In honor of Valentine’s Day, Idiomation has taken on the fairy tale ending that states that two people live happily ever after. It’s formulaic and predictable that fairy tales end this way, but who doesn’t love happy endings especially when so much strife and effort is involved to get to that happy ending? And who was the first storyteller to decide that this was the perfect ending for fairy tales?
On May 28, 1998 the Matagorda County Advocate (a Thursday morning supplemental to the Victoria Advocate) published an article asking whether two people used to the space of their respective kitchens could “find true happiness and culinary success working together in one kitchen.” The question had already been answered in the headline that proudly announced, “Live Happily Ever After In The Kitchen.”
Thirty-five years earlier, an advertisement in the St. Petersburg Times of October 31, 1963 promised young couples that if they purchased this neat, cozy, furnished two-bedroom home, the couple’s purse would appreciate the dollar wise price. It certainly sounded like the perfect investment for the perfect couple who had just begun their perfect life together, and the copy writer obviously felt likewise. The advertisement ran with the bold letter title: HAPPILY EVER AFTER.
Perhaps one of the more humorous newspaper articles about living happily ever after is found in the May 3, 1920 edition of the Southeast Missourian newspaper where American author and short story writer Fannie Hurst (18 October 1889 – 23 February 1968) reportedly had solved the puzzle of wedded bliss. The United Press story from New York City stated the following:
Fannie Hurst, writer of love stories usually with a “happy ever after ending” does not believe the institution of marriage as generally followed is the open sesame to happiness. In an interview today, the fifth anniversary of her marriage to Jacques Danielson, pianist and composer, Miss Hurst (for she still retains her maiden name) compared many of the present day marriages to prison bars.
SIDE NOTE 1: Jacques Danielson (23 July 1875 – 3 March 1952) was Russian, not French or English as some may assume from his name. He was born in Moscow, the son of Samuel and Anna (née Brook) Danielson. He immigrated to the United States in 1892 and was the assistant to Hungarian pianist, teacher and composer Rafael Jossefy (3 July 1852 – 25 June 1915) at Steinway Hall in New York City.
SIDE NOTE 2: Jacques Danielson and Fannie Hurst maintained separate residences throughout their marriage, and arranged to renew their marriage contract every five years, if they both agreed to do so. As it was, their happy ever after lasted until Jacques Danielson’s passing in 1952.
Her suggestion was that women should not be bound by “moss back conventions” and each couple should adopt conditions that suit the temperaments of the married couple. She went as far as to reveal that she and her husband had their own circle of friends, stating:
There is no reason why I should like his friends and he should like mine. In fact, some of his friends bore me to tears.
It was used in Chapter 3 of “Peter Pan” published in 1904.
“Do you know,” Peter asked, “why swallows build in the eaves of houses? It is to listen to the stories. O Wendy, your mother was telling you such a lovely story.”
“Which story was it?”
“About the prince who couldn’t find the lady who wore the glass slipper.”
“Peter,” said Wendy excitedly, “that was Cinderella, and he found her, and they lived happy ever after.”
On Saturday, February 18, 1894 American novelist and journalist Theodore Dreiser (27 August 1871 – 28 December 1945) wrote a letter to Emma Rector in response to a curt note she had sent him the night before admonishing him for his ungentlemanly behavior. Theodore ended his letter to Emma with this line.
Then I’ll smoke right up and be ever so grateful and happy and we’ll get along after the fashion of “ye ancient fairy tale” very happily ever afterwards.
Even Leo Tolstoy seems to have thought the phrase was worthy of a novel. In 1859 he published “Happy Ever After” which told the story of a young woman in her 20s who had lost her parents, fell in love with her father’s much older friend, and enjoyed a happy life as a married woman. That is to say, until the couple are invited to a soirée by a young prince who spirits her heart away from her older husband.
That being said, Jacob and Wilhelm (otherwise known as the Grimm Brothers) ended a great many of their fairy tales with a cautionary note stating that those who died went on to live happy in the ever after – a somewhat less romantic and pleasant ending to a story. German philologist, jurist, and mythologist Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm (4 January 1785 – 20 September 1863) and German author Wilhelm Carl Grimm (24 February 1786 – 16 December 1859) seem to be the pull pin moment in history where living happy in the ever after (as in once the lovers were dead) becomes living happy ever after or happily ever after (as in the lovers are still alive).
That being said, the spirit of the idiom happily ever after can be found in the 18th century phrase happy as the day is long although that’s not really ever after, is it? Idiomation pegs happy ever after and happily ever after to the early 1800s somewhere between the Brothers Grimm and Leo Tolstoy.
Happy Valentine’s Day friends and followers!