Let us begin our Chick Lit page with a little puzzle:
Who are Messieurs Acton, Ellis, and Currer Bell and what do they have in common with Jane Austen.
Acton, Ellis & Currer Bell are better known as Anne, Emily and Charlotte Bronte respectively ,and like Jane Austen sheltered behind pseudonyms for all or most of their writing lives. Charlotte Bronte emerged from behind her male persona only after her sisters had died. The title page of Jane Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility, identified her only as ‘A Lady’ and in her subsequent novels she was identified the ‘Author of……’ her previous works. Only in the posthumous publication of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion in one volume was her identity revealed.
These authors apparently felt that that revealing their real gender would prevent their work from being taken seriously, and at the same time thought that they could express themselves more freely about such un-lady-like topics as passion, anger, drunken-ness, money and sex if they wrote under a pseudonym.
Ironically enough, the Brontes and Jane Austen are all cited by the authors of Chick Lit as the founding forebears of the new genre. The novel which is generally recognized as the urtext of Chick Lit, namely Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary makes very specific links with Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. Helen Fielding’s hero is also called Darcy, and in the film versions of both books, in a nice casting pun, the same actor Colin Firth plays the two incarnations of Mr. Darcy.
It can be argued that in claiming such illustrious forebears as Austen and the Brontes the Chick authors (aka chickerati) are exaggerating their literary pedigree, and indeed the chickerati rarely reference each other. But that need not detain us here. The jury is still out on whether Chick Lit is also Chick Lite or whether the disdain for the
gendercentric.org Gender literacy for everyone genre demonstrated even by many women novelists (Doris Lessing, Beryl Bainbridge) is just the traditional devaluation of anything, even literature, which is associated (almost) exclusively with women.
What we are going to try to do on this page is to determine what distinguishes Chick Lit from other kinds of contemporary novel writing.
Chick Lit established itself as a commercial genre by the late 1990s Put at its most basic Chick Lit is fiction by, for, and about the new post-feminist woman, and normally features single women in their twenties and thirties navigating the vicissitudes of their careers, and personal relationships.
Chick Lit is fundamentally urban and indeed metropolitan. It is difficult if not impossible to imagine a Chick Lit novel set in Retford or Peoria or Liege or on a farm. A country house, however, might feature as the site of alcohol- and drug-fueled weekend raves.
Chick Lit key words are then ‘cosmopolitan’ ‘aspirational’ and ‘consumer culture’.
The heroines of chick lit are intended to be ‘just like us’… flawed, funny, fallible and great emphasis is placed on the gritty reality of their everyday material and materialistic lives. These are not the glitzy and glamorous beauties of the Judith Krantz and Jackie Collins variety who have instantaneous and devastating effects on all kinds of Alpha Males. Although Chick Lit novels are aspirational, they are not escapist, and the level of brand-name advertizing links them more with James Bond than with Jackie Collins.
The Chick-lit heroine is unlikely to be involved with only the One Man who is her Soul-mate. Chick-lit life is messier than that and there is a distinct absence of concern over ‘virtue’.
Chick lit heroines expect to have a career or at least a job in the outside world, as well as – eventually – romance and a family.
The new women’s fiction arguably pays more attention to characterization than to action when compared with the traditional type of Harlequin romances. Chick-lit novels are short on bodice-ripping, swooning, and ecstatic surrender.
Many Chick-lit novels rely upon first person narration through diaries, journals, e-mails with a consequent emphasis on self-criticism and self-deprecation. This ‘warts- and-all’ approach does indeed link these novels back to the Brontes or Jane Austen rather than more recent women’s fiction in the Barbara Cartland mode.
A variety of subgenres have proliferated from the Chick Lit base; hen lit/matron lit/ lady lit for the over forties; bride lit…for and about brides; Ethnik lit with further subgenres of Sistah Lit & Chica lit; and Christian chick lit or ‘church lit’ which comes with its own special varieties of heroine angst.
Some Chick Lit focuses primarily on the world of work. Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada or The Nanny Diaries of Emma McClaughlin and Nicola Kraus fall into this category.
Almost all chick-lit novels focus on the heady pleasures of conspicuous consumption be it of Chardonnay or shoes, but Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic Trilogy scales new heights of shopping, fashion and consumerism, followed closely by Candace Bushnell’s Sex & the City.
Can you tell a Chick –lit book by its cover? Yes, indeed. Most chick lit novels have a distinct visual identity with covers featuring various shades of pink enhanced by drawings or photos of assorted erogenous zones, and possibly martini glasses, stilettos and other accessories.
Whither Chick Lit? Both critics and fans of the genre have noted that despite their heroines’ free-wheeling ways the ultimate aim of securing your man is usually achieved, after a number of embarrassing gaffes and misunderstandings.
Chick Lit heroines do not spurn marriage to pursue exciting opportunities in writing or marketing or media at home or abroad, so the classic dilemmas of post feminism are neatly avoided in favour of Mr. Darcy.
Fans of the genre have their own Web sites in both Britain www.chicklit.co.uk and the United States www.chicklit.us & www.chicklitbooks.com
And for Chicks who don’t like to read there is always the movie of the book!