Helen Fielding's iconic creation is ready to face 21st century problems but is her loyal audience ready for that?
Bridget Jones is making a comeback. Her creator, Helen Fielding, has revealed she is working on a third book almost 13 years after the last instalment, when Bridget was about to embark on smug coupledom. I have always had a soft spot for Bridget and, having also once walked in on a boyfriend in bed with an American, I like to think we share the tristesse of the wronged woman.
But while I await the return of my literary spirit-animal with bated breath, the revelation that Bridget will return with a whole host of 21st-century problems at a “new phase in her life” has got me wondering what we are to expect. Are we to listen in on Bridget and Daniel Cleaver arguing about data roaming fees or see them “sexting”? Will she join Guardian Soulmates and come across someone she once, ahem, came across? (This has happened to several of my friends, proving that London-based bleeding-heart liberals rarely date outside their caste.) Are we to be treated to Bridget’s blog? Is she, God forbid, going to be trolled? Many of you will remember the vogue for novels written entirely in email format – I hope and pray that we will not be subjected to similar.
The thing about so-called modern problems is that they aren’t really problems at all. So someone put “enjoys autoeroticism” as your Facebook status when you left your laptop unattended – it hardly carries the same tragic-comedic potential as the challenges of modern womanhood.
Bridget is often hailed as some kind of everywoman. As a “career woman” (I’m going to start referring to blokes with jobs as “career men” for as long as this phrase remains in use) who worries she left finding a partner too late, she represents the anxiety of wanting to have it all. An older Bridget may face this issue not as career vs boyfriend, but career vs baby. For surely the conundrum will only get more acute in the next book, as Bridget will presumably now be in her late 40s. Perhaps she’ll have been made redundant and be undergoing IVF.
For this whole debate risks looking quite simplistic in the current economic climate. (In any case, some may say Bridget is not a feminist, considering she is, to not put too fine a spin on it, absolutely gagging for a boyfriend. But unless you’re a sanctimonious joy vacuum with a diktat against fun and snuggles, I don’t really see what’s so wrong about wanting a relationship, even if it is with an emotionless posho like Mark Darcy.) No, what concerns me is that nowadays women are more likely to be worrying about “having anything at all” than “having it all”. The old adage says you’re always on the lookout for a flat, a job or a love interest, but what about those with none of the above? Will they identify with Bridget Jones?
Young women today have their own flawed heroine in Lena Dunham, the young creator and star of HBO series Girls, who has been much heralded as the voice of our generation. Both protagonists follow the same trope of the bungling woman whose life crashes down around her as hilarity ensues, set against a background of middle-class privilege. Although Bridget and Dunham are generations apart, their problems are not so distinct, and they both approach them in a similarly muddled and anxious way.
Both characters represent flawed women on the edge, but their lifestyles are beginning to look appealing from the vantage point of the recession trough (an apartment in Brooklyn where my flatmate is rich enough to cover my rent? Yes, please.) No one is writing about the skint women on the other side of the coin, but luckily fiction does not always need to reflect reality. There’s something reassuring about the comfy incompetence of others, and when your overdraft is maxed out and your rent is overdue a good laugh can certainly help.