?

If you’ve read Little Women, were you disappointed with Alcott’s ending?


About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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18 Responses to In Search of a Happily-Ever-After

  1. Jessica says:

    Oh yes, I was SO mad about Laurie. I could never truly love the professor even though at first he was kind of romantic. But you know what I didn’t like? That he put down the stories she wrote and encouraged her to write something more “serious.” Of course I loved the serious part, but it always annoyed me that he so easily dismissed her other writings. Grrr.
    HEAs are a must for me. I feel depressed when I read nonHEA because that’s life, and I’m not reading books to be reminded of the bad things in life, but to be reminded of the best things in life (enduring love, etc).

  2. Wendy says:

    I’m one of four girls. We used to act like the sisters. And you’d be proud of me, I’m working out a HEA in my WIP currently (how’s that for rhyme time?).
    ~ Wendy

  3. Hilary says:

    HEA endings are imperative to me. I too love Little Women but each time I read it, I get angry/upset all over again that Jo rejects Laurie. They were meant to be together.

  4. Yes, indeed! I always expect a happily ever after and if I don’t get it, I feel cheated. The books that don’t end with a sweet love story leave me completely frustrated. I’m with you Keli – I’m a complete romantic.

  5. Tana Adams says:

    Ha! I wasn’t satisfied with Little Women either! I plan on a rewrite someday and Beth will never die in my version. =) Maybe I’ll throw a few Zombies in there and it’ll become an instant modern classic. *sigh*

  6. I agree, Keli – – I LOVE a happy ending! 🙂 And although I too, was sad about Jo and Laurie, I still name that classic book as a favorite. In fact, my oldest daughter is named Amy! 🙂

  7. Little Women was one of the first books I read as a young girl. I’ve forgotten what happened in the book, but I remember how emotionally involved I was with the characters, and I remember a huge disappointment. I am like you, Keli. When it comes to romance, real life has enough sorrow in it without having to expect it in a novel. I read for entertainment more than anything else. I want to feel that warm, fuzzy, happiness at the end of a romance novel. All kinds of flub-ups can happen along the way, but give me a satisfying ending. Blessings to you, Keli…

  8. Beth Vogt says:

    Little Women was my favorite book growing up. I read it over and over and over–and I cried every time Beth died.
    And, while I write contemporary romance and I must have HEAs, I was completely fine with Jo marrying the Professor and Laurie marrying Amy. Jo and Laurie were friends. The best of friends–but they weren’t meant to marry. Obviously, Jo knew that sooner than Laurie did. But I think the book is believable as it was written–and there were 2 HEAs.

  9. I love a HEA. I haven’t reread Little Women in so long because it frustrates me. When I close a book, I want to feel completely satisfied–a smile on my face. I want to say, “No, more!” That’s what the way I like to write, too.

  10. Julie Nilson says:

    I think the main problem with Little Women is that her rejection of Laurie and taking up with the professor is written as though it were an HEA, but to the reader, it’s not. I’m OK with a not-so-happy ending, but in the case of Little Women, I think there’s a jarring disconnect between what the readers think would be a happy ending and the one we got.

  11. Keli Gwyn says:

    I’m enjoying all the comments and the different opinions. You will notice that even though I’m among the Laurie-gets-the-girl contingent, I loved the book so much that I spent $10 on it back in 1972, which was several weeks’ worth of allowance, read the story many times, and still own my nearly forty-year-old copy. 🙂

  12. Yes, I’m definitely a happily-ever-after kind of girl. The latest movie version of Little Women (with Winona Ryder) made it feel like a happy ending, but you’re right…It wasn’t a true HEA without Jo and Laurie together. Like that book does for you, a non-HEA book has to have a really strong redeeming quality to make up for its non-HEA status. 🙂

  13. I don’t need a happily ever after to be satisfied with a book. Is it strange that I love a sad ending? But only if it serves a purpose: for instance if someone dies but it teaches all the characters to cling tighter to the relationships they have. Or something like that.

    I am not necessarily talking romances here though. But even then, as long as the unhappy ending serves a purpose, I think I would like it.

  14. I prefer Happy Endings in my stories. I have read Little Women, which I enjoyed, but was not satisfied at the ending. I never really liked Amy and really wished Laurie and Jo had ended up together. Have you read Alcott’s An Old Fashioned Girl ? I like that story much better as it has an HEA. Alcott says she wrote An Old Fashioned Girl in response to how fans reacted to the ending of Little Women.

  15. territiffany says:

    This is why I don’t write romance anymore I think-my characters don’t always have that happily-ever-after romance ending but are happy in a different way. Jo did find her man but I wanted her to marry Laurie too!

  16. Susan Mason says:

    Oh yes, a story MUST have a happy ending for me! I get quite grumpy when it doesn’t. I remember reading Little Women as a kid and loving it (except for Beth dying), but funny enough I don’t remember the end of the Jo story! Maybe I was so disillusioned, I blocked it out!

    But the truly big disappointment for me was “Gone With the Wind”. I went to see it as a re-release in the theatre when I was a teenager. They had an intermission and everything. But when Rhett left Scarlett at the end, I was NOT a happy camper. So in my mind, I wrote the next scene, where he comes to his senses and comes back to her.

    And I agree, Nicholas Sparks (ugh) everyone dies in his books and movies. I love them and hate them at the same time! When I saw Message in a Bottle, I didn’t know who Nicholas Sparks was or anything about the movie. It looked like a good romance to me. WRONG! The hero dies in the end! What kind of sick person writes like that!! GEESH!

    So yes, all my stories have happy, happy endings! (Thanks for letting me vent!)

  17. An ending that isn’t necessarily happy, but satisfying, is both my reading ideal and my writing goal. I don’t like sad endings, but if I can foresee happiness in the future, somewhere beyond the last page, I’m content.

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