During the early the very late 1950s and early 1960s, there was a spate of films, usually starring Doris Day, the personification of virginal, innocent beauty, opposite handsome leading men like Rock Hudson and Cary Grants. Such films as “Pillow Talk,” “Man’s Favorite Sport,” and “That Touch of Mink” all mixed romance and humor in what were dubbed “romantic comedies.” Both the novel and film adapted from it, Bridget Jones’s Diary, falls squarely into that category, but with a marked difference. By the 1990s, the innocence – to the extent it ever actually existed – associated with the romantic comedies of a bygone age had been replaced by films with the same basic theme, but illuminating the “edge” and “loss of innocence” more in keeping with the political turbulence that had occurred in the later 1960s and early 1970s. Popular culture increasingly reflected the more realistic and more profane influences of the post-Vietnam/post-Watergate milieu – influences fully felt in Helen Fielding’s 1996 novel of a thirty-something woman in London whose diary entries provide the basis for the story about her search for “Mr. Right.”
Bridget Jones’s Diary is a suitable successor to the romantic comedies of the early 1960s. Bridget, however, is no virgin. She is slightly “innocent” in the sense that she has a lot to learn about life, but this late 20th Century novel is entirely a reflection of the social mores prevalent in the age in which it was written. The optimism of the post-World War II years has been replaced with the cynicism of the post-Vietnam War years, and the humor and language represented in this novel reflect the social transformations.
In addition to daily ruminations in her diary regarding her unrequited love life, she regularly details her penchants for cigarettes and alcoholic beverages, which are imbibed in excess, the latter contributing to the perennial weight problems about which she also complains regularly. In addition, her relationship with Daniel Cleaver clearly eliminates the notion of virginity that played such a large role in the appeal of the aforementioned Doris Day in those earlier films. This is a romantic comedy for a new age. How else can one explain Daniel’s description of what most men presumably want in a woman:
“They want a bottom they can park a bike in and balance a pint of beer on.”
Similarly, one can hardly imagine the female leads of that earlier era offering observations like the following excerpt from Bridget’s diary:
“Being a woman is worse than being a farmer there is so much harvesting and crop spraying to be done: legs to be waxed, underarms shaved, eyebrows plucked, feet pumiced, skin exfoliated and moisturised, spots cleansed, roots dyed, eyelashes tinted, nails filed, cellulite massaged, stomach muscles exercised.”
Even Bridget’s mother exudes the kind of hardened approach to life that leaves little room for idealism, as in the diary entry in which Bridget quotes her mother’s comments regarding the need for Bridget to lower her standards:
“You girls are just so picky and romantic these days: you've simply got too much choice. I'm not saying I didn't love Dad but, you know, we were always taught, instead of waiting to be swept off our feet, to 'expect little, forgive much.' “
Bridget Jones’s Diary, however, is a romance. The evolving relationship between Bridget and Mark Darcy, the kinder, gentler soul, especially in relation to Daniel, reflects her enduring desire to find someone fundamentally decent and loving. As that relationship reaches its inevitable resolution, with the two acknowledging their true feelings for each other, Fielding describes the consummation of the relationship with the style and humor prevalent throughout her novel:
“Then he took the champagne glass out of my hand, kissed me, and said, 'Right, Bridget Jones, I'm going to give you pardon for,' picked me up in his arms, carried me off into the bedroom (which had a four-poster bed!) and did all manner of things which mean whenever I see a diamond-patterned V-neck sweater in future, I am going to spontaneously combust with shame.”
In Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding has reintroduced the reader to the concept of the romantic comedy, not that it ever actually went away.