Chick Lit: An Academic Approach

As part of this series on Chick Lit I did a bit of investigation and stumbled upon Mary Ryan (Post-Doc, University of Limerick whose research includes Women’s Studies, Feminism, Popular Culture and Chick Lit). Here are some highlights of a paper she wrote on:


File:Jane Austen coloured version.jpg               Helen Fielding, Alisa Connan

Aside from the much-discussed connection between Bridget Jones’s Diary and Pride and Prejudice, «from which Fielding admittedly borrowed much of her plot and many of her characters» (Ferriss, 2006: 4), we can see numerous similarities between modern chick lit novels and fiction by the likes of Austen and the Brontës, whose work included «all the romance, negotiations of society and character growth that we see in many of the popular “chick lit” novels today» (Dawson, n.d.: par. 3).

 Female writers have long experienced severe difficulty in terms of gaining recognition and respect for what they write.

Naturally, women will tend to write about different interests, experiences, and values than men will, and yet «it is the masculine values that prevail» (Woolf, 2000: 74).

George Charles Beresford - Virginia Woolf in 1902.jpg

Because of this, any piece of writing that prioritises the experiences of women has tended to be ridiculed and heavily criticized. As Virginia Woolf explained: 

This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room. A scene in a battlefield is more important than a scene in a shop. (Woolf, 2000: 74) 

Chick lit is the latest genre of women’s writing to be ridiculed and criticized.

Even though we are now in the twenty-first century, it seems not much has changed in terms of the reception of women’s novels, as many of the same criticisms are used today regarding chick lit as they were in the nineteenth century in relation to the female writers of that time. For many, the phrase «chick lit» is seen as a derogatory term used to dismiss «any possible literary worth in a text which deals with the intimate life of a young urban professional single woman» (Whelehan, 2005: 213). 

One reason for chick lit’s unfair criticism may be simply because chick lit represents the connection between women’s writing and popular culture, both of which have traditionally been ridiculed, thus resulting in chick lit inevitably receiving the same treatment:

Studies are now emerging with the aim of demonstrating how such genres may have more worth and potential than is typically suggested.

In fact, chick lit writers «are beginning to take themselves more seriously, and “darker” themes are beginning to pervade the genre» (Whelehan, 2005: 208), resulting in it becoming more difficult, in terms of certain writers at least, to dismiss chick lit any longer as merely «literary junk food for (semi-) professional turn-of-the-millennium women» (Benstock, 2006: 255). 

Austen uses novels such as Northanger Abbey to plead for women writers not to turn against one another, but instead to unite against their critics. 

For more on Mary Ryan click on these links:

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A Room of One’s Own

“…It is necessary to have five hundred Pounds a year and a room with a lock on the door if you are  to write fiction or poetry.”

– Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

In  1987 my short story The Silver Frame was published in Room of One’s Own, a journal dedicated to promote the works of emerging writers.

“In 2007, the collective relaunched the magazine as Room, reflecting a more outward-facing, conversational editorial mandate.

Currently,Room publishes short fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, art, feature interviews, and regular features that promote dialogue between readers, writers and the collective, including “Roommate” (a profile of a Room reader), “Room Recommends” (short recommendations of books, films and music), and “The Back Room” (back page opinion pieces on feminist topics of interest).”

37.1 Cover


37.4, open issue

Room Magazine invites polished, unpublished writing on any theme for our upcoming issue, 37.4, edited by Christina Cooke and Taryn Hubbard.

Before submitting, please read our About section to see if your work fits within Room’s mandate, then refer to the Submission Guidelines on how to format your work.

Deadline: Wednesday, April 30 2014

 Sometimes, it’s good to risk and go out of our comfort zone. So go ahead and submit something. 


Sigrid Undset

Flag of Norway.svgIf you followed the Sochi Olympics you probably know that Norway was overrepresented in so far as winning medals go. They came in third place with 26 medals, 11 gold. Not bad for a country with a population of a little over 5 million people.

But the Norwegians need not only be proud of their athletes but also of their Nobel Laureates for Literature. Three in all. One woman: Sigrid Undset.

Born the same year as Virginia Woolf and James Joyce (1882)  Sigrid Undset, at the age of 25,  made her literary debut with a short, realistic novel on adultery. It created a stir, and she found herself ranked as a promising young author in Norway. Its English translation is out this month (March 2014). 

“I have been unfaithful to my husband” is the novel’s opening sentence. Written in diary form the novel documents the inner life of a young woman disappointed by the conventions of marriage and longing for passion. Continue reading


A week ago I visited the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg (Fl.) using an audio guide system.

This self portrait was painted when Dali was seventeen. The audio guide informed me that Dali had emulated the great artists Rembrandt and Velasquez  before he found his own surrealistic style. According to Dali, an artist must first copy the greats of the past before finding his/her own style into the future.

Of course,  Dali’s style changed tremendously from that of this portrait but it made me think how in my own writing I have often been influenced by great writers, from Virginia Woolf to Alice Munro to James M. Cain to name just a few.

I  am still being influenced. These days I lean on Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.

Is it coincidental or serendipity that The Goldfinch is based on a painting by Carel Fabritius, a student of Rembrandt?

There is much good to be said about this almost flawless 700+ page novel. There’s the compelling, rich plot; scenes written in such sparkling, poetic prose that I reread them for their pure joy. Then there’s the mix of characters (drug addicts, abusive fathers, gamblers, eccentrics, gangsters – Theo, the protagonist’s  tender relationship with his mother).

There are the intimate details that bring you up close right into the scene. It was in reading Tartt’s descriptions of rooms that made me go back to one of my novels and use her as model to add more details.

What struck me was her odd, almost rebellious usage of  punctuation. A clue to this in-congruent punctuation can be found in her main character, Theo, when talking about his literature classes:

“English is going to be really boring for the next six weeks – we stopped doing literature and went back to the grammar book and now we’re diagramming sentences.”

Is this Donna Tartt’s wink on the rigorousness of punctuation? Take for example her usage of the question mark:

“…he had this whole set of friends we didn’t know about and they sent him postcards when they went on vacation to places like the Virgin Islands? to our home address? which was how we found out about it?

Or her usage of dashes:

“Look that’s different and you know it. Mommy,” she said talking over me –

“-Oh yeah? Different? Raising my voice over hers. How is it different? How?”

“-Mommy, I swear – listen to me, Theo –Mommy loves you so much. S0 much…

In conversation with her editor Michael Pietsch at Slate, Tartt had this to say about literary stylistics:

I am terribly troubled by the ever-growing tendency to standardized and prescriptive usage, and I think that the Twentieth century, American-invented conventions of House Rules and House Style, to say nothing of automatic computer functions like Spellcheck and AutoCorrect, have exacted an abrasive, narrowing, and destructive effect on the way writers use language and ultimately on the language itself. Journalism and newspaper writing are one thing; House Style indubitably very valuable there; but as a literary novelist who writes by hand, in a notebook, I want to be able to use language for texture and I’ve intentionally employed a looser, pre-twentieth century model rather than running my work through any one House Style mill.

Lexical variety, eccentric constructions and punctuation, variant spellings, archaisms, the ability to pile clause on clause, the effortless incorporation of words from other languages: flexibility, and inclusiveness, is what makes English great; and diversity is what keeps it healthy and growing, exuberantly regenerating itself with rich new forms and usages.

Lately, I’ve been coming across articles on setting as character (material for further posts?) but after reading The Goldfinch I am  more relaxed around punctuation and wonder if perhaps creative punctuation could not also contribute to the personality, voice and tone of the novel, just as setting does?

On the other hand, I was  anxious to get to the mystery of the painting and found myself skimming over the long paragraphs regarding the restoration of furniture.

I have not finished writing about The Goldfinch for, in a future post,  I particularly want to talk about its powerful ending. This is where Donna Tartt truly glows. After reading her exposition on The Goldfinch as painting I will never again see a work of art in the same way. As for her honest and raw elucidation on life and death…well, it is absolutely riveting and that alone is well worth reading this book.

My Writing Space

I began the series on Writers’ Desks with my desk and am ending it (for now) by sharing with you my writing spaces.

First, I want to give a warm recognition to Eamonn McCabe for allowing me to use his photos of famous writers’ desks. Without his photos I never would have had this series. So, thank you Mr. McCabe.

I wish I still had the stories i wrote on my first typewriter.

Vintage Toy Typewriter (1950's)

I then graduated to my father’s Smith-Corona in my own Waldon’s Pond  cabinOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

To remain open, a quote from E.M. Forster on my wall.


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