We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

Chick lit & the 1974 Pallisers · 19 May 07

Dear Harriet,

I’d like to recommend Suzanne Ferriss and Mallory Young, edd. Chick-Lit: The New Women’s Fiction. Several of the essays in the volume are as good as Deborah Philips’s Women’s Fiction, 1945-2005.

The difference is Chick lit traces just the one subgenre of women’s novels, the one that has been labelled by the denigrating name, “chick-lit. The book is itself not (as chick lit is repeatedly said to be) vacuous, inane, complicit, but responds perceptively to the phenomenon from a feminist perspective. A couple of the essayists defend this subgenre as in its way dealing with real issues and problems of women’s lives today. One of the essayists, Chris Mazza, claims it was she who unwittingly coined the name, not meaning to see it used for these sorts of novels generally to stigmatize them. The best essays are those which begin with Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary. (It was due to my reading and enjoyment of this book and its sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason that I took the book out of the GMU library.) Some of the essayists deal with women’s books about particular forms of “chick lit,” e.g., working as a “nanny” and other low status occupations where you work for another woman who either goes out to a highly paid remunerative job or stays in the house and doesn’t do the uncomfortable and time-consuming work of say taking care of a small child or running the household. There’s an essay on the kind of books about motherhood which make of this occupation a form of sacred 24/7 slavery, another on books enforcing slenderness on women, and yet another on relevant TV shows (Sex and the City) and recent women’s films.

I’ve thought a lot about why I so enjoyed the Helen Fielding books and the first movie, Bridget Jones’s Diary (the second movie seemed a thin rehash, with only a couple of genuine moments). Finally, for me these two books are about a woman trying to assert and hold onto her self-esteem. A paragraph that repeats itself like a refrain through both novels is how Bridget is now or is going to be confident, self-assured, sure of herself, filled with self-respect and respect for what she is doing and how she is spending her life. It’s done comically, but it’s seriously meant. I think I would not so often be so unhappy if I could feel real respect for how I spend my life and what I do all day long.

I did write several times on WW about both Bridget Jones books by Fielding. They are shaped as intelligent witty departures from Austen—although this is an overlay since the first at least is comprized of columns Fielding used to write for a newspaper (harking back to Jan Struther’s Mrs Miniver as an originator of this kind). Bridget Jones’s Diary uses Pride and Prejudice to give the columns shape and a plot-design; Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason seems to have Austen’s Persuasion in mind more centrally to start with, but it too really uses Austen as a structural and thematic shaping device. Fielding has the gift of just the right word for comedy and she makes me laugh as identify with her Bridget caricature and am attracted to the ideal Mark Darcy represents. Realism comes in several levels and the later book contains Colin Firth presented simply as the real person Bridget interviews. Like Mark Darcy he is quietly decent. Fielding’s book is, however, no complacent validation of today’s norms. Not at all. It’s wild caricature which includes lots of passages which show the world to be cruel, irrational, hard, difficult, brutal (including the sequence in Thailand).

Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) and Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) attempt skiing together, BJ: The Edge of Reason (2004)

Right now I’m spending my life watching Austen films and analyzing them. It’s part of a long project to produce a solid good paper—or monograph. In the Bridget mode as I see it: must not worry it won’t be published. Must have faith in work it’s good and worth doing no matter what or who does or does not respect or use it. Okay to spend huge amounts of time online and not attempt to hide this by lurking, to post openly and try to make lovely informative postings. Should not worry others would find this useless: get nothing for it; am lucky when no one criticizes me for my attitudes or out of resentment. Seen as strange, liable to be stigmatized, sneered at.

Also should not worry what others think of my etexts.

I try hard to achieve this attitude of strength, but don’t quite pull it off. It’s like being an adjunct. Living with my status is part of a choice.

Perhaps I shall reread these two Bridget books, and underline all the variations upon “develop inner poise, and sense of self as a woman of substance” and extend her definition of emotional fuckwittage to include far more than men who won’t commit to a permanent companionate love relationship with a woman. In the best essay in Ferris and Young’s book (by Ferriss herself and on Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Fielding’s book, Bridget Jones’s Diary and the movie of the same name), Ferriss ends:

‘It is worth remembering, however, that Austen’s novels created a courtship balance to critique the absence of such balance in early 19th century relationships between men and women [also a balance between private happiness and public respect and security]. The filmmakers’ attraction to Austen’s text may signal their own view that such inequities remain nearly two centuries later. Given the preponderance of similarities to Pride and Prejudice in the film version of Bridget Jones’s Diary [more than in the novel], the divergences at the end appear in stark contrast to the imaginative hope for equality promised by Austen’s text. Instead, they emphasize contemporary women’s renewed desire to be rescued by men from the complications of life as an independent woman.’

And what’s wrong with that?

My replacement tapes for Parts 20 & 21 of Volume III of the 1974 Palliser films came!! and I watched the 20th episode last night. Much that was a Tissot picturesque, as in this lovely close-up:

Mrs Marie Finn (Barbara Murray) and Duchess of Omnium, walk in the park, Pallisers (1974, 3:20)

This is another project about film adaptations I’m spending my life upon. Last time I wrote about the Pallisers films, I included a still of the Duchess showing her esteem for the Duke; here he is showing his deep affection for her:

Philip Latham as Duke of Omnium (Pallisers, 3:19)

How I loved the Palliser episode 3:20 where Raven had the Duke of Omnium (Philip Latham) produce a sharp criticism of the way the world works, how he loathes it, how he finds it distasteful. I think I’ll transcribe that this morning. Among his comments on giving out posts (not on the basis of merit or who would do the best job for most of them), on his wife spending enormous sums to turn the gargantuan uncomfortable castle into an inn for harboring place-seekers, cutting down trees, putting up tents, an expensive bohemian cook, I’ll quote but two:

“This is so repugnant to me.”

“Is this necessary, Cora?”

Here he is again, hesitant.

If I end up not getting what I mean to write on film adaptations of Trollope’s novels published (I’ll use the many postings I’ve written as my basis), I shall make a vast area on my website and put all the materials I’ve gathered there.

I also hope to make a gallery of stills from the relatively unknown older films of Austen. There are hardly any stills on line from these: the BBC 1972 Emma, 1979 Pride and Prejudice and 1983 Mansfield Park


Posted by: Ellen

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  1. I’m back!

    Why do people say that people aren’t supposed to call girls chicks? And at Sweet Briar the students call each other girls instead of women, and the professors ask us why we do that, why don’t we call ourselves women. People say that it’s a Sweet Briar thing to call college students girls instead of women, but my friend from a different school calls college students girls, so apparently it’s not just a Sweet Briar thing.

    In one of my classes, we were discussing when a girl becomes a woman. Is it when she starts menstruating? The problem with that is that then 12 year olds would be women, and they are still young enough that they are children. The professor also brought up the phrase make me a woman, meaning when a girl has sex she becomes a woman. His objection to that is what if a thirty year old hasn’t had sex? A thirty year old isn’t a girl. The professor objects to sex defining whether someone is a woman. What is the problem with women saying make me a woman? I guess another problem is that some high school or even middle school girls have sex, and they are still girls, not women. But I think that sex could be a way to distinguish a girl from a woman, because if a girl is emotionally mature enough to have sex, she can be considered a woman, and if she’s not mature enough to have sex she can be considered a girl.

    I am not financially independent from my parents, and I think that’s a reason that I’m only a girl and not a woman. Another possible reason is I think of women as mothers, and I’m not a mother. The problem with that is if my friend who doesn’t want children ends up never having children, then she could never be considered a woman. I probably associate women with mothers because my mother is a woman. And she’s older than me, so if I call myself a woman I would be saying I’m the same as her, and I’m not the same as her because I’m younger. Another possible way to distinguish girls from women is whether they have formed goals for their lives. I think that I want to be a speech therapist or maybe a physical therapist, but I haven’t decided what I want to do, so maybe I’ll be a girl until my goals are formed and I know where my life is going, and when that happens I can start calling myself a woman.

    I think of my friends who are 23 and 24 as girls because I think of them as my peers, because they are not too much older than me, but I think they are old enough that I should consider them women. I sometimes call them women and sometimes call them girls. What exactly is the definition of peers? Are my 23 and 24 year old friends my peers because they are my friends and they are only 3 years older than me and that’s not much of an age difference, or are they not my peers because we are at different points in our lives because I’m in college, and they have all graduated and they are working? Do peers have to be closer in age than 3 years? Are the first years who were on my hall my peers because they were only 2 years younger than me, or were they not my peers because I have experience with college and they were just starting? Another reason they might not be my peers is that I was responsible for them because I had to check their rooms for damage at the end of the year, I did roommate mediations, they came to me if they had a question, and I was in charge of making hall socials for them. Another reason they might be considered my peers is that they were my friends, and I had the same conversations with some of them that I had with my friends, people who are my age.

    When you used the term companionate love, are you talking about the triangular theory of love? I don’t really know what you meant by men who won’t commit to a companionate love relationship with a woman.
    Jennica    May 19, 1:25pm    #
  2. Dear Jennica,

    It’s good to hear from you. Have you chosen your major yet? Yvette is doing fairly well in graduate school, and we are hoping she may finish in one year and one half (by next January) instead of the degree taking 2 years.

    When does a girl become a woman? The word is an honorific when put this way; thus, the definition would be subjective and since both terms are gendered, the natural result would be to define a life by
    events or processes peculiar to women. We could equally puzzle over when a boy becomes a man?

    Better to think about what makes a person mature. I agree that financial independence is often one sign of this. Probably taking real responsibility for your actions (and existence), except now we are in an ethical realm and there are many people who live their lives amorally (without taking responsibility unless they are forced to).

    “Chick” is a term which de-humanizes. Its linguistic terrain is sexist as it’s just applied to women and from a sexist standpoint. It trivializes women in the way “gal” and “babe” do. I object to all such categories: to refer to someone as a “mom” is as shallow.

    The phrase "companionate marriage" refers to an ideal of marriage where the partners are looking for a friend, for a companion, for affection and shared mutual interests, not just sex, children, networking (the partnership in aggrandizement) and sharing property. It's supposedly the western ideal today, but only arose in the 18th century as an ideal -- not that there are not many people who don't believe in it; that is, many people in western society marry more because they think someone will be admired by others, make a lot of money (or enable him or her to make a lot of money), is presentable and so on).

    As to my assertion that there are men who don't want to commit to permanent relationships, surely that's not hard to understand. You might read Bridget Jones's Diary to find out if it seems puzzling. The book is witty: at any rate it made me laugh

    Elinor    May 21, 6:50pm    #
  3. I am a psychology major. The psych classes I’ve taken so far during my time at Sweet Briar are social psychology, child development, animal learning, behavioral neuroscience, experimental psychology, behavioral medicine seminar, human neuropsychology, and cognition. I really liked social psychology.

    I’m planning to either be a speech therapist or a physical therapist. I’m kind of leaning toward speech therapist.

    You read my mind. I was thinking of asking you how Isobel is.

    Do you think that I’m not mature because I haven’t decided what my religious beliefs are? But I don’t actually have to choose one religious belief. Last night I came to the decision that I want to think in terms of possibilities and not limit myself by believing in one particular religion. That has been my problem for the last two years. I’ve been trying to choose a particular religion, when a particular religion is not what I want. People should decide what’s important to them and what their goals are, and what they want to do, and then whichever religion helps them meet their goals and do what they want to do is what they should choose. A combination of religions can be what a person uses. Christians say that God will send people to Hell if they don’t do what he wants, but I think that if God is reasonable, he will see that people are good people and working to help people even if they are not Christians. He should be happy that people are treating people how He wants people to treat people, and he should not care how they got there, he should be fine with them getting there a different way than Christianity. The Christian God may exist, and He may not exist. He’s just one of many possibilities.

    My friend said to me, “You’re a chick, be independent.” She thinks that men shouldn’t dominate women. It’s interesting that she used the word chick which takes power away from women to tell me something that gives me power.

    I don’t think of the words babe or baby as trivializing. I think they are terms of endearment. I think that calling someone baby is similar to calling them darling or sweetheart. My dog’s name is Juneau, and I sometimes call him June-babe and sometimes I call him Juneau baby. And I sometimes call my kitten The Baby Kitten.

    Do you mean referring to someone as mom as opposed to referring to her as a mother, or do you mean that calling someone a mom gives her a childbearing role and women are more than just childbearers? Do you object to the word dad?
    Jennica    May 22, 1:44pm    #
  4. Dear Jennica,

    Sorry to have taken so long to reply.

    It’s good you have chosen a major and are looking forward to a specific kind of career. You may not end up doing what you hope or are planning, but it probably will be related.

    I’m an atheist and don’t think one needs a belief in the supernatural.

    I suppose it depends who uses a term and how it’s used. “Babe” can be demeaning. I don’t like how women are referred to as “moms.” It’s often used to suggest that role trumps all others and defines the woman wholly. It privileges motherhood. The word “dad” is not used in the same coy way.

    It’s Memorial Day weekend, Friday night. Jim has gone to bed, and as usual he and I look forward to a quiet weekend. I have my books for my friends besides him at home, and have come onto the Net for further company. I’m glad you have kept up our online friendship.

    Elinor    May 25, 10:27pm    #

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