When a woman fumbles when she should be flawless, or when she stutters instead of being succinct or sexy, no matter where in the world she is, one person springs to mind: Bridget Jones. The creation of Helen Fielding, Bridget has become an icon of popular culture, someone that women across the globe can relate to, and who reminds them to laugh when their less-than-perfect natures get the better of them in a world where nothing-but-perfect will do. Like her heroine, however, Fielding’s journey was a lesson in perseverance.
An English major at Oxford, Fielding spent the first eight years of her professional life working in the production department at the BBC before leaving to try her hand at writing. She began by sending the Guardian an article about car alarms, each week for six weeks. They didn’t print it. She wrote a Mills & Boon romance but was told in her rejection letter that her characters and story weren’t up to the “high standards required by the Mills & Boon reader” (really?). Finally, in 1994 Fielding published the satirical novel Cause Celeb, after some brief freelance work writing humorous observational pieces for The Sunday Times. Sales weren’t that great, however the book brought in excellent reviews and encouragement for Fielding to write more.
It was during a stint at The Independent that Bridget made her debut appearance. The newspaper’s editor asked Fielding, 37 at the time, to write a column about life in London as a thirty-something singleton (along the lines of Candace Bushnell’s already successful column Sex and the City in The New York Observer). Too embarrassed to write about her own experiences, Fielding offered to write anonymously, hiding behind the mask of a comic, fictional character, similar to one a person might find in a sitcom. Bridget Jones was Fielding’s persona.
Weighed down with insecurities, Bridget was endlessly striving for the physical and emotional perfection that can only truly be found on the pages of a magazine. She represented the disastrous side of real life, where mishaps and dramas are far more likely than champagne and caviar. Throw in a fictional circle of entertaining friends (of the single, gay, and smug married varieties) and is it any wonder that Bridget inadvertently connected with a growing portion of English women?
The popularity of the column led to a book offer, and borrowing from one of the original chick-lit author’s masterpieces, Pride and Prejudice, Fielding was able to weave her stand-alone columns into an actual story. Her second novel was an instant hit: reviewers were enamoured, and readers were immediately hooked. In Bridget Jones, part Fielding, part fiction, single women had a new champion.