The new Bridget Jones film is out on general release in just a few days and shortly I will get to discussing her new status as a mother. Meanwhile, it seems amazing to me, but twenty years has passed since Helen Fielding’s first Bridget Jones’s Diary, which originally began as a column in The Independent newspaper, was published as a novel. It’s fair to say Bridget Jones’s Diary is a canonical text of chick-lit ‘par excellence’; much loved by many, including me.
Back in 1996, although I was just into my twenties and she was thirty-something, my peers and I couldn’t get enough of fallible Bridget. She was real to us – with her over consumption of booze and fags, dodgy work colleagues, penchant for the wrong kind of man (until Darcy) and obsession with calories. Unlike the glossy protagonists of Sex in the City, Bridget had an overdraft and cellulite, and she gave my group the gift of the Bridgetism: ‘smug-marrieds’, ‘singleton’ and, of course ‘fuckwittage’ to describe general relationship nonsense. So despite the age difference of ten years, to us she was an everywoman – lovably screwing up, one day at a time. Because of Bridget Jones, we started drinking Chardonnay instead of lager and thought we were modern women about town. When one of us had a man-problem, we would meet in a bistro chain in Belsize Park over a bottle and have what we would come to describe as a ‘Bridget Jones style crisis meeting’. Ah, good times!
“That is such crap. How dare you be so fraudulently flirtatious, cowardly and dysfunctional? I am not interested in emotional fuckwittage. Goodbye.” ― Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones’s Diary
Then came the films and the inspired casting: Renée Zellweger, wonderfully pulling off a British accent and exceeding expectations as Bridget; Colin Firth as Darcy, following his turn in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice (the public would not have accepted any another actor, I’m convinced); and Hugh Grant as chief fuckwit, Daniel Cleaver. Perfection.
I also loved ‘The Edge of Reason’, the second book, but the less said about the second film the better. Because of the second film, I had very low expectations when I came to read the third book. I already knew from a preview extract that Bridget had become a mother – so I wondered to myself, as a childfree woman, would I identify much less with her and would the book be filled with witty accounts about Boden dresses, getting behind with the school run, self-satisfied trips to Camp Bestival and children’s parties that included jelly laced with booze? Would Bridget Jones and I simply have grown apart because of the kids and would it just be a merry jaunt through the commoditization of parenthood? You see, my Bridget came from a world before clean eating, hot yoga and sausage dogs with their own account on Instagram. My Bridget ate a whole tub of ice-cream under the duvet, swayed drunkenly to Chaka Khan, miming the lyrics to ‘I’m Every Woman’ when love-sick, and messed up dinner parties then blamed her guests. I therefore considered leaving book three on the shelf and Bridget in the mist of nineties nostalgia.
But I am not just here just to wax lyrical about how much I love Bridget Jones and what she means to me. For our League of Fabulous Women community, a point of note about the new film ‘Bridget Jones’s Baby’ is that Bridget has gotten pregnant in her early forties.
Cultural pundits have pointed to the irresponsibility of Bridget’s late pregnancy as an unrealistic message about fertility in your forties – as if we can’t tell the difference between a piece of fictitious comedy, a plot device and…errm… medical fact. Indeed, the relationship between age and dwindling fertility has been discussed in an article by Allison Pearson: Now even Bridget Jones is perpetuating the great fertility lie. “Girls, please don’t trust Bridget Jones. She’s a hoot – but a baby at 43 is pure fiction.”
Make of the article what you will. But in my opinion, I don’t think middle-aged ‘childless’ fans of Bridget Jones need it pointing out that Bridget’s ability to conceive in her forties may well be unrealistic and belies very real issues such as the decrease in the quality and structure of eggs a woman produces, increased risk of miscarriage and gestational diabetes. I more than suspect women in their forties wishing to conceive already have some if not a good awareness of these problems, but as the article points out, ‘…young women need to be taught about fertility every bit as much as about contraception.’ On that I agree.
However, back to me now! With a booming rather than ticking biological clock (I’m being facetious), I found myself at Smith’s, Gatwick Airport one day en route to a sunny beach in Greece. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a shiny pile of ‘Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy’ (note the book title is different from the film) and she twinkled at me. ‘Oh hello Bridget, my old friend,’ I thought, ‘Alright then, fancy a jaunt?’ So I duly purchased the book and tucked it in my carry-on. I’d read a third of it by the time I’d landed. Quite simply – I loved it! And when I got back to the UK, I immediately popped it in the post to one of my best friends.
I am not going to do spoilers in case you want to read it, but what I will say is the plot is not the same as the new Bridget Jones film. The film sounds as if it is a type of prelude to the story in book three. I suspect the film isn’t going to set the world on fire, but from a personal point of view I will not miss the chance to watch Patrick Dempsey* light up the screen with his ridiculously perfect smile and exceptionally thick head of hair for a man his age.
What I can tell you is number three (in my opinion) is the funniest of all the books and bequeaths some brilliant new Bridgetisms such as the practice of trying to dress like a celebrity at an airport and the ‘sex-slip’ – the contemporary version of ‘big knickers’. And although she has become a mum and yes there is a bit of school run stuff – she is still relatable and her adventures in middle-aged online dating are all too hilariously familiar. Bridget is, after all, one of the nineties pioneers (if not the pioneer) of making it acceptable to be a single woman in your thirties, smashing social prejudice with her endearing realness and humour. To my mind, Helen Fielding’s brilliant writing is next level because in Bridget Jones we have a social innovator and feminist at heart. Bridget navigates her way through the trials and tribulations of modern life for us. She has paved the symbolic way for many a singleton at an awkward family event or couples drinks party and always comes out winning in the end, but with slightly messy hair, or via a waltz around John Lewis with a neurotic mother, or a dinner party soup starter that has gone very wrong. This authenticity is what elevates our gal Bridget from regular chick-lit protagonist to modern heroine.
I truly believe that happiness is possible… even when you’re thirty-three and have a bottom the size of two bowling balls.
*Patrick if you’re reading this I am currently dating someone very nice, but for you I am always available for dinner or similar.