Today we welcome Kate Rothwell as a guest to Heroes and Heartbreakers. Kate writes under her own name, as well as the pseudonym Summer Devon. Kate’s latest release, Thank You, Mrs. M, was partly inspired by Jean Webster’s Daddy Long Legs, available for free in e-book from certain vendors. Kate’s here to talk about Webster’s work as well as YA and chick-lit tropes. Thanks, Kate!
Here’s a handy checklist of Young Adult (YA) and Chick-Lit (CL) tropes:
Story told in first person by unmarried young person (female in CL)
Protagonist ventures out alone into new world
Protagonist gives herself her own identity or life plan, rejecting the one bestowed upon her by her past.
A love interest conflicts with plans for future.
A love interest comes from the most unexpected places.
More than one book—so a series (esp YA).
A light, fun writing voice (CL).
Some cute description or even pictures of fashion (CL).
By the end, the main character reaches new understanding of herself and her world (interpreted as reaching maturity in YA or personal fulfillment in CL).
Fun nicknames for attractive men (CL).
Embarrassing yet funny episodes involving men (esp CL).
Frequent use of ALL CAPS, exclamation marks and/or italics for emphasis (CL)
Let’s agree to the supposition that if a book fit all those categories it shall be labeled Chick Lit or YA. And with that in mind, we’re talking about a modern book, right?
Not so fast, bucko. I’m thinking of a series that fits all of the above and more. The books I mean are Daddy Long Legs, written by Jean Webster in 1912, and Dear Enemy, its sequel, written in 1915.
I don’t think Webster was the very first chick lit writer; Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott doesn’t have the light, fun voice, but it does get checkmarks in some other boxes. Her most famous book, Little Women, has some qualities for both categories. No need to explain that one because we’ve all read it—including Webster, who mentions the story in Daddy Long Legs.
Other writers from Webster’s era, like Lucy Maud Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables), could be called YA, but I think Webster’s voice is even fresher. She’s got that chatty, informal style down.
Here’s an example pulled at random from Dear Enemy:
You tell Jervis that I am not hasty at forming judgments. I have a sweet, sunny, unsuspicious nature, and I like everybody, almost. But no one could like that Scotch doctor. He NEVER smiles.
He paid me another visit this afternoon. I invited him to accommodate himself in one of Mrs. Lippett’s electric-blue chairs, and then sat down opposite to enjoy the harmony. He was dressed in a mustard-colored homespun, with a dash of green and a glint of yellow in the weave, a “heather mixture” calculated to add life to a dull Scotch moor. Purple socks and a red tie, with an amethyst pin, completed the picture. Clearly, your paragon of a doctor is not going to be of much assistance in pulling up the esthetic tone of this establishment.
Dear Enemy, Webster’s second book, fits the chick-lit bill almost perfectly. For one thing, the story contains a great deal more moaning about her job, and her obnoxious coworkers. And there are plenty of blissful descriptions of fashion.
Even better, she strives to have it all: Mr. Perfect and her marvelous career. She won’t leave her dreams behind. Webster’s politics and attitudes about women are extremely modern.
If you haven’t met up with these books, go, now. Get off the internet and read. You can find both stories available for free on Gutenberg, but if possible, give those versions a miss; Webster drew great little pictures to illustrate her stories and they didn’t make it into the online versions.
Kate Rothwell wrote a book that was loosely inspired by Daddy Long Legs called Thank You, Mrs. M.