Bridget Jones's Diary
Helen Fielding, 1996
Penguin Group USA
Bridget Jones's Diary follows the fortunes of a single girl on an optimistic but doomed quest for self-improvement.
Cheered by feminist ranting with her friends Jude, Shazzer and 'hag-fag' Tom, humiliated at Smug Marrieds' dinner parties, crazed by parental attempts to fix her up with a rich divorcee in a diamond-patterned sweater, Bridget lurches from torrid affair to pregnancy-scare convinced that if she could just get down to 8st 7, stop smoking and develop Inner Poise, all would be resolved.
Bridget Jones fiirst came to public attention in Helen Fielding's hugely popular fictional diary in the Independent newspaper. In this novel based on her creation, Fielding offers us a brilliantly funny picaresque tale: a year in the life of a girl determined to "have it all"—the second she's finished this cigarette and phoned Shazzer. (From the publisher.)
• Birth—February 19, 1958
• Where—Morely, West Yorkshire, England
• Education—B.A., St. Annes College, Oxford University
• Awards—British Book of the Year, 1998
• Currently—lives in London
Helen Fielding is an English novelist and screenwriter, best known as the creator of the fictional character Bridget Jones, a franchise that chronicles the life of a thirtysomething single woman in London as she tries to make sense of life and love.
Her novels Bridget Jones's Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason have been published in forty countries and sold over 15 million copies. The two movies of the same name have achieved worldwide success. Bridget Jones’s Diary was named as one of the ten novels that best defined the 20th century, in a survey conducted by The Guardian newspaper.
Fielding grew up in Morley, West Yorkshire, a textile town on the outskirts of Leeds in the north of England and attended Wakefield Girls High School. She lived next to a Factory that made the fabric for miners’ donkey jackets, where her father was Managing Director. Her father died in 1982. Her mother, Nellie, still lives in Yorkshire, and Helen has three siblings—Jane, David and Richard. Fielding studied English at St. Anne's College, Oxford and was part of the Oxford revue at the 1978 Edinburgh Festival, where she formed a continuing friendship with a group of comic performers and writers including Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson.
Fielding began work at the BBC in 1979 as a regional researcher on the BBC news magazine Nationwide and then worked as a Production Manager on various children’s and light entertainment shows. In 1985 Fielding produced a live satellite broadcast from a refugee camp in Eastern Sudan for the launch of Comic Relief. She wrote and produced documentaries in Africa for the first two Comic Relief fundraising broadcasts. In 1989 she was a researcher on the Thames TV documentary “Where Hunger is a Weapon” about the Southern Sudan rebel war. These experiences formed the basis for her first novel Cause Celeb, published in 1994 to great reviews but limited sales.
From 1990-1999 she worked as a journalist and columnist on several London newspapers including the Sunday Times, The Independent and The Telegraph. Her next work Bridget Jones's Diary began its life as an anonymous column in The Independent in 1995.
She was struggling to make ends meet while working on her second novel, a satire about cultural divides in the Caribbean when she was approached by The Independent newspaper of London to write a column, as herself, about single life in London. Fielding rejected this idea and offered instead to create an imaginary, exaggerated, comic character.
Writing anonymously, she felt freed up to be honest about the preoccupations of single girls in their thirties. It quickly acquired a following, her identity was revealed and her publishers asked her to replace her novel about the Caribbean by a novel on "Bridget Jones’s Diary." The hardback of that name was published in 1996 to good reviews but modest sales. Word of mouth spread, however and the paperback, published in 1997, went straight to the top of the bestseller chart and went on to become a worldwide bestseller.
The diary—starting each day with its signature list of calories, alcohol and cigarette intake—has been variously credited with spawning a new confessional literary genre in the form of "Chick Lit." Fielding continued her columns in The Independent, and then The Daily Telegraph until 1997, publishing a second Bridget novel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason in 1999.
The movie of Bridget Jones’s Diary was released in 2000 and the movie of the sequel in 2004. In 2005 Fielding began the further adventures of Bridget Jones in The Independent.
Fielding credits Bridget’s success to the fact that it is about more than just single life, but “the gap between how we feel we are expected to be and how we actually are” which she has described as an alarming symptom of the media age. (From Wikipedia.)
Aside from Bridget's self-deprecating voice, her fruitless attempts at self-improvement, her friends, her mother, her job, her boss...the great fun of this book is to find its parallel points with Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Here, for example, is Bridget's first impression of Mark Darcy — "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...banging your head against a tree.
A LitLovers LitPick (Aug. ' 07)
Bridget Jones's diary has made her the best friend of hundreds of thousands of women who recognize her closet drawers crammed with a fury of black opaque pantyhose twisted into ropelike tangles as their own. An unforgettably droll character.
The New York Times
[The book is] the sort of cultural artifact that is recognizably larger than itself.... [It] sits so lightly on the reader that it is easy to overlook the skill with which it has been assembled.
Daphne Merkin - The New Yorker
Bridget's voice is dead-on...[and] will cause readers to drop the book, grope frantically for the phone and read it out loud to their best girlfriends.
[W]ith satirical glee...and sharp, laugh-out-loud observations of contemporary life...Bridget Jones's Diary charts a year in the life of an unattached woman in her 30s.
San Francisco Chronicle
A huge success in England, this marvelously funny debut novel had its genesis in a column Fielding writes for a London newspaper. It's the purported diary, complete with daily entries of calories consumed, cigarettes smoked, "alcohol units" imbibed and other unsuitable obsessions, of a year in the life of a bright London 30-something who deplores male "fuckwittage" while pining for a steady boyfriend. As dogged at making resolutions for self-improvement as she is irrepressibly irreverent, Bridget also would like to have someone to show the folks back home and their friends, who make "tick-tock" noises at her to evoke the motion of the biological clock. Bridget is knowing, obviously attractive but never too convinced of the fact, and prone ever to fear the worst. In the case of her mother, who becomes involved with a shady Portugese real estate operator and is about to be arrested for fraud, she's probably quite right. In the case of her boss, Daniel, who sends sexy e-mail messages but really plans to marry someone else, she's a tad blind. And in the case of glamorous lawyer Mark Darcy, whom her parents want her to marry, she turns out to be way off the mark. ("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.") It's hard to say how the English frame of reference will travel. But, since Bridget reads Susan Faludi and thinks of Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon as role models, it just might. In any case, it's hard to imagine a funnier book appearing anywhere this year.
In the course of one year, Bridget Jones will consume 11,090,265 calories, smoke 5,277 cigarettes, and write a series of delightfully funny diary entries. This will be no ordinary year in the life of this single, on-the-cusp-of-30 Londoner. She's going to keep at least one New Year's resolution, have dates with two boyfriends, create legendary cooking disasters, and be seen on national TV going up a firehouse pole instead of the planned dramatic slide down. If that isn't enough, her mom is getting a new career as the host of the TV program 'Suddenly Single' and will disappear with a Portugese gigolo. Supported by friends and confused by family, Bridget emerges, if not triumphant, at least hopeful about life and love. Already a best seller in Britain and winner of the "Publishing News" Book of the Year Award, this book should be equally popular in the United States. —Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll., NC
This juicy diary tells the truth with a verve as appealing to men on Mars as it is to Venusian women.
Newspaper columnist Fielding's first effort, a bestseller in Britain, lives up to the hype. This year in the life of a single woman is closely observed and laugh-out-loud funny. Bridget, a thirtysomething with a mid-level publishing job, tempers her self-loathing with a giddy (if sporadic) urge toward self-improvement: Every day she tallies cigarettes smoked, alcohol units consumed, and pounds gained or lost. At Una Alconbury's New Year's Day Turkey Curry Buffet, her parents and their friends hover as she's introduced to an eligible man, Mark Darcy. Mark is wearing a diamond-patterned sweater that rules him out as a potential lust object, but Bridget's reflexive rudeness causes her to ruminate on her own undesirability and thus to binge on chocolate Christmas-tree decorations. But in the subsequent days, she cheers herself up with fantasies of Daniel, her boss's boss, a handsome rogue with an enticingly dissolute air. After a breathless exchange of e-mail messages about the length of her skirt, Daniel asks for her phone number, causing Bridget to crown herself sex goddess. until she spends a miserable weekend staring at her silent phone. By chanting "aloof, unavailable ice-queen" to herself, she manages to play it cool long enough to engage Daniel's interest, but once he's her boyfriend, he spends Sundays with the shades pulled watching cricket on TV and is quickly unfaithful. Meanwhile, after decades of marriage, her mother acquires a bright orange suntan, moves out of the house, and takes up with a purse-carrying smoothie named Julio. And so on. Bridget navigates culinary disasters, mood swings, and scary publishing parties; she cares for her parents, talks endlessly with her cronies, and maybe, just maybe, hooks up with a nice boyfriend. Fielding's diarist raises prickly insecurities to an art form, turns bad men into good anecdotes, and shows that it is possible to have both a keen eye for irony and a generous heart.
1. At one point Bridget realizes that she's been on a diet for so many years that "the idea that you might actually need calories to survive has been completely wiped out of my consciousness." Yet one of her greatest assets is that she recognizes that this eternal quest for self-improvement is doomed and silly. How does the media influence women's self-images? Why do women collaborate so energetically in the process? When Bridget decides she's simply not up to the struggle and is going to stay home in an egg-spotted sweater, it is a victory or a defeat?
2. Was the book as satisfying to read as a conventionally structured novel? How did the diary form affect your impression of Bridget Jones's Diary? Does it make you want to keep one, and if so, why?
3. What do you think Bridget looks like? Why does Fielding never describe her? Given the frequent references to shagging, why are there no steamy sex scenes either?
4. "We women are only vulnerable because we are a pioneer generation daring to refuse to compromise in love and relying on our own economic power. In twenty years' time men won't even dare start with fuckwittage because we will just laugh in their faces," bellows Sharon early in the story. What purpose does Sharon's character serve? Do you think she's got a point? How do you think Bridget's daughter's story might differ from her mother's?
5. At one point Bridget describes her mother as having been infected with "Having It All Syndrome." Does Bridget herself have a closet case of the same affliction? (She does, after all, have an affair with a her glamorous boss in publishing and a knack for TV production.) How important is professional achievement to the Bridgets of the world?
6. On the one hand, Bridget's mother gets her daughter the job in television and is a constant in her daughter's life; on the other hand, she's impossibly self-centered, endlessly critical, and an object of some competition. "Bloody Mum," Bridget groans at one point, "how come she gets to be the irresistible sex goddess?" Is Bridget's mother a negative or positive influence on Bridget? How has she shaped her daughter?
7. "We're not lonely. We have extended families in the form of networks of friends," says Tom, joining Sharon in deploring others' "arrogant hand-wringing about single life." Are these "urban families" an acceptable alternative to traditional family units? Are they helping to move society towards Fielding's objective, an unbiased acceptance of different ways of life?
8. Bridget's world is unrelentingly self-centered. Is this problematic? If not, is Bridget rescued by her wit and lack of self-pity, by the fact that she does take responsibility for herself, or by something else entirely?
9. Is the attraction between Mark Darcy and Bridget credible? Why isn't he too "safe" for her? Why isn't she too scatterbrained for him? Is it satisfying or clichéd when he literally carries her off to bed?
10. How much of Bridget's identity lies in the quest for a decent relationship? Do you think marriage would change her?
(Questions issued by publisher.)
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