Yes, the government has shut down. Horrific things are happening in Kenya, not to mention Syria, the Sudan, and a hunger epidemic that reaches our own backyards. So it seems trivial and superfluous to spend an iota of angst on a fictional character. Many argue that it’s exactly because the world is in such disarray that we need fiction to momentarily distract from the world’s chaos. Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: MR. DARCY IS DEAD!!!!!!! I’m Bridget Jonesing for resolution here.
Honestly, this is some bad news. Readers everywhere are losing it. They’re threatening to not read the book. (This seems to me a bit excessive.) Yes, the human rights lawyer in his Christmas sweaters had an unmitigated charm. (He was Bridget Jones’ lobster!) The thought of her tweeting to a 20-something boytoy is enormously unappealing. And without Mark to offset Daniel Cleaver’s mummy-underwear-obsessed Peter Pan, the world feels too vile to even bother worrying about alcohol units, cigarettes, and calories.
It’s a testament to how beloved Bridget Jones is, however, that readers are responding in such a proprietary way to the arc of one of it’s characters. When a reader is invested, they feel they are owed a certain amount of kismet, if not closure, about a hero or villain’s outcome. Why would Mark Darcy, the man who ‘liked Bridget just the way she was’ die, when Daniel Cleaver, who left her to rot in a Thai jail, live on? Where is the divine justice? Readers have forever been known to revolt when they feel a fictional character has not been justly treated: Mark David Chapman had a copy of J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye when he shot John Lennon. John Hinckley Jr. was trying to impress Jodie Foster when he shot Ronald Reagan, blurring the lines between reality and a fictional world that clearly so resonated with him that he took it too literally. Pun intended.
But this is crazy talk, no? An author is not responsible for how the public is able (or unable) to process their plot lines. That said, really, Ms. Fielding? Old Bridge couldn’t be herself within a marriage, working through the kinks that come when household duties threaten to turn conversation into the Festival of Grievances and learning how a baby can suck the sex drive right out of their lactating mother? The wonderful times after an ebb, when the connection once again flows and you not only remember what brought you together but feel the bond cemented even further? I really wanted to hear the do or don’t send them to Eton fight again. Wasn’t this the happy ever after Bridget deserved after all the duds? Wasn’t that what Bridget’s devotees deserved in their faithfulness to a character who, while hilariously human, kind of needed to grow up? Hard to imagine Bridget has evolved much if she’s obsessed with social media and a very young boyfriend.
So the question remains, will the hordes of women who sympathized, empathized and gloried in Bridge’s antics still be able to relate to her? Her twenty-to-thirty-something fans when the books came out were themselves in the throes of balancing booze and weight, wading through bad boyfriends and struggling up (or down) the career ladder (chute). Surely these readers have evolved and will want to see the same in Bridget. Are they owed this by Ms. Fielding? Are we owed another glorious, un-choreographed boy fight between Colin Firth and Hugh Grant, replete with hair pulling, scratching and adolescent taunts?
But honestly, authorial ownership has always been a tricky thing. The characters are the author’s own. It’s nearly impossible for a fiction writer to portray a character and not get grilled about how closely they are based in reality. It is true that Helen Fielding is recently divorced and a single mom just like Bridget. Was the loss of Mark Darcy a device to allow Bridget’s prose to focus on parenting? This would certainly access the hordes of former vodka-swilling, smoking, serial monogamists who have had to switch to green tea, yoga and long married love in order to get through a day chasing small children. The culture is focused on parenting more than ever.
Maybe even a best-selling author like Ms Fielding is tapping into a current zeitgeist. Bridget Jones: Mommy Blogger.