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Book Review: Chick Lit and Postfeminism by Stephanie Harzewski

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A woman is asked out as much for her clothes as for herself. Such a claim could be made about the typical contemporary chick-lit protagonist, but the words are actually those of an Edith Wharton character. In Chick Lit and Postfeminism, Stephanie Harzewski traces the source and the course of Chick Lit in a lucid and enlightening appraisal, invoking works such as Wharton’s.

Once dismissed as froth, Chick Lit is now the basis of college courses and critical examination, part of which has to do with locating the phenomenon in the women’s movement. Chick Lit’s entertainment ethos and its focus on commodity culture–the high heels of today versus the Birkenstocks of the past–invite consideration. In Margaret Quamme’s words: prefeminism concerns the kitchen, feminism the protest march, and postfeminism is about the psychiatrist’s office. Harzewski explores the notion that the high-minded political seriousness of the feminist movement has given way to “cuteness and a desperate affirmation of desirability,” with modern-day heroines experiencing desire and self-esteem only through consumer goods such as jewelry and handbags.

Harzewski draws from an extensive collection of novels, citing Bridget Jones’s Diary as a foundational text, and is careful to separate the subgenre from its presumed predecessors, as well as point out certain parallels. Chick Lit is not “romance” in the traditional sense–there is no unambiguous “happily-ever-after”–nor can it be classified as a courtship novel, such as those of Jane Austen. (In fact, a Jane Austen character who is overly concerned with her appearance tends to be satirized as superficial.)

Such comparisons, along with sound scholarship and compelling critique, make Chick Lit and Postfeminism a valuable addition to the field of literary theory in general and women’s studies in particular. Stephanie Harzewski makes a persuasive case for taking Chick Lit seriously.

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About Jeanne Farewell

Jeanne Farewell is the author of the short story collection Nantucket Snow, and two novels, Old Rye and In the Lighthouse. Her stories, essays, and book reviews have been published in a variety of literary magazines and on the web. She is also a pianist who has performed in the US, Europe, UK, and China.