2nd January 2012. Feeling fat and alone, sitting on sofa in pyjamas with glass of wine. Turn on ITV2, which is showing a certain film starring Renee Zellweger and that pair of granny knickers. Younger sister turns to me and, with the biting perception which those under thirteen disconcertingly possess, says ‘Katie, they’ve made a film about you. You are Bridget!’
While I don’t quite live in fear of dying and being found three weeks later half eaten by Alsatians (yet), it is not without good reason that Bridget Jones has become shorthand for female singledom. An obsessive but useless calorie counter who painstakingly details everything she comfort eats (and, of course, drinks) in fits of self-loathing, a devourer of cliché ridden self-help books and ever so slightly hopeless when it comes to navigating the minefield that is dating: Bridget is an unlikely icon, a status further cemented by the results of a Guardian poll naming Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary as one of the ten novels that best defined the twentieth century. As such, Ms Jones remains associated with her nineties heyday – a world before mobile phones and widespread internet access, when painstakingly dialling 1471 on your landline was the only way of discovering whether one’s latest paramour had called. Following the release of the 1999 sequel, The Edge of Reason, though, Fielding ‘retired’ Bridget, claiming that her voice had started to feel stilted and self-conscious. However, October sees the release of a third novel, titled Mad About the Boy – Bridget is back to tackle the perils of twenty first century womanhood in her often misguided but always inimitable way. But after so long in the wilderness, is Bridget still relevant?
If Fielding can retain the sparkling comic touch of her first novel then the answer is a resounding yes. Although most of us will always associate Bridget with a ‘size-normal’ Renée Zellweger, the novels are arguably a little more nuanced than the slightly saccharine, typically Richard Curtis film adaptations. There is a greater edge to the satire, leading some to describe Fielding as wielding the cynical eye and ironizing touch of a modern day Austen. This is something the author herself seems to be gleefully self-aware of. The nods to Pride and Prejudice take a self-consciously postmodern tone: one of Bridget’s potential suitors is, of course, called Mark Darcy, whilst Bridget and her friends endlessly rewind their videotape of the BBC TV adaptation to get to that Colin Firth lake scene.
Most importantly, though, certain things about being a girl stay the same – perhaps one of the reasons why, two centuries on, we still feel the pain and live through the triumphs of Austen’s heroines. Bridget might be an amalgamation of every kind of female cliché, and my feminist side remains unconvinced as to how to respond to her, but after nearly twenty years since her ‘birth’, Fielding’s fictional creation remains undeniably, even painfully, relatable. However much we may hate to play up to a particular stereotype, it is almost impossible not to see a bit of Bridget in ourselves. From the despairing tone of her New Year’s Resolutions, vowing to ‘reduce circumference of thighs by three inches,’ to the meticulously deadpan dissection of countless painful encounters with parents and well-meaning neighbours, Fielding’s popular success is entirely down to her ability to conjure up a sort of everywoman.
If the time scheme of the first two novels is strictly adhered to, Bridget will in fact be no longer a thirty-something, but a fifty-something. Whether she has reined in her chain-smoking, Pinot Grigio-swilling tendencies and mellowed in her old[er] age remains to be seen, but judging from an extract released by Fielding’s publishers, it is pretty unlikely. Instead, citing the mantra ‘Dating rule No. 1 – Do not text when drunk,’ Fielding appears to be mining the complexities and confusions of an age of smartphones, Facebook oversharing and ambiguous text conversations. Deadly enough when armed only with a land-line and a dial up modem (remember those?), the damage which Bridget could inflict with an iPhone and various social media platforms is potentially endless. If any fictional character would ever be guilty of Facebook stalking, it would have to be Bridget – one can easily imagine her drunkenly ranting over Twitter, or desperately selecting the perfect Instagram filter. The subtitle Mad About the Boy is also teasingly ambiguous – is this just referring to one of Bridget’s latest romantic obsessions, or is everyone’s favourite singleton now a mummy, opening up further avenues of comic potential?
Whatever the future holds for Bridget, it is sure to be typically disastrous, touching and painfully true to life – and for those recently graduated English Literature students, after three years of deciphering worthy tomes and pretending to understand poetry; we’re due a bit of light relief, right?