How To Be Good at Chick-Lit

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Our last posts

And to add to our long list of final thoughts, I personally think that there has been a dramatic change in philosophy in the book industry and popular culture for that matter. Think about this: if we look at Rob Roy and Elizabeth Bennett who is an older version of Bridget Jones, what do we see? We tend to see heroes and heroines: characters that function as role models. Rob Roy functions as the strong and brave manly man; the very resemblance of masculinity. There isn't a tint of feminine qualities in him. Let's face it: there is no way that anyone can call him a fop or a dandy.
Elizabeth Bennett was all about propriety and she resembles everything that is proper in a Victorian lady in her given situation. She has confidence, brains and looks all at once. Pride and Prejudice upholds decorum in every way. For some people, Rob Roy and Elizabeth are larger than life figures; characters that some people would look up to. It's not unusual for us to admire those heroes and heroines, and some might even aspire to be more like them.

But as the 20th century progresses, we see less and less of this phenomenon. Until eventually media focuses on the other end: we have books and movies and TV shows with characters that are designed to be recognized by normal people. Bridget and John Self are drunk all the time and yet they are very much like us. They're pretty common in that they lack confidence and are clueless most of the time. Aren't most of us like that? Never mind the gender issue for a moment. Don't most of us read like John Self does? (as it was pointed out in lecture) And is this why so many of us identity with modern day protagonists? In the end, what we have is a shift to a more selfish end of the spectrum: people don't look for examples of what they should be. They don't care about performing to be the best they can be. Instead, they slack off and look for examples of themselves in pop media.

Why? I'm not sure. Could it be a form of degeneration? Another flaw in Darwinism? Maybe this is a question for Dr. Ogden's next experimental course.

A little joke

While I was doing my research for the final paper, I came across a little joke that Martin Amis made. He said that he would welcome the inclusion of a 20-page sex scene between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice. I thought that was quite amusing.

Chick-lit: An exclusionary realm?

Yesterday in lecture we talked about the idea of chick-lit being very exclusionary, meaning that only certain individuals can read it. The bright coloured pink and purple covers displayed at this time of the year on their own seperate tables in bookstores around the city are indeed exclusionary to many customers that come in the store. Angela made a good point yesterday when she said that her friend was looking for a book for Angela for her birthday and the clerk immediately directed her friend towards the chick-lit section just becuase she was looking for "light" reading for a "female".
So is it that only females that want light reading should be the ones to exclusively read chick-lit? I think not. But looking at this issue in regards to Cranford it could possibly be so. The ladies of Crandford live in an exclusionary society. In this light, Cranford portrays the literary reality of chick-lit where only certain individuals are permitted into the culture. In Cranford, there are only specifc people that are allowed to have tea with the ladies of Miss Matty's status. So does this reflect who can read chick-lit? In some ways I say yes because it is what is defined unspokenly in society. Martha would never have had tea with Miss Matty's company without prior consent and I don't think that some people in this class would have ever picked up a chick-lit novel becuase of its exclusiveness, but to do so in way of academic study is some people's "prior consent". It is the unwritten rules of our culture and society that keep people in their selected classes, much as it is in Cranford and much how it is when people are browsing the book store, they go to where they are "supposed to be" and to be where they are NOT supposed to be could be considered way out of line.... just because one would have to put up with he critisims and perescuations of others. I know many guys that would never dare pick up a chick-lit novel, even if they were buying it for their girlfriend becuase they do not want to experience the ridiclue that might go along with it....

Monday, July 25, 2005

Inconclusive Conclusions

I believe that the previous posts have adequatley summarized many of the topics and debates we incurred over the course of this blog and therefore I do not want to take away from these by adding my own repetitive version. We have already agreed that we are not going to all agree (and wouldn't this be boring if we did?), and therefore I wanted to summarize the points that I believe we may have reached a conclusion on, in comparison to the things that gave us more troubles.

What We Know....

Chicklit is a marketing term that refers to
a certain type of books primarily written
for and read by women.

The Only Trouble is...

Is Chick Lit a real, definable and containable thing, or is it fake and impossible to truely define?

What We Know....

Bridget Jones' Diary is Chick Lit. Cranford
might be Chick Lit.

The Only Trouble is...

Is How to be Good Chick Lit? Can itbe Chick Lit with a less stereo typical narrator and a male author? If not, what is it? Is Cranford ONLY Chick Lit? What else is it?

What We Know....

Gender is complicated. It is hard to set
limitations or expectations on gender,
and therefore it is hard to set limitations
and expectations on genre based on a gender.

The Only Trouble is...

Can gender can be contained in genre? Can genre be limited by gender?

What We Know....


Point of view is significant in Chick Lit.

The Only Trouble is...

How is point of view significant in Chick Lit, and is this a defining feature?

What We Know....

There is Performance by females in the books we have studied.

The Only Trouble is...

What does female performance mean? Does it make Chick Lit not Chick Lit in the Darwinian sense, or is there another answer?

What We Know....

Internal Identity formation and reformation, and particularly independence (usually female independence) seem to be central is Chick Lit.

The Only Trouble is...

What makes this improtant to ChickLit as a genre, and perhaps not as
important to others (such as Lad Lit).

What We Know....

We want to know what Chick Lit is.

The Only Trouble is...

We cannot determine what Chick Lit is.

To conclude, I feel that we cannot reach a difnitive conclusion on what Chick Lit is anymore than we could reach a difinitive conclusion on what a woman is, or what any complex category such as these are. A category is, to borrow Prof. Ogden's phrase to describe Darwin, a heuristic. There will never be a perfect definition or Chick Lit, and therefore we cannot hope to have an answer be it in 8 or 9 weeks, 8 or 9 years or 8 or 9 generations.

Chick Lit + Lad Lit = Reality TV (??)

I have this sense of what Chick Lit and Lad Lit are; I have previously called this a certain feeling to the texts. This is the sort of thing that makes them categories, the ambiguous feeling that there is something about them that is inclusive and something else that is exclusive. So, as one last (silly) attempt to synthesis what this feeling is, I turn to everyones favourite mindless-medium: Television. We all watch it, no matter how hard you try to pretend you are ALL academic with no low TV watching characteristics at all: you have seen reality TV; you know what make a reality TV show 'work'. I would like to suggest that if you boil down Chicklit and Ladlit you get reality TV (just as when you boil down "L"iterature you get Chicklit and Ladlit). Just think of it; you have all the 'romance' of the relationships, self improvement and peaks to the innermost thoughts of the characters (think about the interviews of the single person outside of the group on the reality tv shows...), and all the fantastical and impossible adventures of Lad Lit (trapped on island! must compete and battle for food/prestige/etc.) .
Can't you see a Cranford-esque society being the centre of one of these shows? Follow the characters as they try to live together without actually communicating instead veiling everything in social norms and practices! Or 'How to be Good'; watch as a couple on the rocks has a spiritual guru come live with them as they try to work out their marital woes!
Of course these genres are more than this. The (slightly) more serious point I try to make is the idea that these novels appeal to something particular in our society as a whole. The marketing of Chick Lit (or of Reality TV) would not be so successful if there wasn't some common desire within the audiences they reach. The intentions behind Chick Lit and the "L"iterature that proceeded it will continue to evolve and devolve into new genres that all appeal to this same underlying sensibility.

In Summation...

Since Kristine did such a wonderful job of covering several bases I've taken on a couple other facets of what I believe Chick-Lit is, or is doing. Beginning with Satire (apologies for the repeat section), I think that Chick-Lit illustrates the many difficulties in fulfilling societal roles. If we are to count Cranford and How To be Good as Chick-Lit, I would say that Chick-Lit, also complicates the importance of female relationships, and female independence. In addition, I think How to Be Good actually sheds some light on the complexity of a traditionally masculine role of provider. Seeing Katie's conflict with her role as bread-winner of the family make me wonder, if a guy would have the same conflicts in today's society--being that men are now encouraged to be more emotional or caring as in addition to taking on the role of provider at times. So, read on, and I welcome any comments or suggestions!

Satire

Neither Cranford or How to Be Good can be considered biting satire. Cranford is suggestive of a satirical portrayal of life in a small town and the pettiness of aristocratic society. However we have not been able to identify the direct target of the satire. If small town life were satirized completely, how could Miss Matty be so valourized as a product of the small town? She could not. Similarly, we might recognize How to Be Good as a satirical nudge at the life of working women with families. Katie Carr is laughably frustrated with her familial life. Despite success in her professional life, she finds it next to impossibile to be happy while fulfilling the roles of mother, wife, and provider of the family. Perhaps Chick-Lit is not meant to function as a complete satire--as we might guess by reading Bridget Jones' Diary. Perhaps Chick-Lit uses satire to complicate the roles of women in society--modern or otherwise.

Female Relationships/ Friendships

In Cranford the importance of female relationships takes precedence over everything. One the surface these relationships are superficial and are invested in appearances. However, the book valourizes ‘genuine’ friendship, like the one between Mary Smith and Matty Jenkyns. Also, despite the superficiality involved in the other feminine relationships, the women are able to band together when one of them needs help—like when the Cranford women are able to put money together to aid Miss Matty in her bankruptcy.

In How to be Good, the importance of female relationships is more in the background. Katie’s friendship with her co-worker, Becca, is rather superficial. They go for lunch and talk about each other’s lives, but the communication in this relationship is faulty. Becca doesn’t notice until days after their lunch meeting that Katie confesses to her about her extra-marital affair. Despite that this female relationship is almost completely ineffectual, Katie seems to rely upon the interaction.

It seems then, that female relationships--superficial or otherwise--are integral to Chick-Lit. The women of Cranford, and Katie in How to Be Good, rely upon these friendships. In Cranford, female relationships are portrayed as both a societal convention (the group of Cranford women) and a testament of individual genuine affection (Miss Matty and Mary Smith's friendship). In How to Be Good Katies friendship with Becca is habitual. Habitual to the degree that the relationship's communication falters. Yet Katie still needs that relationship; and, despite the communacative flaw, is able to sort out some of her feelings through sharing.

Female Independence

In Cranford, many of the women appear to have independence. Not all rely upon wealth to make them independent. Some use their ‘good’ aristocratic name—like Lady Glenmire; others turn to the mercantile business like Miss Betty Barker or Mrs. Fitz-Adam. Since Cranford is held by the ladies, it appears that female independence is an issue of the utmost importance. However, it appears that the women are not able to be completely independent, as they rely upon males in the society on several occasions. As the doctor is Mr. Hoggins, the women must rely upon him in the event of sickness. Also, as in the supposed burglaries of Ch. “The Panic”, the women believe they need male presence to ensure their safety. These are just two examples of the reliance upon male figures in Cranford. So, despite the attempt to create an independent, female society, the women of Cranford still must rely upon masculine figures.

As we’ve discussed on the blog before, in How to Be Good, Katie Carr is continuously emphasizing her role as a doctor, and sole breadwinner of the family. Though we might not call this female independence, Katie’s obsession with her role as the provider of the family, sets her up to be a woman whose independence supports both herself, David, and the kids. However, Katie also feels trapped in this position. She regrets sometimes being the working parent, while David spends more time with the children. She also feels limited in her roles. After taking a flat away from home Katie reflects upon her feelings: “[...] when you take away working hours and family suppers and family breakfasts: the time I get on my own is the time I would have spent being a wife, rather than being a mother or doctor. (And God, how frightening, that those are the only options available [...]” (211). Here, despite the former appearance of independence and self-sufficiency, Katie is deeply fearful and conflicted by her roles in life. Initially, we might be tempted to view Katie as the picture of modern feminine autonomy: financially securing life for herself and her family. However, as witnesses to her inner conflict, the picture of female autonomy becomes cloudy, and we are left with the question of whether or not she is really independent when she feels trapped within her familial relationships.

Both novels, then, illustrate the impossibility of complete female independence. In Cranford, the women find themselves relying upon men at various junctures, despite being a society held by the ladies. In How to Be Good, Katie is continually conflicted with her position as an independent women. Moreover, Katie is actually limited in her supposedly autonomous position.

Chick-lit and Lad-it, ambiguous terms?

Through the study of chick-lit, and lad-lit, somewhat newly emerging genres, it is difficult to tell if the readership of novels belonging to these genres are exclusive to the gender in which each can realte. It is definately the majority of the seperate genders that will relate to the specifc genre that is about his or her sex but I think that chick-lit and lad-lit are far more about what readers gain from specifc reading expereinces than it is with relating specifically with your respectful gender.

What a reader can gain from reading and learning about life through different perspectives is far more valuable than always identfying wih the same or opposite sex. This course has given us the opportunity to examine and explore this questions and issues nd decide for ourselves what chick-lit and lad-lit actually is, and we have come up with some great insights throughout out brainstorming, but the terms are still up for interpretation and becuase of this it allows readers of these genres to come up with their own meanings that are imprtant to them. I do not think there is a right or wrong answer concering the definitions and perhaps because of this lies the joy of this new genres, becuase there is not a concrete set of rules that must be followed for books to fall under these categories. Just because one person may think a certain book, like "How to Be Good", is chick-lit becuase of many of its qulaities, it can at the same time, be argued that it isn't becuase of other qualities. I think on that premise alone that is grounds for further academic discipline in thise area as so many different perspectives can be argued and none of them can be considered right or wrong.

Is "How to be Good" actually chick-lit?

Chick-lit, it seems, has many stereotypes when it comes to what sorts of books can be classified as belonging
to this specific genre. The majority of the books concern single, career driven female protagonists that are trying to "find themself" while going through a "chick-lit struggle" as I'd like to call it; where the protagonist under goes some sort of change and is then better off becuase of it. The struggle usually involves a person vs. self conflict as they try to determine what they want out of life and how they can achieve it. Although there are other characters in the book with their own problems, their problems do not seem to affect the outcome of the protagonist's plight.

"How to be Good" starts off with many chick-lit qualities but as it progresses, the dynamics of it quickly get turned upside down. The protagonist, Katie Carr, is a professional successful woman but is not happy with her job or her family life and because of this gets involved in the typical "chick-lit struggle" of finding herself. She thinks that by being invloved in a love affair will help her decide what she wants out of life. This definately seems like a chick-lit novel but it is in admist of Katie's problems that the book really takes a turn.

As readers, we are now diverted to the problems of David, Katie's husband who works at home and must take on domestic responsiblities of looking after their two children when Katie is at work. David seems insecure about his professional situation as he is not the sole provider, financially, for his family. David is somewhat physically weak because of a back condition and it is because of this, I think, that the plot changes direction and moves away from Katie and focuses on David.

David finds a spirtitual healer names DJ Goodnews who heals his pain and becomes an inportant figure in David's life. Goodnews becomes so important in fact that he seems to take the palce of Katie for David, which in the middle of the novel is no great loss for David. David and Goodnews think that all people in the world need to be better citizens so they start writing a book describing what people need to do to be considered "good''. At this point in the book, I do not consider the plot to revolve around Katie, as she is not the main interest here. As a reader, I was more interested in what was to become of David and Goodnews than I was about Katie.

Another characteristic of chick-lit is that it is diologue of women, written by women. "How to be Good" is written by Nick Hornby, a male. And although he does an excellent job of portraying Katie's thoughts and feelings. I do not know if that can be considered chick-lit. There are three central characters in this novel, all of whom I think are equally important to the progress of the novel. Without David and Goodnew's specific involvement with the plot, I do not think that the novel would be what is it. David and Goodnews are crucial to the devlopment of the novel. Although it could be argued that Goodnews functions more as a literart device than as a character as he helps develop David's character and assists him in realizing what his full potential is.

I do not think that this novel is chick-lit on the basis that it is:
a) written by a man
b) there is a complete reversal of roles, David is in the domestic sphere and Katie is in the professional sphere. David is passive and Katie is assertive
c) the plot concerns the struggles of more than one character and they are not all female. All the character's problems have equal importance
d) The end of the novel does not seem to really resolve any of the problems and there is not a definate awakening in terms to finding happiness outside of what Katie and David already have

The plot and the charaters of this novel are interesting and perhaps becuase of the invlovement of three characters and not just one and becuase the novel is written by a male instead of a female there could actually be some sort of new genre that could come out of this, and it could be considered something on its own and be acknowledged for that instead of just "kind of" fitting into the genre of chick-lit.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Summary

Has our blog come up with the cultural relevance of literary scholarchip? I think we've addressed the issue of the literary relevance of cultural phenomena. But what is that relevance? One relevance is, surely, understanding. Our group blog nudged me to try to make meaning when I would have preferred to be spoon-fed. Engaging with a group is, paradoxically, a self-help experience.
The classical dialectic requirement which prompted this summary will, I know, be outlived by a Hegelian one once the 13-week pot-boiling discourse has a lid placed on it, and the cultural relevance of literary scholarship allowed its preserving and curing process to pickle and kipper the distillation--British style.

Lad(y) Lit

A How to be Good genre?

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Final Thoughts: Or, An Attempt at a Final Cause

Our group has decided that each individual member will contribute a “Final Thoughts” post. This will allow the dialectic nature of the project to continue and avoid any monologic statements. Instead, I will simply offer what I feel are some emerging trends in the chick-lit our group has been discussing for the past few moths.

1) Chick-lit is defined by the audience, not the author. Nick Hornby’s text is a wonderful piece of chick-lit as the author manages to effectively narrate from a female perspective. Regardless of the gender of the author it appears that it is the themes of the text which attract a female readership, not the gender of the author.

2) Chick-lit has an episodic structure. In contrast to Rob Roy’s linear narrative, the chick-lit books in question demonstrate an open-ended structure. The style of Cranford, How To Be Good and Bridget Jones’ Diary allow the text to cycle forward without ever reaching a finite conclusion. Although the texts come to a place of rest in the final pages of the novels, it is possible to envision potential sequels. Cranford delivers snippets of the characters’ lives, small anecdotes which could continue endlessly. Katie in Hornby’s text never finds a resolution to her problem, as she neither leaves her husband nor resolves her marital problems. Bridget’s diary entries could continue endlessly, as she ends the text in much the same situation as she began it. These texts demonstrate a rejection of linear narrative format, embracing a style which allows for continual character growth as well as character digression.

3) Satire. The word “satire” reoccurred throughout the blog, although we were not always sure what was being satirized. Although Cranford was critical of many societal conventions, the narrator revered the society’s support of Mrs. Matty in times of crisis. In Hornby’s text a comedic eye is turned towards the characters’ unrealistic expectations. Although DJ Good News is the butt of many jokes, he still has moments of insight as he genuinely desires to improve his community. Fielding (who I know wasn’t part of our blog-project but just seems so applicable) appears to satirize feminism – yet simultaneously confirms it. Thus, the satire of chick-lit acts as humorous motivation to improve the problematic nature of society without requiring that we dispose of the whole system. It is a plea for improvement, not a rejection of community. Chick-lit is gentle-satire with the hope of improvement.

4) Attention to communication. Conversation plays an integral role in our chick-lit texts. Often, past conversations are passed under intense scrutiny by the narrator (ie., Katie reliving her many arguments with David, placing them under a microscope for intense deconstruction). Conversation is intensely regulated, as the characters of Cranford know what can be discussed and what should be brushed under the table. In How to Be Good, when David deviates from his normal topics of conversation, his friends are shocked and are unable to enjoy his company. Once these intensely regulated conversations have passed, they are usually scrutinized by the protagonist, analyzed for possible clues as to the other characters’ true intentions.

5) Protagonists attempt to adhere to their impression of the archetypal woman. The protagonists have a pre-conceived notion of how they should behave. The women of Cranford know the rules of their society and are constantly negotiating their actions in order to adhere to their notion of the perfect, civilized lady. Katie (HTBG) attempts to overcompensate for her lack of parenting time by being a good doctor. This desire to live up to societal expectations is linked to the performative nature of the protagonists as they attempt to live their lives in accordance with the expectations of their parents, spouses, children and neighbours.

6) A reconfiguring of the notion of the family-unit. A patriarchal notion of the family unit is challenged, as women take the roles of bread-winners or the orchestrators of finance. The women of Cranford form a new family unit of friends and must be economically responsible for their actions. This pattern is mirrored in Bridget Jones, as her close friends provide moral support when her unreasonable mother is shirking her familial duties. Although there is a more traditional representation of family in Hornby’s text, the picture of the “typical” family is challenged, as Katie earns the income, while David stays home with the kids. These many reconfigurations of the family unit acknowledge the possibility of different notions of family, as the characters rely on friends and colleagues to support them, and take financial situations in to their own hands.

These six points are a generalization made from a very small pool of texts, yet I believe that they hold true for the novels in question. How about the rest of you, any ideas?

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The notion of Time in Cranford and She

One of Holly's names is Ludwig Horace Holly. While "Ludwig" could be Beethoven might it also refer to the Luddites, that is, to the bands of English works who, in 1811-16, destroyed machinery in the belief that its use diminished employment. Horace lived in 65-8 BCE, and the Holly and the Ivy, I don't know. Time, then, in She moves backward.
In Cranford, time stands still, I think.
What about time in How to be Good? We have had a blog about "moment" a while back. So, maybe Hornby's novel uses a non-historicist notion of time.

Chick Lit and Dick Lit

Considering Money's obsession, should we suggest Chick Lit/ Dick Lit to Prof. Ogden as an alternative title. How about that, you loggers?

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Film and Fiction

Does the type of fiction that can be made into a movie tell us anything about the fiction? And what is a "movie"--Hollywood genre or art film? The movie Rob Roy has nothing to do with Frank and Die Vernon. I think Cranford could be a film, but what about How to be Good? I don't think we can say anything about literature, as such, from which is (not) made into film, but I wonder whether it tells us anything about readership.
For me, the two media are totally different, they are differnt ways of knowing; but I think some people might be influenced to read/view because of reading/viewing the other medium. Of course, the film depends largely on the director and the choices s/he makes. Also we can have two or more versions of any one fiction. But I don't want to complicate things. My idea was more simple than that. I was just wondering whether How to be Good could be made into a film, and if so, who would go to see it, men or women?

Friday, July 08, 2005

Identity in Chicklit

I have read a few modern examples of Chicklit and it seems that the protagonists rarely have children of their own. As I discussed previously, this is often related to the fact that they are just embarking on new relationships, and that part of their life still lies ahead. Yet there is often a parent-child dynamic. In Bridget Jones' Diary there is a great emphasis on her relationship with her mother, and how the dynamic between mother and child changes when the child becomes an adult and the mother has to re-identify themselves. The mother can no longer identify themselves soley as mother, and the child must learn to be an adult.
How to be Good
offers a different view of motherhood: right from the middle. However, like a Bridget Jones-type character, Kate is still learning (or more aptly, relearning) how to be an adult. However in her world, this involves learning how to be a wife and a mother. Perhaps this is the link to Chick-lit that I have been searching for. Chicklit is about forming the identity you are already supposed to have. For Bridget Jones this is becoming a responsible, career oriented adult that has a stable romantic relationship. That is the position that society expects a 30 year old to have, and so that is what she must gain. As mentioned, this is complimented by the journey her mother must take to finding what she needs to be now that her children are grown up. Similarly, Kate must come to terms with her place in life as a mother, and a wife. She clearly sees herself as a Doctor first; how many times does she say "I am a Doctor"? Many; yet, how many times does she say "I am a Mother" or "I am a wife"? I had difficculty finding any. So, once
so if Chick Lit is about forming identity, as my thought-tangent is currently leading me to believe, then how does Cranford relate? Cranford is more similar to Bridget Jones' Diary. Matty is like Bridget, having to form her own identity once the stabalizing force that was her sister, Miss Jenkyns, is no longer there to rule her, just as Bridget must learn to function without parents guidance; as an adult. After Miss Jenkyns dies, the story clearly becomes about Matty, and specifically how Matty learns to/ continues to function within Cranford. Despite the overwhelming feeling of stability that exudes from Cranford, there is subtle change. A man comes into the the confined world (Peter), and Matty learns how to bend rules when necessary (allowing Martha to have a suitor). Matty and Cranford must develop beyond the rule of Miss Jenkyns, and that is what they do.