Bridget Jones’s Diary

Bridget Jones begins the year—and begins her diary—with a set of resolutions dedicated to reducing her alcohol and tobacco intake, reducing her weight, and developing inner poise and a “functional relationship with responsible adult.” This last resolution—as well as all the others, in fact—translates into finding a man. Her anxious search for a mate has prompted many critics to label BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY a post-feminist work, but in fact it is pre-feminist, in that it resembles nothing so much as early nineteenth century novels—in particular, Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1813).

Like Elizabeth Bennet, Bridget is at first put off by her hero’s externals—in this case, Mark Darcy’s diamond patterned sweater and bumblebee socks. In Austen’s novel, the foolish heroine must first work her way through her prejudices about Darcy, as well as another unsuitable suitor, before finding true love. Fielding’s Bridget Jones follows much the same course.

Bridget, however, is clearly a product of the information age. On the lighter side, this means that she is a booster for the television game show BLIND DATE and takes as role models older, but still glamorous, women like the film star Susan Sarandon and publishing luminary Tina Brown. This kind of juxtaposition— Bridget’s confessions of her attraction to society’s glittering surface, followed by her darker commentary on its superficiality— is what makes Helen Fielding’s novel at once so amusing and so telling. Bridget may appraise herself and her foibles in comic terms, but she knows the score: “my reward, I know, will be to end up all alone, half-eaten by an Alsatian.” Like Elizabeth Bennet, she has reason to be concerned about her marriageability.

Despite its literary pedigree, BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY has managed to stir up considerable controversy among readers who have chosen to interpret it solely as social commentary. Yet Bridget clearly is a literary heroine for our time.

Sources for Further Study

Business Week. July 13, 1998, p. 27.

Library Journal. CXXIII, May 15, 1998, p. 114.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. September 27, 1998, p. 10.

Ms. IX, July, 1998, p. 91.

The New Republic. CCXIX, September 7, 1998, p. 36.

The New York Times Book Review. CIII, May 31, 1998, p. 31.

The New Yorker. LXXIV, August 3, 1998, p. 70.

Newsweek. CXXXI, May 4, 1998, p. 82.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, April 20, 1998, p. 42.

The Washington Post Book World. XXVIII, July 5, 1998, p. 4.

Bridget Jones’s Diary

Bridget Jones begins the year—and her diary—with a set of resolutions dedicated to reducing her alcohol and tobacco intake, reducing her weight, and developing inner poise and a “functional relationship with responsible adult.” This last resolution—as well as all the others, in fact—translates into finding a man. Bridget, now in her thirties, is alternately envious and contemptuous of those she refers to as the “Smug Marrieds,” but she is obsessed by a question frequently put to her by her mother and her mother’s friends: Why, at her age, is Bridget still single? Her anxious search for a mate has prompted many critics to label Bridget Jones’s Diary a postfeminist work, but in fact it is prefeminist, in that it resembles nothing so much as early nineteenth century novels—in particular Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813).

Like Elizabeth Bennet, the heroine of Austen’s novel, Bridget is plagued by a vulgar mother from whose clutches she is ultimately saved by a man named Darcy—who also, again as in Austen, saves her family from ruin by rescuing one of its members from the clutches of a bounder. Like Austen’s heroine, Bridget is at first put off by her hero’s externals—in this case, Mark Darcy’s diamond patterned sweater and bumblebee socks. In Austen’s novel, the foolish heroine must first work her way through her prejudices about Darcy and another unsuitable suitor before finding true love. Fielding’s Bridget Jones follows much the same course. (Lest we miss the similarities, Fielding has Bridget confess, after watching a television production of Pride and Prejudice, that Austen’s Darcy and Elizabeth “are my chosen representatives in the field of shagging, or, rather, courtship.”)

Another of Bridget’s New Year’s resolutions is to stop obsessing about her boss, Daniel Cleaver. Like her other resolutions, this one immediately falls victim to her insecurities. After putting up token resistance to what her feminist friend Sharon calls “fuckwittage”—that is, the inability of most men to commit themselves to a relationship—Bridget tumbles happily into bed with Daniel. Her happiness, like her occasional weight losses, lasts but a short while. Daniel does indeed engage in emotional manipulation, and when Bridget eventually discovers that he is involved with another woman—one he intends to marry—our heroine is doubly humiliated by the woman’s appraisal of her: “Honey. . . . I thought you said she was thin.” Only then does Bridget begin to lend credence to Mark Darcy’s dire warnings about his rival’s character.

Bridget is clearly a product of the information age. On the lighter side this means that she is a booster for the television game show Blind Date and takes as role models older—but still glamorous—women such as the film star Susan Sarandon and publishing luminary Tina Brown. One of her most cherished goals is to be able to emulate the late wife of the late critic Kenneth Tynan. Kathleen Tynan, according to a magazine article, had “inner poise,” a quality she manifested by writing “immaculately dressed, sitting at a small table in the center of the room sipping a glass of chilled white wine.” Bridget contrasts this impossibly composed image with her own inability to write a press release, as she lies “fully dressed and terrified under the duvet, chain-smoking, glugging cold sake out of a beaker and putting on makeup as a hysterical displacement activity.” This kind of juxtaposition—Bridget’s confessions of her attraction to society’s glittering surface, followed by her darker commentary on its superficiality—is what makes Fielding’s novel at once so amusing and so telling. Bridget may appraise herself and her foibles in comic terms, but she knows the score: “my reward, I know, will be to end up all alone, half-eaten by an Alsatian.” Like Elizabeth Bennet, she has reason to be concerned about her marriageability.

In considering the alternative, Bridget need only look at her own mad mother. The loud, audacious Pam Jones, now a presenter for a vulgar television show called “Suddenly Single,” has recently ditched Bridget’s long-suffering father for a younger man, a Eurotrash swindler named Julio. Clothed in bright- hued polyester separates and spouting 1960’s feminist slogans, Pam is a ghastly—if amusing—anachronism, one minute declaring her need for independence and the next breathlessly inquiring of a “Suddenly Single” interview subject, “Have you had suicidal thoughts?” But...

(The entire section is 1876 words.)

Bibliography

Sources for Further Study

Business Week. July 13, 1998, p. 27.

Library Journal. CXXIII, May 15, 1998, p. 114.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. September 27, 1998, p. 10.

Ms. IX, July, 1998, p. 91.

The New Republic. CCXIX, September 7, 1998, p. 36.

The New York Times Book Review. CIII, May 31, 1998, p. 31.

The New Yorker. LXXIV, August 3, 1998, p. 70.

Newsweek. CXXXI, May 4, 1998, p. 82.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, April 20, 1998, p. 42.

The Washington Post Book World. XXVIII, July 5, 1998, p. 4.