Monday, March 8, 2010

Who Needs a HEA?

In a brief moment when I had the remote control all to myself yesterday, I was channel surfing and stumbled on the Leo DiCaprio / Claire Danes version of Romeo and Juliet. I didn’t watch the whole thing because, to be honest, it’s too strange an interpretation of the classic for me. But it got me thinking. As romance writers, we hate to hear the dreaded words “formula” or “rules,” but the fact is there is one golden rule required of us all – there must be a happily-ever-after for the lovers at the end of the story. But there are many classics which are considered some of the greatest love stories of all time that don’t have the mandatory HEA. Quite the opposite. Their endings are often downright depressing. Here’s a few that immediately come to mind, both in fiction and in film:

Romeo and Juliet – teen suicide

Gone With the Wind – he abandons her

Casablanca – he saves her life, she leaves with her husband

Tristan and Isolde – he dies of his wounds, she dies of grief

The Thorn Birds – their secret son dies, he dies, she’s left old and alone

Jane Eyre – they reunite, but only after he’s been blinded and maimed in a fire

Wuthering Heights – she dies after childbirth, he broods himself to death

An Affair to Remember – they meet again after she’s paralyzed

Phantom of the Opera – she runs off with the cute guy, he dies of loneliness

Anna Karenina – her lover rejects her, she commits suicide by train

What other classic romances can you think of that don’t play by the happily-ever-after rule?


  1. I can only think of things by Nicholas Sparks, and they aren't classics.

  2. Great post, very interesting. I think the stories with sad endings are sometimes more romantic, because the relationships are so ephemeral.

    While not necessarily classics, here are the ones that popped to my mind:

    Shakespeare in Love - she leaves with her husband, he's left behind

    The original little mermaid - The prince marries another, the mermaid commits suicide and turns to sea foam

    Untamed Heart (I was a preteen, it worked for me at the time) - He dies because he's too dumb to get the heart transplant he needs, weeping commences (did I mention I was a dumb kid when I fell in love with this movie?)

    Ghost - He dies in the beginning and crosses over at the end. She lives on.

    Stardust (the book by Neil Gaiman, not the movie it spawned) - he dies, she (being immortal and unable to return home) stares at the sky and pines for her home.

    Moulin Rouge - She dies, he goes all emo and stops bathing

    Brokeback Mountain - He dies, other man trapped in a life he doesn't want because he was trapped by social convention, prejudice, and fear.

  3. I'm really weak in this area--didn't know what HEA meant (I was a HEAlth sciences librarian, so that's what I know!), but I'd like to share this on Facebook.