Yesterday my seminar was focused on the role of editors in the production of texts. One interesting topic we touched upon was the notion of revised endings. The particular example used was the famous one of Dickens altering the ending of Great Expectations to a more positive one following advice.
Personally, I'm of the opinion that the ending we stick with for Great Expectations is the one we're familiar with. Dickens's original authorial intentions mean little when you take into consideration how popular the revised ending came to be. Yes, perhaps he bowed to pressure, but that pressure helped his commercial success. I think Dickens of all people would appreciate that argument.
The problem is, we live in a world of alternate endings. At the click of a button we can see the extended cuts of films and it's not unheard of for writers to publish alternate or additional scenes online as a way of both satisfying their reader and garnering publicity for their book. But, for me, this allows writers to play with both their intent and their reader. It's catering to everyone and ultimately that doesn't satisfy me as a member of the audience.
I'm sure I've mentioned before that I detest the 'happy' ending that can replace the true finale of the musical, Sweet Charity. It is completely out of step with the rest of the film and although it provides the audience with a conventional end to a love story, it saps the impact from it. Charity's a loser: end of.
If you begin writing a novel I don't think it's helpful to know that you can alter your ending to suit your mood. We work towards things for a reason. I frequently provide happy endings when I know I shouldn't, just because I see it as my one shot to finish their story. If I wanted to be modern I could give them the tragic ending and make the happy alternative available online.
I don't want to do that. I owe my characters a real ending, not one dictated by something external to me. I wonder if Dickens ever had reservations on that score...