19th Century Chick Lit

Fanny Fern, from the essay, “A Whisper to Romantic Young Ladies”

“Men and moonshine in my dictionary are synonymous.”

While The Scarlet Letter sold less than 10,000 copies in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s lifetime, Maria Susanna Cummins’ The Lamplighter (published in 1854) sold 40,000 copies in its first month, and 60,000 more in less than a year.


Why 150-Year-Old Chick Lit

I love to read modern chick lit. Sure, some of it’s good and some of it’s rubbish, but no matter: I crave stories about sassy women taking control of their lives. So why do I feel the need to look back 150 years to a time when we gals couldn’t even vote? Because writing from within a system that tried to deny them power spurred women to produce some rockin’ books about independent, hell-raising, and clever women who still have something to say to the modern reader. It’s chick lit gone retro, and looking back has never felt so liberating

In many ways, the politically tumultuous mid-19 th century was the perfect storm for chick lit. For the first time in American history, women began earning substantial sums of money for their writing—and they were demanding their voices be heard on everything from voting rights to slavery. Sure, the white dudes were writing “the classics” (read: “snoozers”), but all the bestsellers of the century were written by—and about—women. These books—which critics like to call “domestic fiction”—told the stories of young women negotiating the world, figuring out how to best empower themselves and learning how to keep their wits about them when everyone around them appeared to be nuts.