Culture

Women of Fiction

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Bridget Jones: diary-writer, mother, Twitter user… we love her just the way she is; a character who embodies the woman of our time, supposedly. Anne Porter explores what makes her, and many other notable female literary figures, such an exceptional personality

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Helen Fielding’s character first emerged in a newspaper column in the 1990s, with the witty column’s popularity leading to the character’s life stories expanding to fill a novel. Bridget is stereotypical, scatty and chaotic, but she has taught us a lot. She teaches us that our mothers are often a hindrance to our ultimate independence, she shows that having perfect hair and make-up isn’t the be all and end all, and she knows that people will love you if you are yourself. She is still popular today, partly thanks to her 2001 on-screen transformation.

Despite what we love about her, Bridget has been criticised as a character. Her obsessive calorie counting (which she still endures, aged 51, in her third instalment, Mad About The Boy) and her continual hunt for happiness in a relationship is somewhat grating. Surely Fielding should have taught us that there are more important things to worry about than diets and the meaning of every single text message? Journalist Hadley Freeman argues that ‘being a woman who occasionally gets things wrong does not make you Bridget Jones because Bridget Jones is fictional’. Hadley’s quite right, but surely we can take some lessons from Bridget and other women in literature.

Women are intelligent.

Bridget’s academic qualifications aren’t exactly glowing (‘a Third from Bangor University’) but she occasionally shows intelligence in other ways. She works in publishing, she lives independently in London, she has a close group of friends (including ‘Shazzer. Likes to say fuck, a lot’)  and she eventually works out that Daniel Cleaver is an ‘emotional fuckwit’, unlike Darcy. Bridget gets through life’s challenges, albeit in a somewhat unique way.

Many women in literature are smart characters. Harry Potter’s Hermione regularly outsmarts her male counterparts. She is quick witted, loyal, friendly and, to say the very least, a goody-two shoes. Her decision-making saves Ron and Harry on multiple occasions. In the second novel, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, she figures out who is attacking the muggles and how. In the final novel,  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, her handbag comes in very useful (who knew?) for keeping the trio safe.

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Similar to Hermione and Bridget is Roald Dahl’s Matilda. The little girl outsmarts her father, despite his assertion that ‘I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m big and you’re small, and there’s nothing you can do about it’. Her quick thinking sees her out of many family difficulties, eventually letting her escape her father’s wrath through being adopted by Miss Honey. Women in literature can be seen as intelligent – just as they should be seen in reality.

Our fathers are invaluable.

Despite what Matilda thinks, some literary females rely on their fathers. Bridget relies on her father, and vice versa. When her father fears that Bridget’s mother is cheating on him, Bridget rushes to his aid. When Bridget is sick of her mother’s attempts to set her up with various men, she seeks consolation from her father (that said, one of these men is Mark Darcy.)

In contrast to Bridget comes Scout Finch from a very different novel, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Scout, aged five and a half at the beginning, learns her life lessons from her father, Atticus. One of the most famous is: ‘Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember, it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird’.

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While Scout narrates the novel, she learns about the events surrounding her from her father’s perspective. This makes her very mature. She learns how to understand others when her father tells her ‘you never really understand a person until you consider things from [their] point of view’. Scout is similar to Bridget in that she relies greatly upon her father, though Bridget doesn’t realise just how much she needs her dad.

Relationships can be terrible, but also great.

Family relationships within Bridget Jones’ Diary aren’t always steady, but they are noted and seen as influential in the development of a person. Bridget is infamously unfortunate in relationships with men. In the first diary instalment, she writes “I will not fall for any of the following: alcoholics, workaholics, commitment phobics, people with girlfriends or wives, misogynists, megalomaniacs, chauvinists, emotional fuckwits or freeloaders, perverts.” Then she falls for Daniel Cleaver, her boss, who ‘embodies all these things’. Smooth.  There are ups and downs in her relationships, but her character finds happiness at the end of the first two novels.

Bridget is not the only one in her friendship group who has relationship problems. Her best friend Jude is often ‘crying over [her] fuckwit boyfriend’. Bridget’s coping mechanism (burying herself in a duvet with Ben and Jerry’s ice cream when she thinks Mark Darcy doesn’t want her) is less extreme but still similar to Miss Havisham’s refusal to remove her wedding dress when she is jilted in Dickens’s Great Expectations – both seek comfort and security. Bridget shows us that while bad relationships exist, so too do good ones that are very much worth the stress.

Women judge people, especially each other.

The first time Bridget meets Mark at her mother’s  infamous ‘Turkey Curry Buffet’, she judges him on his comical Christmas jumper. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, with the central relationship of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, was the basis for Bridget Jones’ Diary (note Mark’s referential surname). Elizabeth Bennet overcomes her ‘prejudices’ of to marry Mr Darcy. In contrast, Bridget shows herself to be judgemental of other women, such as Mark’s colleague Natasha. Pride and Prejudice celebrated its 200th anniversary this year, and its messages are still as relevant as those in modern literature today.

Women in Literature: A Lesson in Self Worth

These comparison points show that fictional women have a lot to teach us, despite being mere  characters in representations of real life. Perhaps the most important lesson that literature teaches us about women is that we should be ourselves, no matter how hapless that self may be (looking at you, Miss Jones).

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