“I sought, and soon discovered, the three headstones on the slope next the moor–the middle one grey, and half-buried in heath–Edgar Linton’s only harmonized by the turf, and moss creeping up its foot–Heathcliff’s still bare.
I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.”
So ends, in lyrical perfection, that great classic ‘Wuthering Heights’.
Endings are hard. And they often leave the reader with a sense of anti-climax, even disappointment. It’s as though the writer suddenly runs out of steam, or else, holding all the threads of intrigue in her hands, just can’t tie them into the perfect bow.
I was recently struck by the power of ‘the perfect bow’ after indulging in a ‘Mrs Gaskell binge’. It seemed to me that I had surely read all of those wonderful novels at least once before, but I must have been mistaken.
Galloping through the 720 pages of ‘Wives and Daughters’ I was quivering with anticipation to find out if little Molly Gibson was finally going to get her man. Or rather ‘how’ she was going to get him, as we had just seen him set off on a mission to Africa which would effectively keep him out of the plot for at least six months. But, dear reader, we know he is coming back, don’t we? This is a romantic novel. And does he not stop at the turn of the road, does his white handkerchief not float in the air one last time, a promise to our heroine that he will return?
He does, and it does.
So with a happy heart and a smile on my lips at the comforting certainties of Victorian romance I turned the page, ready to skip forward six months to Roger Hamley’s return and wedding bells in the little town of Hollingford.
I was greeted by a message from the Editor of ‘The Cornhill Magazine’, informing me that ‘here the story is broken off, and can never be finished’.
Elizabeth Gleghorn Gaskell died of a heart attack in 1865 before she could write the ending of ‘Wives and Daughters’.
To say I felt a pang would be an understatement. How many thousands of readers since that day in 1865 must have experienced the same feeling of loss? Mrs Gaskell, meeting the inevitable ending that awaits us all, had left us with a fictional world where Molly will be forever seated in the window, forever watching the turn of the road to catch a glimpse of Roger Hamley’s white handkerchief.
This week, writing the final chapters of my second romantic novel, ‘Hot Basque’, my mind is necessarily on endings. Thinking of Molly eternally looking out of her window, I decided to pay my own respects to Mrs G, and include in the very last chapter a symbolic nosegay for hopeful heroines awaiting the return of absent heroes.
I started this blog with my favourite ending of all time. I’ll finish it by another favourite, that message of unquenchable optimism which every reader knows by heart:
“Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.” Margaret Mitchell, ‘Gone with the Wind’.