Core Themes & Questions

Definitions, Classification, and Genre

Why do we place books and movies into categories? What are the limitations of these categories?

Canon Formation and Value

How and why do we assign value to texts? Who decides what texts are valuable and which are unimportant?

Popular Fiction vs. ‘Classic’ Literature

Is the distinction between popular fiction and classic literature absolute? Why might popular literature be worthy of analysis?

Chick Lit and Feminism

What is the relationship between “Chick Lit” and feminism? Why do some critics believe that Chick Lit is valuable while others view it as detrimental to feminism?

Defining Chick Lit

Where did the term originate? How is this term defined by different writers and critics? Is its connotation always negative or can it be reclaimed as a positive term to describe writing by women for women?

Gender and Reading

What types of books do women tend to read and why? What do men typically read? Are these tendencies “natural” or are they manufactured by society or by programs of marketing?

The Material Text

How does the physical format of a text shape its reception? Does the cover of the book act as an advertisement? Do the images or words on the cover and title pages prime the reader, shaping his or her expectations about the content of the work?

Women’s Education

How and why might a woman’s education differ from a man’s education? What is the difference between a formal education and an informal education? What are the different components of a well-rounded education?

The Marriage Plot

How and why does courtship and marriage drive the plot of Pride and Prejudice? To what degree are later novels like Bridget Jones’s Diary also driven by courtship and dating and to what extent is the plot of BJD shaped by other social pressures?

Gender and Humor

How is humor inflected by gender, race, class? How does humor work? What is the relationship between humor and feminism? How do Austen and Fielding use humor differently in P&P and BJD?

Public and Private Reading

Is reading a personal, private act or an inherently social activity?