Bridget’s back… still an icon, but a bit battered round the edges


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Fans of Bridget Jones will be astonished to learn that their single girl idol, the British Carrie Bradshaw, is now 51. And, although she and Mark were destined to live happily ever after, well… that wouldn’t make a very good third book (spoiler alert – don’t read on if you don’t want to know any more).

But could Bridget – the whirlwind poster girl for 1990s-style wanting it all – really have anything relevant to say, post-marriage and post-crash? Helen Fielding seems to think so, and she’s resurrected the character for a third book, out soon.

I was a teenager when I first read Bridget Jones’ Diary, and like all teenagers, I wanted to grow up, fast. Without any older sisters or aunts from whom to learn about single life, and from my vantage point in rural Ireland, Bridget’s world was the one I anticipated for my twenties – chaotic, fun, and crucially, full of good looking men. I couldn’t wait.

An ex of mine, after we went to see the film together, told me I looked like Bridget. While she was definitely a cultural icon at the time, he obviously hadn’t read the books. Bridget was a model of female self-hatred, with a terrible body image. In diary-speak: “Pounds – two more this morning. Tried to fit into dress in Whistles. Must buy corset-thing to squeeze sausage type fat. From tomorrow, will be new woman, eating celery every day.” He also didn’t realize that Renee Zellweger, twiglet-shaped normally, had put on two stone for the role.

At an average size 14, she was never what you’d call obese – I am, in fact, still that size – but the crucial part was that men fancied her even though she wasn’t model material. That was rather a revelation.

But, while nobody wanted Bridget’s perceived weight problems, I didn’t see the issue with being thirtysomething ‘but still single’. Granted, Bridget had all the fears and foibles of most women, plus a few extra neuroses. Ok, a lot of extra neuroses, not to mention her painful mother. But she also had an awful lot of fun.

Dates with sexy, strange and sometimes truly bizarre men, exciting office romances, a ‘glamorous’ job in TV, and a gang of friends that were always on hand to package and analyse the latest drama… it’s the kind of life a teenager stuck in the world’s most sexless school uniform can really only dream of.

Only now, as my friends are, two by two, getting married, and I’m a fully mortgaged-up member of society, do I truly understand her situation, particularly when it comes to finding eligible men of that age (I’ve put it down to emigration, but really, there aren’t any. Ask any of my single friends.)

Bridget Jones’ Diary spoke for and to young women, in a similar way to what Lena Dunham’s hit series Girls, does now. It was different, though, because it was first. A huge cohort of independent single women in their 30s, earning their own money, living independently and becoming the norm rather than the exception represented an entirely new social phenomenon. A totally new shopping-and-sex driven consumer society – also a leading character in Sex and the City – had grown up around them and their gay best friends.

But fast forward 17 years and the silly single girl is now a 51 year old mother of two. She’s also – and this is a bit of a shock – a widow. Her beloved Mark is dead.

Like a sucker-punch to the gut, that one. Darcy dead? What happened to happily ever after? Bridget’s life wasn’t meant to turn out like this. Yes, her pre-marriage life was chaotic, fun, full of mistakes and accidents and embarrassing episodes. But that was kind of the point. Bridget’s single life always had the feeling of being an ante-room to her ‘smug married’ life, the handsome Tory husband from a catalogue, two point four children and skiing holiday at Christmas life she was waiting for.

For the girls of her generation, and those of us that follow, perhaps it’s a comfort that ‘happily ever after’ didn’t happen for Bridget either. For a generation so used to getting what it wants, and then wanting something else, happily ever after gets a bit boring.

In the excerpts from the new book that were published over the weekend, it seems clear that, like a lot of people, Bridget’s gone from ‘want it all’ 1990s individualism, to ‘got it all, and then it fell apart’ noughties recessionista. I just hope Darcy’s pension plan wasn’t with Lehman Brothers, or book four will be a terrible tale of a penniless pensioner in a Britain without the NHS.

Published in the Evening Herald, 30 September 2013.

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