Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bachelor Girl Lit 101 (written during my "pop" period)

There’s no urine test to prove it, but I AM addicted to an outmoded literary genre. In an age when the press reports an alleged man shortage and pop sociologists document post-30-aged women’s diminishing chances of marrying, I’m urging the revival of what I personally call ‘60s Bachelor Girl Lit (a predecessor of Chick Lit).

In these mostly British novels, all of which were published during the ‘60s, the unmarried heroines get a lot of fun out of life. (Remember fun?) Adventurous, sexy, and refreshingly light-hearted, they generally settle in cities, run with arty crowds even when suck in humdrum jobs, and like men without necessarily wanting to get married.

Why the ‘60s, you may ask. Well, quite simply: hard-working women of the latter-day ‘80s crave entertainment. After a long day’s slaving in the harsh, cruel world, light reading in the bathtub is the ultimate luxury. And the buoyant antics of ‘60s bachelor girls are infinitely more amusing than the alienation of housewives and mistresses described in ‘70s fiction, or the terminally cute befuddlement of post-feminist heroines of the ‘80s (can they get any quirkier?)

A recent rereading of Bachelor Girl Lit evoked fond memories: the exhilarating struggle for self-determination; the solitary highs and lows of single life; the single outsider’s keen perceptions of the compromises and drawbacks of married life.

Most important, however, these wry, funny novels buoy the spirits of single and married women alike.

1. THE EDIBLE WOMAN by Margaret Atwood. Nice girl Marian is engaged to an equally nice young lawyer; her mini-skirted roommate, Ainsley, leads a wild life. When unexpected events trigger Marian’s rebellion, all hell breaks loose. An extremely funny book.

2. CASSANDRA AT THE WEDDING by Dorothy Baker. Awarded a Houghton Mifflin Literary fellowship for her first novel, YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN, Baker wrote CASSANDRA AT THE WEDDING in 1962. The narrator, Cassandra, disturbed by her twin sister’s engagement, wreaks havoc before coming to terms with “the things that get in your way; the indignities you have to suffer before you’re free to do one simple, personal, necessary thing--like work.”

3. THE L-SHAPED ROOM by Lynne Reid Banks. Pragmatic Jane Graham is respected at her public relations job. A slip-up--an unplanned pregnancy--forces her to examine her life. In a bug-infested L-shaped room, she befriends some unconventional Londoners and makes peace with her disapproving father. (Two sequels published in the ‘70s, THE BACKWARD SHADOW and TWO IS LONELY, relate Jane’s further adventures.)

4. THE GREAT OCCASION (in THREE NOVELS) by Isabel Colegate. Attractive Angel listlessly attends a succession of wild parties while secretly pining for a charming homosexual friend; Charlotte falls in love with an artist sight-unseen on the basis of his paintings; and Selina, on whom our hopes are pinned after the others grow disillusioned, remarks, “I think it’s better to be in love with someone you don’t know...Then they themselves don’t play any part of it, loving or not loving you.”

5. THE MILLSTONE by Margaret Drabble. Brainy Rosamund theoretically approves of the sexual revolution, but hasn’t yet experienced it personally. When she takes a break from her research to lose her virginity, she has the bad luck to get pregnant.

6. A JEST OF GOD by Margaret Laurence. Time is slipping by for 34-year-old Rachel, whose invalid mother dominates her. During a brief, not always happy, love affair, she discovers the importance of taking risks.

7. THE COUNTRY GIRLS TRILOGY AND EPILOGUE by Edna O’Brien. The first two novels in this recently reissued trilogy constitute a lyrical coming-of-age story. Caithleen and Baba, two bickering, mischievous friends, contrive their own expulsion from a convent school and move to Dublin to pursue fun and love. Obrien occasionally overwrites the wispy, romantic parts, but it’s all undoutedly true to women’s literary heritage.

There should be ten here, but I’m missing a page.


Ellen said...

Really interesting, Kathy. It reminds me of some of the categories in Deborah Philips's book and she describes a couple of these books. I doubt the book called _Chick-Lit_ has _Bachelor Girl Lit 101_.

I hope you don't mind if I tell the people on WW about this blog.


StuckInABook said...

This is the same edition of The L-Shaped Room that I have - one of my favourite novels. Must re-read the sequels...

Frisbee said...

I loved The L-Shaped Room and hear there's a movie, too. The sequels are very good.