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Contextualizing Bridget Jones Author(s): Kelly A. Marsh Source: College Literature, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Winter, 2004), pp. 52-72 Published by: College Literature Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25115173 Accessed: 30/09/2009 16:30

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Jones Contextualizing Bridget

Kelly A. Marsh

Kelly

A. Marsh

is an assistant

professor of English at Mississippi

articles have

State University. Her

literature

When Bridget Jones's Diary was pub lished in 1996, Helen Fielding was masses of readers and by praised reviewers for the authenticity of the narrative not everyone was willing to voice. However, the hapless comic heroine as the typi accept of the cal thirty-something single woman and more demanding critics noted the 1990s, ways in which character and her Bridget's from a story are problematic, particularly sets goals?to feminist point of view. Bridget get to work on time, to stop smoking, to lose to read The Famished Road?and

on contemporary appeared

in or are forth

coming inPhilological Quarterly, Studies in the

Novel, and Critique.

weight,

of accomplishing proves any of incapable in her inse them. Her diary revels hilariously and her failures even as curities, her mistakes, it qualifies her successes; as a result, suggest that the humor of the novel consciously critics is not

but rather is created by Bridget at her expense. She is criticized for generated render her the characteristics that ostensibly the object of the novel's humor, especially her failure to remake herself and control her life. these criticisms are based upon two However,

A. Kelly Marsh premises: that the self can be remade in such a way that one is questionable in control, and that control is ultimately achievable by anyone. Bridget Jones's Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2000) interro as a particularly American myth and characterize the gate these assumptions The novels the world of Jane recall in contrast self-perfection. is treated ironically. Bridget in which records fiction, self-perfection with humor the many factors that influence her to change?not only her mother and her rivals, but also self-help books, diets, and other imports from ideal of Austen's American perfected tates both her personal success and the success of her narrative. Bridget opts calls Blair 's emphasis on community, which for what Joel Krieger "captures the salutary blend of individuality balanced by mutuality and interdepend voice ence the core of socialism" (1999, 143). Bridget's [Blair] considers is authentic because it reveals what we all know but rarely face, and such high spirits: control is amyth, and the experi perhaps never face with ence that he of being out of control is authentic. Helen of other Brookner. in such away and of being relationships echoed in the work Byatt and Anita Fielding's work also to identify Fielding's British novelists, especially A. S. contemporary This allows us to contextualize comparison as to account for her immense to contemporary popularity Uterature. but into mutually dependent with these issues is preoccupation forced popular culture. Ultimately self in favor of the Blair-era she rejects the American British communitarianism dream of a that facili

53

her real contribution

The Criticson BridgetJones the problems with Fielding's novels, a number of to the established Bridget Jones as a counterpart American television character Ally McBeal. Ginia Bellafante argues popular in an article on the status of feminism that "The problem with Bridget and are presented as archetypes even is that they of single womanhood Ally By way of illustrating American reviewers have though they are little more 58). In another comparison than composites of frivolous neuroses" (1998, to Ally McBeal, Michiko of Bridget Kakutani to Bridget that both are "targets of the same crit

imagines Ally complaining that we're some kind ics, all these mean, awful, nasty naysayers who complain of pre-feminist throwbacks" (1998, E8). For these critics, both characters are obsessed with more trivialities and fixated concerns; broadly meaningful that contradicts Vincent on their personal fives at the expense of therefore, they present an image of con to achieve. all that feminists have worked

to Ally McBeal) (who also compares Bridget is indeed a product of feminism, and as such is "one of to come along in awhile" the most of feminism indictments (1998, stinging as itmight be to most feminists, Bridget Jones 49). She argues, "Embarrassing

temporary women In contrast, Norah argues that Bridget

54 College 31.1 Literature [Winter 2004]

set the stage. After all, is living out exactly the farce for which her precursors is it any wonder Bridget is a spoiled princess when she grew up on the fem inist belief that women of these crit should and must have it all?" (50). None even the one who sees the novels as a "stinging indictment of feminism," ics, a satire of feminism; rather, to Fielding credit for having constructed all three assume a basic anti-feminism in the novels. Thus Bridget Jones is in American contextualized culture. popular accords Alison observations women's claims Benstock Case's while diaries. cogent placing Current analysis structure supports these the narrative in a literary context, that of fictional Bridget on women's diaries refutes earlier scholarship of reinscribes traditional women's includes diaries roles. Shari and journals) contention that lan

that the form (for whom

itself simply

writing autobiographical illustrates Jacques Lacan's suggests that autobiography but also that language guage "is a defense against unconscious knowledge," as it is by mes "is not an altogether successful defense network, punctuated from the unconscious, messages that attempt to defeat this 'fencing-off' sages mechanism" observation suggests that awork of auto (1988,16). Benstock's

to social pressures, a reenactment in writ biography may seem a capitulation in her life, but that analysis of the of the behavior expected of the writer ing itself may reveal subversive elements not immediately work obvious and not in keeping McGavran, Dorothy

her

with

the work's

conscious

Jr., draws on Benstock's

and her

agenda. For example, theory to argue that and knowledge

most often do

James Holt of herself,

[Wordsworth]'s repressed perceptions

ability, sacrifice

appear, great indirectly, act In the very herself down'?which for journals. of'putting as methods involved both and self-transcendence Dorothy self-deprecation on paper cannot traces of self-avoidance?she also putting down of help she never the beautiful, (McGavran relinquished psyche recognized. fully literary in her early

1988,232-33) McGavran's of Dorothy Wordsworth's intriguing description journals seems of Bridget's relevant to a consideration but Alison Case diaries, potentially In her that fictional diaries are a very different matter. argues persuasively

in the Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Plotting Women: Gender and Narration British Novel, Case traces a long history of self-deprecating female or "femi unlike the same quality in male or nine" narrators whose self-deprecation, narrators, is linked to "the restriction of the female narrator to the role of narrative witness', that is ... her exclusion from the active shaping In "feminine narration," "narrative of narrative form and meaning" (1999,4). "masculine" and control" are "explicitly disclaimed" confidence, competence, (4).Whereas women's of it and reveal may subvert a reader's expectations autobiography narrators of the truth about the autobiographer, fictional women something

A. Kelly Marsh tend to be more egation

scious

55

and the convention calls for their rel solidly conventional, to the role of witness from the role of con and their exclusion article, Case identifies Bridget Jones as one of this long line narrators going back to the novels of Richardson and Smollett.

plotter.

In a recent of feminine The

is that they allow readers appeal of such narrators, Case demonstrates, their lives and charac "to feel superior to them, to feel that we understand ters in ways that they cannot." Case argues that Bridget Jones's diary presents 'witness' to the events of her life," as fic her as an "unmediated, unprocessing She cites instances done (2001, 180). traditionally to lack control over her narra appears Bridget tive and its ironies. For example, at some points in the novels the verisimili account of Bridget's tude of the diary form gives way to aminute-by-minute tional diaries with feminine have in which of direct con feed from Bridget's written record" (180). produced to not even actively select what narrators

actions, which Case identifies as "a kind rather than a self-consciously sciousness, Such

does passages suggest that Bridget include in the diary. Another appears unable to read example is that Bridget her own life: she is surprised to discover that Mark Darcy is the trajectory of the man she has been

this, and looking for, although the reader has predicted herself identifies him early on with Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy. although Bridget to punish "the plot appears routinely Case's analysis yields this conclusion: Bridget for attempts to manage her life, while rewarding her for being out of that apparently wins Darcy s heart, after all, is the control?the genuineness of Bridget's persistent failure to carry through her plans to remake product herself is reflected in another image" (181). For Case, Bridget's lack of narrative control in her lack of control over her own fife, and she contextualizes a long

narrator.

Bridget Jones's Diary within

expectations of a feminine

tradition

of novels

that cater

to readers'

manifest

of Bridget Jones in spite of her critics, the popularity ill for contemporary feminism. Further analysis reveals that the novels transcend the limitations imposed on them by this perspec this perspective itself requires some scrutiny. Just what would it tive, but, first, mean to "manage her life" and "remake herself for Bridget in another failures bodes

For all of these

is it that she fails to do? The unrealistic minute-by-minute image"? What conducts a "time-and-motion accounts, such as when Bridget study" of her routine and discovers that "Three hours and thirty-five minutes morning between and leaving house is too long" (Fielding 1999, 79 and 81), waking that Bridget demonstrate fails to make efficient use of her time. Her record of food and alcohol consumed reveals that she fails to consume nutrients effi are two of the reigning realities of Bridget's life, and they are ciently. These in her shopping echoed After a day of shopping, she tellingly expeditions.

56 College 31.1 Literature [Winter 2004]

reports: "I have come home with four and things, all of them unsuitable the bedroom chair in an M&S bag for for credit notes

from Boules, Her diet problems and her Warehouse, (105). are obviously time management related to her shopping problems. problems to these. She realizes after read We can also connect more personal problems a magazine article that she should make better use of parties "to 'net ing etc., which I will then lose" work,' deal." ... to make friends with someone specific; or simply 'clinch' a top She remarks, "Understand where have been going wrong by going to parties armed only with objective of not getting too pissed" (84). Bridget fails as opportunities to use social occasions to advance her career; similarly, she fails to use her sex life to guarantee her future security. Her cold behavior and her ill-considered affair with Darcy hilarious Daniel" indicate sexy, exciting, (260) certainly "Gorgeous, messy, that she has invested her time and her emotional that energy in a relationship has to little long-term rather than setting about methodically potential "catch" Mark Darcy. Indeed, Bridget takes a risk; asAusten's Charlotte Lucas of fixing him" (1956, 15). These expresses it, "she may lose the opportunity are really only one: Bridget various fails to be a apparently shortcomings toward wealthy, successful Mark

unflattering. One will be left behind two years. The other three will be exchanged

in the face value. She admits to confusion good consumer, fails to maximize on offer. She fails to nav of the bewildering of consumer opportunities array and she is criticized for it. Would Bridget Jones be a igate the marketplace,

more admirable woman, a more likeable character, a better role model, if she

were

amore

efficient

consumer? and refuses

on homo economicus, a soulless profit-maxi a society-less world," and the novels reveal that individual, inhabiting mizing crit chooses the former rather than the latter (1999,144). American Bridget the potential subver feminists, have not recognized ics, including American siveness of her position. BridgetJones's Narrativeand the AmericanMyth of Self-Perfection to the conclusion of Bridget's diary lend themselves that in control of her narrative, but other elements reveal that she Bridget fails to predict that she and Mark will fall in love, is. For example, Bridget even as she delineates the significant differences between her and Mark but, Some elements is not to a relationship that could be real obstacles between them, she carefully of her sense of humor, and his records his admiring looks, his appreciation the two novels the Indeed, throughout disapproval of his other girlfriends.

society sonal life. Joel Krieger suggests reliance native to "the neoliberal

a consumer

In effect, Bridget refuses to play her part in in her per the model of efficient consumer is an alter that for New Labour, community

A. Kelly Marsh ensures that we do not undervalue Bridget about how others react to her. is Bridget's her by

57

ostentatiously including compares going Bridget destroying Perhaps

self-effacing plenty of detail

the best example being with Rebecca perfectly confidence

along

relationship with Rebecca. Bridget to "swimming in sea with jellyfish: all will be then suddenly you get painful pleasantly lashing, at stroke" (Fielding 1999, 125). From first to last,

attacks, and as hope presents herself as defenseless against Rebecca's Even in the final scene awkward compared to Rebecca's polished poise. lessly of the second novel, in which Mark enrages Rebecca by declaring his attach a pillar in an unflattering ment to Bridget, Bridget is skulking behind brides maid's a hole cut into the front of it. Rather than crow in tri gown with over Rebecca, the narrative focus on her own blun maintains umph Bridget evidence that Rebecca is equal the considerable ders, so we might overlook threatened by Bridget. Caught up in Bridget's gloom when, her invitation ly to Rebecca's she has not been invited having gone astray, she believes Christmas subse party, we may laughingly pass over the message Rebecca leaves on Bridget's I answering machine: quently "Bridget. This isRebecca. in TV now. I know you have much more glamorous parties know you work to go to every night, but Iwould have thought you could at least have the courtesy to reply to an invitation from a friend, even if you are too grand to is threatened by Bridget's real deign to come to her party" (254). Rebecca as she is by Bridget's real attractiveness success, just throughout Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. Seeing Bridget eyes reminds us of all through Rebecca's in central that Bridget about herself: she owns an apartment underplays London, maintains jobs in publishing her family relationships Rather than idealizing these holds and television, attracts desirable men, and a wide circle of true friends. and

demonstrates that such an things, Bridget desirable lifestyle is not the perfect product of strict self-regula apparently tion that it may seem but rather is subject to the same accidents and prob a list of lems as any other. As critics have noted, she opens her diary with and each entry begins with a record of Bridget's progress toward objectives, to a confession those objectives, which of her failure to usually amounts This appears an indication of her lack of control over her life, but, progress. considered more closely, is an indication of her total control of her narrative.

Jeanne Braham observes that "Some women's personal narratives reveal what

they are supposed to feel" (1996, 56), and in Bridget's we can recognize this impulse. Bridget's progress reports diary reveals the to be better than she is, pressure that exists with external pressure she feels out reference to her own qualities and qualifications?improvement for its their authors believe

own sake.

58

31.1 2004] CollegeLiterature [Winter such pressure is her mother, whose for her play a fair expectations con role in Bridget's ly complex thinking. Indeed, both novels begin with versations between Bridget and her mother. Whereas Alison Case argues per that in fiction a credible feminine diarist rarely has the capacity for suasively One or projective plotting initial entry on the (2001,177), retrospective Bridget's of 1 January is an example of both. Rather than beginning with the morning a conversation events of New Year's Day, Bridget begins by recounting that took place the preceding August. This between herself and her mother actions and her feelings on the present occasion story accounts for Bridget's that Bridget and demonstrates accurately foresees how this day will end. It to use Christmas to improve her that Bridget's mother establishes planned daughter's image: "Why don't I get you a little suitcase with wheels attached. You know, like air hostesses have ... you can't go around with that tatty green canvas thing. You look like some sort of Mary Poppins person who's fallen on hard times" (Fielding 1999, 8).This she will use the New accomplished, Year's Day Turkey Curry Buffet to improve her daughter's love life: "Do you remember Mark, darling? He's one of those top-notch barristers. Masses of as Bridget is "once again starting the year in a Divorced" money (9). Later, if she dares to "have a fag out single bed in [her] parents' house," wondering of the window" rying a "strangely side-part" (9), not (9), we are fully aware that looking like an air hostess, mar dressed opera freak with bushy hair burgeoning from a to attend of course, driving out of London smoking, and, inten the Turkey Curry Buffet at all, are not her intentions but her mother's to feel guilty by the expectations ismade of her moth tions for her. Bridget sees "the mummy I'd never my coat off, hang it over get cheek and make me feel incredibly this first day of the new year through

in whom er, and even Una Alconbury, Bridget to manage to kiss me, had" (246),"seemed really her lipstick off my the banister, wipe all in one movement" (10). From guilty the office Christmas

party the following December ("Course is OK?every one drunks office Christmas parties" [256]), Bridget feels the need to defend herself against her mother's explicit and implicit accusations ("My mum has drunk nothing but a single cream sherry on a Sunday night since 1952, when she got slightly tipsy on a pint of cider atMavis Enderby's has never let herself or anyone else forget it" [42]). twenty-first and

Bridget with a Bridget's mother makes her feel guilty by overwhelming sense of her own unexplored opining "you've simply got too possibilities, the exercising of much choice" (Fielding 1999, 169). Mrs. Jones exemplifies a Portuguese tour guide, deciding that she choice. She leaves her husband for deserves more sexual fulfillment. She takes a job as a talk-show host after "realizing, when your father retired, that I had spent thirty-five years with out a break running his home and bringing up his children" (47). She admits

A. Kelly Marsh to a stunned Bridget that "having children isn't all it's built up to be. Imean, no offense, I don't mean this personally but given my chance again I'm not sure I'd have . . ." (169). She expects Bridget to explore her choices similar that ly; as however, Mrs. Jones ends up quite happily back at home, finding she likes her old self as well is not as or better than the other selves she has tried on, and Bridget does Bridget's mother The myth

saturates Bridget's

59

the same. to change. the only force encouraging Bridget the idea that the self can be completely remade,

The U.S. can have no exclusive claim to or

of self-perfection,

consciousness.

for the idea of perfecting the self, but, partly for comic effect responsibility and partly based on her sense that, as she has said in an interview, "There's a in America" strong culture of self-improvement (Fielding n. d.), Fielding In many ways, this myth with American culture. is very present to Bridget. She considers herself "a child of are American Cosmopolitan culture" (1999, 52), and many of her role models Susan Sarandon, and women, actresses, including Goldie Hawn, particularly explicitly American associates culture Michelle vasiveness Pfeiffer. References of the American to Hollywood's royal family illustrate the per also reflect ironically on British media; they may she refers to "Naked pic Bridget finds no role models: on the television" importantly, vision of the U.S. insane overcon (152) and"Fergy's these references to American film stars are

royalty, among whom tures of Princess Anne fidence" evidence makes (165). Most of Bridget's

as one big movie set. When Bridget list of people whom the brilliant Tina Brown might encounter at a party, the Englishman is a novelist, the South African is a polit an actor (83). On a summer evening Bridget ical leader, and the American is in effort to pretend we are all in is playing a saxophone observes, "Someone , a film set in New York. . . Hmm. Think would to New York" like to move a "random"

between the city and a any particular effort to distinguish (122). Without movie there. Indeed, long before Daniel confess set, Bridget imagines living es in the American an American Bar at the Savoy that he plans to marry (161), he goes to New York on business, and Bridget obsesses, "He will clear thin American cool person called Winona who ly by now have got off with I am not" (35). Bridget is fascinat out, carries a gun and is everything puts I am not," the choices and selec ed at this point in her life with "everything tions she has made, the things she has ruled out. She tells Daniel, "I'll never I looked at the notice board and saw a D next to when forget the moment and knew I couldn't go to Manchester" the U.S. (143). For Bridget, one choice or failing does not necessarily is a place where rule out other choices or opportunities for success, a place where the self can be constant as in a film (especially an American one). Indeed, at the end of ly re-made, : The Edge of Reason, when Bridget to Los Bridget Jones contemplates moving French

60 College Literature [Winter 31.1 2004]

Angeles, she writes, The "Hurrah! into what Am going to America to start again, like the

early pioneers.

land of the free" resolutions

buys Bridget self when she makes upset 2]), over men, and when

(2000, 296). she sees as the American that she never and cool fulfills

ideal of the perfected . . .Get ("I will not

[Fielding 1999, ice-queen" come true that never predictions is inter cook and hostess" [72]).This ("Expect to become over her own some readers as a sign of Bridget's preted by powerlessness when Bridget future, but it really signals those moments forgets that power she makes is always an illusion. Furthermore, she is not the only char an ideal self: Tom's plastic surgery entertains hopes of achieving his belief that the self can be perfected, and we learn that Tom demonstrates over one's future acter who as a place to "start again" when he eventu shares Bridget's view of America moves to San Francisco and suggests that Bridget join him there (2000, ally 232). This aspect of Bridget's character, then, does not prove that Fielding has it proves that Fielding female narrator. Rather, eschews created a powerless

but

instead be poised unrealistic as brilliant known

remade. The film version of Bridget that the self can be completely this point in a pair of scenes in which first Mark and Jones's Diary emphasizes then Bridget admit to liking each other "just the way [they] are." Helen the myth interview that she is "v. pleased that Americans Fielding has said in an on-line even if she does not have the perfect job, the perfect body, the like Bridget like two billiard balls" the perfect house, and a bottom perfect marriage, No doubt, Fielding is not surprised to learn that even Americans who (1998). like Bridget sometimes fail to recognize likes herself. that Bridget to feel" (Braham 1996, 56), but her she is "supposed She records what on every page. A closer look at the entries narrative fights that imposition suggests fication. that Bridget quantifies her "sins" not in repentance but in self-justi Her confession and reasons for her is peppered with explanations " alcohol units 14 (but effectively covers 2 behavior: 129 lbs. (but post-Christmas), days as 4 hours of party was onNew Year sDay)" (Fielding 1999, 7). On her list of "Food Christmas today" she notes "12 Milk Tray (best to get rid of all in one go and make fresh start tomorrow)" (7). She confectionery when she falls short of her goals, she alludes to mys rarely castigates herself; " 130 lbs. (terrifying forces in the universe as the cause: terious, unidentifiable consumed

slide into obesity-why? why?)" (15). She frequently praises herself for behavior short of her goals: she notes "alcohol units 6 (excellent)" that falls somewhat a "(drink problem)" (212).The later "alcohol units 6" constitutes (15), although same behavior is deplored at one time and praised at another: 23 ciga very rettes is "(v.g.)" in one entry and "(v.v. bad, esp. in two hours)" in another (15 and 70).The

it as such,

contradictions

narrative

in these entries

is not an account

reveal that, although

of a serious

she frames

Bridget's

self-improvement

A. Kelly Marsh program; her interest is less in improving herself than in justifying herself. Self of a diary; hatred is rarely the impetus behind the detailed self-examination of the self and all its vagaries. is a thorough explanation rather, the diary to feel that she is a sinner, but what makes her narrative ismade Bridget comic is that it is the confession Her confession of a sinner who is not about has no intention toward whatso striving perfection it is about celebrating the self. In her and atonement; through repentance . . . Rita Felski reminds us that "Autobiography "On Confession," develops out of the genre of religious confession," but that "Literary confession since not with is primarily concerned the admission of the eighteenth century to a higher authority, but rather with the affirmation and guilt and the appeal of free subjectivity" (Felski 1998, 87). Bridget herself recalls the exploration roots of confession she is pleased she calls herself in religious contexts: when a "perfect, saint-style person' (25). Still, she ends the second volume contem in these terms: "Celebration of good fun life, surely not Christmas plating as self Felski goes beyond the concept of confession (2000,296). perfection" affirmation, to fictional

Yet this

61

ever of reforming.

and her further comments, are instructive with autobiographies, however,

attempted emancipation of the self

although she is not referring regard to Bridget's diary:

can expose a self-defeating

dialectic

external very omy much can

in which

authority, a social merely

the history

returns and

of confession

form. attempt For the

as Beichte, as subjection

the "authentic self" to assert

to

in a new

is itself

product, underline

its profound a kernel alienating, and

dependence

upon

auton its privileged the cultural and

ideological

search rejected revealed for as

systems through which

an inner self, for and by

it is constituted. The more

of meaning the more upon untouched clearly those very by

frantic the

a society is con

oppressive to be permeated

subjectivity symbolic

dependent

it seeks to liberate itself. (Felski 1998, 87-88) " When cul appears unable to extricate herself from Bridget Cosmopolitan she returns again and again to the basic ture," she is clearly not alone. When ideas that she must perfect herself, control her life, and secure amate, Bridget straints from which is enacting an inevitable process. Felski argues that "This negative pattern in reverts back into anxiety and self-castiga which self-affirmation attempted a recurring one in at least some examples of feminist tion is confession" to that "Feminism appears ironically (1998, 88). She goes on to observe an ideal of autonomy accentuate rather than resolve it by providing guilt which with the author her mother is unable and to emulate" the cultural itself, then, along (88). Feminism to improve the self, inspires imperative and, to the extent that it its resolution is both prag

Bridget's guilt and her confession. is a comic novel, Still, Bridget Jones's Diary resolves the serious problem identified by Felski,

62

31.1 2004] CollegeLiterature [Winter matic to com and funny. Simply put, each time Bridget has the opportunity she likes herself better. When herself to the perfect image she envisions, pare 119 pounds, she dis the "historic and joyous day" arrives, and Bridget weighs covers that she appears "tired" and "drawn," and that she "looked better

to use 1999, 90-92). attempts Similarly, when Bridget (Fielding to hide the imaginary of aging skin, Tom's reaction is, "Good signs makeup .. .You look like Barbara Cartland" revelations come as a God (127).These before" ment. to her, as she is fully invested in this particular kind of self-improve attitude about other kinds of self-improve Still, her more objective ment demonstrates that Bridget is,more or less, happy as she is. For exam to be like Tina Brown, quite so though not, obviously, ple, she "Wish[es] (83). She reflects on the uneasy feeling "which periodically hardworking" shock makes out you think that just because you live in central London you should be at the RSC/Albert of London/Royal Hall/Tower Academy/Madame in bars enjoying yourself" Tussauds, instead of hanging around (128). Bridget ismore than amatch for this feeling; when, after much the annual Edinburgh Festival, she disgraces herself by friends for drinks rather than evision, and meeting it to one final event, She has a chance to make shows. reasons for staying away: "we had a few Bloody Marys indecision, she attends tel sleeping, watching

any of the attending but, again, she has her that and remembered

sessions have a bad effect on us" (175). These details and Answer Question reveal that Bridget's diary is less an attempt to gain control over her behav ior and perfect herself than it is an attempt to justify herself as she is. about how to spend her time and energy Ultimately, Bridget's decisions favor what she quickly illustrated during is least difficult locates a wide and most audience fun, but she succeeds anyway because the same things. This is that appreciates

she has labori her interview at Good Afternoon!, for which but at of high-level memorized the names and positions politicians, ously reveal that they prefer to discuss the sexual exploits her interviewers which of various is a real success, and is final this is clear, Bridget 68 percent of the "fun" items on the show for originating ly promoted for her interview is under-prepared 2000, 288). Similarly, Bridget (Fielding celebrities. Once Colin Firth

trivial questions, but apparently as and barrages him with are unexpectedly interested inwhat she does ask him as are dis many people is asked to do more such inter she does not, and Bridget gusted by what the two views. Bridget begins her diary resolved to change, but throughout with novels nations conflicted she is consistently about her goals and put off by the incar of her goals in Suki, Natasha, and Rebecca. Indeed, at some level, all which Bridget has chosen not to be, three of these characters represent that ruminations about what she might be

is simply Bridget's and the conflict as a result of her choices. missing

A. Kelly Marsh Austen'sWorld as Context the first imperfect and unrepentant loved yet much can find one early example in Jane literature, and we of Pride and Prejudice underlies Bridget Jones's Diary, Austen's Emma.The plot the plot of Persuasion. These and Bridget Jones: The Edge ofReason incorporates Bridget Jones in British heroine allusions, even appropriations, is Fielding's work; less obvious are overt and obvious to readers of Austen's For all important appropriation those of Elizabeth Bennet from Emma. is not

63

and Anne Elliot, her that Bridget's story resembles that of Emma Woodhouse, character most resembles and it is in closely not in Ally McBeal, that we find a true analogue to Bridget. Emma, is prone to resolutions that she fails to act on. Mr. Like Bridget, Emma Knightley

Emma I have that

remembers,

has seen she been meaning a great many to chosen, by read and some to read more lists of her regularly very neatly ever drawing since up she was at various very twelve times good years old. of books lists they

meant well

through?and

were-very ly, and

sometimes

other

arranged-sometimes alphabetical four rule. The list she drew up when only

teen-I remember

served now. Emma. it some But I have She will

thinking it did her judgment

and I dare say she may any thing have done with submit expecting to any

somuch

made of out

credit, that I pre

a very good list from reading and

time;

course requiring

steady industry

never

patience,

and a subjection of the fancy to the understanding. Emma, remind then, also keeps us of Bridget's

(Austen 1988, 65-66)

lists of her good intentions, and her reading lists may The Famished Road, which steady flirtation with

Bridget finally throws away because she realizes that, despite her best inten tions, she "will never read the bloody thing anyway" (Fielding 2000, 189). is no more The narrator reports that Emma, in adulthood, likely than ever to through her resolutions: "Her views of improving her little friend's had never [Harriet's] mind, by a great deal of useful reading and conversation, than a few first chapters, and the intention of going on to yet led to more morrow" (Austen 1966, 95). However, we admire Emma for her other qual carry ities, especially "That very dear part of Emma, her fancy" (224). Emma's reading is not the only rational pursuit forgone in the interest of her "fancy." We are treated to a look at "the portfolio containing her various attempts at portraits, for not one narrator continues, 1966, 72).The

Her many beginnings crayon, were

of them had

ever been

finished"

(Austen

whole

displayed.

Miniatures, had all been

lengths,

pencil,

and water-colours

half-lengths, in tried

turn.

She

had always wanted

drawing would and music ever submit

to do everything,

than many to. She might played

and had made more

have and done sang;?and with drew

progress both in

labour almost as she every in

so little

64 College Literature [Winter 31.1 2004]

style; but

approached

steadiness had always been wanting;

the degree of excellence which

and in nothing

have been

had

glad

she

to

she would

command, Emma's endeavors

and ought not to have failed of. (Austen 1966, 72) of resolution, of broader like Bridget's, import. Having extend beyond visited a poor personal family, Emma feel now as if I her

failures

to matters

reflects, "How trifling they make every thing else appear!?I could think of nothing but these poor creatures all the rest of the day; and can say how soon itmay all vanish from my mind?" yet, who (111). Harriet concurs that "one can think of nothing else," and both persist for approxi mately

a paragraph before Emma concludes, "If we feel for the wretched, to do all we can for them, the rest is empty sympathy, only distress enough and justifies her lack of (111). Thus Emma acknowledges ing to ourselves" (111). "stability in good thoughts" The

activity in which Emma persists most tirelessly in the course of the is finding a husband for Harriet, when she fails at first to marry yet, to Mr. Elton, "She was quite concerned Harriet and ashamed, and resolved novel to do such things no more" ever, she has found another In the next paragraph, how (Austen 1966,155). interest, and young man to consider in Harriet's

the "She stopt to blush and laugh at her own relapse" (156). She completes same cycle with regard to Miss Bates. After the picnic at Box Hill, Emma is truly ashamed of her treatment of Miss Bates, and resolves,

If attention, given. more haps, no more. very next She in future, had in In been could often than of do remiss, fact; true away her the past, conscience to be for she might hope told her so; remiss, per But call her it should upon side, of be her so the

thought the warmth and

scornful, contrition, be

ungracious. she would on

morning, kindly

it should

the beginning, 1966, 370)

a regu

lar, equal,

intercourse."

(Austen

The

in thought than fact," observation that Emma is "remiss, perhaps, more are us a lens through which to consider Bridget's narrative, as well. We gives to be seduced by the foregrounding of her thoughts into forgetting the likely facts. Emma does

to be call upon Miss Bates, and we know her contrition she real. Still, asMiss Bates cannot change, neither can Emma, and, although will never again forget herself as she has at the picnic, she will no doubt con than regard to Miss Bates, that she is "always doing more tinually feel, with and less than she ought!" (180). that she never resolutions Like Bridget, Emma makes entirely unrealistic her to keep. When she has admired and that no one would wish keeps she wished, Harriet time convinced in her "truly artless" grief (Austen 1966,159), Emma is "really for the that Harriet was the superior creature of the two" (159), and like her friend: "It was rather too late in the day to she resolves to be more set about being simple-minded and ignorant; but she left her [Harriet] with

A. Kelly Marsh of being humble and discreet, and all the rest of her life" (160). Emma also responds to repressing imagination like Bridget's. Bridget determines, in love with resolutions disappointments inner poise and "I will not ... Sulk about having no boyfriend, but develop of substance, without and sense of self as woman authority complete every previous resolution confirmed (Fielding 1999,2). Similarly, though boyfriend, as best way to obtain boyfriend" the final clause, when Emma believes she has lost her chance to win without Mr. Knightley's affection, she envisions her own future self-improvement:

the drawn, only was source whence resolution any thing of her like own consolation better or conduct, composure and could be that, in the the hope

65

however

future more

inferior in spirit and gaiety might

of her with life to the past, and it would leave her herself,

be the following

yet less find to her more regret when

and every

rational, it were

winter acquainted

gone. Her vision

(Austen 1966, 411)

as Bridget's. of her future is, of course, exactly as prophetic as Bridget the polished she sees in her rivals, Emma is rejects image Just of female perfection, put off by that embodiment Jane Fairfax. Emma has been used to disliking Jane, but, upon seeing her after a long interval, Emma notes all of Jane's excellent them up in her sense that summing qualities,

the basis of her (Austen 1966, 180). On "Jane Fairfax was very elegant" Emma "was determining that she would dislike her no longer" observations, not last (181).The narrator informs us,"These were charming feelings?but and that very soon Emma finds that "every thing was relapsing ing" (181), into its usual state" (182). Emma is envious of Jane's elegance, her supe much she wins from Mr. Knightley. and the admiration performance, even Jane Fairfax is perfect. She has a Even he admits, however, that "not aman would wish for in a wife" fault. She has not the open temper which are told that "Emma could not but rejoice to hear that she had a We (289). fault" (289), and, indeed, Emma herself has long ago concluded that Jane "was was suspiciously to dislike Jane reserved" (182). Emma continues disgustingly, and envy her Knightley's regard, but she learns, in the end, that Jane has been as well. Because to Emma, of Frank Churchill's attentions jealous of Emma, "In Jane's eyes she had been a rival" (394), though, much in the style of Emma has never suspected that she could be. Finally, Jane and Bridget Jones, Emma with like her more because Emma changes, of course, but because Jane, secrets to keep, demonstrates that she is capable of being more as well as accomplished, Emma. Jane is sympathetic but we cannot like until she loses her "suspicious reserve"; Emma, in contrast, could not be loved if she had all of Jane's accomplishments. In Austen's world, as in no more Fielding's,

and

rior musical

are friends?not

Helen

for

self-improvement

"fancy."

is no

substitute

for spirit and creativity,

openness

66 College 31.1 Literature [Winter 2004]

ChoosingCommunitarianism In spite of all of her resolutions Bridget does not succeed in remaking one of her many goals: herself. However, like Emma, she does accomplish observes, finding a "nice boyfriend" (Fielding 1999, 271). As Daphne Merkin "What's really bothering about 'Bridget Jones' is that it signals the people return (1998, of what is referred reliance 71). Bridget's rescues is noted by her critics. In Bridget Jones's Diary, Mark mother from her disastrous with the Portuguese Bridget's relationship bounder Julio, entraps Julio himself, and recovers the life savings and pension funds of the Jones's Middle British social circle. In Bridget Jones : The Edge of problems in extricating Bridget is instrumental from her entanglement Reason, Mark to carry his stash with a drug smuggler who has duped her into attempting can and should out of Thailand. The idea behind this criticism is that Bridget remake herself in such a way as to be in control of her own life and not be of such aid, but the novels force us to consider the true limitations is not much of control. Bridget less in control of her life than those around in need are of their own. Magda cannot control her wandering and husband, more father cannot control his wandering than Bridget wife, any Bridget's can stop Daniel from betraying her with Suki. So ifwe are tempted to blame her Bridget for throwing herself into the power of aman she identifies aswicked do not always pub that the wicked and dissolute (16), we should remember should also wicked. We licize their characters, nor is every partner who strays has hurt more friends than Bridget, namely that Daniel remember trusting his Cambridge classmate, Mark Darcy, whose marriage Daniel destroys two weeks after the wedding. As Case points functional solely

is true

to in English-fit Plot" classes as the Marriage on Mark Darcy to solve her in both novels

relationship with responsible in Bridget's own control to accomplish"

for everyone.

stated goal to '"Form out, Bridget's ... is not and could not be adult' (178), and this, by definition,

are more fully in then, at least one's self and one's decisions Presumably, at this level, as one's control? The novels suggest that control is impossible case.We can see the ridiculous in the fact that well, and not just in Bridget's threaten her relationship garments Bridget's foundational of the Law Society dinner (Fielding 2000, 38-43), night sweater and bumble-bee that Mark's diamond-patterned at the Turkey Bridget when with Mark socks do on the the same but also in the fact

(1999, 12-14). We Curry Buffet laugh and feel superior to she misses Elena Rossini's from the courthouse emergence she is buying cigarettes; she has jeopardized her career over a trifle because runs out of a (210). Yet Bridget's friend Jude, Head of Futures at Brightlings, board meeting for asking him in tears because if he wanted to come her boyfriend,Vile Richard, on holiday with her" has "chucked her (17). Both women

A. Kelly Marsh to maintain their careers in spite of "redundant"; aman at my such is incidents, but Daniel on Bridget's he ends up sofa a career" (2000, age without

67

manage

downstairs" and made "promoted because, "Nobody wants sobbing Finch is increasingly 199). Richard because hers of his addiction so different is not

to cocaine.

from workers. No plan is comprehensive enough, no preparation detailed enough, no resolution to allow for every contingency. solid enough As for relying on the help of Mark Darcy, Bridget (much like her coun

despised by his entire staff and finally fired If Bridget's life appears out of control, the lives of her family, her friends, and her co

adult who accedes to terpart in Pride and Prejudice) is not the only competent in nabbing Julio, not the only one who is awed Mark's superior capabilities smart" top human-rights this "rocky barrister 1999, 266). by (Fielding efforts on her own behalf are key to her survival in Furthermore, Bridget's to entertain her and her release from the Thai prison. From her inspiration to Madonna with the words hits to her manipulation of Charlie, assistant to the consul, Bridget takes the necessary the pokey but ambitious in steps to avoid spending her "childbearing years" in a woman's prison an argument facts do not constitute for Bridget's Thailand. These self cell-mates reliance; indeed, such an argument probably cannot be made. The material point is that problem-solving

communal effort, not an opportunity to prove one's

and certainly in Bridget's

worth

should not world is a

as a human

being.

consults her stage of her relationship with Daniel, Bridget their opinions, their perspectives, and then friends, weighing considering a decision achieves the desired result.When that frequently Daniel making every in air" for two weekends has left her "hanging after sex (Fielding 1999, 60), a masterful combination of tactics?Jude's "be friendly and Bridget deploys I think of him" (60), and Tom's "Aloof, Sharon's "tell him what flirty" (60), to establish somewhat more equal unavailable (64)?and manages ice-queen" causes a num Bridget's mother, who ber of Bridget's also lifts her spirits after Daniel's desertion and problems, her to get a new job at Good Afternoon! Tom saves her from an embar helps the Smug Marrieds rassing evening with by providing her with a sexy twen date to impress them, and he gets her a free-lance writing ty-three-year-old terms in her relationship with Daniel. assignment and an interview with Colin Firth. Bridget does her part, as her friends to choose among self-help philosophies, well?helping providing moral support for her father, and leading the search for Tom when he disap even more obviously she transforms from pears. She becomes helpful when Elizabeth Magda's his divorce Bennet children in the first novel off her hands into Anne Elliot in the second, taking for a day, counseling Giles Benwick through suicide, and standing at the ready with her cell she is, in the style of Louisa

At

phone when

and attempted Rebecca sprains her ankle because

68 College Literature [Winter 31.1 2004]

(2000,183). Bridget Musgrove,"resolute!" the illusion that self-reliance is ameasure nize that, in Tom's words, and it's all done functional "we're and her friends do not labor under

it?" (1999,231). Bridget's her choice of a community-based process. decision-making Her choice is validated by her experience of the quantities of American self-help books that she and her friends consume. Women Who Love Too Much, Men Are From Mars on are as familiar food to Bridget (more familiar, as Tom

of self-worth. Rather, they recog all psychotic, and completely single dys ... but it's a bit like a over the phone family, isn't narrative de-mythologizes and justifies self-reliance

andWomen Are From Venus, The Road Less Traveled, and so as the number of calories in any given item of than "one's alphabet or times tables" discovers,

[Fielding 1999, 225]). Self-help to eliminate the mental rubble access help the essential of others.

books purport not only to enable the reader created by contemporary everyday life and to self in all its Emersonian but to do so without the genius,

seduced by the appears to be completely Initially, Bridget of this process, but ultimately she finds that it conflicts with, shining promise and her and compares badly to, her own communitarianism. Indeed, Bridget in precisely the self-help books that Bridget the same way friends misuse several different diets, relying at diets. Bridget combines on the one that allows her to eat exactly what she wants.

misuses

to the for the day, with food consumption reference the F-plan, the Hay Diet, and the Anti-Cellulite Raw-Food Scarsdale Diet, too easy to find a diet to fit in with Diet, she notes, "I realize it has become to feel like eating and that diets are not there to be whatever you happen is exactly what I shall begin picked and mixed but picked and stuck to,which to do once finding

Singletons

particular any given moment After listing her

I've eaten secret

read

this chocolate self-reliance

all, have

the

to

croissant" in a single

brought them,

(65). Similarly, rather than as intended, these book,

as it were, into conversa

have

them

the books' philosophies conflict. The tion, and found all of the ways in which are drawn to the idea of a perfected self^even top-flight human characters a stack of these books-but, is discovered with barrister Mark Darcy rights rather than being changed, ultimately, for what find justification they already satire of self-help books Fielding's Reason main own when Rebecca and Giles come Austenian the characters are. climaxes in Bridget Jones: The Edge of together, not over poetry as their simply read until they

do, but over self-help books. In contrast, Fielding's counterparts come to reject things American. Most of Bridget's characters ultimately and Mark travel to ends up in a dumpster. Both Daniel self-help library professional and, of course, "Really ties to America, but both return to to Bridget. In spite of the cinematic appeal of the of something" on the day that Tony Blair is feel[s] part and romantic

and establish England U.S., Bridget

A. KellyMarsh 69

(though she is not so much part of the voting as part Her delight in the "great rising up of we, the nation" tion). the importance 147) reminds us that "There is no mistaking for New The American Labour" ideal (Krieger 1999, 143). a mirage, and and the perfected self implied by it, proves elected Bridget between embraces individual can be expressed and community, in Tony the belief of the celebra (Fielding 2000, of community of self-reliance, the values that "the union stranded in

Blair s own words, that we are not

a duty to others and to ourselves and are, in a pro helpless on each other to succeed" found sense, dependent 1999, (qtd. in Krieger that a fictional female narrator is only is not evidence 144). Bridget's diary she is out of control. Bridget's voice is authentic because it authentic when are reminds us that control is a myth and mutually dependent relationships unavoidable. Ian Adams considers this idea central to the communitarianism the Blair government: "People do not exist in a vacuum; in fact, they only exist in relation to others. The completely autonomous self as Blair has maintained a dis of liberal theory is a myth" (1998, 148). Just eco in the face of the American-style communitarianism tinctly British that has influenced nomic American reforms introduced culture. BritishNovel BridgetJones and the Contemporary her in the primacy of mutually and dependent relationships and controlled of the ideal of the perfected self is echoed interrogation in the works of other contemporary British novelists. Another international two Possession (1991), provides us with best-seller, A. S. Byatt's neo-Victorian Fielding's belief female characters?the Victorian scholar Maud nitarianism enables her?and popular commu government, by the Thatcher Bridget's her self-image?to withstand the onslaught of

isolation, but owe

LaMotte and the contem poet Christabel to be entirely of whom self porary attempt Bailey?both but find that the demands of others on them, and, finally, their reliant, demands on others, work against their own mythologized self-conceptions. self, and favors instead Byatt, like Fielding, rejects the myth of the perfected the expression of the self in all its imperfection. Among other fictional doc from Possession contains the diaries of two Victorian uments, excerpts Ellen Ash and Sabine de Kercoz.Adrienne Shiftman has said of Ellen women, Ash that she writes that she therefore her private journal with a public audience in mind, and as the ideal embodiment "writes herself ofVictorian fem

ininity" (2001, 96). Ellen's journal exemplifies Jeanne Braham's observation of women's diaries that "their formulas acknowledge the conformist power of the dominant power, however, and one culture" (1996,56). As Shiftman argues, Ellen recognizes this can identify glimmers of resistance in Ellen's journal; finally, she constructs the image expected of her. The incompleteness of

70

31.1 2004] CollegeLiterature [Winter of life and its pleasures, epitomized in her unconsummat experience ed marriage, reveals the danger of fetishizing control. In contrast, the other as in Possession, the journal of Sabine de Kercoz, demonstrates, journal the urge to present oneself as does, that the power of conformity, Bridget's in control, can be resisted even as it is acknowledged. Sabine begins, like fully to change: "This is the book I shall in which with her intention Bridget, Ellen's make into a true writer." Given the intimidating exemplars before myself is awed by the sense of LaMotte?Sabine her?her father and Christabel how far she has to go. But Christabel advises Sabine not to try to remake

herself, but rather to "Look ... at your own rainy orchard, your own terri

ble coastline, with

the eyes of a stranger" in order to find her voice as awriter Sabine initially believes she must and can perfect herself in (Byatt 1991,364). the importance of order to "make [herself] into" a writer, but she discovers rendering what she does know?herself

as she is?as evocatively as possible. she goes on to publish three novels. learned this, Having to criti The romance element of Possession has made it, too, vulnerable cism for its portrayal of women, but Anita Brookner's Fraud (1993) presents a disheartening is a generation older alternative. Brookner's Anna Durrant between than Bridget, and Fraud is not a comic novel, but the resemblances books and Fraud are nevertheless strong. Like Bridget, Anna's Fielding's a smooth con-man, has a late-in-life but there is no liaison with mother Mark to recover what is the family loses to him. Like Bridget, Anna Darcy for her state by her own criticized and alone, and is constantly unmarried Vickie Halliday, and by her parents' cohort, especially by the Rebecca-like as Bridget's mother, who has invited the cohort, especially Mrs. Marsh. Just to dinner in order to effect a reunion between Bridget and Mark, Darcys "We are the elders of the tribe!" (Fielding 2000, 103), Mrs. Marsh explains, as an elder of if "the settling of Anna" is "part of her responsibility Unlike Bridget, however, Anna has no circle (Brookner 1993, 66). considered "self-sufficient" of friends. She is generally by those who know her (261), and the image she projects is defined by the fact that "She had a the tribe" horror never of compassion, both her own and that of others. She was determined as a victim" to be perceived (194). Her mother's example has taught to equate all dependence victimhood. she is com with her Consequently, of ever being otherwise. The unhappy little possibility alone, with pletely over Anna to himself in a confesses chooses Vickie Halliday of insight that, "He could have saved her [Anna], he knew, and then characters in Fraud appear she in her turn could have saved him" (202).The who but the novel reveals their fear, their weakness, and their failure

to connect.

wonders

man

moment

self-reliant,

A. Kelly Marsh is not a diarist, but she corresponds regularly with a friend read Anna's letters, but we learn that, in the letters as in to express herself and fails to establish real ties of mutual one of her letters she composes note they always seemed to strike: had both read their Jane They a cool head" (Brookner 1993,70

letters were elevated, amus

71

Anna Durrant abroad. We life, Anna fails

do not

with another person. As she dependence "This surely was the right note, the thinks, intimate, critical, high-spirited. feminine, Austen, and prided themselves on keeping

71). She comments on the correspondence,"The

or pain. They might have been written ing, giving by two acquaintances in the Pump Room in Bath, for it was who had met whose English was perfect, and who was devoted to the works Marie-France, of Jane Austen, who best captured the tone" (156). This correspondence is, as no hint of loneliness the title implies, fraudulent; their reliance on a habitual and stringently con trolled "tone" indicates that what they might really say about being unmar in their fifties is embarrassing ried women and painful, that what they really feel must be hidden at all costs. Brookner, Byatt, and Fielding do not recreate the nineteenth-century novel and all of its problematic values, as their critics would suggest. Rather, on in Byatt's case, Dickens) for some perspective look to Austen (and, they notions of what the self can and should be. First, both popular contemporary Austen and Dickens the human connection and interdependence emphasize that are so valued by these contemporary writers?Dickens by way of his on just "3 or 4 of relatedness, and Austen by focusing in a Country Village" in Shields 2001, 8). Second, what these (qtd. in Jane Austen's novels is that the self novelists have observed contemporary cannot be completely remade. Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Elliot, and Emma are certainly enlightened in the course of their stories, but they Woodhouse hidden networks Families

are not changed, nor would we want them to be. Austen also demonstrates

that self is a villain, like George that a self ashamed disguises itself?whether or a friend, like Charlotte a self unashamed Lucas?while Wickham, express es itself fully, whether as in the case of Elizabeth Bennet, or for for better, worse, Helen as in the case of Mr. Collins. In her exuberant reliance Fielding gender narrative techniques; rather, she recalls aworld free of the post-Austen of the perfected self. Notes A number of friends have given me helpful criticism and advice on this article;

I would particularly like to thank Brian B. Anderson and Don-John Dugas.

does not validate

traditional

roles or even

on Austen, traditional myth

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