Why I've been reading and re-reading "Bridget Jones's Diary" for 20 years
Thursday 14 April
Times this morning I’ve audibly referenced Bridget Jones’s Diary 4, moments in a typical day that my life mirrors the novel 9 (more on weekends), number of times I’ve read Bridget Jones’s Diary in my life 3,235 (v. tragic)
It doesn’t make a ton of sense for a 9-year-old girl to be captivated by Bridget Jones — a 30-something British singleton, obsessed with emotional fuckwits and counting calories — but I was. I loved her stories, I loved her voice (the way she called gatherings with friends, “top level summits,”), I loved her imagination, I loved her observations (“Mother is bright orange and more opinionated than ever.”). I don’t remember how Bridget Jones came into my life, and I’m fairly certain that I didn’t understand one-third of what was going on (this is an epistolary novel about a single woman’s sex life, after all), but still, she hooked me. Quite simply, Bridget Jones made me laugh.
The book has sat on my night stand since then, the floating eyes that adorn the cover of my copy (this is pre Renée Zellwegger days) watching over my room for decades. Go to my parents house today, climb the stairs to the second floor, and walk straight into my bedroom and sitting on the nightstand is Bridget Jones’s Diary — always ready to be read.
I read Bridget’s diary over and over throughout my growing up. I wasn’t in a perpetual state of reading the book from cover to cover, I was, however, in a perpetual state of turning to the book in moments of need; looking to Bridget to learn how humor can heal a bad day, or leafing through on a random date, say July 22, to find out what Bridget was doing on July 22 (answer: shagging Daniel Cleaver and prepping for the Tarts and Vicars party).
In high school I leaned heavily on Bridget, and quite literally learned from her. It was comforting to know that there are people, besides me, who are rubbish at keeping resolutions. In the beginning of the diary Bridget lays out her resolutions for the new year, which include: Will, “not go out every night but stay in and read books and listen to classical music”; and will not, “get upset over men, but instead be poised ice queen.” Bridget fails spectacularly at nearly all of her resolutions (including those two), and in an environment where success was prized, her failure was a comfort to me. It was proof that missteps were ok.
As I stumbled through my own romances, seeing Bridget do the same was confirmation that all the Mark Darcy peaks and Daniel Cleaver valleys of a love life are ok too. Through all those romantic waves, I loved that Bridget had a diary to retreat to — a space filled with her thoughts, and perspective, and unwavering wit. I treated her world, filled with Turkey Curry Buffets and drinks with Jude and post-coital cigarettes, as a constant parallel universe, a place where I knew the players and I so loved their game.
While I’m not reluctant to admit my past love for Bridget Jones, I am a little hesitant to confess just how much I love her still. I revisit the book often, and turn on the movie from time to time. It isn’t quite as wonderful as the book, but it still feels like a blissful catch up with an old friend. I mentally refer to a bad date as “vile Richard,” and will forever call weekend trips “mini-breaks,” and alcoholic drinks “units.” Dull dinner parties always make me think of Bridget’s evening with the Smug Marrieds at Jeremy and Magda’s, and as a 20-something singleton so many of Bridget’s descriptions ring startlingly real, especially now that I’m old enough to understand them. “Being a woman is worse than being a farmer — there is so much harvesting and crop spraying to be done: legs to be waxed, underarms shaved, eyebrows plucked, feet pumiced, skin exfoliated and moisturized, spots cleansed, roots dyed, eyelashes tinted, nails filed, cellulite massaged, stomach muscles exercised. The whole performance is so highly tuned you only need to neglect it for a few days for the whole things to go to seed.” Bridget still makes me laugh. She also now rattles me with truth.
A few years back Helen Fielding, who wrote Bridget Jones’s Diary, gave a reading in New York. She was reading from the new Bridget Jones installment Mad About the Boy, and I knew I needed to see Fielding in the flesh. To be frank, I was scared to see her. Bridget Jones had affected my life in so many ways, ways as perceptible as my use of language, and as imperceptible as my patterns of thought. I was territorial of Bridget. I wanted her creator to be everything I loved in Bridget and more. I didn’t want to be let down.
I sat in the back of the reading, listening to the slight woman on stage read aloud from Bridget’s new diary. Fielding wasn’t the Bridget of my mind, that was for sure, but there was something familiar about her, something calming, something I understood. Fielding wore Bridget’s humor on her sleeve, and it was clear that one woman was born from the other. I wasn’t let down, in fact I was relieved. Through hearing her read, I understood that I wasn’t sharing this character with Fielding, she was sharing Bridget with us.
A sense of ownership over a character hardly makes sense, but that is the truth and beauty of characters we love. They become ours in ways we didn’t think possible — helping us through moments both good and bad — and becoming real through the work of a writer’s imagination and our own. With the very best characters we feel we know them, and when they impact our lives we are sure we understand them in a way that no other reader does. Most beautifully, and magically, they can be called into action whenever we need them, their realities just a few words away. Their stories and lives ready to be read and liked and even loved, just as they are.