Bridget Jones’s Diary: A Classic Homage to Austen
by Laurie Viera Rigler
For International Chick Lit Month, it seemed appropriate to turn to Helen Fielding, whose Bridget Jones novels have inspired legions of authors, and who modelled her plots on those of Jane Austen. For this Jane Austen addict, it is as much fun to track the parallels between Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary as it is to note the brilliantly comic deviations.
Take the scene in which Bridget and Darcy (Mark Darcy, that is) first meet. Fielding’s Mark Darcy appears to be almost as standoffish to Bridget Jones at the New Year’s Day Turkey Curry Buffet as Austen’s Fitzwilliam Darcy is when he first meets Elizabeth Bennet at the Meryton assembly ball. However, while Austen’s Darcy, “soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features,” and “noble mien,” Fielding eclipses anything else Bridget might notice about Diary’s equally tall hero by attiring him in a ridiculous diamond-patterned jumper and a pair of white socks adorned with yellow bumblebees. No hero can reasonably pull off being “proud, … above his company, and above being pleased” while sporting bumblebee socks.
Another amusing counterpoint to the original is Fielding’s spin on Austen’s plot point in which Elizabeth Bennet’s youngest sister Lydia runs off with the scheming seducer Mr Wickham. In the world of Bridget Jones, it’s the heroine’s mother who’s out of control, and mum doesn’t cast her lot with anyone so deceptively charming as Wickham. Instead, she chooses a gentleman’s-handbag-toting Portuguese tour operator/timeshare salesman.
And what about the character of Bridget herself? Ask any avid Austen reader which Austen heroine she’d most like to be, and the majority will choose Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice. Lizzy is confident, sassy, always has a clever rejoinder, and never lets disappointment conquer her spirits. Bridget Jones, however, is insecure, prone to social embarrassment, and has a tendency to wallow in a chardonnay-induced stupor when life deals her a bad hand. Sure, we may all aspire to be Lizzy Bennet, but chances are that a hard look in the mirror may reveal something closer to the bumbling Bridget Jones.
Another favorite scene in Bridget Jones’s Diary is an amusing bit of metafiction that satirizes tired, conservative arguments about adapting classic literature. In it, the evil Natasha, Bridget’s nemesis and Fieldlng’s stand-in for Caroline Bingley of Pride and Prejudice, tries to make herself look good at Bridget’s expense by proclaiming that “with the Classics people should be made to prove they’ve read the book before they’re allowed to watch the television version.”
Which brings me to the most important point of all: Bridget Jones’s Diary is delightfully satisfying whether or not you’ve ever read Pride and Prejudice or had any idea that Fielding based her plot on Austen’s. And certainly whether or not you saw the movie before you read – or instead of reading – the book. But perhaps this post may tempt you to read – or re-read – both Fielding and Austen. Like all great classics, they never go out of style.
Laurie Viera Rigler’s novels Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict (both published by Plume in North America and by Bloomsbury in the UK) could have been considered semi-autobiographical had they not involved time travel and body switching. Her short story, Intolerable Stupidity, in which Mr Darcy brings charges against all the writers of Pride and Prejudice sequels, spin-offs and retellings, will appear in the upcoming anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It (Ballantine, October 2011). In addition to working on her third novel, Laurie is the creator of the web series Sex and the Austen Girl, which is inspired by her Austen Addict novels. All 23 episodes can be found at Laurie’s online home, janeaustenaddict.com, and at babelgum.com/sexandtheaustengirl.