Keeping up with the Jones

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Bridget Jones is amongst us once more. This time, however, she has returned via different mediums in a slightly unconventional sequence (but it is Bridget Jones after all). The latest instalment of Bridget Jones’s Diary was released in both book and movie form almost simultaneously. This is unprecedented.

It might have all been perfectly fine if it wasn’t for the disparities between the novel and the film. Helen Fielding’s novel sticks to form, with Bridget’s would-be suitors Darcy and Cleaver clashing over the paternity of Bridget’s baby. The film, however, has Cleaver dead within two minutes and replaced by the ever so beige and less dynamic Jack Qwant (played by Patrick Dempsey). It’s an awkward fit and, as you might imagine, the filmmakers have had to justify a few of their decisions to the more militant factions in the Bridget Jones fan club.

But the novel’s the thing, to paraphrase the prince of Denmark. Hugh Grant can’t disrupt anything in Fielding’s novel. There are no messy compromises to be made, nor awkward demands to be met. It is through the novel that devotees can still get their fix of the Jones-Cleaver-Darcy triangle. Moreover, Bridget herself has always been at her wittiest, most insecure, most comic, and most tragic in literary form (no offence Renée). This helps to explain why some of us care deeply for Bridget Jones’s Diary. Yet why is that still the case after twenty years of the franchise?

Twenty years is a jolly long time. Most freshers starting at Durham this year weren’t so much as foetuses when Bridget first appeared in The Independent newspaper in 1996. Given how far we’ve progressed socially, technologically and economically, reading Bridget Jones’s Diary now might feel incredibly dated (well…to some of us at least). Re-reading the first novel one is struck by just how excessive and decadent the life of Bridget Jones is: ‘Monday 20 March…alcohol units 4…cigarettes 27…’ and on a school night no less!

The world back then was no doubt an image and health conscious place, but perhaps less so than it is now. Now most young professionals would rarely drink four units of alcohol on a Saturday night, and you can forget about the cigarettes straightaway. But of course these indulgencies are Bridget’s demons (along with her fluctuating weight) and her daily battle with them lends her the tender humanity that appeals to us all. The image conscious world of the novel took its inspiration from both Fielding’s reality and the relation it bore to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. So one might argue that we go back to Bridget Jones for much the same reasons we go back to Elizabeth Bennet: to live vicariously through the characters who say what we want to say.

The phoniness of overly-ambitious, young middle-class professionals is now accentuated by social media, and even we lackadaisical students cannot escape their pernicious sense of self-fulfilment. So when you sit up at night trawling through Instagram, cringing at the heavily filtered snapshots of some odious creep you knew in school and who now works in the City, you are channelling your inner Bridget. That voice which mumbles expletives when you see that another old acquaintance has squeezed out a sprog is the same voice that Helen Fielding gave us all those years ago.

That, to me, is why Bridget Jones’s Diary goes on being read today and why Bridget is a necessary point of reference in today’s world. We may not drink or smoke or shag in quite the same way as they did then, but we are just as human. If Bridget Jones has stayed relevant it is because her problems are not of their time but for all time.

Images: Faye Chua, Penguin Random House

 

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