Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2464
Like her literary forebear Jane Austen, Fielding’s literary genius lies in the realm of the comedy of manners, and, like Austen, Fielding’s primary subject is the relationship between men and women. While Austen’s writing gave birth to the modern romance novel and Fielding’s to “chick lit,” it would be fair to say that neither writer is really an innovator in plot and structure but rather both shine in their representation of character: Austen, for heroes who pulse with carefully restrained emotions, and Fielding, for a protagonist who alternately wallows and exults in the same emotions Austen’s characters so carefully control. It is the modern woman’s ability to appreciate Fielding’s roller coaster of emotion that has made Bridget Jones so popular.
Unlike the readers of Austen, who may find themselves identifying with a variety of characters, Fielding’s readers are left with only one imaginatively satisfying option, Bridget herself, and in reading her diary, the reader temporarily takes on the limitations of Bridget’s own vision.
The first of these limitations is the business of the weight/alcohol-unit/calorie catalog at the beginning of each diary entry. Never merely scientific data, these statistics always tell a story themselves, offering hints of what has happened during the day and giving the reader the pleasure of guessing what that happening was. Rarely has fiction given readers such systematic information on the connection between a character’s mind and her body. Though there is a comprehensive summary of consumption at the end of the book, because the novel is written as a diary, and truly for an audience of one, there is no equally comprehensive physical detail regarding the people and places in Bridget’s world because she obviously already knows quite well what they look like. This lack of physical detail—aside from the persistent presence of consumer products, like Silk Cuts, Salon Selectives, and Milk Tray—is another significant limitation on the reader’s vision, and it serves to accentuate and make more palpable the range of emotions Bridget experiences. The decisive limitation, however, is Bridget herself, who, in addition to being generally ignorant of the affairs of the world around her (she does not know the geographical location of Germany or the basic details of the television stories she herself is covering), also spends the bulk of her time thinking and worrying about two topics: her circle of friends and the men that are romantically interested in her. Granting these limitations to be necessary to the form Fielding uses, readers must ask themselves a question: What is the significance of this diary of Bridget Jones?
Having already written a score of newspaper columns in the voice of Bridget and now being asked to make these columns into a novel, Fielding found herself asking this very question. How could she give meaning to the disparate experiences of Bridget’s life? She did so by using the plots from Austen’s novels, first Pride and Prejudice and then Persuasion. By choosing these two novels to serve as the basis for her own plots, Fielding was, in essence, deciding the fate of Bridget Jones’s life. Despite the fact that the novels celebrate Bridget’s off-the-wall single antics, the events and people in Bridget’s life reveal that her happiness comes through sharing love with one man, Mark Darcy. While Fielding, unlike Austen, does not insist on marriage as a symbol or sacrament of this love, she does, like Austen, give first place to the theme of romantic love.
Fielding has taken heavy criticism from writers who maintain that this vision of romance is falsely conceived and not true to the experience of the modern woman. In addition, some argue that this representation of romance—and of Bridget’s almost-permanent emotional angst regarding it—perpetuates the stereotype that single women are single because there is something wrong with them, not because they desire that way of life.
There are no easy answers to these and other related criticisms arising from Fielding’s reenvisioning of Austen, but it is helpful for the first-time reader of the Bridget Jones books to remember that, above all, Bridget Jones is a comic figure. Whatever the cultural effects of Bridget’s adventures, it is important to remember her original reason for being, as Fielding has said in interviews, was to make people laugh at her in order that they might then be able to laugh at themselves. If this principle of comedy is remembered, Fielding’s books, in addition to being enjoyable, may also give readers the added benefit of wisdom.
Bridget Jones’s Diary
First published: 1996
Type of work: Novel
Bridget falls for the wrong man but then learns to love the right one.
Bridget Jones’s diary starts the new year the way many diaries do—with a bundle of resolutions, which in order to be followed would necessitate either the joining of a religious community or the complete obliteration of the personality of the diarist in question. As neither of these are options for Bridget, she does one of the very things she vowed not to do in her resolutions: fall for a man who is completely commitment-phobic, her boss at the publishing house, Daniel Cleaver.
This romance, the main event of the first half of the novel (a novel that covers each month of the calendar year), is constantly framed by Bridget’s interactions with her friends. No action of Daniel is too small to be analyzed by Bridget’s loyal trio of pals: the explosively opinionated Shazzer, the delicate Jude, and appearance-obsessed Tom, a homosexual. At least once a week the four get together, and the meetings, in addition to being a forum for discussing Bridget’s problems, also involve Shazzer proclaiming stridently her vision of feminism; Jude complaining and worrying about her own commitment-phobic boyfriend, Vile Richard; and Tom alternately offering advice to all and wondering aloud about his own tenuous relationship with Pretentious Jerome. (The epithets “vile” and “pretentious” are Bridget’s own, and are, in the diary, inseparable from the actual names.)
The other significant characters in the novel are Bridget’s parents. From the outset, they are having problems. After more than thirty years of marriage, Bridget’s mother decides to separate from her husband and pursue a career as a television presenter. Although she denies it to Bridget, she also becomes romantically involved with a person of questionable character, a Portuguese man named Julio. Bridget’s father, crushed by these developments, becomes a shell of his former self, so Bridget finds herself besieged by embarrassingly personal phone calls from him and from her mother.
Meanwhile, Bridget and Daniel have been going together for a few months, and though there have been a few hitches in their relationship, Bridget finds she is very much in love with him. However, her earlier misgivings about Daniel are confirmed when he ducks out, at the last minute, from participating in a family costume party the two had been invited to attend. The “tarts and vicars” costume theme is abandoned by the host, but that message is never delivered to Bridget, so she is forced to endure catty jokes and horrid small talk while wearing a come-hither street-woman outfit, complete with a bunny tail on the back. Utterly embarrassed, she stops by Daniel’s apartment after the party for a comforting word, only to find that he has not been working as he claimed he would be but has in fact been with another woman. Furious, Bridget quits her job at the publishing house, and, with the help of her mother’s newfound connections, finds work as a reporter for a local television station.
It is at this point that Mark Darcy becomes a character of interest to Bridget. A childhood playmate of Bridget’s, the now divorced Mark is introduced to the reader at the beginning of the novel at a Christmas party with Bridget’s family; in fact, Bridget’s mother is trying to set the two of them up. Bridget’s first impression of Mark as a cold and harsh person is reinforced later in the novel at the costume party, when he openly criticizes Daniel to Bridget. Events in the second half of the novel, however, will make Bridget reexamine her initial feelings.
Bridget is assigned to cover a front-page human rights lawsuit, but she misses the interview time because she is making a run for cigarettes and believes she will certainly be fired. However, Mark Darcy, who is the acting attorney in the case, happens to be fetching cigarettes for his client at the same moment as Bridget, and in a gesture of generosity, he grants an exclusive interview between his client and Bridget. The avenues are now open for Mark and Bridget to begin a romance of their own, but not before Mark has done another good deed to seal his reputation in Bridget’s eyes.
When Bridget’s mother leaves the country with Julio and thousands of pounds scammed from her friends and family, it is Mark who follows Julio to Portugal to make sure Bridget’s mother is returned safely. After this is accomplished, he commandeers Julio’s capture in England at the annual Christmas party, and he rescues Bridget from another lonely holiday by whisking her away to an expensive hotel suite. There he confesses his love for Bridget, and the diaries conclude with the two together in bed.
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
First published: 1999
Type of work: Novel
Bridget and Mark Darcy overcome the by-now-familiar Fielding obstacles of self-help books, opinionated friends, and schemers to finally realize that they love each other.
The sequel picks up exactly one month and four days after the first novel, the amount of time that Bridget and Mark Darcy have been boyfriend and girlfriend. Bridget’s boyfriend bliss, however, is decisively short-lived. From the outset of the novel, people and situations seem to conspire to keep the lovers apart. Their evenings together are ceaselessly interrupted by phone calls from Bridget’s friends; a case of mistaken identity makes it seem that Mark is a sexual pervert; and, worst of all, another woman has taken it into her head to woo Bridget’s man.
This woman, Rebecca, who was introduced briefly in the first novel as an acquaintance (not much liked) of Bridget and her friends, is a major player in the sequel. Thin and rich and many other things that Bridget is not, Rebecca is known among Bridget’s friends as a “jellyfish”; she is always sneaking up on a person unawares with her conversational stings. After inviting Mark and Bridget to a party at her parents’ cottage, Rebecca arranges an evening of discord for the happy couple. Having informed her teenage nephew that Bridget and Mark are splitting up, she makes space for the boy and Bridget to be alone, and then she and Mark “accidentally” walk in on the boy trying to kiss Bridget. The result of this setup is the eventual split between Bridget and Mark, the reunion of which is complicated by the often contradictory advice Bridget receives from her library of self-help books and the counsel she solicits from her friends. Soon after the party, Bridget sees Mark with Rebecca one night in town. Though he offers to explain the situation, Bridget—encouraged by the support of Shazzer and Jude, who are in her apartment when he calls—will not listen to him. Shortly after this conversation, Mark and Rebecca begin dating.
Single once more, Bridget has the time to devote herself completely to preparing for a freelance assignment her friend Tom has helped her land: an interview, in Rome, with Colin Firth, the actor who plays Mr. Darcy in the British Broadcasting Corporation version of Pride and Prejudice (as well as Mark Darcy in the film version of Fielding’s novels). Although the interview is supposed to focus on Firth’s role in an upcoming film, Fever Pitch, Bridget cannot help herself from constantly referring back to the character of Mr. Darcy. As she is not able to write an account of the interview in time for the deadline, the newspaper prints the complete transcript of the interview, to Bridget’s embarrassment and to great comic effect.
As in the first novel, world travel proves to be an impetus for Mark and Bridget to realize their love for one another, although Bridget journeys much farther away than her mother did in the previous book. Having recently dumped her library of self-help books into the dustbin and filled with hopes of detachment from her romantic struggles, Bridget joins Shazzer on a vacation to Thailand. On the plane, Shazzer meets a handsome stranger named Jed who strikes up a romance with her. For a week the two are almost inseparable, and Jed finds a hut next door to Shazzer’s.
Unfortunately for Shazzer, Jed, like Julio in the previous novel, has ulterior motives for romance. The day before they are to leave Thailand, Bridget and Shazzer find that their island hut has been broken into and their plane tickets and most of their money is gone. Bridget goes to the hotel nearby for assistance and finds Jed. He gives her money for the train to the Bangkok airport and a bag to carry the few things that were not stolen from their hut. Shazzer and Bridget go to the airport, where Bridget is detained by the Thai authorities. The bag Jed has given them is lined with narcotics, and Bridget is told she may be facing up to ten years in a Thai prison.
Immediately after hearing what happened, Mark flies to Asia, tracks down Jed, and extracts a confession for theft and planting drugs. Despite Mark’s efforts, Bridget still has to spend a little more than a week in a Thai prison. Upon her return to England, she receives a terrible scare: the “gift” in the mail of a live bullet inside a pen. While the police investigate who might be trying to kill her, Bridget keeps a low profile, staying first at Shazzer’s house and then, when he has been ruled out as a suspect, at Mark’s. Once there, both Mark and Bridget reveal their feelings for each other and begin sleeping together again. Shortly after this, the police discover the originator of the bullet-pen, a builder at Bridget’s apartment who has a record for stealing from the homes on which he works.
The novel concludes with the wedding of Jude and Vile Richard, during which Bridget overhears a conversation between Rebecca and Mark confirming that Mark indeed does not have any romantic feelings for Rebecca, but in fact loves and needs Bridget.
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