This write up stems from a three hour long discussion with my cousins which took place some months back. The talks started with the reasons for literature syllabus at the university level being confined mostly to the Victorian age consisting of Charles Dickens, Bronte sisters, Joseph Conrad; period of Romanticism covering Coleridge, Shelley, William Blake and Wordsworth and a small section on Modern Literature mainly dedicated to James Joyce, Auden and Earnest Hemmingway. As time passed and the discussion grew deeper, we figured out various other works of fiction which seriously demand recognition and are worth studying on a much serious level. Keeping everything aside, the section of literature which caught our attention was the one whose fate, quality and standard is highly debatable; the one which is simply not considered genuine literature by the critics. Yes! This very contemporary genre of fiction is popularly known as the Chick-Lit section. I strongly feel one finds its roots back during the Romanticism.
The question which remained unanswered even after debating and discussing for hours that night was what exactly is a chick-lit? In my not so intellectual understanding, chick-lit basically is any piece of fiction which humorously revolves around a dominating female protagonist and addresses her innumerable high-spirited romantic adventures and misadventures as well as deals with the myriad issues and problems she faces right from her teenage years till adulthood.
Now, when you club the above terms of ‘DOMINATING FEMALE PROTAGONIST’, ‘HUMOUR’, ‘ROMANTIC ADVENTURES AND MISADVENTURES’ together, don’t you immediately remember English Literature’s one of the most prolific female writers, who was indeed much ahead of her time and whose nib drew some of the best Historical Romances of all times? Yes! I am talking about none other than the creator of Elizabeth Bennet, Emma Woodhouse, Elinor Dashwood and Anne Elliot. Jane Austen, undoubtedly has defined classic romance through her works and perhaps is one of the most famous woman writers not only of her times but till date. Austen’s ‘Special Six’ which include ‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘Emma’, ‘Persuasion’, ‘Mansfield Park’, ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘Northanger Abbey’ at large, follow a similar pattern and peculiarly focus on certain issues. When one reads these novels, what stands out is the daring young woman’s journey into womanhood and the need for a wise marriage, with a unique exception found only in ‘Sense and Sensibility’. The portrayal of class distinction is prevalent throughout the six classics and the element of sensitivity ornamented with humor is felt in each of her works.
Over the past couple of decades, there have been numerous silver screen adaptations of Austen’s novels and contemporary writers have forever been inspired by her works and have pen pictured Emma and Mr.Darcy in their own literary ways. Starting from the much loved ‘Bridget Jone’s Diary’, ‘Amanda’ and not so popular ‘Lover’s vow’, ‘The Absentee’ and many more contemporary works have striking similarities with Jane Austen’s novels. Infact, every chick lit novel today has all the aspects which were reflected through Austen’s novel. Maybe the depth of brilliance in language has suffered and the use of profanity have increased by leaps and bounds, but ultimately the story remains very much the same.
So, why on Earth does the genre of chick lit not get the much deserved recognition as a part of literature? I strongly believe that discarding them from the realm of literature is way too harsh a treatment to be given to any piece of writing for that matter. In my honest opinion, Jane Austen is indeed the pioneer figure in establishing this genre and in fact has successfully as well as immaculately popularized it through her novels. She had written the novels in the eighteenth century thus, she theoretically qualifies as a Victorian age or a Romantic novelist but does she conform to the standards of either of them? Ah! No… Victorians as well as Romantics believed in expressing strong emotions via the usage of color and sound in the writing. She was indeed one of the most subversive as well as rebellious writers of all times, in her own poignant ways. Hence, firstly, the critics should instead of glorifying the shallowness of the chick-lit novels and condemning the genre, must consider their roots and before commenting on or criticizing the modern day novels, must first notice the distinct parallels that can be easily drawn with the Jane Austen novels which are sheer classics, period.