Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 984
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.
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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. [with Simon Bell and Richard Curtis] (literary satire) 1987
Cause Celeb (novel) 1994
Bridget Jones's Diary (novel) 1996
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (novel) 2000
Bridget Jones's Diary [with Richard Curtis and Andrew Davies] (screenplay) 2001
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SOURCE: “Famine in Fashion,” in Times Literary Supplement, No. 4768, August 19, 1994, p. 20.
[In the following review, Walker assesses Fielding's Cause Celeb.]
Helen Fielding is a London-based freelance journalist, who has also produced documentaries for Comic Relief in the Sudan, Ethiopia and Mozambique. In Cause Celeb, her first novel, she has made use of these two sharply different experiences (the dust-jacket emphasizes this in its contrasting photographs of Ethiopian refugees and metropolitan neon signs), with a storyline that runs roughly as follows: jolly, decent, good-looking London girl saves starving refugees in less than a month. The juxtaposition of poverty in Africa with the fat-cat affluence of London's media celebrities is not a subtle narrative device, and Fielding rams the contrast home. The celebs are ruthlessly lampooned (though the jokes are perhaps more amusing to the insiders for whose benefit they are made) while the Africans, especially Muhammad, the refugee poet and sage, are as one-dimensional as the rest of the crowd.
The narrator, Rosie Richardson, is at the outset already a Field Administrator for a third-world charity called Sustain in Nambula: a hot, dry country that shelters refugees from the civil war in neighbouring Keftia. Rosie's reasons for being there have less to do with altruism than with her need to escape from a disastrous affair with arrogant, manipulative Oliver Marchant, a television editor and presenter, and “the thinking woman's crumpet”. Prior to taking on her administrative role, Rosie worked as a publicity girl for a publishing house and “wiggled around in short skirts, legs in sheer black tights”, thinking about sex. Introduced to Oliver at a party, Rosie is afflicted by a crush, which is a “terrible thing to happen to a woman”. Her account of this episode in her life, told through a series of flashbacks—the parties at which she meets gross hotshots, her embarrassed outsider's responses, culminating in her vomiting drunkenly over her meal at dinner one night—soon becomes tedious. Fielding's arch tone drains all emotion from the affair and from Rosie herself.
She has been running a refugee camp for four years when rumours of an impending locust plague in Keftia begin to circulate. Rosie is faced with the dilemma of raising the alarm, thereby placing Sustain's public image in jeopardy, or of sitting tight, possibly causing unnecessary suffering. The Field Director is reluctant to act, and the London office needs confirmation of a potential famine. Fielding describes this aspect of a Field Administrator's job well; and for a moment Cause Celeb seems to want to be taken seriously.
Rosie and the newly arrived camp doctor journey into Keftia and discover that the locust threat is real; they also become tentative lovers. Finally, as Sustain continues to refuse to treat the crisis as a crisis, Rosie resigns, and returns to London to whip up media support on her own, using her old contacts. The celebs, after an initial brush-off, are (somewhat incredibly) stirred into action, and Oliver is persuaded to present a special issue of his news programme live from Africa. It all ends happily, with the celebs taught a lesson in reality, the famine averted and Rosie settling down with her doctor (reinstated by a grateful Sustain).
Cause Celeb is neatly plotted and its attack on the iniquities of the Western media machine is topical and legitimate. However, Fielding is not a subtle or imaginative satirist, and the result is an uneasy combination of celebrity-bashing and African misery.
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SOURCE: “Some Consolations of the Single State,” in Times Literary Supplement, No. 4883, November 1, 1996, p. 26.
[In the following review, Shulman praises Fielding's ingenuity and humor.]
One of the least attractive developments in the current English press is the proliferation of columns exposing the details of the journalist's emotional and domestic life. Plainly this is the result of pressure brought to bear by editors whose market research has told them that readers, even of otherwise sensible newspapers, must be served with marital bickerings and lack of success in pick-up joints, the terminal illness of friends and all the most delicate bits of the passage of children into puberty, or else they will start to chafe after a change of paper. But because a life is a big thing to sell, and it thickens the soul to do it, some writers have looked for another way to answer requirements. An obvious solution is to write under a fictional persona, like the wonderful Craig Brown or like Helen Fielding, whose column in the Independent as Bridget Jones is the basis for this novel. It is extraordinary that something with the lightness and vigour of Bridget Jones's Diary could have issued from under the screw of this crass directive, but it has. One can only marvel at human ingenuity.
Bridget Jones is a woman somewhat older than twenty-nine, with a low-flying job in a publishing house and, crucially, no serious boyfriend. This unsatisfactory state of affairs is attributed variously to a number of personal deficiencies which, unless excised, can only result in a tragic spinsterhood of the sort that is eventually discovered by kind neighbours who have noticed the milk bottles accumulate, half-eaten by an Alsatian.
Bridget is persecuted for her single state; her married friends cluck insincerely over it, her mother's friends think perhaps she has failed to notice it: “You career girls! Can't put it off for ever you know: tick-tock-tick-tock.” Meanwhile, Bridget takes consolation from a great many drinks and fags and smoked salmon pin-wheels, and the certain knowledge that an effective programme of self-improvement will begin tomorrow. She will stop smoking, drink less, weigh under nine stone, stop obsessively making 1471 calls to see if her evasive semi-boyfriend has called, and be, as the occasion fits, more like the late Kathleen Tynan (who had inner poise), more like Tina Brown, “though not, obviously, quite so hardworking”, more like a member of an African, or possibly Turkish, family (who has warm and serene feelings about the prospect of cooking dinner for nineteen in a tiny flat), or just more like the women she meets around London, all of whom fit comfortably a description like: “thin blonde who rises at five each morning, goes to gym, rubs herself down with salt and runs an international Merchant bank all day without smudging mascara”. Inevitably, Bridget's good intentions are unseated by her habits, and the world proves an unworthy heir to her efforts; nothing, however, deters her. Doubtless these are the staples of comedy, but Helen Fielding's skilful timing and her intermittently exact ear for the ludicrous utterance (“I'm taking you to have your colours done”, announces Bridget's mother, “… you look like something out of Chairman Mao”) have made them look young again.
Translating a serial into a book has necessitated some changes and reworking of the original material. Unlike a newspaper column, a novel inclines to a conclusion, and to supply that potential the character of Mark Darcy (a rich Human Rights lawyer, originally conceived as a terrible prig) has been reinvented as the Ideal Lover. This, and the suddenly raised chance that a rush at perfect felicity will ensue, has had in turn the effect of exposing Bridget Jones's roots, previously concealed, growing in the unlikely soil of the novels of Barbara Cartland. The clue to this is given when Mark Darcy tells her: “All the other women I know are so lacquered over.” For, although Bridget is drunk, sluttish and most emphatically not a virgin, she manifests the definitive Cartland virtue of artlessness (albeit in the form of inept artfulness), which is the traditional weapon for seeing off a hard-boiled sophisticate in an expensive négligée.
Quotation fails this novel. Its humour is not remotely aphoristic; and no quotation can convey the quality that constitutes Bridget's claim to be as durable a comic figure as Nigel Molesworth or the Provincial Lady. As with these, Bridget Jones's Diary rings with the unmistakable tone of something that is true to the marrow; it defines what it describes. I know for certain that if I were a young, single, urban woman, I would finish this book crying, “Bridget Jones, c'est moi.”
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SOURCE: “Bridget Jones's Lonely Hearts Club Fans,” in Washington Post, May 18, 1998, pp. D1, D8.
[In the following review, Reid highlights the phenomenal success of Bridget Jones's Diary in the United Kingdom and forecasts that the United States will receive the book with equal enthusiasm.]
On a good day, Bridget Jones weighs no more than 120 pounds, smokes no more than five cigarettes, imbibes no more than three alcohol units, comes up with one or two clever ideas at the office meeting, and checks her voice mail maybe two or three times to see if her boyfriend has phoned.
On a bad day—of which there are many—the statistics are less satisfying. Still, the obsessive Ms. Jones dutifully records them all in her hilarious but poignant diary: “Saturday 12 August: 129 pounds, alcohol units 3 (v.g.), cigarettes 32 (v.v. bad, particularly since first day of giving up) … voice mail calls 22, minutes spent having cross imaginary conversations with Daniel 120, minutes spent imagining Daniel begging me to come back 90.”
This thirtysomething Londoner is, in short, the exemplar of a contemporary type: the angst-ridden, ever-dieting, I-wonder-if-this-skirt-is-too-short-for-the-office junior executive who hears her mother nagging and her biological clock ticking but can't seem to find a man who is not already married, or interested merely in casual sex, or both. There's a lot of truth among the laughs here. That's why the charming novel Bridget Jones's Diary has turned out to be a publishing sensation in Britain: 50 weeks on the bestseller lists and a million copies sold. That's why “Bridget Jones” and her self-described marital status—“singleton”—have entered the language here as standard parlance among her thirtyish peers of both sexes. And that's why Bridget Jones's Diary is likely to make a large literary splash in the United States when Viking Press publishes the book next month.
The U.S. edition has already been named a main selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club. Bridget's creator, the author Helen Fielding, is set for a busy round-robin of the major U.S. talk shows and is, in fact, turning down all interviews now so as not to dilute the commercial impact of her promotional tour.
Fielding, a former BBC producer and freelance writer, has admitted that many of Bridget's misadventures were based on her own life as a London singleton.
And Ms. Jones is absolutely a product of, by, and for London. When Bridget complains that she had to walk past Whistles and buy her new outfit at Miss Selfridge instead, readers here know precisely the state of her bank balance. When she refers to a female acquaintance as “Sloaney Woney,” the singletons of London know instantly that the woman in question is an upper-class snob named Fiona (nickname “Wona,” hence “Woney”) who buys her clothes in the pricey boutiques of Sloane Square, and that Bridget resents all that.
The gamble, then, for Viking—and for the publishers bringing out the diary in 16 other countries this year—is that there is enough that is universal about Bridget Jones to outweigh the intensely local parts of her story.
It's probably a good bet, at least for U.S. audiences. A society that has made cultural icons out of Ally McBeal and Cathy Guisewite should have no trouble accepting Bridget Jones as a soul sister. There is no doubt that Bridget and her various obsessions are alive and thriving in the mid-priced one-bedroom apartments of Washington, Denver, Seattle and probably every other U.S. city.
There are certainly plenty of Americans who will bond with Bridget when they read of her emotional ups and downs on the weekend (the sadly typical weekend) of Jan. 6–8.
First, we see Bridget's reaction Friday afternoon at the office when a handsome executive at her publishing company sends a computer message asking for her home telephone number. “Yesssss! Yesssss!” Bridget records in her diary. “Daniel Cleaver wants my phone no. Am marvelous. Am irresistible Sex Goddess. Hurrah!”
The next entry, on Sunday Jan. 8, tells what happened next. “Oh God, why am I so unattractive? Hideous, wasted two days glaring psychopathically at the phone and eating things. Why hasn't he rung? Why? What's wrong with me?”
The editors at Viking have decided that moments like that require no translation.
Still, they have made a few changes in Bridget's diary to accommodate American readers.
When Bridget dashes out of the office to “get some fags,” the American editors will translate that to “get some cigarettes.”
While Bridget measures her weight in “stone” (a unit equaling 14 pounds), the U.S. edition will convert the figure to “pounds.” Thus on the banner summer day when she actually gets down to the long-sought goal of “8 stone 7,” the U.S. edition will simply say “119 pounds.”
Perhaps a larger effort at translation will be necessary over the next few months as the London production company called Working Title—the outfit that made the Mr. Bean movies and Four Weddings and a Funeral—gears up to turn Bridget Jones's Diary into a movie.
Not since the fervor in the '30s over the burning question “Who will play Scarlett O'Hara?” has there been, perhaps, such speculation about the movie casting of a literary character.
The choice of an actress to play Bridget Jones has caught the public fancy in large part because—except for the constant recording of her weight—the diary never gives a clear picture of what Bridget looks like. The book jacket here provides a cloudy over-the-shoulder photo of a young woman who is vaguely attractive. (In the United States, the Viking jacket will make Bridget's face even less discernible.) The Daily Telegraph newspaper, which is serializing the diary, shows Bridget's ever-present cigarette and wine glass, but not her face.
Media guesses here as to the movie Bridget have included Minnie Driver and Gwyneth Paltrow (who has announced that she wants to make movies in London from now on, but is perhaps not believable as a terrified singleton). The most common suggestion is Kate Winslet, who is reported by the London tabloids to be fighting a daily weight battle of her own. The author's agent here suggests that the role might be given to an unknown, to preserve the air of mystery about what Bridget looks like.
That air of mystery is probably another factor in Bridget Jones's appeal. Every reader, after all, gets to create his own picture of the embattled singleton heroine. And soon, American readers will be doing so as well.
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SOURCE: “Singular Woman; A Huge Hit in England, Helen Fielding's Bridget Brings Her Angst to America,” in People, Vol. 49, No. 24, June 22, 1998, p. 199.
[In the following interview, Biddle, O'Neill and Fielding discuss the similarities between Bridget Jones and her creator.]
6 P.M. Just returned from interview with Helen Fielding. She's the author of that hit British novel Bridget Jones's Diary, the journal of a neurotic Londoner who's so obsessed with losing weight and quitting smoking and drinking that she records her daily intake. So we're in Fielding's cluttered office on London's Portobello Road, and conversation turns to the gym. I admit I never go. She shoots dirty look and asks why I'm so slim. “Metabolism,” I mutter, aware that's girl-talk equivalent of living off billion-dollar inheritance. She hisses: “Bitch from hell!” Then cracks up laughing.
Bridget Jones might have said it just so. But Helen Fielding wants to get one thing straight: She is not her loopy protagonist, a single, thirtysomething career woman who has become a household name in Britain. Despite her best intentions, Bridget winds up gaining weight, having a disastrous affair with her boss and puffing on cigarettes while analyzing the fallout with her girlfriends over multiple chardonnays. Fielding, on the other hand, is a single, 39-year-old Londoner who insists, “I don't drink, don't smoke and am a virgin … Yeah, right!”
Indeed, if the success of her comical Diary is any measure, there may be a bit of Bridget in more women than would care to admit it. Prior to its U.S. release in June, Fielding's second novel won the 1997 British Book of the Year Award and topped her country's bestseller list for six months. Meanwhile, Bridget Jones-isms—such as “Singleton” (her preferred term for spinster) and “Smug Marrieds” (for patronizing wedded friends who pry into her love life)—have seeped into the vernacular.
While the U.S. edition required a few tweaks (like converting stone to pounds and changing a “ladder” in Bridget's stocking to a “run”), Fielding is confident that Bridget's worries will need no transatlantic translation. “Women today are bombarded with so many messages, like we should have Naomi Campbell's body and Madeleine Albright's career,” she says. “Here's someone saying, ‘I can't be all these things!’—but trying anyway.”
Fielding traces her own wit to the “understated humor” of Yorkshire, where she was raised, the second of four children of a mill manager, who died in a 1984 car crash, and a homemaker. “There was a lot of laughter in my family,” says Fielding. She studied English at Oxford, where she also dated Richard Curtis, screenwriter of Four Weddings and a Funeral. After graduating in 1979, she worked for 10 years as a BBC-TV producer. Her first novel, a satire called Cause Celeb, was published in 1994.
The following year a London paper asked Fielding to write a column based on one of that novel's characters, and Bridget was born. The column soon attracted a book offer, and in 1996 Bridget Jones's Diary was published in Britain to gushing reviews. (“Any woman who has ever had a job, a relationship or, indeed, a mother will read it and roar,” exclaimed a writer for The Times.) Though some critics have assailed Bridget as a prefeminist throwback, Fielding responds that she wasn't creating a role model but just writing “about life.”
A kind of life that is, in fact, not too far removed from her own. Though she has a steady beau (a European in his 30s who lives on the Continent; she won't give his name), Fielding lives in a one-bedroom apartment in London's trendy Notting Hill Gate neighborhood and, like Bridget, enjoys lively dining experiences with friends. “When I have lunch with Helen we always start with no cigarettes and no drinking,” says Sarah Sands, a deputy editor at The Daily Telegraph. “And five minutes in, it all starts!”
With movie negotiations under way (Kate Winslet and Minnie Driver have been mentioned as potential Bridgets) and a sequel in the works, Fielding has less time these days for lunch. But success has had other rewards. “The ‘Why aren't you married?’ has stopped,” she says with a wry grin. “And I'm really pleased about that.”
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SOURCE: “Keeping Up with Ms. Jones,” in Village Voice, June 30, 1998, pp. 157–59.
[In the following review, Daum analyzes the role of popular culture in Bridget Jones's Diary.]
Bridget Jones's Diary, the bestselling British novel just out in the U.S., concerns itself almost entirely with the neurotic fallout of popular women's culture. Its narrator is a victim of women's magazines, self-improvement rituals, and much of the detritus that whirls around the Mars/Venus landscape. In effect, the book spits on the Manolo Blahnik shoes of the whole institution. So it's ironic that the American women's media machine has declared soul sisterhood with Bridget. Vogue published an excerpt that mostly chronicled the narrator's obsession with dieting, there have been several comparisons to Ally McBeal, and Jane magazine claimed its readers would be wondering how the author got into their diaries. The novel is, without a doubt, immensely entertaining. But what remains most satisfying about Bridgetmania is that the joke will ultimately be on the hype itself
Bridget Jones, the fictional creation of author Helen Fielding, is a thirtysomething Londoner who keeps a daily log of her weight, caloric intake, amount of alcohol consumed, numbers of lottery tickets purchased, cigarettes smoked and other vices that range from compulsive calls to a telephone service called 1471 (the British equivalent of *69) to wasting hours studying brochures to plan a weekend trip with her boss-ersatz lover, Daniel Cleaver. In her ongoing quest to reduce the quantities of each, she is prone to remark parenthetically on what she terms her “progress”: “126 lbs. (excellent), alcohol units 0, cigarettes 29 (v.v. bad, esp. in 2 hours), calories 3879 (repulsive), negative thoughts 942 (approx. based on av. per minute), minutes spent counting negative thoughts 127 (approx.)”
The novel tries to have a plot, and, in much the same manner that Bridget tries to have what she considers a proper life, the endeavor largely fails. But in both cases, the minutiae that fall in between are so hilarious that this shortcoming is easily overlooked. Bridget Jones's Diary began as a column in the British newspaper The Independent, and it's pretty clear that Fielding imposed on her tidbits what book publishers love to call a “narrative arc” in order to pass the book off as a novel. Borrowing from Pride and Prejudice, Fielding has given Bridget a kooky mum who, suffering from “Having It All syndrome” leaves Bridget's father for a swarthy Portuguese man and becomes a lifestyle reporter for a local television news station. Bridget's mother makes repeated attempts to fix her daughter up with an eligible bachelor named Mark Darcy, whose choice of a V-neck, diamond-patterned sweater at a dinner party immediately removes him from Bridget's list of boyfriend possibilities.
Bridget frequently refers to herself as “self”—“hours spent asleep 15 (bad, but not self's fault as heat wave).” And it's the effortlessness with which she falls into this parlance that shows what happens to one's identity and correspondent worldview in a media culture that earns billions of dollars by devising problems for women and then selling them the solutions. In this realm, “self” is less about personal identity than it is about abstract concepts like “wholeness” and “spiritedness;” words that connote good vibes but more often result in empty aspirations. “I am a child of Cosmopolitan culture;’ Bridget writes, “have been traumatized by supermodels and too many quizzes and know that neither my personality nor my body is up to it if left to its own devices. I can't take the pressure.” Bridget spends countless hours with her best friends, Sharon and Jude, deconstructing the “emotionally fuckwitted” behavior of single men in London. “Stupid, smug, arrogant, manipulative, self-indulgent bastards”’ opines Sharon. “They exist in a total Culture of Entitlement.”
Like Cosmo culture itself, Bridget and her pals have absorbed much of feminism's vocabulary; it is the precedent that allows them to attach sociological meaning to stereotypically girlie behavior like obsessing over men. But unlike the magazines and self-help books that inform the narrator's world, Bridget Jones's Diary manages to send up the whole genre and effectively indict it as a destructive force without becoming dogmatic. Though her every move—sipping chamomile tea in the bath, experimenting with feng shui, and attempting to woo her lover by ignoring him—seems a direct attempt to apply lessons of “inner poise” and “Goddesshood in Everywoman,” Bridget's absurdity is so deftly rendered that smart readers should know better than to take her frivolousness seriously. Fielding has done nothing if not implicated the narrator. For every attack on Smug Marrieds and fuckwitted men, there are countless more occasions on which Bridget chastises herself for shallowness, laziness, self-absorption, failure to exercise, and talking about television shows rather than George Eliot at book parties. Her self-loathing saves her from accusations of misanthropy.
But Americans, particularly those who are introduced to Bridget via the women's media that is so myopically embracing her, are not keen on self-loathing. Even in the U.K., there has been criticism about the protagonist's “feminist” ways, and I would expect that similar umbrage taken in this country will be magnified by way of Bridget's borderline alcoholism and unfashionably prodigious smoking. Bridget calls herself a feminist. But as she knows all too well, the goals of feminism have, in the last 20 years, been superseded by images of “total womanhood” that masquerade as empowerment tools but are merely products for sale. Having talked herself into a pregnancy scare, Bridget muses, “Am starting to get carried away with idea of self as Calvin Klein-style mother figure, poss. wearing crop-top or throwing baby in the air, laughing filled in advert for designer gas cooker, feel-good movie or similar.”
Bridget's constant failure to follow through on even the most basic lifestyle tips offered up by her mentor, Cosmo culture, will undoubtedly provoke the disapproval of those who remain devoted to that culture's major tenet, that self-improvement and positive thinking are synonymous with substance. Bridget knows she should relieve stress by performing the Salute to the Sun move she learned in a Yogacise class, but she usually smokes a cigarette instead. She knows she should “develop sense of self as woman of substance, complete without boyfriend, as best way to obtain boyfriend”; but ends up waiting by the phone.
In the current climate, such displays could easily be perceived as a slap in the face of feminism. But readers who go too far down that self-righteous path will not only miss out on the fun but deprive themselves of the genuine subversiveness that Bridget delivers. What is truly shocking about this book is not Bridget's unabashed hedonism but how long overdue it still is. When popular literature explores its inner bad girl—Carrie of Candace Bushnell's Sex and the City, Elizabeth Wurtzel's foray into nuttiness and sluttiness in Bitch—the voice is generally so lacking in self-awareness that the effect is more voyeuristic than empathetic. Similarly, female humor too often allows in the empty Häagen-Dazs container of Cathy comic strips and stand-up comediennes ranting about PMS and husbands’ dirty socks. The great triumph of Bridget Jones's Diary is the way Fielding has shirked that sensibility for something infinitely more sophisticated and yet made full use of the same kitsch-for-feminists zeitgeist that dogs her narrator. Fielding has figured out a clever diet. She's being extremely well fed by the hand she bit (calories 0, v.v. good).
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SOURCE: “Single White Female,” in Harper's Bazaar, No. 3440, July, 1998, p. 62.
[In the following essay, Watson anticipates the American reaction to Bridget Jones's Diary]
The name Bridget Jones may not be familiar in the U.S.—yet—but in Britain she is as famous as the Spice Girls. Three years ago the fictional diary of a single girl became a weekly newspaper column in The Independent, and Bridget Jones was born. Thirty-something, attractive, working in the media and living alone in Notting Hill (London's answer to Manhattan's West Village), she is a regular working girl and, at the same time, the skeleton in the closet of the modern superwoman: imperfect, vulnerable, obsessed with unworthy men, incapable of saying no to another glass of chardonnay and 10 cigarettes. From her inception, Bridget did not so much speak to her readers as move in with them and become their soulmate. When the novel Bridget Jones's Diary (Viking) followed in the fall of 1996, Bridget's cult success boiled over into a phenomenon. A sequel is planned, a movie version from the makers of Four Weddings and a Funeral is in preproduction, and her creator, Helen Fielding, has become a millionaire.
The real measure of Bridget's impact, however, is the way that she has entered the British language, as in “very Bridget Jones, very 30-something single.” The B.J. syndrome has spawned countless television documentaries and magazine articles. Spinsters have been renamed “singletons,” as Bridget calls them, and unmarried 30-somethings have acquired a sense of cool camaraderie.
Bridget is a wonderfully quirky comic creation. “Completely exhausted by an entire day of date preparation,” she writes in the diary. “Being a woman is worse than being a farmer—there is so much harvesting and crop spraying to be done.” To come up with a character who is lovable, ingenuous and a crack social commentator called for a mixture of kooky wit and razor-sharp professionalism. Fielding fits both categories: short skirt, impish smile, with an open carton of cookies on her desk, but at the same time poised and smart. “People are always asking whether I'm Bridget, and it is a bit odd because I don't know whether to say,’ No, of course I'm not Bridget, I'm a media bitch from hell, and it's all sorted,’ or [in a small, tired voice] ‘Yes, I am.’” The truth, she says, lies somewhere between the two.
Like Bridget, Fielding is single and attractive, lives alone in Notting Hill and was, until Diary took over, a writer working in the media. She is also (unlike Bridget) an Oxford graduate whose close friends include key members of the British comic establishment and a few TV personalities. (Four Weddings writer Richard Curtis is an ex-boyfriend.)
As Bridget is launched onto the American public this month, how will the character be received in a country where self-nurturing and the having-it-all philosophy are alive and kicking? As far as Fielding is concerned, it's not Bridget's singleness or timeliness or intemperance that is the secret of Diary’s success. “I think the character works because she is honest and not trying to create a good impression. It might come as a relief to American women that this is a book about somebody being as crap as everyone is, who isn't pretending to be gorgeous, poised and having-it-all perfect, and that it's a best-seller. So maybe it's okay not to be a superwoman.” Fielding flashes her mischievous grin. “Would you like a Nicorette?”
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 725
SOURCE: “Sighs of a Singleton,” in Washington Post Book World, July 5, 1998, p. 4.
[In the following review, Todd offers words of encouragement to Fielding's character Bridget Jones.]
Dear Bridget: So you're off to the States. It's about time. You've gone as far as you can in England. What started as a newspaper column—the diary of a single 30-something (“singleton”) Londoner—turned into a phenomenon. You've topped the fiction bestseller lists for almost a year [with Bridget Jones's Diary]. Your name's an adjective, verb and noun, all at once. (“That's very Bridget Jones”; “I pulled a Bridget Jones last night”). You're the most popular girl in Britain—how can you possibly go wrong in America?
It's good your American editors haven't asked you to change for your new readers. You're not—like your skeletony American cousin Ally McBeal—perfectly coiffed. You eat too much, get hangovers, smoke cigarettes by the pack. You sleep with your boss and go on dates with randy 23-year-olds. And when you get introduced to the perfect man you manage to make a complete mess of it. Your diary records it all: “Friday 19 May. 124 1/2 lbs. (have lost 3 lbs., 8 oz. literally overnight—must have eaten food which uses up more calories to eat it than it gives off e.g. v. chewy lettuce), alcohol units 4 (modest), cigarettes 21 (bad), lottery tickets 4 (not v.g.).”
Your life can be—let's face it—pretty miserable. Smug married friends pair you up with morons at dinner parties. (“All the decent chaps have been snapped up,” they inform you.) You're expected to coo over friends’ babies on Sunday afternoons, despite your massive hangover. You're constantly fielding maternal interrogations—when are you going to get married? To whom? And when the going gets tough, where do you turn for advice? To your long-married mother? Your gay friend Tom? Cosmo? Susan Faludi? Feng Shui?
But you have Helen Fielding. You really couldn't have chosen a better creator. Her account of your blunders and triumphs is achingly funny—yet still sympathetic. She's a clever enough writer to get readers to laugh with you, Bridget, not at you. And she has an Austenian knack for picking out the telling comic detail—whether it's the name of your nosy, noisy boss (Perpetua), or your bungled attempt to work the crowd at a trendy publishing party. I laughed out loud the second time I read your diary.
The great thing about you, Bridget, is you've got universal appeal. Who doesn't want to get the perfect job, attract the perfect mate, behave perfectly in all situations, exercise more, eat less, give more to charity, and be, as you put it, a “perfect saint-style person”? Who hasn't mangled a dinner party or made a thousand New Year's resolutions (“Go to gym three times a week not merely to buy sandwich,” “Form functional relationship with responsible adult”), only to break them on New Year's Day?
Of course there will be people who don't like you. American girls, as Henry James was constantly reminding us, are different from English girls. American girls are supposed to behave well. They don't drink as much as you; they put on makeup in the morning, they're taught to go on dates with boys before they kiss them. The Rules—which toed the don't-kiss-a-boy-until-he's-proposed line—was a smash hit in America last year. Rules girls won't like you, Bridget. They'll call you alcoholic, or obsessive, or neurotic. And those new puritans, the feminists—they'll give you trouble too. They won't like your self-deprecating humor. They'll say you're insecure and a poor role model for women. They'll call you an advertiser's plaything—a lipsticked, short-skirted women's mag-reading flirt who'd happily trade in her career for Mr. Right.
Don't listen to them, Bridget. You may not be the stuff of feminists’ dreams, but you're not shortsighted either. You know you've got choices and you sometimes make bad decisions. But you also know there's fun to be found in even the most disastrous situations. You're not a complainer. You're working out how to live as a single adult with humor and optimism. And America's filled with singletons doing the same thing. They'll be delighted to hear from you—and so will anyone who's ever been, or known, a singleton. The only way you can blunder this one, Bridget, is by staying home. So you go, girl.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1122
SOURCE: “I Am Woman, Hear Me Whine,” in National Review, Vol. 50, No. 14, August 3, 1998, p. 49.
[In the following review, Vincent unflatteringly describes the character of Bridget Jones as a “feminist.”]
What would Gloria Steinem do if she met Bridget Jones and started chatting with her? Would Miss Steinem blanch, faint, walk away in disgust? That's a meeting I'd like to see, but, alas, it will never happen, because Bridget is fictional.
Bridget Jones's Diary recounts a year in the life of its title character, a goodnatured but discontented middle-class professional whose diary reads like a Judy Blume novel. Bridget is a flake. She's a nice enough gal, if sometimes a bit catty, but at the ripe age of thirtysomething she can't seem to get her life together. She's an editor at a British publishing company and she has a degree in English literature, but she can't spell. She's desperate to lose 15 pounds, but she eats chocolate croissants for breakfast. She wants a steady, dependable boyfriend, but she's dating her womanizing boss instead. She wants financial security, but she invests only in reams of lottery tickets. She wants to develop “inner poise,” but she smokes incessantly, drinks to excess, and checks her caller ID compulsively. She's not exactly Grace Kelly.
Originally, the character Bridget Jones came to life in a weekly women's column that her journalist creator Helen Fielding wrote for the London Independent. The confessional style of the column proved so popular among the newspaper's readers that Miss Fielding decided to turn it into a book, which became an instant best-seller in Britain. Newly released in this country, the novel is enjoying the same success here. (At this writing it is No. 8 on the New York Times best-seller list). But it has also turned into an object of some controversy.
Why? Because Bridget Jones is more than just herself; she is a symbol. A similar character is featured on the wildly popular Fox TV drama Ally McBeal. Like Bridget, Ally is a young professional (in her case, a lawyer), who seems to spend far more time in the bathroom gossiping with her girlfriends, or in the office hallways flirting with her latest love interest, than she does in the courtroom. Like Bridget she is fey and flirtatious, glamorous but flip, in a baby-doll sort of way. Michiko Kakutani at the New York Times found so many similarities between the two characters that she wrote her review of Bridget Jones's Diary in the form of a fan letter from Ally to Bridget. In its recent cover story on the fate of feminism, Time magazine made a similar correlation, and frowned on both characters, as if to say, Is this what's become of the sexual revolution?
It seems that the whiny, feckless Bridget (like her clone Ally) is not quite the daughter feminists were hoping for back in the Seventies when they marched on Washington and burned their bras. And that's why Bridget Jones's Diary may prove to be one of the most stinging indictments of feminism to come along in a while.
As a spoof on the modern liberated woman, this novel may be clever precisely in its almost studied lack of cleverness. Its parodic value may lie in its superficiality. Bridget's flakiness is the point. Helen Fielding is no S. J. Perelman, but, oddly enough, that serves her well. She writes Bridget Jones the way Goldie Hawn might play her—so understatedly that you're never quite sure if she's a bimbo like her heroine or if she just knows how to represent one. Either way, this book has made the lefty keepers of the culture decidedly uneasy. As much as they would like to disown her, they know that Bridget is truly the daughter of feminism, an entirely predictable legacy of the gender wars.
Although Time insists that Bridget Jones has nothing in common with her feminist foremothers—Susan B. Anthony, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem—they in fact have a great deal in common, in the way that a child tends to have a great deal in common with her parents.
Each of Bridget's diary entries begins with a recitation like these: “130 lbs. (terrifying slide into obesity—why? why?), alcohol units 6 (excellent), cigarettes 23 (v.g.), calories 2472”; “126 lbs., alcohol units 5 (drowning sorrows), cigarettes 23 (fumigating sorrows), calories 3856 (smothering sorrows in fat-duvet).” Likewise, each entry is filled with complaints: “Men won't get any sex or any women unless they learn how to behave properly instead of cluttering up the sea-bed of women with the SH—-Y, SMUG, SELF-INDULGENT BEHAVIOR!”; “This confusion, I guess, is the price I must pay for becoming a modern woman instead of following the course nature intended …”; “Starting to feel really panicky, at the same time enjoying sense of being at center of drama.”; “Oh my God. Oh my God. Where am I?”
In short, Bridget is an overgrown adolescent who has no idea who or where she is. Like her foremothers, she disdains the allegedly cushy enslavement of married life, and yet she wonders why she is single and lonely. “Why am I so unattractive,” she moans constantly. She frets about an unwanted pregnancy and her “commitment-phobic” boyfriend's infidelity, but she thinks responsible men are geeks. Bridget has too many choices, and too little maturity to handle them.
Embarrassing as it might be to most feminists, Bridget Jones is living out exactly the farce for which her precursors set the stage. After all, is it any wonder Bridget is a spoiled princess when she grew up on the feminist belief that women should and must have it all? Is it surprising that feminists who condemned housebound motherhood were paving the way for a chronically single, childless woman like Bridget? Is it any wonder that women of Bridget's age, who were raised on free love and who grew up viewing unbounded sexual freedom as their birthright, would end up with unwanted pregnancies and “commitment-phobic” boyfriends? Can a woman who disdains all the social and moral bonds that cement traditional marriage really expect that she'll be seen by men as anything but a sex object? No, Bridget Jones's life is not a spontaneous anomaly. The precedent is clear.
So while as literature Bridget Jones's Diary is not exactly a timeless classic, it may still have a lasting effect on the culture wars. With deceptive simplicity Miss Fielding has held a mirror up to nature. She has nailed this liberated vixen for the cream puff she is, and if you're one of the millions of working girls who read this novel with any glimmer of recognition, then she has nailed you, too. If you're not, you can sit back and enjoy the ruckus as it unfolds, saying all the while, “I told you so.”
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4656
SOURCE: “Inside, Outside,” in New Republic, Vol. 219, No. 10, September 7, 1998, pp. 36–41.
[In the following review, Shalit praises Bridget Jones's Diary for its examination of popular culture and the position of single women in contemporary society.]
In the mid-1970s, during the juvenescence of academic feminism, a clutch of socially-minded theorists, poets, and other progressive critics of the canon set out to rectify the “silencing” of the first-person female confessional. Writers such as Kate Millett, Adrienne Rich, and Nancy Mairs argued that female subjectivity, narrativity, and interiority had been devalued and squelched by patriarchy. Whereas the male writer was literally the author of his being—“insert[ing] his own text forcefully into the world-text,” as Mairs subtly put it—a woman aspiring to promulgate her private self had a more difficult road to tread. Overburdened with domestic tasks, taught to subdue her passions and to put others’ needs first, she could not write in heroic tones about her life or outline the progress of her soul.
In Silences, in 1978, Tillie Olsen laid out entire phyla of female quietude: work aborted, deferred, denied, defeated by the “patriarchal injunctions” which bind a woman's life. Literary history, Olsen argued, was dark with such silences: “foreground silences,” “censorship silences,” “absences that are a kind of silence,” “silences where the lives never come to writing.” (Even Olsen herself was not immune: due to this cultural repression of female utterance, she wrote, her own work “died. What demanded to be written, did not. … A Ford grant in literature, awarded me on nomination by others, came almost too late.”) In their jeremiads against mutedness, Olsen and the other insurgents were drawing on the writings of theorists such as Helene Cixous, who argued in 1975 that if more women could somehow “come to voice,” could deign to make public their innermost truths and secrets, “all the histories, all the stories in the world, would be there to retell differently.” Until such time, it was thought, these clandestine narratives would remain inchoate, fragmentary, unexpressed.
Until approximately now. We are awash in female inner space, in the inward-looking literature of women's lives; in their diaries and their journals, their memoirs and their anthems. We are choking on interiority, or what passes for it. In the last few years, the literature of female self-disclosure has become a mainstay of American publishing houses, as well as a staple of feminist historiography. In a series of glossy memoirs, well-heeled women from bookish backgrounds have laid bare their lives, thoughts, and feelings, exposed their secret cores of hiddenness, confessed their disastrous passions for close relatives. Lately, the forewords to such anthologies of “writing women's lives” have gotten a bit awkward, as the editors concede that the foes of silencing need no longer feel polemically embattled. “The tradition of women's autobiography is now long enough to be nurturing itself,” allows Phyllis Rose, editor of the Norton Book of Women's Lives. “Maybe personal narrative has too much of a sway in our culture. Where has abstract, discursive writing gone?”
But the most significant milestones in the contemporary career of feminine inner space have occurred in popular culture. There is the apotheosis of Ally McBeal, the despondent, scatterbrained career waif whose Botox reveries and gyno-cream epiphanies have transfixed the public consciousness. And now there is Bridget Jones's Diary, the spectacularly successful novel by the British journalist Helen Fielding, a fictional diary composed of the highly abbreviated jottings of another young, hip, modern chick, whipsawed between Zen and Flow, Germaine Greer and Marie Claire, feng shui and Agnes B.
Like Ally, Bridget is also a querulous “singleton.” While her friends mutate into “smug marrieds, having children plop, plop, plop, left, right and centre,” she is womb-tight and woebegone: monitoring her biological clock, obsessing over her “sell-by date,” careering “rudderless and boyfriendless through dysfunctional relationships and professional stagnation.”
But there is something a little odd about this It Girl of female interiority. She keeps a diary, which is supposed to record her innermost thoughts, but her innermost looks alarmingly like her outermost. This is female interiority defined solely through externals. In this, Bridget resembles Ally, whose wan little face comes alive only when she looks in the mirror. Ally yearns to be a street person, unburdened of social anxieties, “but then I wouldn't get to wear my outfits.” The inner life of Bridget Jones is a neurotic almanac of numbers of calories consumed and grams of cellulite winnowed. “Thursday 23 February,” reads a typical entry. “125 lbs. If only I could stay under 126 lbs. And not keep bobbing up and down like a drowning corpse—drowning in fat.”
Reading Bridget Jones's Diary is a minor tawdry pleasure, akin to leafing through catalogs, or eating vanilla pudding in bed. The book promises a voyeuristic peek into the heart of the gamine, that ubiquitous, everyday, wonderful girl about whom thousands of popular songs and movies have been made. Bridget is the sort of creature who muffs her multiplication tables and cannot remember what letter comes before “J,” but can confidently rattle off the number of calories in a boiled egg (75), a banana (80), and a green cocktail olive (9); who scours her drawer for sexy undies but finds only “giant Mummy-pant horror”; whose mailbox is full, not of valentines, but of threatening letters noting “non-payment of minimum payment.” Her gadget-packed apartment is a single girl's paradise, crammed with loofahs and pasta makers, bread machines and ice cream churns gathering dust in the closet.
Within the course of a year, she loses 72 pounds, and gains 74. She vows to arrive early for work, only to be stymied by lost keys and a crisis of black opaque tights, which are snarled in Gordian knots at the bottom of her laundry bin. She allows herself to be seduced by a rake, then misses the assignation because she can't hear the doorbell over the roar of her blow-dryer. She unlocks her Inner Bitch, deep-conditions her hair, eats Mueslix out of the packet with a spoon. She lives a life of brand names and proper names. She is a walking, talking, exfoliating cultural signifier.
Those of us who have dialed Star-69, pressed a sly computer key to conceal a cheeky e-mail from the prying eyes of coworkers, or found ourselves wishing that we could talk things through with our parents over lunch as if this were Sleepless in Seattle, will be hard-pressed not to respond with tittering affection to the cavalcade of brand names, to all the glib patter about folic acid and smoothies, codependence and loving too much, aromatherapy and Color Me Beautiful, compilation mood tapes that go unmade and culinary gadgets that go unused. These are the cultural markers of premillennial womanhood; and the book is a Baedeker to the indispensable and disquieting comforts of mass culture.
But Bridget Jones is being promoted as much more than that. Bridget's stream of brand-consciousness, her dizzying litanies of externalities, have been hailed as interiority itself, a triumph of female self-expression. According to Ms. Magazine, the book represents a “welcome addition to modern feminist literature”—“Bridget's feminist battles” take place not “at rallies but internally.” The New Yorker claims that the book is about “the anxiety of self-presentation”; Bridget is “both Everywoman and an implicitly ironic observer of Everywoman.”
But Bridget's attitude toward all of this mass-culture banality is the very opposite of ironic. Her triviality is a matter of life and death, the whole contents of her cluttered mind. Her chatter about Susan Sarandon and Pinot Grigio and Baby Gap is earnest, incantatory, infused with near-spiritual ardor. Her language is the language of “devout consumption,” to use Veblen's sardonic phrase.
Bridget Jones is not a sly satirist of the makeover culture. She is, poor thing, its archetypal object. She is constantly interrogating and experimenting with her looks, using beauty tips and best dressed lists to implement full-scale changes of identity. She sees cosmetics as a tool of self-discovery, a way to project an image of herself as someone with “inner poise,” a “woman of substance.” Her response to her various setbacks and mortifications is not to look within but to change her packaging. “Decided needed to spend more time on appearance, like Hollywood stars,” she writes, after yet another of her capers goes awry. “Have therefore spent ages putting concealer under eyes, blusher on cheeks, and defining fading features.”
A diary is supposed to be a narrative of inner discovery, a dramatic performance of the self; but Bridget's diary is a ledger, and there is alarmingly little “self” in it. It has been expunged by the technology of appearances, by hot wax and pumice stone and other implements of the female surface. “So much harvesting and crop spraying to be done,” she writes. “Legs to be waxed, underarms shaved, eyebrows plucked, skin exfoliated and moisturized, spots cleansed, roots dyed, eyelashes tinted, nails filed, cellulite massaged, stomach muscles exercised.” When all of her ablutions come to naught, Bridget falls into the slough of despond. “Was believing could totally re-invent self in space of small number of days,” she writes. “Thereby negating impact of Daniel's humiliating infidelity since it had happened to me in a previous incarnation and would never have happened to my new, improved self.” For Bridget Jones, flashes of self-awareness come only intermittently. “Sunday, December 24,” she writes. “V. confused about what is and is not reality.”
To academia's archivists of female interiority, the plaint of Bridget Jones will have a familiar ring. During the last decade, feminist scholars have embarked on a dogged campaign to uncover and to promote the timid exploits of “lesser lives,” as revealed in the prayerful and humble diaries of unpaid wet nurses, hapless milkmaids, shy spinsters, and sweet domestics. Great claims were made for the revolutionary potential of these “found narratives,” which often amounted to little more than the daily record-keeping of genteel housewifery. “As feminists have insisted that battles for power, authenticity, moral stature, and survival occur as fiercely within the domestic as in the public arena of life, what was once seen as placidly domestic now offers the reader a world charged with great issues,” writes Jill Ker Conway in the introduction to Written by Herself. The testimonies of these innumerable pale and pious heroines, Conway insists, are “filled with drama and challenge … and [are] as potentially instructive as any male life.’
But too often, alas, the diaries of the widows and the fishwives turn out to be something less than one would hope. These redoubtable women were reluctant to discuss personal emotion, or expose their lives, thoughts, and feelings in any meaningful way. Instead, the diaries are either pathetic tales of endless drudgery (“Spent the day cleaning and scowering,” reads the typical plaint of one such housekeeper); or exaltations of the joys of wifehood and motherhood.
There is, in fact, a poignant gulf between the swaggering claims of the feminist historiographers and the mild, matronly tone of the actual documents, which are often cloying paeans to the glowing hearth and the patter of little feet. Thus the editors of Her Own Life trumpet the diary of Anne Clifford, Countess of Dorset, Pembroke, and Montgomery, as a proto-feminist manifesto, a fiery “statement of Anne Clifford's bold and tenacious belief that she was, though female, the rightful heir to her family's estates. What strikes one first … is the impression of strength of character—an individual woman holding out against the combined patriarchal forces of father, uncles, husbands, lawyers, churchmen, and even the king.” But little of this spirit of resistance, this inner strength, can be found in the diary itself, which is quite simply a running account of Ann's daily doings. “Upon the 28th at this time,” she writes in January 1617, “I wore a plain green flannel gown that William Punn made me, and my yellow taffety waistcoat. … May 1617. The 12th, I began to dress my head with a roll. … June 1617. The 6th, after supper, we went in the coach to Goodwife Sisley's, and ate so much cheese there that it made me sick.” Never mind the new social history; sometimes silence is golden.
Among the newly discovered female voices, the most famous is probably Elizabeth Shackleton, the Bridget Jones of the eighteenth-century gentry. Altogether lacking in self-reflection, her thirty-nine minutely detailed diaries are instead a compulsive logbook of food consumed (“Bought a small quantity of Mackrell,” she writes in 1777), as well as a doleful catalog of the strategies she employed to compensate for her dwindling physical charms. “I now have only five teeth in all my head,” she wrote mournfully in May of 1779. “I left off my old stays & put on my best stays for Good.” Most striking is Mrs. Shackleton's fevered inventory of her many possessions—her “beautiful flower'd Muslin,” her “new drab Callimanco quilted petticoat,” her “favourite, pritty, red & white Linnen gown,” and her endless negligees, nightgowns, and sacks, which she viewed as “potent extensions of the self,” in the words of Amanda Vickery in The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England.
Cramped by custom, corset, and crinoline, Mrs. Shackleton was a delicate creature, prone to invalidism and hysteria. As she aged, she grew fretful, and painfully sensitive to social slights. “The treatment I meet with from all sides as I grow into years almost breaks my Heart,” she writes. “And my legs swelling more & more.” She is thin-skinned, full of wounded self-regard. Her husband, Mr. Shackleton, “quite hates me, does not like me.” She found her friends and her relatives “Humpy Grumpy,” “quere,” or “upon reserve.” Venturing out to parties all by herself, she was indignant when respect was denied: “My Bror just civil no great joy to see me,” she writes. “I neither can nor will bear this treatment.” And “No enquiring after poor me all night.” And “I came all by myself. No one with me. Small notice of poor me.”
The autobiographical pitch and timbre is uncannily close to that of the postfeminist vixen of the hour. “Decide to have cappuccino and chocolate croissants on way to work to cheer self up,” writes Bridget Jones two hundred years later. “Do not care about figure. Is no point as no one loves or cares about me.” But there is a difference, and in this difference lies the burden of critical judgment. Unlike poor Mrs. Shackleton, poor Bridget Jones is entirely unshackled. She has autonomy, self-sufficiency, freedom to act on her own behalf to improve the circumstances of her life. Yet the wallowing and the languishing, the bathetic, list-making self-absorption, is the same. “Why hasn't Rebecca invited me to her party?” wails Bridget Jones. “Why? Why? No one likes me. … I'm no good at anything. Not men. Not social skills. Not work. Nothing.”
Mrs. Shackleton mechanistically listed victuals consumed: “wine, coffee, tea, muffins, toast, Punch, and great pieces of Iced rich Plumb cake.” So, too, does Bridget fastidiously record her intake: cigarettes, fat grams, calorie counts. “Food consumed today,” is how her diary begins. “Two packets Emmenthal cheese slices. Four cold new potatoes. Two Bloody Marys (count as food as contain Worcester Sauce and Tomatoes).” Both women are unencumbered by thoughts that are not trivial. Both their journals are characterized most of all by the positivism of self-regard.
It is only in the late nineteenth century, after the rise of romanticism and the prestige of subjectivity, and with the rise of psychology, that the female life-writers vindicate the claims of feminist historiography: that public power could make for private impotence, and that the inner life might blossom most fully in those to whom the external had been denied. The best diaries of this period fulfill the most extravagant theories of the revisionists. They are characterized by genuine inwardness, by richness of feeling, by a focus on individual experience; they are genuine narratives of inner discovery, records of self-making.
In a journal excerpted in Written by Herself, Ellen Glasgow, the novelist, and a self-educated bluestocking born in 1873, writes movingly of the contrast between her “external life,” with its “smooth conventional surface,” and her “interior world—that far republic of the spirit,” in which she “ranged … free and wild and a rebel.” Lucy Larcom, a mill worker and poet born in 1824, complains in her diary of the din of the factory, of the “buzzing and hissing and whizzing of pulleys and rollers and spindles and flyers around me.” But, she continued, she didn't mind—so absorbing were the real events of her inner life. “I defied the machinery to make me its slave,” she wrote. “Its incessant discords could not drown the music of my thoughts.”
In the day of Larcom and Glasgow, of course, becoming a fuller, more realized person meant paying less attention to externalities. When girls in the nineteenth century thought about ways to improve themselves, they almost always focused on their internal character. “Resolved, not to talk about myself or feelings,” wrote a teenage girl in 1869, in a diary that is excerpted in The Body Project, Joan Jacobs Brumberg's illuminating book about the evolving ideologies of female self-image. “To think before speaking. To work seriously. To be self-restrained in conversation and actions. Not to let my thoughts wander. To be dignified. Interest myself more in others.”
Somewhere along the line, Brumberg writes, things changed. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, even as women reveled in a new sense of physical freedom and economic possibility, female subjectivity—that “far republic of the spirit”—was being colonized by external forms of the most superficial and epiphenomenal kind. The efflorescence of a visual consumer culture, the scientific discovery of the calorie, the democratization of mirrors (they were once an unaffordable luxury for the middle class): all conspired to confer upon appearances a psychological and even a spiritual prestige.
The questions women posed to their diaries—What am I here for? Who am I? Who do I want to be?—were still the same, but increasingly the answers revolved around the vicissitudes of weight, hairstyle, complexion. Brumberg quotes from the diary of young Helen Laprovitz, of Amherst, Massachusetts. “How terrible I am,” she writes in 1923. “For that I got another pimple.” Equally poignant is the 1924 diary of Yvonne Blue, an aspiring poet who fears she is too plump. A “fat, crude, uncouth, misunderstood beast,” she calls herself. Determined to achieve coveted thinness, Yvonne begins slimming at age 15. Just as Bridget Jones vows to whittle the circumference of her thighs “by 3 inches (i.e. 1 1/2 inches each) using anticellulite diet,” Yvonne Blue employs a faddish booklet called “How to Reduce: New Waistlines for Old.” Allowing herself only lettuce, carrots, celery, tea, and consomme, she jotted down everything she consumed. “No cake or pie or ice cream or cookies or candy or nuts or fruits or bread or potatoes or meats or anything,” Yvonne lamented in 1926.
Across decades, class boundaries, and continents, the ecstasies of selfvituperation are the same. When Brumberg's adolescent diarists do not lose weight, they berate themselves, and their mood plunges. Their stability depends entirely on the success or failure of their diets. Poor Carol Merano, a dolorous teenager from Westport, Connecticut, refers to herself as a “stuffed sausage” in her 1968 diary. “I'm very depressed tonight,” she writes in October of that year. “Same reason: I'm 120 pounds.” A month later, in November, she is riding high: “I weigh 112. Everything is great for once.” But by the New Year, Carol was back at 120, unhappy and signing herself “Fatty.”
The obsession with boys and calories, the neurotic equation of appearance and identity, is understandable in adolescents, a large measure of whose world is defined by how others see them. It is more troubling in grown women, who are supposed to be able to look beyond the physical to more essential matters. But Bridget Jones's interior monologue is the monologue of an overgrown teenager. When she gains two pounds, she tells her diary that she feels “ashamed and repulsive. … I can actually feel the fat splurging out of my body. Tomorrow new Spartan health and beauty regime will begin.” A week later, she is again trembling and incapacitated: “Fat body flobbering around. The heat has made my body double in size, I swear. … Am going to get down to 119 lbs again and free thighs entirely of cellulite. Certain everything will be all right then.”
Bridget Jones also has a teenager's attitude to men—well, boys. She shuttles frantically between manufactured personas, in the attempt to discover one that will work. One day, she is vowing “not to get upset over men, but instead be poised and cool ice queen.” “Aloof, unavailable ice queen,” she tells herself. When the ice queen melts, she reinvents herself as a “dusky beauty … a dark, mysterious object of desire.” When that, too, fails to suffice, Bridget settles on Kathleen Tynan, who, she understands from an article, has “inner poise,” and was often spotted “immaculately dressed, sitting at a small table in the center of the room, sipping a glass of chilled white wine.” “Wish to be like Kathleen Tynan,” Bridget writes. “Though not, obviously, dead.” Obviously.
This view of the self as an accretion of manufactured “types” and “images,” as a blank slate on which qualities can be inscribed or erased in an anxious experimental spirit, is the legacy of women's magazines, the signature tic of what J. Walter Thompson called in 1922 the “beauty editorial style.”
The beauty editorial style combined a “light and intimate” tone with a heavy-handed therapeutic sales pitch. It promoted beauty products not as a means of consumption, but as a means of self-definition. These were not ordinary products; they were salvific products, stuff you could buy that could enrich and even redeem you. And so coral fingernails are not just a grooming strategy, but a “mini-adventure.” A facial “doesn't just give you a new face—it gives you a whole new outlook on life.”
As Kathy Peiss has written recently in Hope in a Jar, it was not long before savvy advertisers appropriated the beauty editorial style for their own purpose. And so the same lovely women who peopled the pages of beauty feature pieces now showed up in the adjoining advertisements, explaining that their skin blemishes or lackluster locks had made it impossible for them to really enjoy themselves; but that now all was well, they were their true selves, thanks to a timely trip to the beauty salon.
With the rise of the mass-market cosmetics industry, Peiss writes, the beauty editorial style not only leaked into cosmetics advertising, but colonized the very lineaments of female inner life. By the 1930s, market research showed that women bought rouge not only to put roses in their cheeks, but because they “longed for romance,” or “thought perhaps a beautiful complexion would make me more fascinating.” The beauty editorial style had quite literally colored the discourse of feminine aspiration.
Bridget Jones's Diary belongs in the literature of the beauty editorial style. But is it a parody or a glorification of it? Bridget, after all, is no crackbrained secretary, a la Cathy Guisewite's cartoon character; she is a metropolitan media chick, who spends her evenings cruising installations and noshing canapes with Julian Barnes. She is not a figure of fun, but a figure of emulation. She is hip enough, in other words, to mock the worldview of the women's magazines even as she succumbs to it. Thus she thinks critically about the images of manufactured beauty that have come to dominate women's consciousness, but only in the midst of the beautification ritual: “My back hurts, my head aches, and my legs are bright red and covered in lumps of wax. Wise people will say that Daniel should like me just as I am, but I'm a child of Cosmopolitan culture, have been traumatized by supermodels and too many quizzes; and know that neither my personality nor my body is up to it if left to its own devices.”
But the addling effects of Cosmo culture are treated only semisatirically. Her tone of cheerful irony notwithstanding, Bridget's faith in the ideology of the makeover, her determination to express herself entirely on the outside, is entirely in earnest. “This is just … just … intolerable,” writes Bridget, having just been dumped by her nihilistic heel of a boyfriend. “Am seriously considering face lift.” And so the book's tone of smarmy girliness begins to falter, to seem ludicrous and painful. When Bridget's best friend Tom fails to answer his phone for many days, Bridget fears that he is dead, and scours her place for a set of spare keys to his apartment. Then, as is often the case, she gets sidetracked. “Ooooh, that's where I put this month's Marie Claire—on top of fridge!” she writes. “As flicked through Marie Claire, started fantasizing about Tom's funeral, and what I would wear.”
This goes on without abatement, day after day, in one entry after another. No other note is struck, no other view of things can be taken. At the end of the year, Bridget is no closer to inner poise, or inner clarity, than she was at the beginning. Yet Bridget Jones's Diary is not a cautionary tale, but a success story, a tale of triumph over pitfalls innumerable. She lands her man, snags a glamorous new job, and still makes time for delicious nights of drunken feminist ranting with her clutch of charming friends. Finally she is an astute self-apologist, living out a display of competence even as she talks and writes of the beauties of incompetence.
“It's the shoes,” exclaims Ally McBeal as she trips prettily over her four-inch platforms. “The stupid fashion people make us wear these ridiculous things.” Nowadays, it is fashionable to criticize the fashion people as a cornerstone of women's oppression; to airily present oneself, as Bridget does, as being “traumatized by supermodels … a child of Cosmopolitan culture.” But this sort of counterfeit self-criticism is less a subversion of the beauty editorial style than its ultimate rehabilitation, a new way to exploit and to wallow in what one pretends to deplore. By cloaking its seductions in the distancing lingo of irony and alienation, Bridget Jones makes the beauty editorial style safe for the '90s.
A similar phenomenon may be found in the cool prose of Mary Tannen, who writes a weekly column called “Appearances” for The New York Times Magazine. With mischievous sternness, Tannen instructs that “Red on the lips could help bring out a bold new you.” Is she serious? Of course not. Is she not serious? Of course not. That is the game. And so she extols the glories of an array of beauty requisites, from Stila Face Gleam to Philosophy Foot Cream, sneaking in subversive snippets from Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and Coleridge just to show that she is in on the joke. She speculates on the root causes of these necessary new unguents: “Could this be a result of global warming?” she writes of the debut of a new product by Elizabeth Arden. “Are we as a species subconsciously adjusting to the day when temperate becomes as tropical as the Garden of Eden? … Will mind and body once again be one?” Meanwhile, tattoos are all the rage—“a way of finding constancy when the rest of life seems to be running on random”; and “our embrace of super soaps can probably be understood in light of a general foreboding that crystallizes around the millennium.” Interspersed throughout this overeducated patter are plugs for specific products, the use of which is linked to nothing less than individual fulfillment. And so we learn that the Soho conceptual artists Tony & Tina have just come out with a new product, a nail polish to activate chakras. “Transforming inner being is their primary goal,” Tannen writes.
This is propaganda, delivered with a flattering wink of shared superiority. Its very knowingness frees the writer from guilt. And Bridget Jones's Diary is the diary of a victim of the propaganda. It is what a terribly unfree spirit thinks a terribly free spirit is like.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1426
SOURCE: “Up and Down,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 27, 1998, p. 10.
[In the following review, DiMassa compares Bridget Jones's Diary to other significant confessional writings in English literature.]
What's a girl to do? Radicalized in the '60s and '70s, tranquilized by the '80s, she emerges in the '90s the victim of an identity crisis. Time magazine recently identified this crisis, suggesting that “feminism today is wed to the culture of celebrity and self-obsession.” Bridget Jones, the enchanting figment of Helen Fielding's imagination, is a poster child for the confused woman of the 1990s.
It's worse than being a farmer, she moans, “there is so much harvesting and crop spraying that needs to be done: legs to be waxed, underarms shaved, eyebrows plucked, feet pumiced, skin exfoliated … The whole performance is so highly tuned you only need to neglect it for a few days for the whole thing to go to seed.”
Bridget inhabits a world not so different from our own, where self-help books solve dysfunctions, quizzes measure self-worth and magazines egg us on to “Lose 5 Pounds in One Week” and “Learn to Love Your Body” all at the same time. The hypocrisies that clutter the landscape of our own daily regimens are in evidence in Bridget Jones's Diary and, in Fielding's skillful hands, they are taken to a delightful extreme.
A parody of the epistolary novel, this novel-turned-diary chronicles Bridget's daily—even hourly—bouts of self-examination and captures what it means to be a single thirty-something woman—with all of the requisite complexities, frailties, strengths and obsessive-compulsive tendencies inherent in the species. The diary begins with a dizzying set of resolutions for the new, unnamed year—“I WILL NOT … Fall for any of [the] following: alcoholics, workaholics, commitment phobics, people with girlfriends or wives, misogynists, … I WILL … Reduce circumference of thighs by 3 inches … using anticellulite diet … Not go out every night but stay in and read books and listen to classical music”—and scrambles through the year from there. Fielding allows readers to be voyeurs into Bridget's most intimate musings, connected to what happens but slightly removed from the scene, hovering at a safe distance just above it.
This is a contagious type of voyeurism, however, and Bridget does not disappoint. She feeds us with even the minutiae of her life; each of her diary entries begins with a list of sorts—kinds of food eaten, calories consumed, cigarettes smoked (“weeds of Satan,” Bridget calls them), alcohol units imbibed, lottery tickets bought, lottery tickets that actually paid off, negative thoughts, even her use of Caller ID to check whether the man of her dreams has called and then hung up (he hasn't, usually).
There are the usual hardships: the job that doesn't love her back, the mother who doesn't understand, the younger man who tells her she's “squashy” and the weight that is never where she wants it. The characters in Bridget Jones's Diary are the cut-and-dried clichés that populate any good sitcom or farce: overbearing parents, nosy parents’ friends, handsome men who are no good, sympathetic female pals and somewhere, oh, somewhere out there, at least one man who, she hopes, is potential date material.
Bridget doles out the salacious stuff as well. Her romantic life resembles Cosmo's Agony Column much more than the Jane Austen novel she aspires to imitate (“Darcy and Elizabeth … are my chosen representatives in the field of shagging, or rather, courtship,”) This is, after all, love in the age of John Gray, when every human behavior must be analyzed, categorized and then analyzed again. When a fellow “Singleton”—Bridget's term for the unmarrieds among us—confesses problems with a boyfriend, Bridget assesses: “She must stop beating herself over the head with Women Who Love Too Much’ and instead think more toward Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,’ which will help her to see … him being like a Martian rubber band which needs to stretch away in order to come back.” Bridget's opinion of the male species swings back and forth almost as frequently as her weight changes.
When Bridget catalogs the strange diets and habits that go along with her yo-yo weight, we see in her actions an amusing imitation of the self-scrutiny many of us engage in, the justifications we make of our lives and our behavior:
“Breakfast: hot-cross bun (Scarsdale Diet—slight variation on specified piece of whole-wheat toast); Mars Bar (Scarsdale Diet—slight variation on specified half-grapefruit)”
From our safe vantage point, we the observers realize that Bridget has crossed from self-scrutiny, which can be funny, into self-obsession, which can be disheartening; she laments that she has “spent so many years being on a diet that the idea that you might actually need calories to survive has been completely wiped out of [her] consciousness.”
It is easy to become so enraptured by Bridget's humorous commentary that one forgets that this is a novel, that things do happen as the year progresses. But positioned as these events are, they mostly serve as vehicles for Bridget's quips. A romance with the boss abruptly ends. Bridget enjoys a brief interlude as a true Singleton until another romance begins; the new object of her affection is Mark Darcy, a regular all-around good guy who patiently waits in the wings as lesser men fall. Bridget, a fan of the BBC's Pride and Prejudice (“The basis of my own addiction, I know, is my simple human need for Darcy to get off with Elizabeth”), never really seems to get the joke, however. For all that women have been through since Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice, Bridget still wants to be swept off her feet and carried off by Mr. Darey. And she is.
Parts of a secondary romance, which provide the Diary with a pat, albeit comedic, ending, ring untrue. Bridget's mom, who early on in the year decides “You only get one life” and resolves to spend hers “looking after me for a change,” leaves her husband, starts a career and takes off with Julian/Julio, a well-coiffed greasy type. By December, Mom has become a “front man” for Julio's time-share scam, and the police soon catch up with them. This entire escapade is nothing more than a plot contrivance, a device to enable Mark and Bridget's romance. The heroine gets the guy, and the secondary character is saved from a dreadful fate.
But the strengths of Bridget Jones's Diary are Bridget and how much of ourselves we can see in her and her parallel universe. She displays—and discusses—the behavior that we try to keep hidden, often in a fruitless effort to disguise lives that are disorganized beyond belief. Perhaps we have spent a morning recycling bunched-up pantyhose from the laundry, hoping to find one set without a run, or an evening passing off a dinner of blue soup and marmalade as a normal culinary experience. Perhaps we have silently labeled someone a “Smug Married” or a parent's efforts as “Competitive Childrearing,” crossing our fingers and hoping that they see the light. Bridget invents a vocabulary for the things that pester her, as if doing so will give her power over them, and there is something familiar about this practice as well.
This is a funny book and is successful being simply that. But it is also a book that can open our eyes slightly wider to what our world has wrought. Bridget's mother, who doesn't buy into the “Feminine Mystique” until the late 1990s, is a vehicle for Fielding to skewer '60s and '70s feminism. Despite her revolutionary intentions, she ends up just as self-obsessed and image-conscious as her daughter. And we adore Bridget, but we fear the woman she has become. Though she at times paints herself as Alice in a wonderland gone awry, Bridget ends the year much as she began it. engaging in numerical self-evaluation, counting fat units on an even par with nice boyfriends and hangover-free days. Fielding is satirizing the modern woman and the dangers of a feminism that has forsaken its activist roots.
So, what is a girl to do? I doubt Bridget could answer that question. But I think that given the opportunity, she would offer the same excuse for not answering the question that she uses for her inability to get ready for a date: “I am a child of Cosmopolitan culture, have been traumatized by supermodels and too many quizzes and know that neither my personality nor my body is up to it if left to its own devices.”
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1084
SOURCE: “Success and the Single Girl,” in New York, Vol. 32, No. 16, April 26, 1999, pp. 32–37.
[In the following review, Bernard focuses on Bridget's relevance to contemporary women.]
At Teddy's Berry Street diner in Williamsburg, Kate Christensen is fighting a hangover. Looking tired and a bit wan, she slips out of her fake-fur coat and orders a Bloody Mary. It turns out she was up until three last night, carousing at a musician friend's dinner party, lingering over a nightcap or two at a Metropolitan Avenue dive. “Usually I drink vodka,” she says. In fact, Christensen is such a connoisseur that she concocts her own. “Ginger vodka, horseradish vodka,” she says, flagging the waiter for a pot of tea to use as a chaser. “I'm trying out all kinds.”
Except for her wedding ring, the 36-year-old Christensen is a lot like Claudia Steiner, the vodka-swilling heroine of In the Drink, her first novel, which Doubleday is publishing in May. And though Claudia lives in a ratty Upper West Side studio instead of a Notting Hill flat, she happens to be a lot like Bridget Jones.
You have, of course, heard of Bridget, the self-obsessed centerpiece of Bridget Jones's Diary and the brainchild of former London Independent columnist Helen Fielding. Daily dispatches from Bridget's life, written in diary form and beginning with calories consumed, alcohol units imbibed, and Silk Cuts smoked, made Fielding's quirky column a sensation in England. In 1996, she gathered them into a book. And while she took pains to distance herself from her character, there were certain undeniable parallels: Like Bridget, Helen worked in television, chain-smoked, and enjoyed the occasional drink. A short blonde with a pixie hairdo, she came off in TV appearances like your sweet, slightly feckless sister-in-law. In Britain, her book sold over a million copies.
Shortly afterward, Viking raced both Fielding and Jones across the Atlantic, where they stirred a similar sensation. Bridget Jones's Diary leaped onto the New York Times best-seller list and remained there for seventeen weeks. Despite a few cultural discrepancies, many American women embraced the character with giddy self-recognition. She was a kind of resilient anti-heroine who veered between the pathetic and the courageous in her quest for love, sex, and an acceptable pair of opaque black stockings. In America, as in England, Bridget was embraced as an iconic thirtysomething Everywoman.
Naysayers, not surprisingly, dismissed her as an appalling bundle of feeble neuroses. In a cover story last June on the state of feminism, Time held Bridget up as an example of how far the institution has fallen. By then, however, it was too late. Bridget had already inched her way into countless Mexican beach bags, Upper East Side book clubs, and NYU dorms, inducting terms like Smug Married (blissfully happy member of a couple), Emotional Fuckwittage (stress associated with unreliable boyfriend), and Singleton (a woefully unattached character) into the lexicon. Today there are dozens of Bridget reading groups, a Website, several fan clubs. Fielding is currently at work on the screenplay and, of course, the sequel. “It's much more than a book,” exults her U.S. editor, Pamela Dorman. “When you say Bridget, it conjures up a whole world.”
It's a world that's about to get a whole lot bigger. Long before Fielding arrived Stateside, Candace Bushnell had laid the groundwork by parlaying her pseudo-autobiographical New York Observer columns about Manhattan's sex-obsessed swell set into a best-selling book, Sex and the City, and an HBO series, now shooting its second season. Laura Zigman's Animal Husbandry covered some of the same terrain. But it was Fielding's smash success that ignited this particular frenzy. Now the sullen Gen-Xers and self-indulgent soul-bearers of the past few years are giving way to the lit world's newest prototype: a barrage of single, urban women, late twenties to late thirties, who struggle with loneliness and success with the help of a caustic sense of humor (and more than a few glasses of Chardonnay.)
In addition to Christensen's In the Drink, there is Melissa Bank's The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing and Suzanne Finnamore's Otherwise Engaged. This summer will also see the debuts of Amy Sohn's Run Catch Kiss, Clare Naylor's Love: A User's Guide, and Sue Margolis's Neurotica, among others. Their publishers are frantically hatching marketing campaigns (from seminars on the single girl to bride-to-be Web promotions) in an effort to replicate Bridget’s success while struggling to get out from under her approximately 123-pound shadow.
There is a temptation to glean all kinds of cultural significance from the phenomenon. It wasn't that long ago, after all, that women over 30 were relegated to the literary scrap heap, lucky to find a date, much less a book deal. In 1984, this magazine published a much-bemoaned study that claimed that women who were still single in their thirties had a better chance of getting hit by lightning than finding a long-term partner; that sense of desperation colored the way they were represented in fiction as well. But as the number of never-married American women more than tripled over the past two decades, the stereotype seemed dated. Now, if not always sympathetic, at least they have readers hanging on their every word.
Though Grove/Atlantic publisher Morgan Entrekin, who edited Bushnell and Fay Weldon, among others, is wary of literary trends, he believes that the boom in single-over-thirty protagonists may be driven in part by demographics. “Without question, 30-to-45-year-old women are currently the core readers of the fiction market. They are the strongest buyers and readers. It's the same reason all the Oprah books do so well. If publishers are interested in these girls as characters, it's because they are the ones who read these days.” (And it's probably not a coincidence that many of the editors and agents acquiring the books are women in their thirties as well.)
“When I go on call-in shows to talk about thirtysomething women, every line lights up, the phones get jammed, the faxes start pouring in,” says conservative author Danielle Crittenden, who questions the notion that a modern woman's career can replace a family life. Fielding modestly describes herself as merely the first to tap into a clearly emerging Zeitgeist. “Novels are like life, just a few years later,” she notes. “It just takes a long time for fiction to catch up with reality. It would be really arrogant,” she says, to take credit for empowering this crop of new novelists. “But I do like that idea. It makes me feel marvelous—like I'm the saintly benefactor!”
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1026
SOURCE: “Dear Diary … That Would Be Comic Novel Bridget Jones's Diary,” in Kansas City Star, June 10, 1999, p. E1.
[In the following interview, Fielding discusses various aspects of her career.]
5:15 p.m. Even though resolved NOT to imitate Bridget Jones diary entry (like every other journalist), cannot resist. Blimey! Am horribly uncreative. Is Helen Fielding ringing me up at 5:30 my time or 5:30 her time? Never can figure out bloody time differences. Plan to inquire about love life—but will ask at END of interview (v.v. smart, I think). Hope stupid tape recorder works. Aargh.
She's a single career woman living in the city who obsessively tracks her weight, exchanges flirty e-mails with a guy in the office, and has to put up with a meddling mother and “Smug Married” pals who are constantly trying to fix her up.
Recognize this woman?
It's Bridget Jones, actually, the unlucky-at-a-lot-of-things “Singleton”—not spinster, thank you very much—who obviously has sisters all over the world. Bridget is the loopy, 30-something heroine of Bridget Jones's Diary, the comic novel that was a hit in Britain and then crossed the ocean last summer to become a publishing sensation here, too. It's now in paperback, and author Helen Fielding has again hit the book-tour circuit. She'll be in Kansas City on Friday.
There's news on the Bridget front: The people behind Four Weddings and a Funeral and the new movie Notting Hill snagged the film rights to Fielding's book; she has written a couple of drafts of the screenplay. Who will play Bridget? Names like Minnie Driver and Helena Bonham Carter have been bounced around, but Fielding would like to see an unknown get the part (“I don't really want it to be a terribly thin young actress,” she says).
Fielding, a former newspaper writer and BBC producer, is also working on a Bridget sequel. She should have plenty of material: Jones's misadventures started out as a London newspaper column, which Fielding continued to write for three years after she'd finished the book.
And just in case you're wondering, Helen Fielding says she is not Bridget Jones: “I think a lot of people expect me to be her and sort of fall off the chair in a drunken heap, giggling. But often I have to disappoint them.” We caught up with the something-over-30 author (recent articles say she's 40; Fielding is charmingly vague on the subject) by phone from Sacramento, Calif., recently.
[Engle:] So, are a lot of women like Bridget?
[Fielding:] When I started writing it, it was a pretty unself-conscious thing. I was just writing a column for a newspaper, which I assumed would last about six weeks and that would be the end of it. But after the success of the column, and then the book, I realized there were an awful lot of women out there who shared Bridget's insecurities and constant doomed quest for self-improvement.
The book is a comic novel, but apparently there's a lot of truth behind the funny lines.
That would seem to be the case. Originally I was just trying to make people laugh and write a bit about life in London.
Especially in big cities, a lot of people are single. It's a pretty normal way to live. Most people will be single at some point in their lives, and (many) tend to live in urban families with their Singleton friends and their Smug Married friends and their gay friends. Also there's this thing of the Smug Marrieds persisting in the idea that there's been a mistake if someone's single: “How's your love life? Why aren't you married yet?” And of course what Bridget always wants to say is, “How's your marriage going? Still having sex?”
It's been said that your book's success has spawned a whole wave of books about neurotic, 30-ish single women. Are you proud?
I don't think I'm really responsible. I think it's Zeitgeist. If you have an idea, chances are so will 200 other people, and 10 of them will be writers, you know? Because I started to do mine as a column, I got a bit of a head start. It's much quicker to get a column published than it is to get a book published. It's no bad thing, people writing about women's lives as they really are. Women are very good at laughing at themselves.
There's been a lot of analysis of this book. Some critics have said Bridget the character is “a mess” and worse. Do you view her as pathetic at all?
No, I'm very fond of her as a character. It's a very ironic book.
I think if you're not fond of irony as a form of expression, then a book which contains the line, “There's nothing so unattractive to a man as strident feminism,” will probably annoy you. I think the job of a novelist is not to write propaganda but to reflect what's really going on. And the thing about Bridget is, she does have all these insecurities, but she also has a great capacity to pick herself up and (hatch) a new plan. Her ups and downs, I think, are sort of exaggerated versions of the secret thoughts that go on inside an awful lot of people.
What do men think of Bridget Jones?
Well, when I first started writing the column, nobody knew it was me, so lots of men thought she was a real person. I did get some very funny letters. There was one man who wrote a very serious letter to the editor of the Independent newspaper, saying, “Dear sir, I would quite like to (bleep) Bridget Jones. Could you let me have her phone number, please? Many thanks.”
In the U.K., it was mainly women to start with who were reading the book, but now there's a sort of new wave of men whose girlfriends or wives have given it to them and said, if you want to know how women's minds work, read this book. It's a horrible responsibility, really.
Finally, I've got to ask: How's your love life these days? Have you settled down yet?
(Laughs) How's your marriage going? Still having sex?
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1296
SOURCE: A review of Bridget Jones's Diary, in Personnel Psychology, Vol. 52, No. 2, Summer, 1999, pp. 485-89.
[In the following review, Dick notes that Bridget Jones's Diary is a precursor of other contemporary works about single women.]
It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that borrowing the plot of a great classic and loosely applying it in a different context will inevitably result in comparisons being made between the two. It is also usual, in such cases, that the borrower is not the one who benefits from such a comparison.
Bridget Jones's Diary, based very loosely on Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice, is concerned with a year in the life of its heroine, a thirtysomething “singleton” who is a graduate living in London and, for part of the year, working for a publishing company. The main concern of the heroine is attempting to rid herself of her “singleton” status and, in pursuing this goal, to rid herself of a number of undesirable habits (drinking and smoking) and some body weight. Each chapter (day of the diary) starts with an enumeration of the number of alcohol units consumed, cigarettes smoked, and calories imbibed and then goes on to describe her triumphs and disasters in attempting to secure a “partner.”
Most, if not all, of the women I know who have read this book found it hilarious—side-splittingly so in some cases. I must be a lone voice, therefore, in saying that I did not find the book funny. In fact, I found it depressing. It seems to me that, for all the talk of girl power and the apparently liberated 1990s woman, what this book confirms is that the female identity continues to be largely constituted through a discourse that puts the pursuit of a meaningful heterosexual relationship as the be-and-end-all of a woman's existence.
When one considers that Wendy Hollway identified this as a hegemonic discourse in the early 1980s in her work on gender identity (Hollway, 1984), then it seems that not much has changed in the last 15 years.
On the other hand, the fact that Bridget has a female boss, a gay male friend, other female friends in their 30s who are also single, her own flat, and feels free to have casual sex with whomsoever she pleases perhaps paints a different story. Are we a more liberal society, one where women can now climb the greasy pole without too much difficulty? Maybe. Whatever your view, Bridget Jones's Diary certainly tells us something about life in the 1990s.
Can Bridget Jones, then, offer us insights into working life that are more meaningful than the types of research reports that get published in academic journals? I think the short answer is, yes. It can tell us much about the sorts of assumptions that are often made about people at work versus the sorts of realities that criss-cross those assumptions. For instance, work motivation. Bridget Jones appears to spend much of her time at work fantasizing about one of her (male) bosses (“Mmmm, Daniel Cleaver, though. Love his dissolute air, while being v. [sic] successful and clever. … Think might wear short black skirt tomorrow.”), engaging in flirtatious e-mail correspondence with said boss, or else ringing her friends to chat to them about the status of their love lives.
Although this is clearly stereotypical, this does tell us something about the nature of work motivation that Maslow and the like simply fail to capture. Most motivation theories assume that work motivation is an internal drive (albeit one that can be affected by external factors such as pay and conditions) that is manifested in performance. However, what such theories neglect is the content of motivation. Why is it, for instance, that managers are often prepared to work many more hours than they are contracted to do, even when there is no obvious financial or career pay-off available? Why is it that Bridget Jones does not appear to take her work too seriously?
Motivation theories cannot answer these questions very well because they take the individual as the main unit of analysis. In doing so, the broader social processes through which individuality is constructed are not adequately explored, with the consequence that answers to motivational questions are sought at the level of the individual (e.g., performance related pay schemes, job enlargement, etc.). However, some commentators have argued that work motivation, and particularly the notion of the self-actualizing individual (Maslow, 1943), is a product of discourses targeted at the subjectivity of individuals (Du Gay, 1997; Rose, 1996). Such discourses seek to render the workforce increasingly self-motivated through subjective processes, in which work is no longer seen as a means to an end but as an end in itself (Rose, 1990). Of course, such discourses can only wield their subjective effects through individuals, and perhaps, for women, this discourse is less effective. Leidner (1991) and Kondo (1990) for example, suggest that female self-identity is traditionally less bound up with work. In other words, for females, a sense of gendered identity is achieved in nonwork arenas such as relationships and motherhood. Conversely male identity is something that is more traditionally achieved in work settings (Collinson, 1994).
Another aspect of working life in the 1990s that Bridget Jones sheds light on is sexist practices, such as sexual harassment. For most of the book, Bridget is either in pursuit of, or in a relationship with, one of her bosses, Daniel Cleaver. During the pursuit stage of the courtship, an e-mail correspondence forms the medium for their flirtation, with each party passing sexually loaded messages to the other. However, the sexualised context of workplace legislation is highlighted, when Bridget, proof-reading an e-mail she intends to send, muses, “Think will cross last bit out as contains mild accusation of sexual harassment whereas v. [sic] much enjoy being sexually harassed by Daniel Cleaver.”
What are we to make of this? On the one hand, I could take a stridently feminist view whereby, like other feminist researchers, I accuse Bridget of colluding in sexist practices that are essentially oppressive to women. Or, if I want to be less confrontational, I could perhaps suggest that she is experiencing a form of false consciousness and is therefore simply perceiving Daniel Cleaver's behavior in the wrong way. Neither approach, in my view, tells us what is going on here.
Bridget is not colluding with anybody, nor is she seeking to oppress other women, nor is she misperceiving Daniel Cleaver's intentions. What she is doing, I think, is reading his behavior through a discourse that suggests real women are attractive to desirable men (Hollway, 1984). As such, his behavior is taken as a signal of her own desirability and therefore self-worth. This in turn demonstrates why, in practice, it is difficult to develop and implement a sexual harassment policy. How can we have a policy that attempts to make some practices illegitimate, when the same behavior (for instance, “I like your tits in that top”) is probably going to be read differently by different women. Bridget Jones is not an anomaly. One hears of such events anecdotally, day in and day out, in most workplaces. However, if a man Bridget considers undesirable for whatever reason, made the same comment to her, she would possibly read that practice as harassment. Yet again, the problem here is not with any of the individuals involved, but with the way that adult identity is constructed in different ways for men and women.
There is much, much more I could say about Bridget Jones's Diary. Many of my friends think I'm rather over the top in my reaction to it. “It's harmless fun.” Maybe. I can't laugh, however. In 1813, Elizabeth Bennett and her sisters could only gain a legitimate place in society through being part of a heterosexual couple. Bridget Jones tells us that not much has changed.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1219
SOURCE: “Female Trouble,” in National Review, Vol. 51, No. 13, July 12, 1999, p. 55.
[In the following review, Klinghoffer compares Bridget Jones's Diary to several other contemporary works focusing on single women in their thirties, including Tama Janowitz's A Certain Age and Melissa Bank's A Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing.]
The other day, in an e-mail to a friend, I mentioned that I was reading a bunch of new novels about unmarried women looking for love in the big city. The books were charming, funny, but sad. It was a simple observation, to which my friend—a normally sweethearted and pacific girl, who happens to be unmarried—replied in an electronic fury: “Of course they are sad! But the REASON they are sad does not lie in the women themselves, but in the men who ruin their lives. I doubt that you, as a man, will be able to truly understand where these girls are coming from!”
Insert throat-clearing noise here. So how about those Knicks?
What got me reading the books was a panel discussion I attended at the 92nd Street Y, on the unlikely topic “What Do Single Girls Want?” The famous Young Men's Hebrew Association at 92nd and Lexington is one of New York's most relentlessly Serious institutions. On entering, you generally have to show the usher your eyebrows to make sure they're furrowed. So when the moderator, novelist Meg Wolitzer, got up to the podium and deadpanned, “I'm Cynthia Ozick and tonight we will be discussing ‘The Burden of History,’” she got a knowing chuckle from the crowd.
On the panel were Helen Fielding and Melissa Bank, respectively the authors of Bridget Jones's Diary and The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing, last year's and this year's biggest entries in a suddenly huge new publishing genre addressing the fears and hopes of urban, unmarried thirtysomething women. This spring and summer, no fewer than six such novels will have come out, replacing the whiny memoirs of abuse that till recently were the book industry's favorite flavor.
These women refuse to whine, though they would be justified in doing so. Americans are getting married later than ever before: Over the past 20 years, the number of unmarried women over 30 has almost doubled. This works out nicely for men. But beyond a certain age, women discover that it's increasingly difficult to find a spouse. Miss Fielding's Bridget Jones, an adorable thirtysomething flunky at a London publishing house, puts it memorably: “As women glide from their twenties to thirties, … the balance of power subtly shifts. Even the most outrageous minxes lose their nerve, wrestling with the first twinges of existential angst: fear of dying alone and being found three weeks later half-eaten by an Alsatian.” The protagonist of a new single-girl novel, Amy Sohn's Run Catch Kiss, worries about being left adrift at 45 when “my chances of getting married would be smaller than my chances of getting killed in a terrorist attack.”
Nor are the unmarried thirtysomethings the only ones who are afraid. One theme of these novels has to do with Smug Marrieds (as Bridget Jones calls them), constantly pestering single female friends about their “social life.” This is evidently a universal experience. At the Y, I sat down next to a couple of attractive 34-year-olds, one single, the other (whew!) recently married. Said the latter, a journalist: “Before I got married, I could call up my father on the phone and say, ‘Daddy! I just won a Pulitzer and made a killing on Internet stocks!’ There'd be this pause, then he'd say, ‘So what's going on socially?’” The journalist's friend, a college professor, told about how her mother leaves Post-it notes on the refrigerator with the names of men to whom she's given her daughter's phone number, followed by: “They'll probably never call, but what the heck!”
These poor girls. In her spunky novel, Miss Sohn semiautobiographically recalls being brainwashed as a college student, at Brown, spending “four years learning not to buy into the warped value system of the patriarchal hegemony.” Getting married before it's too late is one such value. After college, as Miss Bank's narrator says, “there was our sea-horse period, when we were told that we didn't need mates; we were supposed to make ourselves happy just bobbing around in careers.” In her darkly funny new novel, A Certain Age, Tama Janowitz puts heretical ideas in the mind of her desperate 32-year-old heroine, romantic ideas about marriage, even about hoping to get hitched to a man of means: “Women—modern women—were not supposed to think this way; they were supposed to be tough, interested in their careers, cultural events. … Romance was girlie stuff; getting money and acceptance through marriage was contemptible.”
Clearly these women have been cheated, lied to about what matters in life, and they themselves will pay for the deception. Yet both at the Y and in these books, what you heard was not complaints but jokes. Bridget Jones and Girls’ Guide are the kind of books you read with a smile on your face from the first page to the last. Miss Bank also happens to be a fine writer. If not quite a book for the ages, Girls’ Guide is a perfectly drawn portrait of Jane Rosenal, its endearing protagonist, a peon book editor who falls in love with a much older editor at a competing publisher. When inevitably this relationship collapses, Jane must find a suitable man closer to her own age—a formidable challenge.
But what stands out most about these books and their authors is their fondness for wisecracks. When Jane loses her job, her ancient boyfriend insists on getting her a position at his company. Lying in bed with him, she says, “I could bring you up on charges for that.”
“Work harassment in the sexual place.”
This jokiness was especially striking in the context of the 92nd Street Y's solemn, dark-paneled auditorium. Earlier writers on “women's issues” were inclined to lecture at you. Who ever heard of an amusing feminist? But Miss Fielding and Miss Bank were practically a stand-up act. The former spoke of Bridget being published in Italy, where the title in translation sounded like The Diarrhea of Bridget Jones, and a pompous journalist asked whether she intended the book as “a transcendental meditation on existential despair.”
“I said”—nodding her head eagerly—“‘Yeah!’”
But a melancholy thought creeps in among the wisecracks. In Bridget Jones, Miss Fielding cites a “theory that homosexuals and single women in their 30s have natural bonding: both being accustomed to disappointing their parents and being treated as freaks by society.” In an essay on gays and their affinity for campy humor, Susan Sontag once wrote that this affinity can be explained as a defense against the sadness of a homosexual's life. In the hope of lightening the burden of guilt, gays make jokes.
Of course, considered as an individual, an unmarried woman over 30 has nothing to feel guilty about. But collectively there's something sad indeed about the condition of the uncountable single women over that age who, as twentysomethings, were fooled into disdaining early marriage. And who as a result may go through life alone. Just now those women are writing and reading amusing novels about themselves, to brush away the tears. Even a man can understand that.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 770
SOURCE: “Why I Love Bridget Jones,” in New Statesman, Vol. 128, No. 4446, July 26, 1999, p. 51.
[In the following review, Gilbert lauds Bridget Jones's Diary for spawning a new genre of fiction by women writers which is typically comical and lighthearted, and features female protagonists who are obsessed with being thin.]
Helen Fielding has created a contemporary Molly Bloom.
Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding, is one of the most important novels of the 1990s. Not only has its phenomenal popularity spawned numerous imitations, it has introduced an entirely new fictional voice. Bridget Jones and its imitations—what I call “thinnist fiction” because of the female protagonists obsession with their weight and because of the novels’ light, comic tone—have been widely vilified: by feminists for trivialising women's problems and implicitly suggesting that what a girl needs is a good man; and by literary critics for not being, well, proper literature. Most recently, Lola Young, chairman of the Orange Prize jury, complained that these books “tended towards the domestic in a piddling sort of way”.
Yet the public have continued buying these novels in increasing numbers. Helen Fielding has sold more than a million copies in this country, and 460,000 copies of the paperback will invade the US soon. …
So what explains this success? Without doubt, the thinnists are plugging a hole left behind by the diminishing popularity of Mills and Boon. Women between 30 and 45, the biggest buyers of fiction here and in the US, seem no longer content to read traditional fantasy romance. Hardened by the experience of holding down a job, they seek more realistic fiction set in the workplace. Yet they also want the basic narrative elements of the romantic novel to remain: the tortuous search for happiness with Mr Right. Nearly all the thinnists have a thirtysomething female protagonist falling for Mr Wrong—usually a sexually unfaithful, sports-loving cad/slob—but finally realising that Mr Right is the rather handsome lawyer/banker they once dismissed as dull.
Yet what is most interesting in thinnist fiction is the war the protagonists wage on their bodies and themselves. Fiction excels at dealing with internal conflict; no other art form can get under the skin so successfully. The modernists understood this—both James Joyce and Virginia Woolf used stream-of-consciousness devices to highlight the morass of conflicting information, feelings and thoughts that the mind trawls through at any given moment. In Joyce's Ulysses the tension between the mundane and the serious in Leopold Bloom's mind motors the novel: the tiniest, trivial details resonate in Joyce's choppy, poetic, diarylike prose.
In this sense, the thinnists pick up where the modernists left off. They are, like Joyce, obsessively concerned with the ordinary. The novels are suffused with the apparent trivia of modern living: the number of calories in food items, losing one or two pounds, the advantages of 1471 on the telephone, betting on the Lottery, chat-rooms on the Internet. But, as with Joyce and Woolf's fiction, when the reader puts these small but authentic details together, a larger, more terrifying picture is formed of a person at war with herself.
In Bridget Jones's Diary we find this sentence: “I am going to turn into a hideous grow-bag-cum-milk-dispensing-machine which no one will fancy and which will not fit into any of my trousers, particularly my brand new acid green Agnes B jeans.” While this sentence is utterly authentic—it perfectly articulates the heroine's fear of pregnancy—it is also literary in its devices. It employs two subordinate clauses and a parenthesis to qualify the main clause and thus reveals, through its complex grammar, the endlessly qualifying and self-justifying nature of Jones's mind. The syntax also juxtaposes outlandish imagery (the grow-bag) with vivid realist detail (the acid green jeans), which makes the reader conflate the grow-bag with the jeans, creating a doubly surreal and, ultimately, disturbing image: huge, growing jeans, dripping milk. At times like these, Bridget Jones seems a contemporary version of Molly Bloom.
Fiction has never seen protagonists quite like Jones before; these heroines are inhabiting bodies that are their enemies. To complicate matters, the thinnists tend to be wonderfully ironic and self-deprecating. Like Lola Young, they really believe that their problems are “piddling”. The protagonists may be beating themselves up over the way they dress, what they eat and how they are perceived by others; but the thinnists don't turn their novels into leaden critiques of the world. Rather, they turn the tragedy of modern consumer society—the truth that materially we have everything we ever wanted but suffer even more than before—into an absurdist comedy: an impossible search for a mythical male hero.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1001
SOURCE: “Me and Miss Jones,” in London Observer, November 21, 1999, p. 13.
[In the following review, Merritt praises the universal appeal of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, but contends that Fielding should abandon the confessional diary genre after this book.]
‘Bridget Jones is … no mere fictional character, she's the Spirit of the Age,’ gushed Melanie McDonagh in the Evening Standard last week, in a piece heralding the arrival of the sequel to Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary. ‘She's us, all over.’
Well—sorry, but she's not, and lots of us would be appalled by the suggestion. I was 22 when Bridget Jones's Diary was published, and remember being so horrified by the idea that I might end up like her that my friends and I made a spontaneous suicide pact for the end of our 29th year. Which is not to say that I didn't find the book hilarious. Bridget is probably the most successful comic creation of this decade, the most controversial and talked-about female fictional character since Lolita, the mother (metaphorically, obviously) of a fast-growing brood of mini-Bridgets and Bridget clones engendered since Fielding's spoof column began in The Independent in 1995. Bridget terminology has slipped into common parlance, defining an entire demographic subgroup—the Singleton (female, thirtysomething)—for which she has become a synonym, and giving our language the invaluable noun ‘fuckwittage’ to cover almost all aspects of male behaviour. And, while I don't hold with the Bridget-as-Everywoman theory, her neuroses are sufficiently universal for the first book to have sold over three million copies worldwide—these readers can't all be thirtysomething women desperate for babies.
Feminists profess to despise her and all she stands for, but the amount of vitriol that has been poured out in newsprint since she first appeared seems to me a wasted effort; Bridget is a deliberate exaggeration, a parody—surely we are supposed to find her pathetic and laughable?
Fielding has wisely realised that the best thing to do with a winning formula is not to change it. The long-awaited sequel (only 71 weeks late), Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason is, in spite of its alarmingly Kantian title, almost exactly like the first book; few surprises, even fewer pronouns and definite articles; just as funny but with, inevitably, a strong sense of déjà-vu. If you loved the last book, you will probably love this one; likewise if you hated it.
The diary lurches through 1997, complete with accounts of Labour's election euphoria and the death of Diana, as Bridget is beset with troubles closer to home. Her fledgling, soft-focus love affair with the implausibly handsome and nice Mark Darcy, which began at the end of the first book, soon flounders in a mire of self-help, Mars-and-Venus theories a few pages in, as Bridget becomes convinced that he's having an affair with the evil Rebecca, with her ‘snooker ball bottom', swishy hair and ‘thighs like a baby giraffe’. Her mother disappears to Kenya and brings home a tribal warrior called Wellington who entertains the local Rotarians while her father disappears into the shed and emerges an alcoholic; meanwhile her boss is suffering from increasing cocaine-fuelled mania and the builder knocks an enormous hole in the wall of her flat before himself disappearing. She still douses her sorrows in Chardonnay, but her new television job on Sit Up Britain must have meant a boost in salary—instead of Café Rouge, she and her stalwart mates Jude and Shazzer now skip over the road to 192 to discuss their biological clocks (which by now have assumed the dimensions of Big Ben).
Just as Bridget herself was given a walk-on part in Sue Townsend's recent Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years, Fielding pays homage to best-selling author Nick Hornby, whose generous quote in praise of Fielding's last book decorates the jacket of this one. One of the funniest moments is Bridget's foray into print journalism; she interviews her television fantasy Colin Firth on the subject of Fever Pitch but misses her deadline, obliging the Independent to print the transcript of her tape instead:
BJ: [rustling paper] Do you think the book of Fever Pitch has spored a confessional gender?
CF: Excuse me?
BJ: Has. Spored. A. Confessional. Gender.
CF: Well. Certainly Nick Hornby's style has been very much imitated and I think it's a very appealing, er, gender whether or not he actually, um. … spored it.’
In-joke and sly self-reference over, Bridget returns the interview to her favourite themes—the scene where Colin Firth dived into the lake in Pride and Prejudice and whether he feels like breaking up with his girlfriend.
New Labour satire is sensibly kept to a minimum, confined mainly to musings on the size of Cherie's bottom and Bridget's brilliant notion of instating a Code of Dating Practice to ensure fewer working hours are lost agonising over fuckwittage of boyfriends. She drafts some intriguing clauses (‘If citizens snog or shag other citizens they must not pretend nothing is going on’; ‘After sexual relations it is definitely bad manners not to stay the night, etc), but sadly, Harriet Harman fails to return her calls. She sets off to seek enlightenment in Thailand, where she and Shazzer are duped by a Harrison Ford lookalike and Bridget ends up in a Bangkok jail with only a copy of Kipling's ‘If’ to maintain her spirits—that and the thought that she is shedding pounds without trying.
This should be the last Bridget Jones book. Fielding is undoubtedly the master of this particular genre, but it's a genre that's getting tired and she ought to quit while Bridget is still an icon. Bridget must be into her late thirties by now, and her adolescent maunderings are going to get a bit undignified if she goes on much longer. So far, though, she is still on superb form; get someone to buy you this book for Christmas, read it through in one afternoon, hoot out loud at the many v. good bits, and rejoice that Bridget is emphatically not ‘us all over’.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 791
SOURCE: “What's the Problem?,” in Spectator, Vol. 283, No. 8938, November 27, 1999, p. 52.
[In the following review, de Botton lists eleven generalizations about men and women upon which Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason is based, and contends that Fielding has cleverly situated her humor around dark and tragic human issues.]
Any man reading Helen Fielding's new book [Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason] will laugh but end up feeling wretched. Why are we so awful? Or, as Bridget Jones puts it, such ‘fuckwits’? Bridge is thirtysomething, solvent, attractive and intelligent and yet, despite gargantuan efforts, can't find a husband. All the men she meets have ‘commitment problems’; they sleep with her, stumble along in a relationship for a few months and then go and have sex with someone else. Sadly, Bridget isn't alone. The last volume of her diaries sold a million copies in the UK. This one is a worthy follow-up and will sell another million. Women identify with her, men feel guilty about her and wish her experiences could all be just the joke they are on the surface. But beneath the humour, Helen Fielding has penned a crucial analysis of the modern mating ritual, she has articulated the traumas of a generation.
So what's the problem with men and women? Fielding's book brings to mind a number of wild, but not necessarily mad, generalisations:
1) After 25, the majority of women are looking to find a husband with whom to have children. They feel an increasing sense of urgency about this, given the difficulty of conceiving a healthy child after 35.
2) Until 35, men feel no urgency about the marriage-baby project. Indeed, they are aware that their power to attract the opposite sex is linked to status rather than youth and therefore (unless they are athletes or in boy bands) will sense that their chances of attracting a desirable partner will increase with age. Between 25 and 35, the male goals are simply (a) to have sex (b) not be lonely.
3) So strong are these drives, men will often start relationships with women who they do not conceive as a life partner and could not—if they were honest—imagine marrying.
4) Women are almost universally uninterested in casual sex or casual relationships.
5) The sexual revolution has made it acceptable for a man to live with a woman for years without marrying or having children. Insofar as men want sex and women want commitment, the sexual revolution has therefore undoubtedly benefitted men more than women.
6) Social mores make it hard for women openly to express their desire for marriage and children to men. To do so seems nagging and reactionary. This veil of silence works entirely in men's favour. A relationship can continue for months or years with the woman failing to mention the marriage and children issue for fear of alienating the man, and the man skirting the issue because he knows that, if it were brought out in the open, he would lose a woman whose company and body he enjoys enough in the short term to fear the conversation (though not enough to propose marriage).
7) For a man to feel that he is in love with a woman, the woman typically has to possess certain very specific physical characteristics (though these are not necessarily synonymous with beauty). If she fails to possess them, the man may still feel great affection for her and enjoy sex with her, but this is not usually enough to push him into marriage. He will continue to seek other women who can better satisfy his physical ‘fetishes’.
8) Women are not as fixated on looks as men, they can fall in love with character.
9) In the human race as a whole, more people have good characters than they have good bodies. Therefore women have an easier time ‘falling in love’.
10) Bridget Jones speaks continually of ‘commitment problems’ in men. Men do not have commitment problems per se, they only ever have problems committing to women who do not satisfy them with the requisite intensity. Few men would have problems committing to Kate Moss or Anna Friel.
11) All the above leads to a condition where there are many women between the ages of 25 and 35 in relationships and in love with men between 25 and 35 who are not head over heels in love with them and who are (secretly) not planning to marry them.
This is the depressing world in which Helen Fielding's heroine, Bridget Jones, moves. Naturally, this is a world of sexual stereotypes, but gender differences—as scientists have been gently trying to tell us for close to 200 years—are not always phoney simply because they are unflattering to our self-image as rational, free souls. Like the best comics, Helen Fielding situates her humour close to some dark, even tragic issues.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 785
SOURCE: “I Don't Begrudge Helen Fielding Her Success with Bridget Jones. Not At All. No Way. Absolutely Not,” in New Statesman, Vol. 128, November 29, 1999, p. 34.
[In the following review, French discusses the style of humor, dominant themes, and success of Bridget Jones's Diary.]
Ten am. 12st 8lb, alcohol units 0, cigarettes 0, calories 357 (according to the outside of the porridge packet).
Don't worry. This isn't going to be another Bridget Jones parody. More a howl of pain.
I heard Helen Fielding being interviewed on the radio about the Bridget Jones sequel [Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason], and she was actually giggling helplessly as she described the plot of her own book, which is probably impressive in a way. I mean, if you've spent a year writing something and it still makes you laugh, either it must really be funny or you've gone mad from sitting in a room too long—or maybe you just have a nervous laugh.
Apparently, the first Bridget Jones book sold a million copies, or was it three million? It was certainly excessive. I used to turn to the bestseller list every week and there it still was. It was pretty clear that every single woman in the country who could make out the top letters on an eye chart had bought it. Then married women bought it, then men. By the end, the only explanation that made sense was that some of the higher mammals had started to buy it as well. And now there's another book, and it's going to start all over again.
“It is not enough to succeed,” said Gore Vidal. “Others must fail.” I don't agree with that at all. I think it's a gross distortion of the fellow feeling that exists between writers. “There's something in the disasters of others,” said La Rochefoucauld, “that doesn't displease us.” Absolute rubbish.
Confucius observed that “there is nothing more pleasant than to observe one's best friend falling off the roof of a house”. Crap. Absolute crap. There are many things I can think of—nice things—that are much more pleasant.
I started to read Bridget Jones's Diary and found it quite likeable and funny. Admittedly, some of it is a bit odd. Opening the book virtually at random: “Apparently, there is a Martin Amis character who is so crazily addicted that he starts wanting a cigarette even when he's smoking one. That's me.”
If you're going to steal other people's jokes, it's better just to steal them and pretend you thought them up yourself. Anyway, as I read on, I began to get a bit impatient and then I started to look ahead. Was this all there was? Were these lists of calories consumed and cigarettes smoked going to continue throughout the book? Was it just going to be 300 pages of maundering about her private life?
Because, if so, I don't need to read about maundering. I can maunder myself. And I can write about maundering. I was maundering in the New Statesman before Bridget Jones was ever heard of. And before that, I was maundering in New Society.
I was exploring sexual failure and being self-pitying on the subject at a time when Helen Fielding was still having a great time and hadn't even thought of being neurotic. No one can tell me about sexual failure and maundering. I wrote the book on sexual failure and maundering. Except not literally. I didn't actually write the book on it.
In the remarkable first episode of his History of the Renaissance on BBC2, Andrew Graham-Dixon argues that one of the first great renaissance painters was a totally obscure and forgotten church painter in the Balkans. When somebody comes to do the history of famous sad bastards, I'll be like him. “Long before self-pity and social failure became lucrative and successful,” some scholar will argue, “Sean French spent years being self-pitying and a social failure in complete obscurity.”
And as for that Nick Hornby, years before Fever Pitch was published, I wrote a column about going to a football match with my father, Philip French. It was even at bloody Arsenal.
I wrote about how, at the end, we were separated by the force of the crowd. As my father was swept away from me, he shouted: “This is like the last scene from Les Enfants du Paradis.” Did this get any media attention? Yes, it did. It got into Pseuds Corner in Private Eye. The words “prophet”, “honour” and “without” come to mind.
Believe it or not, I am now off to my local primary school to give a talk to the ten year olds in the “Reporters’ Club”. Next week, Douglas Bader will be teaching them to tap dance.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 513
SOURCE: A review of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason in Times Literary Supplement, No. 5044, December 3, 1999.
[In the following review, Potts lauds Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, and asserts that the book touches on contemporary themes such as physical and spiritual self-development and sexual etiquette.]
Bridget Jones, Helen Fielding's comic creation, returns in time for Christmas, unusually good timing for a woman whose punctuality is regularly ridiculed by her boss (“Come on Bridget Droopy-Drawers Late Again!”). Her name has become a synonym for a dizzy, relationship-obsessed thirty-something woman; her diaristic shorthand, totalling calories, cigarettes, glasses of Chardonnay, weight and other obsessions, has been copied with flattering regularity. She is daft, shallow and neurotic; she is also endearingly funny in her manic enthusiasms and petulant disappointments. For those who loved her the first time round, the fact that she has not changed much should be a source of satisfaction.
What Fielding does achieve, deftly, is more than mere caricature, and more than simple sex-war slapstick. Bridget's caustic taxonomies—Smug Marrieds, Singletons, Emotional Fuckwits—and her friends’ obsession with self-help books are grounded in the anxieties of the 1990s dating scene, where sexual etiquette is being permanently negotiated (rather than codified in an Austenesque fashion). The obsession with the possibilities of self-development, spiritual or physical, and its endless deferral, are also very much of our times. When Bridget argues that self-help books are “a new form of religion”, she, as ever, doesn't have the intelligence to defend the thesis, but she does have a point.
Austen, as before, is Fielding's model, radically but affectionately updated. Where Bridget Jones's Diary was based on Pride and Prejudice, The Edge of Reason looks to Persuasion as its marker; Bridget's romance with Mark Darcy is threatened by a scheming minx, allowing for a reprise of singleton agonies before the desired romantic conclusion. Along the way, in an inspired conflation of various comic strategies, she also interviews Colin Firth, the smouldering BBC Mr Darcy, for the Independent, the catastrophic transcript being printed in lieu of her copy. An unequivocally non-Austenesque episode occurs when Bridget becomes an unwitting mule for a drug smuggler and is imprisoned in Thailand. Fielding maintains the Bridget Jones diary voice, jokes and fatuities and all, while leaving the reader aware that conditions are brutal and her heroine terrified. At this point, one realizes that Bridget's diary persona can be a defence against the intolerable. The episode is subtly handled by Fielding; she retains humour without debasing the seriousness of the situation, and Bridget's character is undoubtedly enhanced in the process.
The Edge of Reason offers us all the old faces (Shazza, Jude, Vile Richard, et al) and most of the old jokes, and will no doubt irritate those curmudgeonly readers who think that a heroine should demonstrate role-model virtues. But there is, to be honest, a bit of Bridget Jones in a lot of the women and men—or boys and girls, perhaps—of a certain generation, and to have those aspects so affectionately rendered, and both ridiculed and subversively celebrated, is a welcome treat.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1285
SOURCE: “Bridget Creator Finds Fertile Ground in LA,” in Los Angeles Times, February 22, 2000, p. E1.
[In this interview, Fielding and Miller discuss female identity, moving to America, and the continued success of Bridget Jones's Diary.]
For the record, Helen Fielding had zero alcohol units and zero cigarettes at a Sunset Boulevard lunch, during which there was no calorie counting and no boyfriend talk.
In other words, the bestselling novelist is not Bridget Jones incarnate, even if some people do mistakenly call her by her 30-something heroine's name, and despite the fact she has just had a very Bridget-like experience with the roof of her new Hollywood house springing leaks in the manner of a garden hose ravaged by a great Dane.
“I am sure it will all be sorted out soon,” Fielding said with the kind of optimism she admires in Californians.
Fielding, whose second diary, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, is to be published in the United States at the end of the month, recently moved to Los Angeles to the chagrin of her British friends and fans. It is tempting to ask how she could possibly trade Notting Hill chic at 192—Bridget's favorite hangout—for L.A. hip at Cafe Med, except that we are seated outdoors on a spectacularly bright, sunny day in the middle of what only Californians could call winter.
“I love it here. Look at it, it's February. I swam this morning. It's half an hour to the beach and 40 minutes to the Wild West. I can be in the desert in 2 1/2 hours, and Mexico is two hours away on the plane. It's brilliant,” Fielding said.
“Especially for a writer, to come to L.A., well, even if things go wrong, there is so much to write about,” she enthused.
Fielding finds it amusing that Angelenos complain about traffic—which does move, after all, and hardly compares to London gridlock. Or the way Californians go to pieces in the rain and refuse to come see her new house because it is wet outside, a condition that would turn Britain into an entire nation of shut-ins.
Then there is the positive, good-natured character of Californians, America's alternative to the stiff upper lip.
“As I was leaving a hotel in the desert, I told the woman working there that, by the way, the toilet is broken in the room. And she said, ‘Oh, thank you, thank you so much for telling me.’ I imagine I could have said that my friend died and I left the body in the room, and she still would have said, ‘Oh, fantastic, thank you, thank you so much,’” Fielding said with a laugh.
Fielding clearly is having a v. good time. And why shouldn't she? Bridget Jones's Diary sold 4 million copies in 30 countries, and the British edition of The Edge of Reason has sold nearly 500,000 since it was published in November. She is collaborating on the screenplay of Bridget Jones's Diary, to be directed by her friend Sharon Maguire for Working Title, which brought out Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill.
Bridget has spawned a slew of knockoff books, none of them as successful, and has added several words to the vocabulary of Chardonnay-chugging, urban singletons who identify with this bundle of insecurities trying to live up to impossible standards.
In her new diary, Bridget has traded diet books for self-help books and has a boyfriend, the rich and handsome Mark Darcy, whom she is trying to hang on to against the advances of gorgeous Rebecca, a villain “with thighs like a baby giraffe.”
Telephone-addicted Bridget juggles her relationship with Mark along with the full-time demands of a manic boss, friends Shazzer, Jude and smug married Magda, and a zany mother who goes off to Africa to bring home a tribes man named Wellington.
Bridget then heads for Thailand, where she and Shazzer are conned by a Harrison Ford look-alike. She ends up in jail on drug charges, comforted only by the thought that she is shedding pounds.
Bridget II offers the same mix of neurosis and parody that attracted and irritated so many women, from London to Los Angeles to Tokyo, the first time around. But what exactly is it, Fielding is asked over salad and scallops, that makes so many women identify with Bridget?
“It is the gap between how you are and how you feel you are expected to be,” Fielding said. “There are so many confusing images—wife, mother, Cosmo girl and career woman with the body of an anorexic teenager. Even high-powered New York women in business suits identify with her not being able to find a pair of tights in the morning.
“This feeling of not being as you are supposed to be seems to be pretty universal,” she said.
Many professional women in their mid-30s have had to make difficult choices in their lives, among them, perhaps, the decision not to marry, she said.
“For these women to then be subjected to comments from an uncle like, ‘What, still not married?’ or about being on the shelf past your sell-by date, it's just not fair.”
While the plot of the first book comes from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, the second borrows heavily from Persuasion. Both stories, Fielding noted, were “well market-researched over a number of centuries.”
But many feminists who love Jane Austen hate Bridget Jones, which portrays modern women squandering their hard-fought freedom on worrying about thigh size and sell-by dates.
“I don't think it's good, but it's true,” Fielding said. “If it hadn't hit a true note, the book wouldn't have sold as it did. But the women buying it are not anti-feminist. It's a mark of strength to laugh at yourself.”
Besides, she noted with characteristic irony, her weightier endeavors on refugee camps in Africa—her first book, Cause Celeb—and a proposal on cultural clashes in the Caribbean have not been as popular. Not to mention those sincere newspaper articles she used to write on the future of the British countryside.
The British press reported that Fielding did not want to write a sequel to Bridget Jones, but caved in to her publishers. Fielding said she was not opposed but feared she might not be able to sustain the character who sprang out of a newspaper column in 1995 without any expectations.
She squeezed the writing into a frenetic schedule of publicity trips to Spain and Japan and delivered the manuscript 77 weeks late.
Part of the appeal of Los Angeles for Fielding is that it offers her a calmer lifestyle than London does after the intensity of Bridget's success.
“I really like it. All of the phone calls [from London] stop at 10 a.m. and I can start writing,” she said.
Fielding had planned to take a break, but Los Angeles is proving too fertile a ground.
“I can't help it. I already have got piles of notes and interesting characters to think about,” she said. “There are all these man-women walking around with the bottom half of a boy and then these enormous breasts. How can it be? I feel I am from a different species.
“If you order potatoes au gratin or something like that in a restaurant, the waiter will look at you”—and here Fielding gives a look as if you are about to imbibe motor oil—“and he'll say, ‘You know, that contains dairy.’”
This, of course, is hilarious to someone from a country that offers up a “chip sandwich,” which is white bread smeared in butter and filled with French fries cooked in beef fat.
So where does all this lead? What is Fielding working on now?
“Oh,” she said, “getting the roof fixed.”
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1180
SOURCE: “Women on the Verge of a Self-Help Overdose,” in Wall Street Journal, Vol. CCXXXV, Issue 40, February 25, 2000, p. W8.
[In the following review of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Lehmann faults Fielding for trying to skirt around the feminist criticism of her work, while at the same time, continuing to portray Jones as “anachronistic” and “antifeminist.”]
In the 1998 bestseller Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding's fictional protagonist seemed a frazzled but sympathetic urban professional everywoman, cracking wise, courting success and—above all—withstanding the trials of singledom in wild lurches of enervating passion and high ambivalence. OK, maybe the satirical intent of the book seemed a little broad, and its gender politics a bit, well, reactionary. But this was literary farce, after all. Wasn't it the point of the book that we should all lighten up about these gender agonies, find the soothing balm of laughter in the foibles of our quests for success, self-fulfillment and love? Wasn't Bridget Jones, after all, the British Ally McBeal?
But that's pretty much the problem. Let us not forget that the Yank ingenue-cum-lawyer McBeal has taken a distinct turn toward the scarifying of late. As TV critics and fans of the series have noted, she seems to indulge in ever more grandiose ego agendas, even as her body shrinks toward anorexic oblivion.
In much the same manner, Jones has evolved into a discomfiting paradox. At first, we find her endearing because she seems such a well-intentioned naif: Guileless, disaster-prone and candid to a fault, she survives and prospers only by the good turns of chance (not unlike the protagonists of the Jane Austen novels from which Ms. Fielding shamelessly cribs her plots). But as we are reminded at great length in the new diary of Bridget Jones adventures, The Edge of Reason, she is also a raging narcissist who, for all her self-deprecating humor, seems unable to see just where the world begins and her self-obsession ends.
The pointed (if slight) cynical British wit of the first book has given way here to a hitherto American tradition: the religion of self-help. At the outset of Bridget Jones's Diary, our narrator is at least pretending to read Susan Faludi's feminist tract Backlash, indicating that she still nurses a hopeful vision of her own female independence. In The Edge of Reason, she quotes at reverent length from John Gray's insipid Mars and Venus corpus, ransacks Steven Covey's ghastly The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People for life guidance, and conducts breathless phone conversations with her friends over the fine points of What Men Want.
To be sure, Ms. Fielding does assay a few meek, Stuart Smalley-style satirical feints at the self-help theme in The Edge of Reason: In a fit of wrath, Bridget throws out all 47 titles in her self-improvement library, and Bridget's love interest, Mark Darcy, is occasionally trotted out to deliver cardboard tirades against the genre. But as the star-crossed Jones-Darcy romance is reignited this time out, a note of happy reassurance is struck when Bridget learns that Mark has assembled his own furtive cache of self-help manuals. This discovery is bracketed, on one side, by her fabulously well-to-do boyfriend's half-joking announcement upon their reunion that he intends to keep Bridget in the servants’ quarters “where you belong” and, on the other, by the news that (in Bridget's account) “one thing led to another and we just shagged, like, all night!!!”
There is, in other words, an unmistakably abject quality to the second installment of the Bridget Jones saga. Where the earlier Bridget had been merely desperate, now she is desperate and rather chillingly self-abasing. And she is also, obviously, far more explicitly antifeminist than she was circa 1998. Much of the romance-themed self-help industry is, after all, predicated on keeping gender roles locked into ridiculously simple-minded forcefields, with men universally “commitment-phobic” (as Bridget and her pals ceaselessly complain) and women monolithically “needy” and therefore compelled to disguise their “neediness.”
It's not just that these aperçus feel stale (though of course they do). It's that they disclose, just beneath the pseudo-edgy banter that passes for humor in The Edge of Reason, that the terms of selfhood for Jones and her cronies are rather paltry.
Ms. Fielding tries to finesse the feminism question by putting some cursory advice into the mouth of Bridget's mother to the effect that the doctrine of gender equality is “so silly. Anyone with an ounce of sense knows we're the superior race.” But such crazy-wise counsel from the elder set sidesteps the real indignity of the Bridget Jones way of life: that nobody's ideas ever really count for anything anyway, since they are only adopted in the first place for the sake of every character's already outsized vanity.
Self-help is only the half of it. Bridget (who is revealed as an all-purpose ignoramus, at a loss, for example, to name a country that borders Germany) seizes upon any and all half-baked notions as wisdom destined to change her life. She solemnly finds moral consolation in Nat King Cole lyrics, the heroic Victorian stanzas of Rudyard Kipling's “If” and (most regressively of all) the classic children's tale The Velveteen Rabbit. One is grateful that no one puts a copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the path of this credulous soul.
This makes, among other things, for poor satire. For Bridget Jones to be a recognizable parody of contemporary female experience (as she is almost universally held to be) she has to have some coherent center to her character instead of the makeshift and feeble caricature of womanly self-preoccupation we encounter in The Edge of Reason. Nor is this merely a question of poor Bridget's intelligence or wit: If the Third Wave of feminists—or even the “postfeminist” cohort of McBealesque professional women—can have their dilemmas resolved by the introduction of a man into their mating careers, we can justly assume that these dilemmas aren't all that deep in the first place.
And so Bridget Jones, for all her alleged service to the Zeitgeist (Ms. Fielding dedicates The Edge of Reason to “all the Bridgets”), feels oddly anachronistic. She is very much a creature of the Victorian separate sphere, a suffocating gender consensus that also rhetorically deemed women the superior sex—as it forced them, as a matter of course, to endure laboriously choreographed courtships and ludicrously overdetermined unions on the order of the Jones-Darcy affair.
Bridget Jones, in other words, is not so much a postfeminist icon as a prefeminist one—and so it's little wonder that, as she swoons into Mark's arms for their long-delayed reunion, one of her first thoughts is that she won't “have any appointments ever again for the rest of my life.” Mark then winningly underscores the point by dropping a phone receiver, which is blaring commands from Bridget's hectoring boss, into a glass of water. One hates to kibitz, but if, as seems likely, there is to be a third installment in the wildly profitable Bridget Jones franchise, it would perhaps best be titled “Beyond the Edge of Self-Respect.”
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 704
SOURCE: A review of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, in Miami Herald, February 27, 2000, p. 5M.
[In the following review of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Ogle compliments Fielding for her creation of Bridget Jones, calling the everywoman character “not only hilarious, but also universal.”]
Number of alcohol units, cigarettes, near nervous breakdowns several thousand (bad); number of boyfriends 1, at least most of the time (good and bad); number of women trying to steal boyfriend 1 (v. bad); number of interviews with Colin Firth (v. good), number of times book provokes hysterical, head shaking, body twitching laughter, too many to count (v. v. good)
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a popular author in possession of a wildly successful book must be in want of a sequel.
Thus the return of Bridget Jones was inevitable. Shrieks of “oh my God, that's me” erupted upon publication of Helen Fielding's popular Bridget Jones's Diary, an inventive and uproarious modern version of Pride and Prejudice. Even readers who only recognize Jane Austen as someone who writes juicy roles for Emma Thompson or Gwyneth Paltrow adored Bridget and her absolutely original voice.
The singular beauty of Bridget Jones's Diary was simply that you could utterly disregard the Pride and Prejudice subtext and still howl over Bridget's hysterical, panicked, 30something lifestyle. The Austen angle added surprising depth—we'd like to think that in these rosier economic times, society's demands on women to stop being single have vanished along with those troublesome corsets, but the overwhelming and immediate response to Bridget implies something else entirely. But Bridget's voice was not only hilarious, but also universal enough to catch any heart as yet unwarmed by the charms of Elizabeth Bennet.
But since Elizabeth and the original Mr. Darcy did presumably live happily ever after, and Bridget and her Mr. Darcy seemed ready to do the same, where to go with a sequel? To The Edge of Reason, of course.
The sequel suffers slightly without the constant Austen parallel that improved its pedigree but not by much. Bridget is still hilarious, and high-brow readers will sniff out a couple of scenes lifted from Austen's Persuasion.
Bridget's finally getting a satisfying shag or two, but her desperate pursuit of inner poise remains a Holy Grail-like quest. From page one, however, it's evident some things have changed:
“7:15: Hurrah! the wilderness years are over. For four weeks and five days now have been in functional relationship with adult male thereby proving am not love pariah as previously feared. Feel marvelous, rather like Posh Spice or similar radiant newlywed posing with sucked-in cheeks and lip gloss.”
She and Mark Darcy are together. She still has her job on the Sit Up Britain TV show, though it's hardly fulfilling. She's still easily flummoxed by her manipulative and possibly insane mother. But none of this is anything that a viewing of the Pride and Prejudice video and visions of Colin Firth in a wet, clingy shirt won't cure.
Not even this smallest of comforts lasts, of course. A few woeful misunderstandings later, Bridget is convinced Mark Darcy is either gay or sleeping with another woman, and that she herself is a “Yates Wine Lodge-style easy meat gutter floozy.”
There's no way, really, to top Bridget Jones's Diary consistently, but Fielding hits the series’ high note with Bridget's first foray into journalism, an interview with her beloved Colin Firth, peppered with heavy breathing on Bridget's part and sighs and moans on Colin's (though not for the reasons Bridget might hope). It's the best passage in either book.
Fielding does stumble with an ill-conceived trip to Thailand and Bridget's subsequent imprisonment for smuggling. The exotic adventure fails, because Bridget's best mistakes are the common ones—disastrous dinner parties, drunken evenings and mindbending hangovers. We want her to suffer like we suffer.
Mostly, though, we get what we crave, a day like Monday, March 3: “131 lbs. (hideous instant fat production after lard-smeared parental Sunday lunch), cigarettes 17 (emergency), incidents during parental lunch suggesting there is any sanity or reality remaining in life 0.”
Surely Austen herself would applaud this latest chronicle of modern society. Fielding's humor is less gentle, maybe, but every bit as on target. And that's v. good. V. good indeed.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 432
SOURCE: “The Single Woman's Life Is Good for a Few Laughs,” in Detroit Free Press, February 27, 2000, p. 4E.
[In the following positive review of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Sandoval praises Fielding's humorous insights regarding the lives of middle-aged women.]
Number of hopelessly single, self-obsessed, clueless heroines 1, hours spent reading her diary 5, times laughed out loud 22, times wanted to tell heroine to shut up already 12, times reluctantly recognized self or thirtysomething single friends of self in heroine at least 18 (gaaah!). Yep, Bridget Jones is back in action.
If you loved Bridget Jones's Diary, you'll find Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason a fun, naughty indulgence, the equivalent of having a huge hot fudge sundae with extra nuts for dinner.
If you find Bridget dumb and self-obsessed instead of charmingly ditzy, you'll probably have a sugar headache by the time you hit page 200 of this cream puff of a sequel. You'll be wishing she'd finally get a clue and jump over that edge of reason.
When we last left Bridget, she'd made a love connection with the handsome Mark Darcy, and as the sequel begins, they're still together. But Bridget's so-called friend Rebecca—she of perfect blond hair, perfect slim body, perfect career and huge bank account—is determined to snatch him away.
This gives Bridget plenty of conversational fodder for nights out getting sloshed with her girlfriends, and plenty of reasons to OD on self-help books and chocolate.
And there's lots more going on in her life:
Her ever-embarrassing mom takes a trip to Kenya, goes native, brings back a Kikuyu tribesman and adopts “Hakuna matata” as her personal mantra.
It's revealed that one of Bridget's exes broke up with her because she has no idea where Germany is. As she puts it: “In the modern age it is not necessary to know where countries actually are since all that is required is to purchase a plane ticket to one.”
She tries to embark upon a career as a celebrity journalist, with disastrous results. She hires somebody to remodel her flat, with disastrous results. She goes on vacation in Thailand, with disastrous results.
And that's the beauty of Bridget: no matter how hopeless your life may seem at times, hers is much, much worse. And she's always good for a laugh, even as you're thinking to yourself, ohmygod, this girl is so dumb.
But love her or hate her, if you're a single thirtysomething woman surrounded by Smug Marrieds who are starting to reproduce, you'll inevitably find bits of yourself in Bridget. Even if you really, really, really didn't want to.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 604
SOURCE: “‘Singleton’ Adds New Entries to Her Diary,” in Los Angeles Times, March 6, 2000, p. E3.
[In the following review of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Rubin commends Fielding's sharp sense of humor, but later refers to Fielding's books as collections of “stand-up comedy routines” rather than novels.]
Bridget Jones's Diary, a comic fictional account of days in the life of a young single woman in London, got its start as a newspaper column. It went on to become a novel, which, in turn, became an international bestseller. Not one to quarrel with success, Bridget's creator, British journalist and novelist Helen Fielding (now living in Los Angeles), has written a sequel [Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason]. It, too, takes the form of a diary written in Bridget's by-now-familiar voice.
For those unfamiliar with that voice, herewith a sample:
129 lbs. (total fat groove), boyfriends 1 (hurrah!), shags 3 (hurrah!), calories 2,100, calories used up by shags 600, so total calories 1,500 (exemplary). … Hurrah! The wilderness years are over. For four weeks and five days now have been in functional relationship with adult male thereby proving am not love pariah as previously feared. Feel marvelous, rather like Posh Spice …
Bridget and her friends Jude and Sharon are single London career girls who resent their friends who have abandoned “Singletonhood” to become “Smug Marrieds.” Bridget and her gal-pals spend a great deal of time reminding one another that a woman doesn't need a man to be a whole person. They also spend a lot of time planning to lose weight, cut down on alcohol and cigarettes, and improve their physiques so as to be more attractive to the men they don't need. They spend even more time smoking, drinking and devouring self-help books. The books provide all kinds of advice: how to be less selfish and how to be more selfish; how to attract men and how to free yourself from men.
As the novel opens, Bridget has finally gotten together with the man of her dreams, Mark Darcy, as his name suggests, a latter-day incarnation of the hero of Pride and Prejudice. (“Oh God,” notes Bridget, “feel guilty with Jude and Sharon now I have boyfriend, almost like traitorous double-crossing side-switching guerrilla.”)
But Bridget's romantic problems are far from over. There's a slim, stylish, scheming rival on the horizon with the ominous name Rebecca, the kind of woman other women hate. (Vide: Blanche Ingram of Jane Eyre or Rebecca de Winter of Rebecca.)
Even apart from Rebecca's machinations, Bridget and Mark have not exactly perfected the art of communicating with one another. Soon, things have gotten so bad, Bridget begins to wonder if her beloved self-help books are ruining her relationships. In a desperate moment, she tosses them into the rubbish. Later (one of my favorite moments), she comes across a copy of Kipling's once-revered but now-unfashionable poem “If” (with lines like: “If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, / But make allowance for their doubting too”) and has to admit, “Poem is good. Very good, almost like self-help book.”
Bridget's adventures are amusing, but neither this book nor its predecessor is really much of a novel. Both have more in common with stand-up comedy routines. Although the comic novels of Jane Austen—or Barbara Pym—uncover the depths below the surfaces, the Jones chronicles are all veneer. As Bridget herself might put it: “Character delineation and development (on a scale of 0 to 100, O being Archie and Veronica, 100 being Raskolnikov): 2.” Considered from another perspective, Bridget, Jude and Sharon are far less distinctively drawn than Monica, Rachel and Phoebe of Friends. Old-time comedians had a word for this: shtick.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 905
SOURCE: “Pride and Predictability,” in Chicago Tribune, Vol. 153, No. 67, March 7, 2000.
[In the following review of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Alessio calls the novel “fun,” but also finds it predictable and filled with stereotypical caricatures.]
Helen Fielding doesn't pay homage to Jane Austen's work; she plunders it. In Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, the thirtysomething British heroine not only becomes further involved with a wealthy man named Mark Darcy but also interviews Colin Firth, the actor who played the character of Mr. Darcy in the BBC mini-series of Pride and Prejudice. As Bridget writes in her diary. “You see ironically enough, in a spooky sixth-sense meant-to-be-type way, Mr. Darcy has made me forget obsession with Mark Darcy.”
The interview with Firth is Bridget's first foray into print journalism (she regularly hosts a British TV show), and she ends up asking him comically irrelevant questions about his favorite color, his girlfriend and the details of Darcy's wet-shirt scene in the BBC production. When Bridget finally summons a thought-provoking question and asks about the politics of Darcy's character, Firth ponders a moment then says that a modern-day Darcy might have been a bit of a “Nietzschean figure.” Bridget asks, “What is neacher?”
Bridget's lack of savvy, not to mention the book's endless gender cliches, remain predictable in this follow-up to the 1998 best seller Bridget Jones's Diary, but there are still plenty of pratfalls and fun. More satire than authentic look at the life of a single British woman. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason is a case study of someone whose plan for self-improvement has gone south.
As in the first volume, Bridget crams her diary entries with lists and plans for increasing her Inner Poise. Although the book opens on an encouraging note—with Bridget basking in postcoital bliss with Mark Darcy, the affluent human-rights lawyer she met in the first book—the relationship ends abruptly after a cluster of misunderstandings and the meddling of a blond ingenue named Rebecca.
As recourse, Bridget steps up her attempts at self-improvement. But poring over books such as What Men Want and If the Buddha Had Dated only befuddles her further. Self-help, to Bridget, consists mostly of attempts to console herself over blunders or inconveniences, of gulping down cappuccino to “help self through aftermath of buying cappuccino when late.”
Bridget also turns to her friends, the same cast of needy but energetic characters from the first novel. Everybody, it seems, is in flux. Magda, one of her married friends (dubbed “Smug Marrieds” by Bridget), is entrenched in the process of toilet training her children. Jude shucks off but then gets engaged to “Vile Richard.”
Finally, Bridget's gay friend Tom asks her to have a baby with him. While Bridget flounders, driving past Darcy's house at night and imagining him with Rebecca (a friend of a friend), her friends provide plenty of distraction. This is the most believable element of the diaries: the large, demanding support groups of “Singletons” (singles) and Smug Marrieds. Every night Bridget receives a barrage of phone calls and she, in turn, consults with pals. This support system hinders her a bit, though, when she falls in love. In fact, initially it contributes to Darcy's bewilderment and increasing distance. Bridget's friends are clearly her family, and it's difficult for her to strike a balance with the new and old figures in her life.
At times Bridget's boozing and bemoaning of her love life get tedious, and for this reason the diary is best read a few entries at a time, or as she might call the portions, “units.” (But at least Bridget has moments of appealing authenticity. One of the book's best scenes shows her caring for a friend's three young children in a sort of test run of motherhood. They run into Mark Darcy just after the baby has vomited on Bridget's hair. But instead of letting the obvious sight gags overwhelm the scene, Fielding blends humor and hyperbole with emotionally charged awkwardness between the two. It's a moving scene, though the premise becomes increasingly absurd: When the group arrives at Bridget's flat, the police are there waiting. Her neighbors have summoned the cops because of a strange smell coming from her closets. Bridget then discovers that her mother had slipped a few steaks into her bag some days before as a surprise.
Unfortunately, Bridget's mother remains an annoying caricature, a philanderer with a penchant for young foreign men. Her dialogue and shenanigans are even more predictable (and less funny) than those of her likely inspiration, Mrs. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice.
At work, Bridget continues to blunder. As on-air host for “Sit Up Britain,” a current-affairs TV show, she provides more comedy as anchor and regularly eclipses the interview subject. It's the same shtick as in the first diary, but Fielding describes Bridget's bumbling well. When Bridget is asked to cover a story on fox hunting, the horse she is riding throws her on air, and she resorts to uttering the line, “‘Now back to the studio.’”
Despite her endless, calamitous episodes—one misunderstanding lands her in jail in Thailand—Bridget professes optimism that she will accomplish everything her self-help books advise. In one scene after a disastrous day at work, she goes home and plans a special evening for her boyfriend. “Will be lovely, cozy, sexy evening with delicious pasta—light yet nourishing and firelight. Am marvelous career woman/girlfriend hybrid.”
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 566
SOURCE: “In Courtship, Self-Help Helps Those Who Help Themselves,” in Christian Science Monitor, March 9, 2000, p. 19.
[In the following review of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Leach praises the novel as an “endearing” comedy of errors.]
Girl meets boy, falls in love, and lives fabulous, romantic life, whizzing off to ridiculously exotic places where they even eat breakfast by candlelight. You know the scenario.
Only it almost never happens that way. Not in real life, at least. And especially not in the world of Men Who Can't Commit that Bridget Jones inhabits.
The thirtysomething Londoner's road from Singleton to Smug Married—as she brands the illusive club of the wedded—is hilariously tortuous. And we get to feel every bump along the way.
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason is Helen Fielding's second foray into the dating wilderness of Bridget's life, and it pokes fun at the absurdities and vulnerabilities of the whole ritual.
Aided by self-help books and a liberal amount of alcohol and cigarettes, Bridget blunders her way through relationships analyzing every blink and mumble.
We meet her this time embarking on a new relationship with the deliciously gallant Mark Darcy. Her diary entries record her dreamy musings about the intimate moments they'll share. … Only to be rudely interrupted by the boring facts of daily life. That fabulous breakfast of eggs Benedict she's going to prepare for her beau does actually require a modicum of culinary skill and, of course, a few basic ingredients—such as eggs.
But Bridget muddles through, desperate to be what she thinks Mark wants her to be, based on her close reading of such relevant self-help books as Why Men Feel They Want What They Think They Want. As she asks rhetorically, “Where else is one to turn for spiritual guidance to deal with problems of modern age?”
Even so, there is trouble in paradise. Rebecca, a tall lithe blonde with swingy hair is trying to snag Mark from what she considers his inept, middle-class girlfriend. Bridget sees the trick, but Mark seems to play along, accepting Rebecca's invitations and constant attention.
Chapter 3: “Doooom!”
As misunderstandings thicken and exhaustive self-help analysis only befogs things further, Mark and Bridget reluctantly part, both confused about why.
Bridget is devastated. Her girlfriends instantly rally to the cause, rushing round to her apartment armed with supplies, the requisite Pride and Prejudice video, and books like Through Love and Loss to Self-Esteem and How to Heal the Hurt by Hating.
She desperately wants to call and talk things through with him, but is well-read enough to know that this is a complete dating no-no. So she sits it out, follows “The Rules,” and wonders if “the whole hideous game of bluff and double-bluff with men” is not all slightly mad somehow.
Even her mother, a manic, self-absorbed, class-conscious busybody, can see the advantages of straight-forward communication.
The Edge of Reason subtitle comes more sharply into focus as the book progresses. Fielding takes us into the inner sanctum of girl-talk, where Singletons try to perfect the troublingly complex art of how to attract men while playing hard to get.
Add to this the distortions of self-help, adhered to like a religion, and you end up with a comedy of errors.
Yet for all Bridget's misguidedness, it's the familiarity of her predicaments that make her so endearing. We laugh, but not without a hint of self-knowledge.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 763
SOURCE: A review of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, in Philadelphia Inquirer, March 12, 2000, p. K1.
[In the following negative review of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Heller criticizes the novel for its “inanity” and lack of plot, while denouncing Fielding for comparing herself to Jane Austen.]
It turns out there are second acts in American life (John Travolta, Jimmy Carter, Las Vegas, hip-huggers) but less likely ones in British publishing. Unless you're an Anthony, Trollope or Powell.
Helen Fielding is not a little Anthony.
She is not a little Jane Austen, either, though Fielding has had the temerity, in these pages, to compare herself, stating that the first volume, Bridget Jones's Diary, was her Pride and Prejudice, and this one is her Persuasion, the point none-too-subtly belabored with the love object being named Mr. Darcy. “Her plots have years of market research behind them. How can you go wrong?”
Oh, please. Oh, yuck.
Almost 200 years after Austen's death, isn't it time that any woman writer who is vaguely humorous and writes about relationships stopped comparing herself to Austen? You don't see men doing the same with Charles Dickens.
Following the huge success of Bridget Jones's Diary (published in the states in 1998, published in Fielding's native Britain in PDD 1996—that is, pre-Diana's Death), The Edge of Reason revives the humorous journal of London's most hapless Singleton, each entry beginning with a tiring recitation of Jones’ weight (which rarely varies), copious cigarette and alcohol consumption, and visits to the gym (one in the book's entirety).
The last book ended with Bridget, who is a devout member of the temple of self-help, landing her Mr. Darcy; this one begins by quickly losing him to a more competent woman with “thighs like a baby giraffe” and then pining to get him back, which, trust me, is not as funny.
Actually, it's not funny at all.
Darcy is a lawyer, smart, successful and well-mannered. Bridget is an assistant on a mindless morning television show (a redundancy), obsessed with her appearance, who doesn't know where Germany is.
She's a twit. No, that's too good for her. She's a nincompoop, and what is Darcy doing with her? With most books, the last few pages are devoured at a fevered pace. The end of Edge of Reason was greeted with nodding off.
“When they laid out the book, I was shocked. It was supposed to be 250 pages,” Fielding said in a recent Inquirer interview in which she admitted the book was tossed off in two months. “I could have stopped a lot sooner.” Helen Fielding: I write novels to fit.
This mirrors one of the best scenes in the novel, when Bridget, in a rare moment of focusing on her career, lands an interview with actor Colin Firth, whom she loves for his Darcy portrayal in the BBC's Pride and Prejudice, especially the scene in which, overcome with desire for Elizabeth Bennett, he dives into a lake at Pemberley. Bridget waits minutes before the deadline to start writing, forcing the Independent to publish an unedited transcript of her interview that is laugh-aloud in its inanity and repeated returns to the lake scene.
Then Bridget does more stupid things, pages and pages of stupid things, like handing over thousands of pounds to an incompetent contractor who leaves a large hole in her apartment and goes off angling. She gets arrested in Thailand carrying someone else's drugs, but actually likes prison because she teaches her fellow inmates Madonna songs while finally losing weight. “112 lbs., cigarettes 2 (but at hideous price), fantasies involving Mark Darcy/Colin Firth/Prince William bursting in saying: “In the name of God and England, release my future wife!”: constant.”
The most shocking revelation comes when Bridget announces that she is Labour and is appalled to find that her Mr. Darcy is Tory. Bridget is interested in politics! In something other than herself! She has a conscience!
Then it turns out she doesn't vote, is somewhat keen on Tony Blair, identifies with his modern wife, Cherie, and reduces the political parties to this: “And it is perfectly obvious that Labour stands for the principle of sharing, kindness, gays, single mothers and Nelson Mandela as opposed to braying bossy men having affairs with everyone shag-shag-shag left, right and center and going to the Ritz in Paris, then telling all the presents off on the Today program.”
Which makes about as much sense in this book as anything.
Fielding should have stopped at 250 pages, taken more time, figured out a plot, and had the humility to stop comparing herself to Austen.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 332
SOURCE: “Girl Talk,” in New Statesman, Vol. 129, No. 4491, June 9, 2000, p. 56.
[In the following review of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Allardice compliments the novel's “unbeatable comic dialogue,” but wonders if Fielding is trying too hard to repeat the successful formula of Bridget Jones's Diary.]
Poor Bridget Jones has a lot to answer for: a craze for pronounless prose, girlie columns and a scarily skinny American sitcom star. It is little wonder that, by the time of her return in a sequel to the bestselling Diary, the backlash was waiting. One critic (who sounded rather like Bridget's mum) even pointed out that Bridget was far too old now to be carrying on in this way—well, true, but who's counting? The big question was: RIP, or long live Bridget Jones?
Well, if it ain't broke don't fix it seems to have been Helen Fielding's approach: best mates Jude and Shazzer, gay Tom, smug married Magda, BJ's impossible mother and doting dad are all back for more of the same. But Bridget has moved with the times; she has upgraded from Café Rouge, and self-help books have replaced her addiction to Lottery Instants. It's 1997, the year of pashminas, Agent Provocateur, Tony Blair's victory (Bridget imagines having sex with him) and Princess Diana's death (Bridget leaves a Vogue and a packet of Silk Cut outside Kensington Palace).
What makes Bridget Jones successful isn't the calorie-counting, sad singleton stereotype (as the innumerable terrible imitations prove); it's Fielding's unbeatable comic dialogue and set pieces. If Bridget Jones's Diary was a modern-day Pride and Prejudice, The Edge of Reason is rather more Persuasion (meets Jean-Paul Sartre, obviously). Sometimes Fielding seems to be trying to repeat the winning formula rather too faithfully, with additions to Bridgetspeak or the sermons on celibacy, best friends and single life. The Richard Curtis-style ending suggests that there might not be a trilogy. But then, three would, surely, be pushing her luck. Anyway, Bridget is back again with her own film soon. Hurrah?
Last Updated on February 6, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 292
Arnst, Catherine. “Single Women in a Hostile World.” Business Week, No. 3586 (13 July 1998): 27, 30.
Arnst examines Fielding's portrayal of single women.
Karamcheti, Indira. “Happy Ever After?” Women's Review of Books XVII, No. 10–11 (July 2000): 37.
In this review of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Karemcheti compliments aspects of the novel, but questions if Bridget Jones's constant obsession over men and relationships is a sign that the women's liberation movement had no effect on the psyche of modern women.
Kennedy, Helen. “Here's a Woman that Women will Love—and Recognize.” Chicago Tribune 152, No. 166, Section 5 (15 June 1998): 3.
Kennedy praises the universal appeal of Fielding's character Bridget Jones.
Merkin, Daphne. “The Marriage Mystique.” New Yorker 74, No. 22 (3 August 1998): 70–76.
Merkin admires the satirical elements of Fielding's work.
Michaels, Rebecca. A review of Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding. Ms. Magazine 9, No. 1 (July-August 1998): 91.
Michaels praises Bridget Jones's Diary as a worthy addition to the genre of feminist writing.
Moritz, Robert. “Darcy, Come Home!” Mirabella, No. 105 (March 2000): 37.
In this review of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Moritz praises Fielding's brisk comic pacing and her deft satire of the self-help genre.
Riley, Jason L. A review of Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding. Wall Street Journal, No. 104 (29 May 1998): W5.
Riley offers a brief synopsis of Bridget Jones's Diary and states that he considers Bridget Jones to be an everywoman.
Schwarzbaum, Lisa. “Heroine Addict.” Entertainment Weekly, No. 528 (3 March 2000): 65.
In this review of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Schwarzbaum faults Fielding for taking Bridget Jones away from her single, career-woman roots and instead placing her into a series of contrived and “goofy adventures.”
Additional coverage of Fielding's life and career is available in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vol. 172; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 231, and Literature Resource Center.
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