- Chick Lit and Postfeminism by Stephanie Harzewski
Literary critics researching popular fiction very frequently have to justify their interest in certain genres and works that do not offer any stylistic challenges and do not measure up to the high aesthetic qualities of canonized literary works. In the last [End Page 307] paragraph of the “Introduction,” Stephanie Harzewski reflects upon how this academic engagement with popular fiction can create a “split self” since rigorous academic analysis requires the sublimation of “girly pleasures” into a “substantial” argument (195). The academic choosing to focus on a “noncanonical” (195) project is even more propelled to demonstrate valuable and meticulous study since her choice of primary sources can have negative ramifications upon her career: “the gum-popping connotations of the chick lit label affect both the perception of the primary texts and the producers of its secondary literature” (195). Harzewski’s concerns indicate that regardless of the valuable academic research done within the area of media and cultural studies, certain academic perceptions and preconceptions regarding popular culture as unworthy of serious investigation persist. However, Harzewski should not be perturbed by these voices since her own complex analyses of chick lit demonstrate that the ‘frivolity’ of one’s topic does not negate the outcome of scrupulous research.
Harzewski presents the phenomena of chick lit from several points of view and examines the interrelations between them. She offers a thorough exploration of the “generic amalgamation” of chick lit as a genre, the marketing of chick lit and its authors, its “ties with consumer and fashion culture” (46), the uneasy relationship between chick lit and feminism, the illustration of gender relations within these novels, and the conceptualization of postfeminism by chick lit. She manages to bring together all these perspectives, thus offering a cogent analysis of chick lit and contemporary popular culture.
In the first chapter, “Postmodernism’s Last Romance,” Harzewski discusses chick lit as a romance genre, presenting its main characteristics (a routine plot and stock characters), in opposition to the Harlequin romance. By exploring the history of the term chick lit and its connections with consumerism, she demonstrates how these elements contribute to the conceptualization of chick lit as a frivolous woman’s genre. This negative approach to chick lit can affect women’s writing when the gender of its author makes the quality of the work questionable. In consequence, a lot of women authors vehemently emphasize their detachment from chick lit and their resistance to being considered and named a ‘woman author.’ In this chapter Harzewski also considers the implications of the genre’s “revelry in consumerism” (51) from a different angle: chick lit not only has consumerism as one of its main topics but also celebrates, generates, and contributes to it. The love of brands makes chick lit “quintessentially postmodern as the romance of consumerism” (51). Furthermore, according to Harzewski, by examining the genre’s affiliations with consumerism and its marketing, her research sheds light on the system of a new consumer-oriented literary marketplace.
In the following two chapters, Harzewski concentrates on two main paradigmatic source texts: Bridget Jones’s Diary and Sex and the City. Through a discussion of these novels and their cinematic adaptations, Chick Lit and Postfeminism extends the group of genres that can be affiliated with chick lit. Bridget’s Jones Diary can be read as an example of ironic female Bildungsroman, a novel of manners, and a self-help book. Candace Bushnell’s Sex and the City, while incorporating some of the characteristics of the previously mentioned genres, introduces the “New York novel.” It is a novel in which the city plays a central role by determining the actions and forming the character of the protagonist. Ultimately Carrie’s big love is the city and not Mr. Big. Furthermore, the series’ New York is “the New York of late heterosexuality” (98). Harzewski uses these terms to unfold the dynamics of gender relations. In her view, the relationships depicted in the series represent late heterosexuality as they illustrate the contradictions and tensions between romantic expectations and the economics of...