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Chick Lit and Its Canonical Forefathers: Anxieties About Female Subjectivity in Contemporary Women's Fiction

This dissertation examines the anxieties that the contemporary genre of women’s fiction known as "chick lit" expresses about female sexuality, women and work, and the relationship between female identity and the global consumer marketplace. Furthermore, this project argues that chick lit can be productively traced to male-authored canonical texts that establish tropes and themes that chick lit novelists still grapple with at the turn of the twenty-first century. Chick lit heroines have benefitted from feminist progress, but they frequently participate in a backlash against the advances that empower them to pursue sexual pleasure outside marriage, find fulfilling careers, and challenge constructions of identity. Chapter 1 examines scholarship on constructions of gender and sexuality, affect theory, and Marxist theories. It also explores historical context through critiques of popular women writers. Chapter 2 argues that Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (1740) establishes the first-person confessional narrative voice and a sexualized secondary female character who is punished for her non-normative sexuality. Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary (1996) and Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada (2003) demonstrate that female sexuality must still be negotiated and contained in postfeminist culture. Chapter 3 explores how work contributes to female agency in literature. Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie (1900) depicts a heroine who successfully manages her gender, race, and class performances in order to thrive in an urban space, while Kate Reddy, from Allison Pearson’s I Don’t Know How She Does It (2002), must pass as a non-mother in order to participate in the affective economies that prevail in the gendered workplace. Chapter 4 analyzes the role of consumer culture in female subject formation in a capitalist material culture. In Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958) and Blake Edwards’s film version (1961), heroine Holly Golightly’s proximity to the luxury retailer legitimates her identity. But in Sophie Kinsella’s Confessions of a Shopaholic (2000), heroine Becky Bloomwood struggles against a shopping addiction and strives to define herself outside of the discourse of consumerism. Overall, this dissertation provides an important contribution to the conversation on women’s writing and contemporary identity formation because it addresses literary criticism, contemporary culture, and constructions of female subjectivity.
Date January 2012
CreatorsGronewold, Laura
ContributorsScruggs, Charles, Dryden, Edgar, Jenkins, Jennifer, Scruggs, Charles
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
Source SetsUniversity of Arizona
Detected LanguageEnglish
Typetext, Electronic Dissertation
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.

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