Helen Fielding has just released the third Bridget Jones book, Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy. Promoting the novel, the Royal Exchange hosted an intimate talk with the author. Fielding proved to be both charming and funny but there was an elephant in the room: why did she have to kill off Mark Darcy?
Making no secret of her compulsive enjoyment of Austen’s winding and teasing plot lines,the love story of Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy often mirrors that of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy. Often snubbed by Austen fans, Fielding has been criticised for her modernisation of Pride and Prejudice. Yet Fielding’s plot lines are no more influenced than Amy Heckerling’s , in her 1995 classic Clueless, are of another Austen favourite: Emma. As Fielding stated: ‘she [Austen] won’t mind, she’s dead.’
Fielding faced critical questioning from the audience; predominantly concerning Bridget’s representation of women. Riddled with insecurities over her weight, alcohol consumption and attraction to unsuitable men, Bridget is refreshingly different to the media princesses that women are supposed to idolise. Fielding argues that Bridget is a feminist but that: ‘she’s just a person, not the senator of state for women’. Alike to Elizabeth’s lack of accomplished skills, Austen mocks the Georgian’s high standards for women. ‘I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any,’ Elizabeth responds after Darcy lists the requirements for an accomplished woman. The modern antithesis to Austen’s Elizabeth, Bridget is not always perfect but reassuringly realistic.
But, still, the audience were left crying: why kill Darcy? At first Fielding just shrugged. Yet Darcy’s death has allowed Fielding to turn away from the Austen references and transform Bridget into a 21st century icon. Fielding reminds us that Austen herself died in her 40’s, her character’s life spans also in this range. Fielding questions, is it realistic to expect relationships to last for so long? Maybe Darcy had to go to save Bridget from a monotonous married life.
Although not stereotypes, Bridget and Elizabeth are both feminists. Fielding shows us that women have historically been made to feel as though they have to be the perfect exemplar; however it is ok to reject these pressures. Personally, I have to agree with Fielding: big pants and all.