Sunday, October 20, 2013

Bridget Jones's Diary

1996, 1999 Penguin edition
Helen Fielding
Bridget Jones's Diary
Possibly bought newish for $12.95
Worn paperback

Sure, everyone knows this was loosely inspired by Austen's Pride and Prejudice (Bridget points out the irony of a snooty Mr. Darcy at a party), but has anyone ever noticed that there may be parallels to Henry Fielding's Tom Jones?  Besides the coincidence of names, both Joneses are sexually promiscuous, often falling for people they know are bad for them.  Then a good-looking and honest (in every sense) potential love interest comes along for each, initially dismissed but eventually won as the Right Person.  True, Bridget is female and not a foundling (she only wishes she was abandoned by her mother, who's actually more embarrassing than Mrs. Bennet), but it might be worth pursuing in a doctoral thesis on chick-lit's relationship to classic fiction.

Or is this not chick-lit?  I ask because Bridget is such an extreme, well, loser-- although of course attractive to handsome men-- that I can't tell how much this book is parody.  Take the diary format.  Each entry begins with Bridget tracking how she's doing on losing weight, giving up smoking and drinking, etc., but as the year's summary shows, she ends up basically where she started.  She doesn't seem capable of doing anything right, and yet her bungling is meant to make her lovable.

At this point, we'd better talk about the first movie (from 2001).  Not only is Colin Firth cast as Mark Darcy, but Hugh Grant is Daniel, and one of the best lines in the book is when Bridget's post-Daniel boss asks how HG survived the blow-job-by-prostitute scandal, and Bridget replies that somebody must've swallowed the evidence.  And the movie is directed by Sharon Maguire, who inspired my favorite character, Bridget's feminist-ranter friend Sharon.  So there are a lot of layers here, and of course BJD started as a newspaper column.  (The dates in this novel match those of 1995, which does fit the parts about Firth and Grant.)

And, yeah, quite coincidentally there's a new novel out now.  But, setting the background aside, I didn't think the book was as good as High Fidelity, although about on a level with Watermelon.  I could relate to some of Bridget's idiocy about men.  (I was 28 when the book came out, but that wasn't much younger than Bridget's thirties.)  But even at my worst, I've never been this much of a screw-up.  (Few women have.)  Also, the book didn't seem as funny and outrageous as it once did.

One thing I liked was that the "Smug Married" people aren't any happier than the "Singletons."  That beats the '80s stereotypes of desperate single girls and contented wives.  (Or '70s stereotypes of contented single girls and desperate wives of course.)  It's obviously a very '90s book-- Bridget and Daniel flirt via the work email-- but, perhaps because it's British, there's none of the optimism of some '90s writers.

Stay tuned for Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason in 1999....

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