Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

We're having a bit of a celebration of Pride and Prejudice here at Doux Reviews at the moment, so I thought I'd chip in with some thoughts on my favourite re-imagining of Austen's novel, Bridget Jones's Diary.

I first read Bridget Jones's Diary as a teenager and loved it as a glimpse into a life I dreamed of having; of drinking freely, living alone in the Big City, having a glamourous job and a string of equally glamourous boyfriends and cooking terrible dinners for my friends. Having now reached more or less Bridget's age, I identify with her more and more the older I get - I don't have the glamourous boyfriends and don't get me started on employment, but I do live in the Big City, worry about what I'm eating and drinking, throw dinner parties at which I cook terrible dinners because I am a terrible cook and panic that I'm going to die alone and be eaten by Alsatians. If Jane Austen writes women who speak to other women throughout the ages, Helen Fielding has got modern women down to a 'T.'

Bridget Jones's Diary is not a straightforward re-telling of Pride and Prejudice in the way that Clueless is of Emma, but it is story 'inspired by' (as the movies would put it) Austen's novel. The relationship between the two is laid out early on when Bridget observes that, 'It struck me as pretty ridiculous to be called Mr. Darcy and to stand on your own looking snooty at a party. It's like being called Heathcliff and insisting on spending the entire evening in the garden, shouting "Cathy" and banging your head against a tree.' Bridget and Darcy's whole first meeting then plays out as a modern re-telling of Elizabeth and Darcy's famously crossed wires, both utterly unimpressed with the other.

There are other parallels of course - Daniel Cleaver is clearly Wickham and ingeniously, Bridget's mother is both a glorious updating of Elizabeth's mother, while at the same time playing Lydia's role in the plot, as Darcy races off to rescue her from the consequences of her unwise dalliance with Julio. But there are other elements to Bridget Jones's Diary that don't come directly from Pride and Prejudice - her relationships with her friends, perhaps not dissimilar to Elizabeth's with Jane and Charlotte but not quite the same either, her career progression or lack thereof, an option not open to Elizabeth, and of course, since Bridget can, if she chooses, die alone and be eaten by Alsatians, there's no Mr Collins, as there'd be no reason to even consider marrying him.

Just as Pride and Prejudice explored some of the realities of life for middle-class women in the early 1800s - the desperate need to ensure some kind of financial stability without the option of finding a job - Bridget Jones's Diary reflects some aspects of life for modern middle-class women - particularly, the dangerous obsession with weight it's all too easy to fall in to. This is one area the book handles a bit better than the film, though it's frightening how many people completely miss the point, which is this: Bridget Jones is not over-weight. She is 9st 3 (129lbs, apparently) at the book's opening, which assuming she is average height, is pretty much average verging on slim. I'm average height, and although I don't weigh myself overly often, that sounds about right - and most people consider me thin. Bridget's obsession with her weight is not a reflection of a physical problem, it's a mental problem. This is made all too clear when she achieves her goal weight of 8st 7, only to be told by everyone she knows that she looks 'tired' (British for 'ill') and that she looked better before. Luckily, Bridget believes them, though she realises that after 18 years, she is incapable of letting go of her obsessive calorie-counting - but she starts to understand that the problem is more mental than physical. This whole section hits so close to home it's painful, and is absolutely not funny - but it is important and well-handled.

Of course, for the most part, the best thing about Bridget Jones's Diary is that it is, in fact, very, very funny. Perhaps some of the jokes are a bit culturally specific - not everyone will share Bridget's and my frustration over accidentally getting on the M6 instead of the M1 - but there's plenty of (pop)cultural humour in there as well, and the universal truth (a truth universally acknowledged, even) that cooking disasters are always funny. The abbreviated diary-style language is just formal enough to be easily readable, while incorporating abbreviations so handy and well-used it's tempting to use them for other bits of writing as well. Reading Bridget Jones's Diary feels like having a laughter-filled chat with a friend, in the best way.

I've blathered on for ages without even mentioning Mark Darcy, but perhaps he is the part of Bridget Jones's Diary that owes the most to Austen. Bridget is like Elizabeth but recognisably a different person, especially at social events (where she behaves more like a combination of Mary and Kitty). But there's a reason Fielding didn't even bother to come up with a new name for Darcy - if Mr Darcy were born in the late twentieth century, this is what he'd be like. Perfect.

If you've never read Bridget Jones's Diary, I'd heartily recommend it - it's a light and easy read, but it's also a book that, while it may not be as deep as Life of Pi, is very, very real. Plus, it's a chance to revisit some of the essential beats of Pride and Prejudice all over again!
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Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.

6 comments:

CrazyCris said...

Yup. I loved this book when I first read it! SO much FUN!!! But I was also young enough that I didn't quite identify with her... And now that I'm in the age bracket I definitely don't have her complexes, except for the fact that I too want a Darcy! :p

One thing that never quite clicked with me while reading the book was the whole weight issue... which means, liked you said, I missed the point! The problem was the whole "stone" business. Until that moment I had no idea a rock was a weight of measurement!!! :p

You're right about Mark Darcy totally being a modern Mr Darcy! And casting Colin Firth was BRILLIANT!!! Even if it meant we were cheated out of the ridiculously uncomfortable Bridget-Firth interview in the sequel...


Ok, after this someone had better do Bride and Prejudice to wrap it all up properly!!! :p (reminds me I need to order a new dvd... lost mine when I loaned it to someone who never returned it, and I don't remember who!)

Josie Kafka said...

"...since Bridget can, if she chooses, die alone and be eaten by Alsatians..."

This line is so perfect, in so many ways, that I can't even think of something to say about it.

Juliette said...

Thanks Josie :)

Cris, I think we're the only nation left using stones - I don't know how to use anything else! They tried to get us on to kilograms in school but to me, those are what you use to weigh flour, and pounds are what you use to buy stuff!

CrazyCris said...

Sounds like something left over from the Middle Ages! :p

Tell me, what size are those stones??? Makes a difference weight-wise! ;o)


It's funny how we tend to cling to what we're familiar with unless truly forced to change! Here in Spain many people still talk of the price of some things (like houses) in Pesetas! And we switched to the Euro on Jan 1st 2002... I tell them it doesn't mean anything to me anymore, I've forgotten the peseta, but some people keep at it. (although sometimes I have been know to transform the price of a movie ticket or a rhum and coke to pesetas... and then I'm appalled at how prices have blown up! So I don't, too depressing!)


Something else I enjoyed in Bridget: the discussion of "Singletons vs Smufg Marrieds"! Since many of my friends have gotten married and a few are having kids already it now resonates a bit more... Except that we're basically all one happy family still, just bigger! They haven't changed that much... but you do notice some differences (like not being available to go partying, snif!) :p

Billie Doux said...

Lovely review, Juliette. It's been awhile since I read this book, but I remember how much I enjoyed it.

Juliette said...

It's definitely worth a read, it's great fun!