Monday, February 9, 2009

What did she say about Chick-Lit?

I've promised several people I would get around to writing this post, so here it is: my findings on readin Chick-Lit analytically. For my senior project, I compared the portrayal of women in various literary periods, but focused on Chick-Lit. Along with comparing the portrayal of women in various circumstances such as in relationships and in the work force, I came up with some surprising results.

Most of you know that Chick-Lit is often cricisized as mindless books full of fluff and stereotypical romance. A lot of people claim that Chick-Lit is not "real" reading.

Consider this. Charlotte Bronte wrote a letter to George Henry Lewes on January 12, 1848 discussing the novels of Jane Austen. Bronte had a perspective on Jane Austen that many readers today have on Chick-Lit. Here is an excerpt from her letter, as seen in This is Chick-Lit.

"An accurate daguerrotyped portrait of a commonplace face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant and confined houses."

Doesn't that sound familiar? This debate had been going on for decades!

I'm not writing this to say all the naysayers of Chick-Lit are out of their minds. I think every book has a correct audience. If Chick-Lit does not work for you, fine. Just give it a chance.

I know that some people have even given up reading Chick-Lit for more worthwile reading material. Even though classics are great, Chick-Lit is becoming a part of our culture. Just like any bibliophile shouldn't pass up reading some of the classics like The Great Gatsby or The Grapes of Wrath, neither should anyone dismiss Chick-Lit so quickly.

While I read Chick-Lit analytically, one of the things that really stuck out to me was how Chick-Lit in general follows a young woman in her quest. Everyone has some sort of empty space in their life. They long for something to fill it. Is this not true for characters in other works of literature? However, in Chick-Lit, the women in the stories reflect the society in which the book is set. These women mostly search for a man to fill their empty spot. Sometimes, like in The Devil Wears Prada, they will their want with a job.

I focused my paper on how the women in the books reflect the expectations of society. Yes, Chick-Lit heroines are a bit too obsessed with shoes and purses and clothes. But aren't a lot of other women living in America today. Yes, women in Chick-Lit can't seem to function without a man by their side. But isn't that how a lot of women are today?

I wouldn't call myself a feminist, but instead of hating Chick-Lit for the mindless fluff, hate the society that made it mindless fluff.

If you've given up on Chick-Lit, try giving it another chance. This time, pretend you are reading it for the first time. You do not know you are reading fluff. Try reading it analytically and see what you come up with. I'm glad I did. Even though I may still read it for a nice poolside read from now on, I enjoyed reading it like I would have read something else.


priscilla said...

Great post! I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Used to be that everything was considered romance, but the the marketing folks saw a way to expand things and created "chick lit." The "lit" part made it more credible than your average Danielle Steele, and also more acceptable in some circles. So for a while, "chick lit" actually meant, "literature for women, by women."

But again, the marketing folks got hold of it, and it morphed into the fluff you described: women in miniskirts who can't love and own too many pairs of shoes.

Funnily, I recently read an interview where an editor said she wished she saw more strong "women's fiction." The thing is, those books get absorbed into the "literary fiction" category, and that's why the market is what it is. Ahem. In my opinion.

People should read what seems interesting and not worry about the marketing hype, is my point, finally. So sorry for rambling!

Michele said...

Well written, Priscilla! Couldn't agree more.


I love that you wrote about chick lit! Great blog. I've become a follower.

Dorte H said...

Really interesting post!
I don´t read chicklit much, but that is because I love crime fiction. Many literary gurus criticize my genre as well, which doesn´t bother me much.
As an English teacher, I include chicklit in the curriculum when it is suitable, eg by giving my students the first chapter of Bridget Jones. But then I also read the first chapter of "About a Boy" with them quite often, and apart from the author´s sex I cannot see that it is so very different from chicklit.

Unknown said...

Great post! I agree it does reflect our society today - I wonder if people will study it in 100 years time?!