I love Bridget Jones too! I'm curious as to why it's your favorite Pride & Prejudice adaption? And also why you think it's pretty much perfect? I'm always looking for bonuses to add to my list of reasons why it's so great P.S. I absolutely ADORE you and your blog
Honestly it grew out of a knee-jerk response to not wanting to be drawn into the petty 1995 vs. 2005 P&P Discourse that rages to this day, as well as general eye-rolling disgruntlement at the sheer number of P&P adaptations, compared to the rest of Austen’s body of work (or other classic literature…or just other stories, period.) It’s very, very easy for me to just get tired of Pride and Prejudice, because it’s everywhere, and it was most people’s gateway drug.
Now I’m a notably contrary person. Like, I have family nicknames based on how much I am apt to resist a Thing the moment I perceive that anyone wants me to engage with or enjoy a Thing. I have such a massive and almost instinctive mistrust of popular things that it’s probably just best not to outright recommend things to me, but rather just silently place them in my field of vision and back away slowly. Is this petty and stupid of me? Absolutely! But it’s how I roll.
So between this and the Discourse over the most recent big-budget adaptations of P&P, my favourite P&P was always going to have to be a little different. (Honourable mention to Bride and Prejudice in a very close second place.)
Bridget Jones’s Diary, as a film and as a book (I’ve only ever seen snippets of the newspaper articles it took as its initial form,) preserves so much of what’s brilliant about the character and story of Pride and Prejudice, and updates it in a way that is just endlessly fun and funny. A modern P&P that’s a straightforward rom-com is just a little too sickly-sweet. Where Bridget Jones and B&P get it super-right, for me, is that the sad-clown comedy hijinks are ramped up to an impressive degree of embarrassing pathetic-ness. The sheer amount of fucking-up that Bridget and her comrades accomplish is what makes it amazing. I don’t need a heroine whose life problems are a result of a simple miscommunication or cutely contrived circumstances. I need a heroine who leaps without looking, has a ridiculous mother who she loves anyway, and who pushes a confession of Feelings away with both hands because she’s surrounded by so much bullshit all day, every day and doesn’t exactly know what to do with something true, so she’s just not going to do anything with it.
What Bridget Jones’s Diary aces, and which other adaptations can oftentimes miss the mark on (at least until the third act epiphany to spur the final arc of mature character development,) is Elizabeth Bennet’s intrinsic vulnerability. She is flying by the seat of her elasticized pants. She is lippy and laughing because there’s a part of her that knows–a part of her she mostly succeeds in ignoring–that she’s got some deep problems in her life and how she relates to people. In transferring that sense of creeping hollowness at the edges of Elizabeth’s initial characterization (which, in a way, prompt some of her almost manic-seeming good-humour and wit–her courage always rising with every attempt to intimidate her–it is oftentimes used as a coping device,) to the struggles of an urban 90s 30-something single woman navigating the mindfuck that is the white heteropatriarchy still existing even while women’s lib tells us we can Be Anything We Want, the film and book really bring out more of the nuances of Elizabeth/Bridget’s reasonable anxieties about her place in the world.
With the placid-seeming lifestyle of the genteel countryside dwellings and young women living a life where they don’t have to work jobs and even have servants and attend balls and read books and play music all day, historical adaptations can, I feel, sometimes have this disconnect with our modern sensibilities (at least in Western culture where many women expect and are expected to work and earn a living for themselves.) When Eliza is flitting around Longbourn looking cute and laughing at Mr. Collins and how ridiculous Mrs. Bennet is being, it can be hard to really feel in our guts that Elizabeth or her sisters or any woman in a position like hers could really be worried about the future. They’re in another time and place and their lives are currently great and in the end she wins the love of a rich man, hooray.
But coming to it for the first time, in the time in which Austen was writing and publishing it, her audience–genteel women in particular–would have deeply felt the lurking menace of poverty and spinsterhood which was no laughing matter to those whose social position forced them into passivity–an acceptance of events over which they might have little control. If a young woman, no matter how charming, has not the means or connections to meet anyone beyond her own neighbourhood, and there is no-one around who is eligible and appropriate for her to marry…that’s it. She is never going anywhere, and hasn’t got any independence to speak of to look forward to.
That kind of existential dread hits us when we ponder our modern ideas of social dynamics and status markers, which Bridget confronts throughout the film and novel. Should I get a newer, better job? Why is this person I like being both lovely and horrible? Why do I even like them? Why is my family so impossibly embarrassing? How can I help my loved ones be better? Why is there so much crap wrong with me? Why can’t I stop making bad decisions? How do I know who I can trust with the weirdest and worst parts of who I am? How many chances should I give people who hurt me? Why did I give only one chance to that person and a thousand chances to this other person?
…anyway, this got a little darker than I was intending, but my point is that Bridget Jones’s Diary, as an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, really nails some great basic points of character which don’t often get truly brought to the fore in more traditional adaptations because the trappings of an historical context which may feel more alien and benign to us can mute and soften the grubbier parts of a heroine and a story which are so very light, bright, and sparkling. But light is only light if there’s shadow for it to burn against.
Which is a very highfalutin way of saying I love how these fuckups fuck up.