Bridget

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When Bridget Jones's Diary was published in 1996, Helen Fielding was praised by masses of readers and reviewers for the authenticity of the narrative voice. However, not everyone was willing to accept the hapless comic heroine as the typical thirty-something single woman of the 1990s, and more demanding critics noted the ways in which Bridget's character and her story are problematic, particularly from a feminist point of view. Bridget sets goals - to get to work on time, to stop smoking, to lose weight, to read The Famished Road - and proves incapable of accomplishing any of them. Her diary revels hilariously in her insecurities, her mistakes, and her failures even as it qualifies her successes; as a result, critics suggest that the humor of the novel is not consciously created by Bridget but rather is generated at her expense. She is criticized for the characteristics that When Bridget Jones's Diary was published in 1996, Helen Fielding was praised by masses of readers and reviewers for the authenticity of the narrative voice. However, not everyone was willing to accept the hapless comic heroine as the typical thirty-something single woman of the 1990s, and more demanding critics noted the ways in which Bridget's character and her story are problematic, particularly from a feminist point of view. Bridget sets goals - to get to work on time, to stop smoking, to lose weight, to read The Famished Road - and proves incapable of accomplishing any of them. Her diary revels hilariously in her insecurities, her mistakes, and her failures even as it qualifies her successes; as a result, critics suggest that the humor of the novel is not consciously created by Bridget but rather is generated at her expense. She is criticized for the characteristics that ostensibly render her the object of the novel's humor, especially her failure to remake herself and control her life. However, these criticisms are based upon two questionable premises: that the self can be remade in such a way that one is in control, and that control is ultimately achievable by anyone.

Bridget Jones's Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2000) interrogate these assumptions and characterize as a particularly American myth the ideal of self-perfection. The novels recall in contrast the world of Jane Austen's fiction, in which self-perfection is treated ironically. Bridget records with humor the many factors that influence her to change - not only her mother and her rivals, but also self-help books, diets, and other imports from American popular culture. Ultimately she rejects the American dream of a perfected self in favor of the Blair-era British communitarianism that facilitates both her personal success and the success of her narrative. Bridget opts for what Joel Krieger calls Blair's emphasis on community, which "captures the salutary blend of individuality balanced by mutuality and interdependence that he [Blair] considers the core of socialism" (1999, 143). Bridget's voice is authentic because it reveals what we all know but rarely face, and perhaps never face with such high spirits: control is a myth, and the experience of being out of control and of being forced into mutually dependent relationships is authentic. Helen Fielding's preoccupation with these issues is echoed in the work of other contemporary British novelists, especially A. S. Byatt and Anita Brookner. This comparison allows us to contextualize Fielding's work in such a way as to account for her immense popularity but also to identify her real contribution to contemporary literature.  

The Critics on Bridget Jones
 
By way of illustrating the problems with Fielding's novels, a number of American reviewers have established Bridget Jones as a counterpart to the popular American television character Ally McBeal. Ginia Bellafante argues in an article on the status of feminism that "The problem with Bridget and Ally is that they...
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