'diary' sounds very familiar
Mary Carole McCauley, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
You're a sly one, Bridget Jones.
You pretend to be a British 30-something single-career woman who obsessively counts calories, can't program her videocassette recorder, and is the heroine of a new novel that's taking two continents by storm. But I know the truth:
Your real name is Elizabeth Bennet, and plot point by plot point, "Bridget Jones's Diary" is a modern-day update of Jane Austen's classic 19th century novel, "Pride and Prejudice." And Bridget, you're a virtual clone of its spirited Lizzie.
Not that readers have to be bookworms or have an encyclopedic knowledge of British literary history to enjoy "Bridget Jones's Diary."
What modern woman wouldn't identify with a friend who compulsively writes down every food she eats during the day, including "2 Bloody Marys (count as food as contain Worcester sauce and tomatoes)." Who wouldn't commiserate with a woman whose mum gets more dates than she does, and who misspells "blatantly" and "absent" in a memo to her boss as "blatently" and "abscent"? Who wouldn't love someone who compulsively rates the number of cigarettes she's smoked and ounces of alcohol she's drunk, ranging from a "v.g." (very good) to "v.v.b." (very, very bad).
But the Janeites in the world, as Austen fans are called, will sniff out your true identity, Bridget, no matter how hard you try to throw us off the scent.
Granted, you craftily cover your tracks through the clever ruse of admitting straight off what you're up to. On Jan. 1, the day on which the diary begins, you meet Mark Darcy and reflect:
"It struck me as pretty ridiculous to be called Mr. Darcy and to stand on your own looking snooty at a party. It's like being called Heathcliff and insisting on spending the entire evening in a garden, shouting `Cathy' and banging your head against a tree."
You're right most readers will interpret a reference that obvious to "Pride and Prejudice" (and its snooty hero, Mr. Darcy) as a revelation of your character and outlook, Bridget, and not as a declaration of intent by author Helen Fielding.
And while Fielding has made you nearly as witty as Lizzie Bennet, she's made you more insecure and in need of assertiveness training. So we Janeites happily wallow in the hilarious minutiae of your life, until we suddenly realize that we know what's going to happen next. It seems we've read the book before. But that's impossible, isn't it?
You conspire once again to remove suspicion from our minds, Bridget, when on April 18 you engage in party chat about the inadvisability of updating classic stories for modern times. As one guest puts it:
"I have to say, I think it's disgraceful. All it means in this day and age is that a whole generation of people only get to know the great works of literature Austen, Eliot, Dickens, Shakespeare, and so on through the television
... I always feel they should be made to prove they've read the book before they're allowed to watch the television version."
Pretty sneaky, Bridget, the way you introduced the Demon Tube as a red herring. Surely your author, Ms. Fielding, doesn't think people should have to prove they've read "Pride and Prejudice" before they're allowed to read "Bridget Jones's Diary"?
Or is that twitchy feeling we're getting the result of our noses being tweaked?
But you've got still more tricks up your be-ribboned sleeve. Composite characters, for one. Lizzie's flighty younger sister, Lydia, and her crass, irresponsible mother, Mrs. Bennet, are reincarnated in your diary as your flighty, crass, irresponsible mum.
So when your mum runs off with a man to whom she's not married, devastating her husband and shaming her daughter, we don't remember at first that Lydia Bennet did exactly the same thing.
And when both Darcys seem to have an intense and unreasonable prejudice against Lizzie/Bridget's boyfriend, the similarities don't sink in until we learn that the cad in Austen's book seduced Mr. Darcy's younger sister, and the cad in Fielding's book seduced Mark Darcy's first wife.
But pretty soon we start to notice both plots twisting around each other like twin strands of DNA. Hmmm. In Austen's novel, Mr. Darcy wins Lizzie's heart when he pursues the errant Lydia, pays her lover's debts, hushes the matter up, and brings her home. Will Mark Darcy do the same?
Clearly, desperate measures are called for, Bridget, so you try your boldest maneuver yet: On Oct. 15, you moon for pages about the BBC version of "Pride and Prejudice" that you supposedly watched on the telly. And then you compare the two M. Darcy's during a phone call to your girlfriend Jude:
"We had a long discussion about the comparative merits of Mr. Darcy and Mark Darcy, both agreeing that Mr. Darcy was more attractive because he was ruder but that being imaginary was a disadvantage that could not be overlooked."
We remind ourselves again that literary borrowings have a long and storied history (pun fully intended). Jane Smiley won a Pulitzer Prize when she moved the plot and characters from "King Lear" onto an Iowa farm and called the resulting novel "A Thousand Acres."
And in 1995, an Amy Heckerling film called "Clueless" updated Austen's "Emma" by relocating the characters to Beverly Hills, and turning the imperious heroine into a Valley Girl named Cher. (You'll recall that Cher's father, like Mark Darcy, was transmogrified from a fabulously wealthy aristocrat into a fabulously wealthy lawyer. What's going on here? Could it be that attorneys are our new nobility?)
We decided to put the question directly to the new book's publicist: Did Helen Fielding model "Bridget Jones's Diary" on Austen's famous novel?
"She admits it," said Breene Farrington of Viking Books. "She used the plot of
'Pride and Prejudice' because it's tried and true and famous."
As Lizzie, er, Bridget, might write in her diary: (V.v.g.).