Victorian literature: dark and depressing, goody-two shoes heroine triumphs over evil, bullies, and her own insecurities to become the goody-two shoes heroine with it all. The men are all tough, sailors and soldiers who fight the good fight for king and country or life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Depending on location.
Charles Dickens was depressing as anything. I blame the bad weather in England. Or maybe just a severe case of depression? Either way, his books are full of soot-ridden down-trodden nobodies who struggle to make something of themselves. Satirical commentaries on social change aside, the more he saw of his world, the darker his writings became.
William Thackeray possessed a similar style, but with a more acerbic and barbed satirical view. He wrote more of the middle class, that slightly-shunned sect of people who did make something of themselves only to discover it wasn’t the path to happiness. Vanity Fair’s subtitle is A Novel without a Hero.
Anthony Trollope, on the 3rd hand, wrote about the landowning and professional classes. W. H. Auden said of him, “Of all novelists in any country, Trollope best understands the role of money. Compared with him even Balzac is a romantic.” I’ve read Balzac…Auden’s right.
Then, of course, there are the Brontë sisters. The true embodiment of the gothic novel.
George Eliot, or Mary Ann Evans, wanted to write serious novels. Not romances. Oh no. Yet I never read a George Eliot book in school. Had to read Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre (which I hated! Jane needs to die!), but nothing by her. So much for Romances vs Serious. Ha!
Yet for all their roots in an age of social, economic, political, and environmental change, these writers tended to write idealizations of those down-trodden lives where hard work, perseverance, love, and most of all and strangely enough, luck won out. Go figure. Virtue is rewarded. Evildoers punished. A happy ending.
Not that simple, of course, wishing or carrying a four-leaf clover wasn’t going to do it, but it was basic. Even there, with all going on, a Happy Ending was standard. Maybe not for the hero, but someplace in there, the hard working whoever got a happy ending.
I have vague memories of Great Expectations being a happy ending for that girl Pip loved. If those Victorians can write about happy endings, anyone can.