Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Janespotting: Bridget Jones's Diary

I'm continuing my romp through Austen-inspired works with this popular book and film. If you're not a huge Austen fan and only casually read this seminal chick lit novel of the '90s, you might not realize that Helen Fielding drew much of her inspiration from Austen's Pride and Prejudice. (Actually, I think the actual quote from her is "I stole Austen's plot.") As you'd expect from the title, the novel recounts one year in the life of British thirtysomething Bridget Jones through her various diary entries. She fights a constant battle against her weight, her cigarette addiction, her desire for a decent boyfriend, and the expectations of her parents and all the Smug Married people around her.

The novel opens in January, with Bridget's parents trying to fix her up at a family party with a divorcee named Mark Darcy. She finds him dreadful and boring at first, but we can tell from his name (Mr. Darcy!) that he'll turn out to be perfect for her. In the meantime, Bridget gets involved with her boss, gets dumped by her boss, switches jobs, and deals with disasters big and small along the way. Her relationship with Mr. Darcy doesn't progress very far, until her mother gets involved with a shady timeshare scheme and Mark steps in to save the day.

With its no-holds-barred, even raunchy, exploration of Bridget's thoughts and feelings—her obsessing over weight and sex and relationships—you wouldn't think this had much to do with Austen besides a few superficial name and plot similarities. But I think it's a very good tribute; a translation, if you will, to modern sensibilities. After all, at heart each book asks its protagonist the same question: when are you going to get married? who will make you happy? In both cases, the answer involves looking past first impressions.

I wanted to add a bit about the 2001 film adaptation, which is one of my favorite film comedies ever. First of all, they managed the delicious irony of getting Colin Firth (see P&P 1995 miniseries) to play Mark Darcy. Then they cast Hugh Grant against type as Bridget's boss Daniel, the caddish Wickham analogue (and he's brilliant). They removed the subplot where Bridget's mother has possibly defrauded her neighbors, so there's no parallel to Lydia's scandal, but in its place they greatly enlarged the Mark Darcy/Daniel Cleaver backstory, making a greater parallel to the Mr. Darcy/Mr. Wickham subplot. Since this gave Colin Firth a great deal more screentime than Mark Darcy got in the book (he appears only briefly until the last two or three chapters), it was an excellent exchange, in my opinion. Add the bonus of actors with posh British accents saying cusswords—something guaranteed to make me giggle—and you've got a film that actually improves on the original book, at least in my opinion. If you're at all a fan of romantic comedies, this one is essential.


  1. I love that movie - it's one of my must-see-on-a-regular-basis-romatic-comedies. Any suggestions for others I should add to my list?

  2. Oh, my ... I'm not a huge fan of modern romantic comedies, but I will admit a huge weakness (especially at Christmastime) for the Sandra Bullock "While You Were Sleeping," which is a sweeter kind of romcom. Oh, and I can watch the Kenneth Branagh-Emma Thompson version of Shakespeare's "Much Ado about Nothing" over and over and over....