The Happily Ever After Dilemma

When I wrote up the FAQs, one of the questions suggested to me was: What is next for Miss Tolerance? As I head toward the finish of book three, I have very concrete answers, none of which I will give here, because, really, wouldn’t you rather read the book?  I’m hoping so, anyway.

But I’m also thinking about her future.  I have ideas for plots and twists in her unconventional life that could go on for some time.  But one question I get a lot is: is she going to settle down?  Will she be happy?  And on that question I haven’t an answer yet.  As I said in the FAQs,  I don’t think she’s going to have a conventional happy ending.  And that may disappoint some readers.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

When I was writing Point of Honour I ran it through my writers’ workshop. And I kept hearing “she and Versellion wind up together, right?” and I had to maintain a poker face because I knew where I was going.  And lo and behold, when I finished the book, a of my workshop readers were upset because he’d seemed so right for her–why couldn’t she have married him?  Setting aside the fact that he’s a matricide (a pretty hefty fact to put aside, but let’s, for now) I still don’t believe it would work, for the very reasons Miss Tolerance gives him.  He’s politically ambitious; a Fallen Wife would not be an asset.  Well, then, let them live together.  Are you kidding me? Living with a man outside of marriage is what created Miss Tolerance’s dilemma in the first place.  Now, she knows what it cost her. I don’t think she’d set herself up in a long-term relationship outside of marriage.  Sarah is, in fact, a rather conventional girl.  She would hate being known publicly as someone’s mistress, which would be inevitable given Versellion’s status.  And there’s the matter of status: they’re out of balance: he’d be “condescending” too far, people would assume that she was a gold digger, an Emma Hamilton.  While she is Versellion’s hireling, they have some sort of equality of standing; without that, the inequality would oppress her. I see no Happily Ever After there.

Then what about a happily ever after with someone else?  Part of what I enjoy about writing this series is that sex has consequences.  Love has consequences.  And in a society as driven by class and tradition as England in 1811, those consequences can be significant.  Assume that Miss Tolerance is not going to be happy in a long-term relationship unless she is married. Marriage changes everything.  Miss Tolerance would almost certainly give up her work–married women of her class did not work, as we say nowadays, outside the home.  She’d be running the house, dealing with the servants, maybe not having a social life because her marriage only legitimatizes her so far in the eyes of society.  But living the life of a married woman of her time.  But Sarah Tolerance has been her own mistress for almost five years, earning good money, making her own decisions, moving in the world in an unprotected but very powerful way.  Could she give that up?

Even if her future spouse encourages her to keep her day job there are problems. Assume Miss Tolerance marries a gentleman–in the sense of rank, not behavior.  Will her work interfere with his?  Will it be an embarrassment to him? Will his position make it impossible for her to do her job? Will he be fretting when she’s out at 3am following a lead? Will other people give him grief because his wife is gadding about at all hours without him?  In a society in which the man was the protector, how would he feel about that? I’m not sure I see how to be true to the times and give the girl a happy ending.

Finally, and this is key: I don’t know that Miss Tolerance would find it easy to accept a happy ending.  She made a youthful error and she’s been paying for it, if not from the moment she ran away, then certainly since Charles Connell died.  I think it’s her nature to judge herself more harshly than the people around her do; if the perfect combination of love, acceptance, and…what else? offered itself, would she permit herself to be happy?

I said in the FAQs that I thought she would wind up being happier than she thought she deserved.  I’m still pondering how to pull that off and still be true to Sarah, her time, and her place.

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