Helen Fielding 1958-
English novelist, screenwriter, and essayist.
The following entry presents an overview of Fielding's career through 2000.
Fielding is best known as the creator of the popular character Bridget Jones, an English woman in her mid-thirties whose adventures in single life have spawned legions of admirers. In the novel Bridget Jones's Diary (1996) and its sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2000), Bridget is depicted as a chain-smoking, wine-drinking Londoner who obsesses over her appearance, her career, and most of all, her love life. The novels are structured around Bridget's diary entries, each of which is prefaced by a list of Bridget's most recently consumed calories, cigarettes smoked, wine imbibed, and phone calls logged to ex-boyfriends. These details work to create a vivid portrait of a “singleton,” Bridget's preferred term for an unmarried adult. Both novels met with popular and critical acclaim in the United Kingdom and abroad. Many critics contend that Fielding's success derives from her readers’ ability to identify with Bridget's tumultuous but also humorous quest for physical and emotional stability.
Fielding was born in 1958 and raised in Yorkshire, England. Her father was a mill manager and her mother was a homemaker. Fielding attended a private girls’ school for several years before matriculating to Oxford University, where she graduated in 1979. She worked in communications as a producer for the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) before becoming a freelance writer. Fielding's first novel, Cause Celeb (1994), was an examination of the complexities of African famine relief, based on her experiences producing the Comic Relief charity telethon for the BBC. The following year, the London Independent offered Fielding the opportunity to write a weekly column from the perspective of a fictional character. Fielding agreed and began writing under the name “Bridget Jones,” a single professional woman in her early thirties. Bridget's romantic exploits became incredibly popular with Londoners and, in 1996, Fielding turned the columns into a novel, Bridget Jones's Diary. The novel was an immediate success and, four years later, Fielding released a sequel titled Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.
In 1997, Fielding collaborated with Simon Bell and Richard Curtis on the 1987 volume Who's Had Who: In Association with Berk's Rogerage: An Historical Rogister Containing Official Lay Lines of History from the Beginning of Time to the Present Day. A spoof on the famous volume Who's Who, which outlines the ancestry of Great Britain's nobility, the “rogerage” and “rogister” of the subtitles play on the British slang verb “to roger,” which means to have sex. Fielding's next work, Cause Celeb, focuses on Rosie Richardson, a woman who flees to Africa to escape a bungled love affair with Oliver Marchant, a BBC anchorman, and winds up managing an international food charity involved in the famine relief effort. When the charity chooses to ignore the rumored possibility of a locust plague, Rosie and her new doctor boyfriend return to England to enlist the aid of various celebrities, including Marchant, to publicize the coming disaster. Although Cause Celeb was republished later to capitalize on the popularity of Fielding's Bridget Jones books, it was met with limited interest. Bridget Jones's Diary, Fielding's most recognized work, is loosely based on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Fielding has referred to the character of Bridget Jones as “an imaginary amalgam of insecurities.” The diary offers a daily chronicle of Bridget's life, which centers around her friends, her parents, and her regular battles with food, nicotine, wine, and men. Bridget is desperate to find the right man, although she resists her mother's efforts to match her up with the milquetoast lawyer, Mark Darcy (named after Austen's romantic hero in Pride and Prejudice). However, after Darcy saves her parents from financial disaster, Bridget realizes that he may be the man she's looking for. For the sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Fielding again found inspiration in the works of Jane Austen, this time basing the novel's plot on Austen's Persuasion. In The Edge of Reason, Bridget is now working as a reporter for a current-affairs television show, while living happily with Darcy. Bridget's anxieties about their relationship threaten to break the pair apart and cause Bridget to become addicted to self-help books. After a series of misunderstandings during one of her reporting assignments, Bridget becomes imprisoned in Thailand on drug charges and Darcy rushes to save her. Ultimately, Bridget triumphs, regains her freedom, and finds her way home to her native London. In 2001, a movie adaptation of Bridget Jones's Diary was released, starring Renée Zellweger as Bridget and Colin Firth as Mark Darcy.
Although not widely reviewed during its first publication, Cause Celeb was considered an admirable debut novel by several critics. Fielding received praise for its biting commentary on shallow media celebrities, but some reviewers found the juxtaposition of serious and satiric elements to be confusing and lacking in consistency. After the release of Bridget Jones's Diary, Fielding experienced enormous commercial and critical success. The novel was acclaimed not only for its strong comedic voice, but also for its portrayal of a lead female character who speaks openly about her emotions in realistic, frank language. Critics compared the book favorably to other works in the English comedic-diary genre, including George and Weedon Grossmith's The Diary of a Nobody and Sue Townsend's The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4. A vocal minority of reviewers, however, found the novel to be “superficial,” claiming that Bridget Jones was simply a vulgar caricature of a helpless, man-obsessed single woman. Many of these same complaints were brought against Fielding's sequel, The Edge of Reason, which received a much cooler critical reception than its predecessor. A growing number of reviewers objected to Bridget's lack of seriousness in the novel, criticizing her perpetual reliance on Darcy to “save” her. Despite these critical objections, Bridget Jones remains a popular feminist icon in Great Britain and The Edge of Reason has become an international best-seller.