Why Chick-Lit Matters

Some chick-lit books are better than others. I thought Bridget Jones was quite a howl. There’s good, bad and mediocre in everything. If you really wanted to, you could say the original chick-lit book is Pride and Prejudice. So what is it, if it’s about young women we’re not supposed to take it seriously? It should be judged on its merits like everything else. A lot of the books we regard as classics were thought of as cheap junk when they came out. Dracula by Bram Stoker is one; so is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. There’s a long list.
Margaret Atwood in an interview from Writer’s Digest, April 2004

There was a time during the 1800’s when reading novels was considered a dangerous pasttime. Those who considered themselves to have ‘high morals’ and
‘status’ looked down their noses at those who were avid readers of novels.
Young women were most often the target of moral indignation, and a campaign of fear was waged, asserting that novel reading would lead to questionable behavior, hysteria, and even illness.(The idea was to scare the young ladies towards
loftier pursuits.)

The work will probably become a favourite with all those who seek for harmless amusement, rather than deep pathos…in works of fiction.
– An 1816 review of Jane Austen’s Emma

I must keep to my own style and go on in my own way; and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other.
– Jane Austen

I recently exchanged emails with the proud-to-call-herself a chick-lit author, Jennifer O’Connell and put the question to her…

Why does chick-lit matter?

I picked up my first “chick lit” in 2000 (although at that time, the genre didn’t have a name yet). I raced through it and went on to devour every British chick lit book I could get my hands on – at the time there were very few American writers in the genre. I loved chick lit because I saw myself and my friends in the characters and stories I was reading. I think there’d been a gap in the market between the Judy Blume books I read as a kid and “adult” women’s fiction, which tended to be either more romance along the lines of Danielle Steele or aspirational/celebrity stories like those by Jackie Collins. Where were the books about women working, making their way in the world and dealing with everything that came along? Chick lit matters because it fills that gap and gives women the opportunity to read about what’s really going on in their lives today.

What does the popularity of chick-lit say about women today?

The popularity of chick lit shows that women want to read about real life, the day-to-day reality of being a woman with a job, friends and family. I think it also shows that we have a sense of humor about ourselves. In chick lit we can laugh at ourselves and gain a little perspective.

Last, but not least…I leave you with another bit of wisdom from my dear Miss Austen. Her novel, Northanger Abbey included several conversations between characters about the merits vs. the perceived ill effects of novel reading (and writing). Here, the main character has her say about female novelists.

— there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them. “I am no novel–reader — I seldom look into novels — Do not imagine that I often read novels — It is really very well for a novel.” Such is the common cant. “And what are you reading, Miss — ?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language. Now, had the same young lady been engaged with a volume of the Spectator, instead of such a work, how proudly would she have produced the book, and told its name; though the chances must be against her being occupied by any part of that voluminous publication, of which either the matter or manner would not disgust a young person of taste: the substance of its papers so often consisting in the statement of improbable circumstances, unnatural characters, and topics of conversation which no longer concern anyone living; and their language, too, frequently so coarse as to give no very favourable idea of the age that could endure it.
– Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

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