There's still much to love about Bridget Jones.
At a BBQ last weekend, sodden with pinot grigio and in the mood to divulge, I shared my recipe for a chocolate cake that can be made in the microwave, in a mug, in five minutes. A whole cake! In a mug! My friends were suitably amused by what they dubbed my “Bridget Jones” mug cake. The cake being a single serve, slightly shameful and something generally eaten alone while pondering one’s life choices.
That Bridget Jones - patron saint of quite possible spinsters, faux pas makers, awkward daters and big underpants wearers – is still the go to for ‘slightly embarrassing things you do when you’re single’ stories is telling. Especially when you consider just how much has happened for women since Bridget Jones first chronicled the highs, lows and chardonnay nightmares of singledom. Far from carefully studying books of the Men are from Venus oeuvre we’ve got Hanna Rosin declaring that it’s the end of men, The Atlantic said that the single ladies are making their own way and Lena Dunham is prancing about on screen in her undies. Yet, some thirteen years after Bridget Jones’ Diary was first published, like Bridget and the singles v the smug marrieds, we’re still, dully, debating whether women can have it all. Though the answer now is less about women and more about the fact that as a matter of fact nobody can have it all. Something that Bridget, I’m sure, would raise her glass too.
When Helen Fielding announced last month that she was writing a third Bridget Jones book, the reaction was v. v. mixed. There’s been opinion pieces declaring that Bridget belongs to another era and fashion reports on what Bridget would wear now (for the record definitely onesies and still enormous knickers). Fielding said in an interview that she had found Bridget’s voice again, that the book was funny (of course it is, it’s nigh on impossible to read her writing without a little dollop of shrieking) and that Bridget will take to Twitter like a glistening Mr. Darcy emerging from a pond.
There’s an awful lot of expectation, excitement and trepidation, because as Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon pointed out so well, Bridget Jones was the sort of woman that most of us could identify with – messy, imperfect, likeable.
“I’m talking about a girl of our own, the one who is decidedly not the conventional sweetheart. She’s messy and mixed up. She’s smart even when she’s doing dumb things. An archetype who’s also incredibly specific to her era. She’s the wisecracking dame in the screwball comedies. And Holly Golightly. And Annie Hall. And Hannah Horvath.
In the ’90s, Bridget was that girl, as indulgent as her spiritual cousins Patsy and Eddie on “Absolutely Fabulous,” but also as secretly self-loathing as the women’s magazine reader she was. “
But should Bridget Jones, with her twinsets and Tiffany heart necklaces, stay in the 90s as is the general consensus? Yes, the second book, film and subsequent columns were a little off mark. But I’m not so sure. For one, despite Jones’ reliance on self-help books, her dreadful track record with relationships and/or taste in men, her disordered relationship with food/her mother/her body, she’s really quite self aware. She looks within rather than blames others for her troubles. I mean, she keeps a diary of everything that happens and how it made her feel. What’s more, she’s always been something of a feminist. And indeed while in the nineties, torn between feminist theory and a love of Hello magazine, Bridget laments that there’s “nothing so unattractive as strident feminism”, I think she’d been thrilled to know that feminism is now part of the cultural and societal zeitgeist. And that the definition of a feminist has become so elastic and expansive. What's more, Bridget Jones may remain ever the patron saint of sad singles, but perhaps the best thing about Fielding's books is that they remain optimistic, even celebratory. No small feat in these irony laced times.
With all that in mind, I’m looking forward to seeing Bridget Jones take on ageing in the year 2013. As novelist India Knight said in the Guardian,
“It would be great to have commercial women's fiction narrated by somebody older … I love the idea of Bridget Jones, broken and lonely two divorces later, with a bottle of red wine, blogging insanely ... I'd like to see her as a much older mother. I'd like more darkness. [Fielding is] such a good comic writer, she would do it so well, make it bittersweet, dark but funny.”
Little else has been said about the actual book, apart from a few coded missives from Fielding. But in any case, there’s much to relish about the idea of Bridget building her social media brand, discovering the delights of pinot gris, being a mother (maybe), writing angry yet witty comments on proudly feminist websites and/or her own blog.
Re-reading the books recently, I had expected to find them dated and maybe out of touch. I didn’t think I had anything in common with Bridget anymore. Yet Bridget with her neurosis and her reliance on magazines, friends and positive self talk - “you are filled with self poise” - reminded me that being a feminist doesn’t automatically mean that you will love your “real” body, that you won’t care what other people think, that you can’t adore talking about boys more than anything in the whole world. But you can still be quite pleased with what you can do, and have achieved. And if that includes perfecting a recipe for a single serve mug cake, well then I am v. v. pleased to hear it.