Article published on November 3, 2015.
It all started with fairy tales. Every single one ended with the message ‘and so they lived happily ever after.’ Translation: the princess got her prince and once she was ensconced in the safe patriarchal structure of marriage, she was able to relax and live her life. As a child, I loved these endings and accepted them as a general life message – love and marriage meant that everything would be OK. But as I’ve grown up into a feminist author and journalist, I’ve started to rally against them.
In literature, happy endings for women always seems to involve finding a man. From Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary, women’s happiness revolves around love and marriage. This has been a formulaic plot for women in fiction for centuries. From Chaucerian to Shakespearian to Dickensian times, women’s roles centred around the home and their status came from their fathers, husbands and sons.
Considering the history of the time, it’s unsurprising. But times have changed. Women and men are now legally equal, and societally their roles are starting to blend. Marriage is no longer a necessary tool for independence and financial security – women can get by on their own, and more and more women are starting to do just that.
It’s why in my two novels, Virgin and Not That Easy, the ‘happy endings’ are far less conventional. Though my heroine Ellie Kolstakis spends much of the two novels searching for men, she ultimately learns her happiness has to come from within. In Virgin, she’s a 21-year-old student who is so affected by societal pressures that she obsesses over finding a man to lose her virginity. She achieves that goal – but her dream of being in a relationship with him ends in tears. Instead her happy ending comes in the form of friendship, career success and a lot of laughter.
In the sequel, Not That Easy, she has more of a say in how her story ends and though her love interest declares his love for her, she (spoiler alert) turns him down in favour of sexual liberation. To me this is a far more authentic portrayal of 21st century life for young women. Anyone who has used Tinder knows that it is not easy to suddenly find a Prince Charming on cue – and anyone who has been married will say that it’s never as simple as the ‘happily ever after’ of children’s stories. Reality is complex, and people’s happiness is not necessarily determined by love or marriage. Society has moved on, and it’s about time fiction followed in its footsteps.
Radhika Sanghani is the author of Virgin and Not That Easy, and a journalist for Telegraph Women.
Not That Easy was published by Mills & Boon in paperback and e-book on 29th October 2015 price £7.99
You can find her on Twitter @RadhikaSanghani
I’M A WRITER . . . and I loved researching for my historical novel.