by Clare Langley-Hawthorne
News that we will finally get to see all of Ernest Hemingway's 47 alternate endings for A Farewell to Arms in print has me conflicted. At some level I am intrigued, as it would provide a unique insight into all the options Hemingway went through until he was (apparently) satisfied.
On the other hand, though, I don't really want to see those behind the scenes machinations (it seems a little too much like the Great Oz being exposed). At one level, I like the satisfaction that comes from accepting a story for what is (not for what it could have been).
Although I am sure I would have loved a happier ending to many of my favourite books, it dilutes the power somehow of the ending that was finally chosen, if I know all the other options the author weighed up (especially if some of these options turn out to be really lame!). So all in all, I'm not sure I want to trudge through all of Hemingway's alternate endings just as I wouldn't want to know if Emily Bronte considered a sappy ending to Wuthering Heights that involved Heathcliff and Catherine living happily ever after...
Or would I?
One of the most well-known examples of alternate ending controversies is with Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. Dickens changed his original ending (one in which Pip returns to hear that Estella has remarried) to the one that exists in most editions (they meet in the grounds of Satis House and in the final line "I saw no shadow of another parting from her" there is the implication that Pip and Estella might end up together). The original ending was much more downbeat and apparently Dickens' friend, Edward Bulwer-Lytton (who read the original draft), urged him to change it to be more positive. Now I probably would not have enjoyed the original, more pessimistic ending so in one sense I am relieved that he changed it - but do I really want to know that this was how Dickens' originally wanted it to end?
Knowing the alternate endings that famous authors such as Hemingway or Dickens considered provides insight into both the mind of an author as well as the writing process - but I'm still not sure I want to find when I finish a book, a list of all the other possible endings that had been discarded (which is how I assume Scribner is going to present Hemingway's alternate endings for A Farewell to Arms). It would seem to cloud the enjoyment of the reading experience and make me question the ending that was ultimately decided upon.
But what about you?
- Would you like to know the alternative endings some of your favourite writers considered and ultimately discarded?
- Have you ever wanted to go back and change the ending to your own book, after it was published?