An inquiry into the death of
Bridget Jones’s Mark Darcy
Janet Davison | CBC News - November 17, 2013
reality is that fictional characters take on real-life importance.
The death of Mark Darcy, well-known to fans of Helen Fielding’s Bridget
Jones books, made
headlines recently and charged up fan message boards in
Canada and around the world.
the venerable BBC rated the British author’s decision to kill off
Darcy — Bridget’s true love who was played in subsequent movies by
Colin Firth — second only to the Syrian news of the day.
While some people might question the priorities of those who give more
than passing thought to the death of fictional characters, Darcy’s
death and the reaction to it tap into a longstanding phenomenon that,
observers say, underpins the role the arts play in day-to-day lives.
“When you’re reading a novel, in some ways it’s a more intimate
relationship than it is with a real human being,” says Nick Mount, an
English literature professor at the University of Toronto.
And while most people don’t give up secrets easily or publicly, those
secrets spill out in books all the time, Mount suggests.
In Bridget Jones’s case, the secrets were on full display, as the
30-something singleton divulged her many, many foibles with men,
cigarettes, food that did little for her waistline, drink, work and so
on in diary form.
her latest rendition, Bridget Jones: Mad about the Boy,
Fielding casts Bridget as a 50-something widow with two kids who tweets
and whose amorous adventures include a dalliance with a 29-year-old
boy-toy named Roxter.
many foibles are still there, alas without Mark Darcy.
Mad about the boy
charmed fans in Toronto recently even though some were obviously a bit
queasy about Darcy’s death.
But she knows first-hand the impact her characters and their onscreen
incarnations can have with real people.
“I couldn’t walk out in the street without some bloke coming out of
a restaurant and saying: ‘You’ve murdered Colin Firth,’” she
said during a series of CBC interviews.
Before this third and latest Bridget Jones book, Mad about the
Boy, was published last month, Fielding let Firth know that Darcy
was no more.
was literally like making that call to tell someone that someone’s
died. I had to ask if he was sitting down and if he had someone with
him,” Fielding told CBC hosts Steven Sabados and Chris Hyndman.
“We were both really upset but at the same time he’s really funny
and gorgeous and we were laughing as well, because of course no one has
died. It’s not a real person. I think it’s a tribute to him, to
Colin, that he created this character the people cared about so much.”
Why Darcy had to die
admits to being caught off-guard by the popularity Bridget Jones found,
first in a 1995 column in the Independent newspaper and later in book
“When it first got successful, I had no idea. It was just a little
column in the newspaper.”
Then Fielding met a woman when she was touring in Japan. The woman,
Fielding said, was “really successful … in perfect shape, really
good-looking. And she said she identified with feeling fat and not good
Fielding has her own perspective on the essence of Bridget’s appeal:
“I think it’s about the gap between how we all feel we’re expected
to be, and how we actually are inside.”
what makes characters like Darcy or Sherlock Holmes or Dumbledore, of Harry
Potter fame, somehow elicit that extra bit of public emotion
when they are killed off?
Barker, an associate professor of theatre at Dalhousie University in
Halifax, suggests there are two big reasons: “the zeitgeist, and
communities growing up around characters,” something she sees
magnified by the way such connections can now spread online.
As for the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times, “these characters who
are connected to real, big questions of a particular time and place
often become especially intense vessels for a lot of people’s
questions or lot of people’s ideas, a lot of people’s emotions at
Barker was a student in England when the first two Bridget Jones books
came out, and she saw firsthand how the character resonated with the
go-go world of the 1990s U.K.
was so interesting that she was someone as a character who I think a lot
of people, but especially lots of women, had a really deep
identification with,” says Barker.
“She’s expressing the experiences of a generation of working women
who are getting to a certain point in their lives and wondering, ‘Am I
going to find a partner, am I going to have kids, what’s going to
happen, how do I fit into this world today?’”
As for Mark Darcy’s role in all that, it resonated with the first Mr.
Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett in Jane Austen’s 200-year-old Pride
and Prejudice, Barker says.
relationship that you have to work through, but that at the other end of
… this fabulous man sort of solves it all.”
Darcy’s problem, perhaps, was that he was too fabulous.
Fielding has said she felt Darcy had to die because she wanted to write
about Bridget as a single mom, and Darcy, to be true to his character,
would never have left Bridget of his own volition.
The curiosity shop of fiction
sees the phenomenon of audiences connecting with fictional characters as
something probably “as old as human story-telling.”
“We think of the famous story of Queen Elizabeth the first saying to
Shakespeare, after seeing his Henry the Fourth plays, ‘Oh I want to
see Sir John in love,’ and she wants to see another play about
Falstaff. So there’s this idea that characters live beyond their
Fans of Sherlock Holmes donned black armbands after Sir Arthur Conan
Doyle killed off the famous detective in the 1890s.
Readers consumed with wondering whether Charles Dickens’ Little Nell
would live or die lined the docks in 1840s New York waiting for the next
instalment in the serialization of The Old Curiosity Shop to
arrive from England.
the recent finale of the TV series Breaking Bad, suggests Barker, had
a lot of buzz around who was going to live and who was going
to die, and how it was all going to happen. In the end, drug kingpen
Walter White met his demise, and in the real world, fans held a mock
funeral with funds raised going to a New Mexico homeless charity. A
Walter White obituary
also appeared in an Albuquerque newspaper.
in the rough-and-tumble of real life, why would all that actually
Robert Morrison, an English professor at Queen’s University in
Kingston, Ont., says the issue at stake “really is that literature and
film and any kind of creative representation I think has a power that is
greater than our society sometimes assumes.”
Characters like Darcy or Sherlock Holmes are, he says, “doing
something or living something or believing something that takes us
And if our lives are in any way limited or exasperating, as they so
often are, then “these people like Sherlock Holmes seem to transcend
“He gives us something greater than our own circumstance and that’s
a very powerful thing.”