Novels and Children: ‘Mum’s lit’ and the public mother/author
Roberta Garrett is a senior lecturer in the school of Arts and Digital Industries at the University of East London. She teaches literature and cultural studies and has written on women's films and contemporary writers and is currently working on a monograph on neo-liberalism and the domestic novel. She is author of Postmodern Chick-Flicks: The Return of the Woman's Film (Palgrave, 2007).
This article considers the representation of mothers in the contemporary popular British female-orientated novel cycle referred to as 'mum's lit through a combination of feminist sociological and psychoanalytic approaches. It argues that the form, which has evolved from the more general category of 'chick-lit', is strongly linked to a broader neo-liberal, neo-conservative view of gender roles and family life which is enhanced through the mum's lit author's pre-established role as a columnist and authority on family issues. Through a comparative, text-based analysis of five key examples of the form, this article demonstrates that while mum's lit novels are packaged and promoted to 'ordinary' mothers as an antidote to the prevailing culture of maternal perfectionism and criticism, the heroine/protagonist mother consistently evaluates and judges other mothers and presents them as rivals and competitors. In more general terms, it argues that mum's lit novels work to validate and normalise a highly selective, atomised, mother-led, middle-class conception of family life.