Some of the criticism I've read of George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss, absolutely baffled by the ending of the novel, points out that the ending makes sense if you look at Eliot's attitude toward the autobiographical elements in the book, but it's absolutely wrong for the characters involved.
Oh? What do you mean? IIRC it turned into a "rocks fall, inconvenient people die" ending, where it seemed like she just had them flooded away as kind of a symbol, though I felt it to be like a deus ex machina.
It makes sense in that the ending reconciles Tom and Maggie, and Eliot was writing their relationship based on her own relationship with her brother Isaac (who didn't speak to her for thirty years because she was a "fallen woman" living with a married man) and what she would have liked to happen in it. However, that ending is problematic for the characters themselves, because they've already had their tragedy- Tom refusing to accept Maggie back after she floated away with Stephen Guest, her supposed lover- and Stephen himself is an extraordinarily vague person for a hero or lover, only introduced in the last third of the book. A lot of critics since Eliot's time have criticized Stephen's weakness. Modern critics know that Eliot actually did plan the flood from the start of the story; what seems to have happened is that she got caught up in writing the brother-sister relationship in the early parts of the novel and then didn't set up what was meant to be Maggie's "fall" early enough or well enough.
Why is it "problematic" for the characters because they've already had their tragedy? Or do you mean that if the story is about the disagreement between the siblings and their reconciliation, the fall is at the wrong place in the book?
Basically, the critics I've been reading think it makes perfect sense for Tom and Maggie not to reconcile. They've followed out the characters and the patterns Eliot has set up for them, and it's essentially a tragic story. It would make sense for Maggie to die without being forgiven; as the book I'm reading about The Mill on the Floss right now puts it, it would be unbearable, but it would make sense.
Instead, Eliot forces a reconciliation through the flood. Tom and Maggie admit they love each other and then drown together. It's seen as a clumsily done plot move. And if she really did want a tragic end for Maggie, then yes, the fall should have been earlier, and Stephen should have been better developed as a tragic hero; instead, the closest match for a tragic hero is Maggie's brother. So the patterns Eliot was using go all out of whack, and a lot of people haven't been happy with the ending for nearly 150 years.
English literary criticism: the wank that keeps on going.
Ah, that makes sense.
Heh, so essentially a characterization problem. Yeah, I think as it was, I wasn't bothered with the forgiving, just with the flood.
Yeah. I really like the depiction of the flood as a piece of nature writing, but plot-wise it seems so random. And Eliot was doing research on floods before the book was written, so it wasn't meant to be. She meant it as this grand tragic ending; instead, a lot of people have taken the ending to be about the arbitrary unfairness of life. Which is about 180 degrees from Eliot's philosophy, and indicates problems rooted in the characters.
I actually thinkg that this is one thing that writing fanfic is very good at teaching: writing fic set in somebody else's world, you've got to face the tension between what the original author thought about the world, what *you* think, and what the characters think. And (to write good, thoughtful fanfic, anyway) you have to either *consciously* match your attitude to what the original story does, or *consciously* think about how you're going to use characters to subvert the attitudes that are assumed in the original work. Even (maybe especially) if it's done badly in the original, because you learn where you can fit the complexity in.
Just by trying to write in canon, you're already immersing yourself in attitudes that aren't your own, even if it's only the difference been yours and the original authors'. If it's a canon where attitudes *purposely* diverge from our culture's accepted ones, it's even better. Figuring out where the preconceptoins make blind spots and how you can play with them is both a simplified playground for trying to do it from scratch in the real world, and good practice for learning to see that in the your own original work.
Obviously you can write fanfic without thinking about any of that, and moving from fic to original stuff means other challenges, but for me personally in trying to figure out *how* I do a bad job at giving my characters their own worlviews, having canon as a "cheat sheet" to check my work against has been really helpful.
I think you're probably right about that. A lot of the fanfic I've read that consciously rebels against the authors' attitudes, however, ends up making the Goodkind mistake (the characters the author dislikes become flattened out, the characters the author likes are heroes without restraint; see many pro-Slytherin fics in the HP fandom) or the authors' own needs and attitudes get stamped on the characters (a lot of LOTR fics which take Arwen and Eowyn out-of-character in order to make them feminist heroines, and any possible in-canon origins of this feminism are not explored or justified). Dissatisfaction and irritation with the original source are, I think, creative forces; they often have been for me. But unless you're writing pure satire of the original, you eventually have to go beyond that and create a positive good of your own. What is it going to be? What kind of attitude will you express? The diametric opposite of something you dislike is usually not more clever, clear, or subtle.
I should add that I've read some fanfics that do thoughtfully question aspects of the canon world, especially in LOTR and X-Files (I think fewer in HP, because the irritation seems to take precedence over the thoughtfulness there). I just don't think it really escapes the problem.