When Black Balloon assigned me to revisit the
oh-so-90s genre of chick lit, one of my editors said, “Has Manjula actually read these books? Tell her to drink a
lot of wine.” Never one to ignore editorial direction, that’s what I did.
As I got tipsy, I fell into the story of Bridget Jones’s Diary, by Helen Fielding, which was published in 1996 and is still widely hailed as a high point of the chick lit genre. I read this book and enjoyed it about a decade ago, but I still have this ingrained impression of chick lit in my critical eye: pink dust jacket, shoes or a wedding ring on it; stock single urban girl character whose astounding lack of self-awareness and general reliance on cutesiness as a survival technique results in a formulaic romance that elevates shopping and boys over any sort of meaningful experience for young urban women.
Upon re-reading (and drinking) however, all that falls away. The book is a work of fresh, form-busting, incisive (and yes, commercial) fiction about the interior life of a woman who is too smart to follow the prescribed path yet too befuddled by our culture’s dominant values — relationships, career, body image, the cult of happiness — to see a way through it all. The character is relatable and only occasionally annoying. The diary-style shorthand and tendency to skimp on personal pronouns set the stylistic standard for pretty much the entire first ten years of Internet writing: what is Bridget Jones if not a confessional blogger before her time?
The book is romantic (Darcy!), literate (Darcy!), and utterly engaging. Turns out, a couple decades and a few overfull glasses after she hit the lit scene, Bridget Jones isn’t some shallow airhead. She also isn’t the klutzy accidental heroine portrayed in the sorta-okay (oh-fine-I’ve-seen-it-like-20-times) movie. She’s just a person, afraid of being alone. Who among us can’t say the same?
With this revelation in my soused mind, I decided to enlist a few form-busting, incisive-about-women’s-interior-lives writers from the past to help explicate the depths of Bridget Jones. I’m thrilled to welcome to this post the great and somewhat randomly selected writers e.e. cummings, Dorothy Parker, and Gertrude Stein.
BLACK BALLOON: Hey all, thanks for visiting Black Balloon! Wow, we are huge fans of all your work. So, are you ready to talk chick lit?
STEIN: A BOOK.
e.e.: ( in this (we always,
PARKER: I’d rather kill myself?
so ... One-sentence review: Bridget Jones’s
Diary. I mean, what about that apostrophe in the title, huh, e.e.? Is that
Chicago Style or AP or what? Stein, what about the gender dynamics here?
STEIN: A CHICK. Lovely lit and caring chick, excellent failure and firm butter, all the smoking and the poke, all the popular lessening people drunk, all the riveting heartening lit of it all. So this means clearly that the chance to discover a man thing is a rotten success. Suppose it is limited but suppose it is. A genre is not a funeral.
i love you
Love (having found) is not the i
)no pronouns but here and you
(forever in this i do
–we are not the same you and
in your brief
stems of sentences i love
the truncated universe
i hate you
Parker: Are you serious? You want me to talk with these people about this story? They don’t even use sentences! Oh, bother. Let’s see, well, the third act has issues if you intend to make it into a film ... oh, wait, you want one of my pithy little poems everyone loves, right? Jesus. Okay...
I used up the tissues;
And I drank all the drink;
So, this chick stuff has issues;
But it does make me think.
BB: Um, okay, thanks, you guys! I’m pretty drunk now, so y’all can go back to being dead and modern. Maybe we’ll get some different dead authors next time. Shopaholic, anyone? Hemingway, Austen, anyone who uses sentences wanna ring in on this next one?