I love thinking about the characters in my books. I love to imagine events in their lives before a book starts and after it concludes (which is why I so love to write series and why it’s so fun to fill in the blanks with the Fraser Correspondence). I like to imagine events in the lives of characters my favorite books by other authors as well (what was it like for Elizabeth to arrive at Pemberley as its mistress? did Venetia and Damerel really go to Rome on their honeymoon and take Aubrey with them? what adventures did Holmes and Russell have in France after the end of ‘The Beekeeper’s Apprentice”?).
Sometimes I find myself going one step farther and imagining what might have happened in my own books or in books I love to read if the story had taken a different turn. I’ve considered the different ways Charles and Mélanie’s marriage would have played out if the truth of Mélanie’s past had come out differently, without the pressure of Colin’s abduction forcing them to work together. I’ve imagined scenarios where Mélanie left England (more like Irina Derevko or Fiona Samson), perhaps faking her death to give Charles a clean start. And then returned for some reason (possibly with Charles about to marry again), with Colin and Jessica confused, Charles deeply ambivalent… A lot of interesting possibilities, but I actually don’t think anything would have driven Mélanie to leave her children because I don’t think deep down she’d have believed that they’d be better off without her (she pretty much argues this through in her own head in the book). As I posted in the discussion about Imperfect Characters, I think if Charles had learned the truth in a different way, without Colin’s abduction driving both him and Mélanie, he would have shut down, gone off to his club, refused to speak to Mélanie. Angry as he was, I don’t think he’d have tried to keep the children from her or have put them all through the scandal of formal separation. I expect he and Mélanie would have continued to live in the same house, Mélanie would have continued to be the perfect hostess, they’d have both spent time with Colin and Jessica, but their lives would have been very separate. They would have confronted the issues they’re forced to deal with in “Secrets of a Lady”. Mélanie would never have learned many of Charles’s own secrets. It would have been an intolerable strain on both of them. I’m not sure where that strain would have led.
In the Imperfect Characters thread, we also speculated about what would have happened if Marguerite had never learned Percy was the Scarlet Pimpernel. Sarah said, “As to Marguerite, she did stay with Percy, for a year, before she found out that he was also her romantic hero, so I suppose she would stay with him. They would live the conventional society marriage of the time: he funding her entertainment, she providing him with an heir and perhaps taking a lover.” That’s pretty much what I see happening between them in that scenario as well. I’m not sure if Marguerite would have taken a lover–she has a strong sense of honor, but she’s also desperately lonely. And she’s moving in a set where infidelity is often a matter of course. (I’m also not sure if Mélanie would have taken a lover in the scenario above; somehow, I don’t think either Percy or Charles would have).
In “Sense and Sensibility”, an alternate scenario is contained within the book itself. Elinor specultes on what would have happened had Willoughby married Marianne: “Had you married, you must have been always poor….had you endeavoured, however reasonsably to abridge his enjoyments, is it not to be feared that instead of prevailing on feelings so selfish to consent to it, you would have lessened your own influence on his heart and made him regret the connection which had involved him in such difficulties?”
I recently read Henry James’s “The Portrait of a Lady” and it’s difficult not to imagine multiple different scenarios if Isabel Archer had made different choices along the way (as well as wondering what happens after the returns to Rome at the end). Ian McEwan’s “Atonement” presents two different endings and does a brilliant job of playing with the whole concept of a what constitutes reality within a novel (btw, I saw a preview for the film version of “Atonement” last night and it looks wonderful–many of the scenes looked startlingly close to how I’d imagined them as I read the book).
Do you ever imagine alternate endings for novels? Any thoughts on the alternative scenarios above or on alternative endings to other books?
Be sure to check out the Fraser Correspondence–I’ve just posted the first letter from Raoul O’Roarke, together with a letter to him from Mélanie.