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From Barnes & NobleWoman of a Certain Edge
Last century (OK, two years ago), Bridget Jones came to America. And she was welcomed with very open arms.
Bridget—if you somehow managed to escape Bridget-mania—is the heroine of former London Independent columnist Helen Fielding's cult column. By the time Bridget reached these shores, she was all wrapped up in Bridget Jones's Diary, a collection of the columns. Her self-obsessed daily diary entries began with lists: calories ingested, alcohol units imbibed, cigarettes (Silk Cuts, of course) smoked, lies told to "fitness assessors." The content of the entries, always entertaining, went downhill in importance from there. The cast of characters included best friends, awful bosses, men-of-the-moment, and crazy family members. Insipid, narcissistic, over 30, and single, Bridget touched a collective cultural nerve.
The media couldn't get enough of her. Women's magazines were chock-full o' Bridget. A Bridget Jones Internet search could turn up a zillion pages. Serious, well-respected book reviewers like Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times reviewed Fielding's book in Bridget's voice. "Average laughs out loud per page 2 (v.g.), identification with Bridget's character 100 percent (tragic), alcohol units consumed during study of book 6 (poor, but compulsive reading so mitigating factor)," wrote The Express (London). Time magazine used Bridget as an example of how feminism had gone wrong. Long after Fielding's book was released in America, the Bridget mentions in The New York Times's "Styles" section continued. As late as April 1999, New York magazine ran a cover story on Bridget and the girl books that were published in her mighty wake: Kate Christensen's In the Drink, Melissa Bank's The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, Suzanne Finnamore's Otherwise Engaged, and Amy Sohn's Run Catch Kiss. The piece, which included the now standard interview with Sex and the City author Candace Bushnell, America's Helen Fielding, was full of hyperbolic statements: "Despite a few cultural discrepancies, many American women embraced the character with giddy self-recognition. She was a kind of resilient anti-heroine who veered between the pathetic and the courageous in her quest for love, sex, and an acceptable pair of opaque black stockings. In America, as in England, Bridget was embraced as an iconic thirtysomething Everywoman."
Over the top, yes; but with good reason. People were drawn to Bridget in a quasi-obsessive way, and media types felt compelled to offer explanations. Eventually each article came to the conclusion that the key to Bridget's success was clearly humor. Of course, reading Diary and laughing out loud could bring anyone to this conclusion. Bridget may have had an annoyingly unhealthy obsession with self-help books and written in her own "singleton" vocabulary, but she was hilarious. And that is why she worked. Fielding changed the Single Girl from someone who only worries about being single into someone who laughs at herself and who does essentially what she wants.
This, plus a healthy dose of campy antics, was and is widely appealing. Hence those four months Bridget Jones's Diary spent on the New York Times bestseller list. After a while, even diehard Bridget fans grew fed up with her massive overexposure. But the thrill wasn't gone when said fans picked up this February's Vogue and read the following headline on the lower right-hand corner of the cover: "She's Back! Bridget Jones, Part II." Not that it is a surprise: New York magazine et al. let the world know that the Bridget Jones sequel (and movie!) were in the works. Inside Vogue, nestled between pages of fashion and beauty, lies an excerpt of Bridget Jones:The Edge of Reason. Perhaps you read it. If you didn't, there is little about the book that you don't already know.
Thankfully, Bridget is as silly and amusing as ever. She still gains and loses pounds, eats, drinks, and smokes too much. She still works too little. This time around she has a wonderful boyfriend—for a while anyway. She suffers heartache, the African chap her parents bring back from Africa to live with them, a hole in her apartment wall, a death threat, a trip to Thailand, a stint in jail, a botched interview with Colin Firth, her favorite actor from the BBC's "Pride and Prejudice," embarrassing Christmas cards written in a drunken state, and a nasty blonde nemesis. She even—gasp!—sees one of her best singleton friends become a Smug Married. Of course, she witnesses the event in perfect Bridget fashion: hungover, with a nail-polish-induced hole in the front of her bridesmaid dress and a bra caught on her shoe. Delightful.
Let the media circus begin again.
Alexandra Zissu is a freelance writer and writer-at-large at Fashion Wire Daily. She has written for The New York Observer, The New York Times's "Styles" section, Harper's Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, and Self.