Their slim pink dust jackets are usually festooned with cocktail glasses, fashionable eyewear, overflowing shopping bags, lipstick tubes, legs in seam-backed stockings, or a pair of feet tucked smartly into a set of Manolo Blahniks. And these tomes turn up everywhere—in office cubicles, aside lounge chairs on the beach, or accompanying a cup of coffee at a cyber cafe. ‘Chick Lit’ is apparently here to stay. As a matter of fact, its influence within pop culture continues to grow. This already cliché literary genre, responsible for tales about sexy single girls and their big city lives, pain-in-the-ass bosses, and jerky boyfriends, has been a staple of the Borders/Barnes and Noble set for several years now. And the sphere of influence is increasing.
As I write this I’m in London, the home of ‘Chick Lit’. Here the Underground stations are papered with ads for The Wives of Bath, Wendy Holden’s tale of “yummy Mummies with flat brown tummies”. Not only does this prove that the genre is still hot, but one can speculate that here in the UK, ‘Chick Lit’ is even cooler and trendier than in the US. Britain is the birthplace of Bridget Jones and Jemima J., after all.
If you’re a guy, or don’t already know the kind of gal I’m talking about, here’s a brief character sketch. On the outside she’s liberated and ready to take on the world, but inside she’s insecure and longs for love. For our purposes here, let’s just call her ‘Single Jane’ (instead of, say, Luscious Lemon or Becky Bloomwood). ‘Single Jane’ lives in a literary world that is imbedded (or should I say “inbedded in”?) in formulaic ideas and archetypal figures. It’s my opinion that if you can follow the basic plot patterns and string simple sentences together, you too can write your own ‘Chick Lit’ novel. The recipe is dead easy. Just outline your tale in epistolary style, make sure there’s lots of sex and add in gay male friendships to help the banter along. Factor in some type of hurdle like a bitch boss or a noncommittal man and then add a dash of sardonic humor. Voilà: instant ‘Chick Lit’!
Candice Bushnell can be considered the godmother of ‘Chick Lit’ because her novel Sex in the City (and the success of the subsequent HBO comedy series) spawned a whole new generation of female empowerment books. It also was responsible for a revived interest in “single and loving it” films at the box office. It was inevitable then that as many ‘Chick Lit’ books as possible would suddenly find themselves being transformed into that equally dreaded cinematic chestnut, the ‘Chick Flick’. In fact, we may be facing a real run on said adaptations. Bushnell’s follow-up novel, Four Blondes, was recently picked up by Universal for an estimated six-figure sum. Capitalizing on the popularity of Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha and Miranda, Bushnell now makes the leap to the silver screen—this in spite of the fact that she openly criticized Sex‘s ‘boob’ tube treatment.
In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner is another hot chick read. This story of two mismatched siblings is currently in production and set to star Cameron Diaz as the party girl and Toni Collette as her down-to-earth sister. Elsewhere, The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger is in the works. The book, about a Vogue intern working for the boss from hell, will be translated to the silver screen with a little help from Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep. Recently, it was rumored that Hilary Swank snatched up the movie rights to Family Trust, the new novel by Legally Blonde scribe Amanda Brown. Just look at what Bridget Jones and the rest of the ‘Chick Lit’ sisterhood have wrought.
This past summer, the movie Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was released to some fanfare. Proving that not all women have ‘Chick Lit’ radar, I wasn’t even aware it had a literary lineage. Published in 2001, Ann Brashares book was touted by the School Library Journal as: “A complex book about a solid group of friends, with each one a strong and courageous individual in her own right. They form a true sisterhood of acceptance and support, resulting in a believable and inviting world.” Apparently, this is a new sub-genre of ‘Chick Lit’, trading one night stands and emotional turmoil for something a little bit softer and a bit younger. Glad I missed the movie.
Even classic ‘Chick Lit’ is finding a place in the current pro-estrogen environment. If you can accept the rather outrageous concept of Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice being revamped into an overblown, Bolly/Hollywood style musical, then you may be prepared to stomach 2004’s Bride and Prejudice. Gurinder Chadha, responsible for the much better Bend it Like Beckham, updated and reconfigured Austen’s novel to middling reviews. She set her story in modern day India, and altering a few of the characters to fit the new surroundings and situations.
Now this isn’t the first time that Miss Jane has been reinterpreted for the big screen. In 2003, a similar restructuring occurred when director Andrew Black’s created a Mormon-ized version of the tale. In Black’s film, a romance-condemning female student at Brigham Young University finds herself caught between successful businessman “Will Darcy” and ladies man “Jack Wickam”. Pride and Prejudice has also inspired a five-hour miniseries starring Colin Firth, a 1940 edition with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier, and is being made yet again, as the basis for an upcoming 2005 adaptation to star Keira Knightly. Apparently, when they’re not skimming the bestseller’s list, producers are picking and re-picking through the classics for ‘Chick Lit’ inspiration.
While I hesitate to put Jane Austen in the same category with the authors of books like Sex and the City and The Wives of Bath, it can’t be denied that Ms. Austen fits the pro-female profile. Her novels definitely appeal to women, and said books were written about them, for them. While her literary skill is far superior to her modern peers, and her work resonates considerably deeper than any of today’s interchangeable ‘Chick Lit’ picks, Jane will be continually associated with this genre. It’s been said after all that Helen Fielding was inspired to write Bridget Jones Diary after reading the ‘Chick Lit’ legend.
So perhaps the mind that gave birth to Emma and Sense and Sensibility is the true godmother of this literary style. After all, it’s hard to think of a more appropriate creator of ‘Single Jane’ than the original single Jane herself. Only let’s hope she’s a fairy godmother and can break out her magic wand. Maybe then all these brainless books and their inevitable ‘Chick Flick’ follow-ups will finally disappear.