Was the great tradition in fiction of Splendid Spinsters pushed into obscurity by the arrival of Bridget Jones?
This is India Knight’s opening premise in her enjoyable piece in the Guardian Saturday 25 October It’s the fear, she says, actually the all-out terror, of spinsterhood that drives the chick lit fiction ushered in by Bridget Jones. Our troubles as women can only be assuaged and our lives fulfilled if we find ourselves a man.
It doesn’t stop there. Even when a partner is acquired, before long there’s the relentless work of holding onto him, and so this is the stuff of the sequels. Because, as India Knight puts it, the still single women are busy scanning rooms, wondering whose husband to nick. She calls it a woeful scenario and a depressing way of looking at love.
It’s at this point that India Knight admits that her first proper literary crushes were on Barbara Pym heroines, those excellent women who don’t moan about their lot but live fully with all the pleasures and disappointments, big and small, that come their way.
Our appetite for the arrested development of chick lit has apparently faded. Now writers are serving up complex and steely heroines, sometimes dipped into dark and violent ink. The strong spinster in all but name is back and most readers can’t get enough of her. But India Knight confesses that she still likes the quiet old-fashioned type of spinster too, and hurtles back at intervals during the year to soak up the richness of Pym’s creations.