Chick lit or chick literature was a term widely used in the 1990s and early 2000s to describe popular women's fiction. applied to fiction written for women genre fiction, which "consists of heroine-centered narratives that focus on the trials and tribulations of their individual protagonists". The genre often addresses issues of modern womanhood—from romantic relationships to female friendships to matters in the workplace—in humorous and lighthearted ways. At its onset, chick lit's protagonists tended to be "single, white, heterosexual, British and American women in their late twenties and early thirties, living in metropolitan areas". The genre became popular in the late 1990s, with chick lit titles topping bestseller lists and the creation of imprints devoted entirely to chick lit. Chick lit critics generally agreed that British author Catherine Alliott's The Old Girl Network (1994) was the start of the chick lit genre and the inspiration for Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary (1996) which was wildly popular and is the "ur-text" of chick lit.
Origins of the term
"Chick" is American slang for a young woman, and "lit" is a shortened form of the word "literature". Chick lit scholars note that the term was first used ironically in 1995 by Cris Mazza and Jeffrey DeShell as the title for their edited anthology Chick Lit: Postfeminist Fiction, which contains 22 short fiction pieces in response to Mazza and DeShell's call for "postfeminist writing". In the mid-1990s, the term was used by various media outlets to describe fiction written by women authors for women readers.
The term has been expanded to include female stories in historical fiction, otherwise known as "chick lit in corsets". In addition, "chick lit jr." is chick lit for younger readers, combining elements of the genre with coming-of-age tales.
While chick lit has become very popular with readers, critics have largely disapproved of the genre. Reviewer Alex Kuczynski, writing for The New York Times, condemned Fielding's novel in particular, writing: "Bridget is such a sorry spectacle, wallowing in her man-crazed helplessness, that her foolishness cannot be excused." Writer Doris Lessing deemed the genre "instantly forgettable" while Beryl Bainbridge called the genre "a froth sort of thing". Debate continued with the publication of editor Elizabeth Merrick's anthology This Is Not Chick Lit (2005), where Merrick argued in her introduction that "Chick lit's formula numbs our senses", and editor Lauren Baratz-Logsted's 2006 response This Is Chick Lit whose project was "born out of anger".
Writers of the genre have come to its defense. Chick-lit author Jenny Colgan immediately fired back at Lessing and Bainbridge. Jennifer Weiner, author of numerous chick-lit novels, including Good in Bed (2001) and In Her Shoes (2002), has been a vocal defender of chick lit. On 22 May 2013, Slate published an article which Weiner wrote in response to a comment that novelist Claire Messud, author of The Woman Upstairs (2013), made about women's fiction and the likeability of protagonists. Weiner used this moment as an opportunity to question the bias that exists toward commercial fiction, particularly women's commercial fiction. Weiner has continued to challenge people's perceptions of chick lit, including writing "The Snobs and Me" for The New York Times; the article chronicles her personal struggle to believe in her own writing in a cultural climate that devalues it.
Other writers such as Diane Shipley and D.J. Connell have come to the genre's defense. Most notably, high-profile feminist Gloria Steinem has echoed Weiner's sentiments and asked people to interrogate their use of the term and what it says about women and women's fiction, noting the prejudice against women's lit. Author Kim Gruenenfelder refused to continue labeling her books as "chick lit", seeing the phrase as dismissive of books written by women and largely directed at female audiences. She instead calls her books "rom-com", after the film genre of romantic comedy, but even this term is a largely inaccurate description of chick lit.
Publishers continue to push the subgenre because sales continue to be high. Various other terms have been coined as variant in attempts to attach themselves to the perceived marketability of the work.
Refinery 29 writer Lauren Le Vine published a listicle in March 2016 entitled "The Chick-Lit Books That Won't Destroy The Feminist Inside You", which includes eight books written by women for women. Le Vine recognizes the argument that literary tradition in novels about women sometimes include narratives about shopping-obsessed women looking for husbands, and these books contradict feminist values. However, when Le Vine introduces Helen Fielding's 1996 novel Bridget Jones's Diary, she writes that "a book focusing solely on one woman's quest to find personal contentment, which for her means love, career success, and body acceptance, is what feminism (no matter which wave) is about."
In 2000, The Sydney Morning Herald described a trend of new fiction books aimed at women readers which were characterized by "...a spirit of post-Tory, post-grunge lightness [that] tapped into hordes of female magazine-readers and TV-watchers". This fiction was called the birth of a "publishing phenomenon" which can be called "chick fiction" "...or chicfic", all unified by subject-matter, packaging and marketing", with "candy-bright, heavy in pink and fluorescen[t]" covers, and "candy-bright" titles, "hinting at easy digestion and a good laugh...Such books are positioned in a marketplace as hybrids of the magazine article, fictional or fictionalised, television...and comfort food digestible over a single' night at home."
Chick lit typically features a female protagonist whose womanhood is heavily thematized in the plot. Though most often set in a contemporary world, such as in Waiting to Exhale, there is also historical chick lit. The issues dealt with are often more serious than consumerism. Marian Keyes's Watermelon, for instance, features a protagonist who wrestles with how to be a mother in a modern world. There is a growing market for religious chick lit. As with other types of genre fiction, authors and publishers target many niche markets. Protagonists vary widely in ethnicity, age, social status, marital status, career, and religion. According to goodreads, chick-lit is not considered a subgenre of romance because although plots may include romantic elements, "because the heroine's relationship with her family or friends is often just as important as her romantic relationships."
The somewhat strict genre rules of chick lit make it difficult for these authors to branch into different genres, although chick lit can tie into historical fiction. Some female authors take steps to avoid having their work labeled as chick lit. For example, in a 2010 Guardian article, humor writer DJ Connell leads with changing her writing name from Diane to DJ to avoid the chick lit label. She said having a female name and writing humor would jeopardize her work and would not be taken seriously if labeled chick lit. In another example, author Ruth Gilligan wrote about how she garnered disrespect from the general public, agents and publishers for her chick lit-branded books. When she tried out a new style in a book about sexual assault on college campuses, the publishers presented her with a bright flowery cover, which Gilligan deemed disrespectful.
- Smith, Caroline J. (2008). Cosmopolitan Culture and Consumerism in Chick Lit. Routledge.
- "In the Classroom or In the Bedroom" Archived 28 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine Review of Chick Lit: The New Woman's Fiction.
- Rebecca Vnuk (15 July 2005). "Collection Development 'Chick Lit': Hip Lit for Hip Chicks". Libraryjournal.com. Archived from the original on 1 December 2010. Retrieved 30 September 2010.
- Whelehan, Imelda (2002). Bridget Jones's Diary: A Reader's Guide. Bloomsbury Academic.
- Mazza, Chris; Jeffrey DeShell (1995). Chick-Lit On the Edge: New Womens Fiction Anthology. FC2.
- "Chick Lit in Historical Settings by Frida Skybäckby Helene Ehriander". jprstudies.org. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
- Kuczynski, Alex (14 June 1998). "Dear Diary: Get Real". New York Times. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
- "Bainbridge Denounces Chick-Lit as 'Froth'". The Guardian. 22 August 2001. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
- Merrick, Elizabeth (2005). This Is Not Chick Lit. Random House. pp. ix.
- Baratz-Logsted, Lauren (2006). This Is Chick Lit. Benbella. p. 1.
- Colgan, Jenny (24 August 2001). "We Know the Difference Between Foie Gras and Hula Hoops, Beryl, but Sometimes We Just Want Hula Hoops". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
- Mulkerrins, Jane (17 August 2014). "Jennifer Weiner: Why I'm Waging War on Literary Snobbery". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
[...] Weiner [...] has been making waves in the usually polite world of publishing with her outspoken views, often aired on Twitter, over the treatment of her genre by the literary media.
- Weiner, Jennifer (22 May 2013). "I Like Likeable Characters". Slate. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
- D'Addario, Daniel (24 May 2013). "A Brief History of Jennifer Weiner's Literary Fights". Salon. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
- Weiner, Jennifer (10 June 2016). "The Snobs and Me". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
- Shipley, Diane (15 March 2007). "In Defence of Chick Lit". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
- Connell, D.J. (4 August 2010). "The Chick-Lit Debate: Who in Playboy Mansion Hell Calls Women Chicks?". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
- Steinem, Gloria (8 May 2014). "A Modest Proposal". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
- Le Vine, Lauren (1 April 2016). "The Chick-Lit Books That Won't Destroy The Feminist Inside You". Refinery29. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
- Olivia Barker (29 May 2008). "'Prada' nips at author Lauren Weisberger's heels". USA Today. Retrieved 5 October 2010.
Nelson says. "The definition of chick lit has expanded to include some things that are a little more accomplished and grown-up and literary than what that term used to mean.
- Knox, Malcolm (14 October 2000). "A quick fling with chicflic". The Sydney Morning Herald.
- "Chick Lit Books". www.goodreads.com. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
- Connell, D. J. (4 August 2010). "The chick-lit debate: who in Playboy Mansion Hell calls women chicks? | DJ Connell". the Guardian. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
- "Write Like a Girl | Read It Forward". Read It Forward. 23 February 2017. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
- Gill, Rosalind; Herdieckerhoff, Elena (December 2006). "Rewriting the romance: new femininities in chick lit?" (PDF). Feminist Media Studies. 6 (4): 487–504. doi:10.1080/14680770600989947. S2CID 55208553.
- Roy, Pinaki. "The Chick Factor: A Brief Survey of the Indian Chick-lit Novels", The Postcolonial Woman Question: Readings in Indian Women Novelists in English. Eds. Ray, G.N. and J. Sarkar. Kolkata: Books Way, 2011 (ISBN 978-93-80145-84-6). pp. 213–23.
- "Chick lit, for better or worse, is here to stay"
- "Collection Development 'Chick Lit': Hip Lit for Hip Chicks" Library Journal Article on the genre
- "India's Cheeky 'Chick Lit' Finds an Audience"