Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 773
Journalist and novelist Helen Fielding, the second of four children born to a mill manager and a homemaker in West Yorkshire, England, received her degree in journalism in 1979 from St. Anne’s College at Oxford University. After graduating, Fielding worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) for ten years, leading to her investigative concentration on famine relief work throughout the world. In the early 1990’s, Fielding spent time in Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Sudan, producing documentaries for the charity Comic Relief.
Her experience forms the basis of Cause Celeb, a novel based on the life-threatening issues facing African refugees from the distanced perspective of privileged, famous people searching for a pet cause. The novel is told from the humorous point of view of Rosie Richardson, a twenty-something publicist disillusioned with London’s social scene. Fielding’s journalistic background allows her to relate the facts of the political and cultural plight of Africa while implying a satiric undertone in the novel; the result is a sometimes disturbing, darkly comic indictment of celebrity aid relief.
During her work with the BBC and Comic Relief, Fielding submitted a manuscript for a romance novel to publisher Mills and Boon, which promptly rejected the piece. She attempted a script for a television situation comedy based on the life of a single woman in the London publicity circuit, but she abandoned the project. Her focus shifted to writing a novel about the social conditions of the Caribbean region, supporting herself financially in the meantime by publishing freelance work. Fielding’s feature articles and food reviews in British newspapers eventually led to a weekly column for The Independent in 1995, a series of self-contained diary entries under the nom de plume of Bridget Jones, a single woman presumably in her twenties or thirties. The column quickly grew in popularity, evidenced by fan mail and even marriage proposals, and Fielding stopped signing the series pseudonymously. The column would move to the more widely circulating Telegraph in 1997.
Upon the coaxing of her editor, Fielding developed the serial installments of Bridget Jones’s musings into a novel. The result was Bridget Jones’s Diary, published in 1996, which Fielding admits is a conscious revision of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813). Like Austen’s novel, Bridget Jones’s Diary contains a frustratingly likable heroine with self-deprecating humor, a Darcy character who guides the marriage plot, and a satiric tone targeted at society’s restrictive codes. Moving the plot into a contemporary framework, Fielding taps into many cultural aspects of Bridget’s age group, including dependence on self-help books for relationship advice, reliance on electronic communication, preoccupation with body image, and the quest for the unattainable ideal job. Fielding sprinkles Bridget Jones’s language with neologisms such as “singleton,” meaning an unmarried person, and “smug marrieds,” categorizing married people with an attitude of arrogance. Fielding also depends on the form of the diary, turning the character’s private thoughts into a public forum. To authenticate the diary format, Fielding omits personal pronouns and incorporates abbreviations like “v. good” when Bridget evaluates her obsessive calculations of drinks, cigarettes, and calories consumed. Even though Bridget’s behavior borders on the neurotic, Fielding maintains Bridget’s irresistible charm through the character’s relentlessly optimistic perspective while creatively failing and documenting her quixotic attempts in her journal.
Fielding cowrote the screenplay of Bridget Jones’s Diary for the film released by Universal Pictures/Miramax in 2001. She continued the Bridget Jones series with Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, which examines the effects of her main character’s achieved goals from Bridget Jones’s Diary: having a somewhat steady relationship with a man, maintaining her friendships, and juggling a career, all the while creating new vocabulary such as “mentionitis,” a malady affecting partnered singletons who drop their significant other’s name into random conversation. Bridget Jones’s Guide to Life continues Fielding’s witty approach to life’s daily crises by spoofing the self-help genre. In this installment of the Bridget Jones series, the character offers quirky truisms on topics ranging from personal appearance to social issues.
Fielding’s comfortable prose and her convincing portrayal of the common issues facing women and men in their twenties and thirties have caused many readers to assume that the character of Bridget Jones is autobiographical. While Fielding draws inspiration from her college diaries and bases some of her characters on people she knows, she insists—and many readers worldwide concur—that Bridget Jones is an Everywoman, offering a representative voice of single women who maintain a positive attitude despite society’s difficult, often contradictory standards of feminine identity. Fielding lives in Los Angeles and London.
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