It is a truth universally acknowledged that Helen Fielding did not invent the plot of her novel Bridget Jones’s Diary, which was first published in 1996, all by herself. When asked about it in an online chat session, Fielding admits that she “shamelessly stole the plot” of Pride and Prejudice, written by Jane Austen (n.pag.). Bridget Jones’s Diary received great praise from critics in the United Kingdom and beyond. In 1999, Fielding published a sequel called Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. A highly anticipated film adaptation entered cinemas in 2001, and soon became very successful. Even though Jane Austen’s novel was published nearly two hundred years earlier than Fielding’s, its plot still seems to be relevant to a turn-of-the-millennium readership. What parallels are there between the two novels and their heroines? In how far are Elizabeth and Bridget children of their time? What changes did Fielding consider necessary when taking Pride and Prejudice into the late 20th century? These questions will be answered in this paper.
To begin with, one should look at the novel as a whole. There are some analogies between Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones’s Diary. First of all, both protagonists fall in love with a man whose last name is Darcy. Both Mr. Darcies are wealthy and respected members of society. In Austen’s novel, Fitzwilliam Darcy owns a large mansion called Pemberley, which makes a big impression on Elizabeth. Mark Darcy, on the other hand, owns a house on Holland Park Avenue, London, which makes Bridget, for one of the few times in her life, speechless (Fielding 228). Second, both Elizabeth and Bridget become acquainted with their future partner at a party. As an illustration, Elizabeth Bennet meets Mr. Darcy at a ball, while Bridget Jones is introduced to Mark Darcy at Una Alconbury’s New Year’s Day Turkey Curry Buffet. Third, in both novels, a negative first impression leads to prejudice. Elizabeth’s pride is hurt by the fact that Fitzwilliam Darcy calls her “‘tolerable[,] but not handsome enough to tempt’” him (Austen 13). Mark Darcy embarrasses Bridget Jones by not asking for her phone number. Fourth, there is a third character, who is despised by Mr. Darcy and at first admired or even loved by the heroine. In Pride and Prejudice, this character is Mr. Wickham whereas in Fielding’s novel, it is Daniel Cleaver. Another parallel between the novels would include that both Fitzwilliam and Mark Darcy help a member of the heroine’s family. In Pride and Prejudice, Darcy pays Mr. Wickham to make him marry Elizabeth’s sister Lydia and thereby saves the family’s honour. In Bridget Jones’s Diary, it is the heroine’s mother who is in need of help after getting arrested. Being a lawyer, Mark Darcy makes sure that Mrs. Jones is declared innocent. Finally, both Elizabeth and Bridget do not fall in love with their Mr. Darcy until everyone else is sure that it will never happen. Elizabeth’s father is quite shocked to hear that his daughter wishes to become Fitzwilliam Darcy’s wife, and Mark and Bridget come together when Mrs. Jones finally stops her matchmaking efforts.
On this rather general level, the two novels appear to be very similar. However, there are more differences between the protagonists Elizabeth and Bridget as one would assume. In the following part of this paper, the heroines will be described in great detail. The characterization will be divided into five parts, that is, outward appearance, education, pride and how it leads to prejudice, temper, and love and emotionality.
First of all, it should be made clear that it is difficult to describe Elizabeth or Bridget’s outward appearance in an objective manner. Jane Austen’s narrator does not give an explicit description of the heroine. However, her appearance is discussed in several parts of the novel- sometimes by characters who like Elizabeth, and sometimes by those who strongly dislike her. Similarly, as Helen Fielding’s work is written in the form of a diary, it does not include an objective view of Bridget Jones. It is only Bridget herself who comments on what she likes or dislikes about her own appearance.
As far as Elizabeth’s outward appearance is concerned, there are different opinions. When Mr. Darcy sees her for the first time, he hurts Elizabeth’s pride by calling her only “‘tolerable’” (Austen 13). Elizabeth first laughs off the remark, but then calls Darcy’s pride unforgivable because he has embarrassed her. Later, however, Darcy starts to admire Elizabeth’s eyes, which he calls “‘fine’” (Austen 25). When he tells Miss Bingley about it, she becomes jealous. This is the reason why Miss Bingley criticises Elizabeth harshly whenever she can. As an illustration, when Elizabeth walks to Netherfield to see her sister, who is ill then, Miss Bingley makes negative remarks about the heroine’s manners as well as her style, beauty, and taste (Austen 32). Later, when they meet again in Pemberley, Miss Bingley is even harsher. She says:
“‘For my own part, I must confess that I could never see any beauty in her. Her face is too thing; her complexion has no brilliancy; and her features are not at all handsome. Her nose wants character; there is nothing marked in its lines. Her teeth are tolerable, but not out of the common way; and as for her eyes, which have sometimes been called so fine, I never could perceive any thing extraordinary in them. They have a sharp, shrewish look, which I do not like at all; and in her air altogether, there is a self-sufficiency without fashion, which is intolerable.’” (Austen 221)
However, this criticism is lost on Mr. Darcy as well as on most other men. Darcy is strongly attracted by Elizabeth, and he even opposes Miss Bingley’s mean words by saying that he considers Elizabeth “‘as one of the handsomest women of [his] acquaintance’” (Austen 221). The heroine herself does not talk about her outward appearance.
Bridget Jones, on the other hand, constantly complains about the way she looks. In her list of New Year’s Resolutions, she puts down that she would like to “reduce [the] circumference of [her] thighs by three inches” and “go to [a] gym three times a week not merely to buy [a] sandwich” (Fielding 3). Bridget is obsessed with her weight: Trying to become thinner, she loses 5st 3lb in one year – and gains 5st 3lb in the same time (Fielding 310). After her break-up with Daniel Cleaver, Bridget writes: “Why does nothing ever work out? It is because I am too fat” (Fielding 181). In her opinion, being thin equals being beautiful and successful. However, Bridget knows about her obsession and has got an explanation for it: “[…] I am a child of Cosmopolitan culture,” she writes, “[I] have been traumatized by supermodels […]” (Fielding 59). Moreover, Bridget hardly ever gets positive feedback regarding her appearance. When she has reached her ideal weight, for instance, several of her friends ask her whether she is feeling well and tell her that she looks “tired” and “drawn” (Fielding 106). Bridget is bewildered by the remarks. In her diary, she writes,