The Chick-Lit Books That Won’t Destroy The Feminist Inside You

We all know Carrie Bradshaw’s origin story. She was born out of Candace Bushnell’s “Sex and the City” column in The New York Observer. The column launched in 1994 with a piece entitled “Swingin’ Sex? I Don’t Think So…
Across the pond one year later, readers of England’s The Independent became captivated by its female columnist, only this one started out as fictional from the very beginning. Helen Fielding notes that she created Bridget Jones as part of an attempt to “write an anonymous column...using an exaggerated, comic, fictional character.” She “assumed no one would read it, and it would be dropped after six weeks for being too silly.”
Now, Fielding looks back on her columns with confidence. They became best-selling books all over the world, and those books were adapted into beloved movies. The first two films grossed over $545 million at the box office, and excitement over the trailer for the third installment in Bridget’s saga, Bridget Jones’ Baby, reached a fever pitch when it was released last week.
Bridget Jones’ Diary offers a stark and honest portrayal of a woman’s internal monologue, which includes insecurities about her appearance, career, and romantic life. She’s quick to dismiss when Mark Darcy constantly pops up in her life, thinking he’s only there to mock her repeated foibles. Since the book is based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a tale in which the strong-willed, ahead-of-her-time Elizabeth Bennet is allowed to choose her own husband (yes, she must be granted this privilege by her father, but it represents one small step/giant leap for womankind in the 1800s), one would think Bridget Jones’ Diary would be hailed as a triumph of ‘90s feminism.
That isn’t entirely the case. Many critics of BJD were quick to point out that Bridget is often depicted as a damsel in distress, waiting for her “knight on a white charger” to come in and rescue her. Plus, a woman’s quest to find a man is at the core of both Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones’ Diary.
There’s been a feminist debate about chick lit pretty much since the name for the genre was first coined by Cris Mazza in 1995. “Chick lit is an uneasy term that has been criticized for its derogatory, condescending overtones, while the convention for its apparent perpetuation of stereotypical notions of neurotic, insecure, shopping-obsessed, and husband-hunting feminine identity. While to the readers, they appear to be packed with acute critical observations and convincing portrayals of their own experience, chick-lit fictions have often been accused by feminist critics of breeding backlash rhetoric, disguised in stories about successful women and postfeminist grads par excellence,” Katarzyna Smyczyńska writes in 2007's The World According to Bridget Jones.
Can feminist ideals exist within a chick-lit framework? I posit this as someone who likes both of those things. I’ve read a lot of novels geared towards women that follow in the literary tradition of Bridget Jones, and yes, I have found that female characters with power, agency, and a refusal to be defined by a quest for a partner do exist.
These are their stories. (Oh, and warning: spoilers ahead.)

More from Books & Art

R29 Original Series