A couple of years ago, I was away on vacation in Italy when course enrolment was happening. By the time I got onto RAMSS, there was only one English class available that would fit into my schedule: popular literature. Even as a young reader I shied away from this genre. I naively thought, like many others, that it didn’t have any greater meaning or theme, and that it reinforced gender stereotypes.
Taking this class and closely studying Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary proved me wrong. She uses a conventional approach of telling a love story to introduce readers to unconventional ways of reading romance as a genre, breaking down the stereotypes associated with it.
Through this novel, Fielding offers readers a glimpse into what it means to be a woman in a consumer-driven society. Irony is also used to depict the ridiculous expectations prescribed to women. Her novel is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, in which Austen showcases the socio-cultural anxiety that her heroine experiences. Though the novels are written in different eras they both engage readers in a discourse about social attitudes towards women and the genre written for them.
“Being a woman is worse than being a farmer there is so much harvesting and crop spraying to be done.”
The “chick lit” genre embodies a romance narrative in a post-feminist world. Though Bridget has rights and freedoms, she struggles to form an authentic identity in a world where culture works to erode her sense of self. These expectations are reflective of the inherent dilemma that Bridget faces throughout the novel: She doesn’t know who she is in a world that wants her to be so many things at the same time.
“I am a child of Cosmopolitan culture, have been traumatized by supermodels and too many quizzes and know that neither my personality nor my body is up to it if left to its own devices.”
Fielding chose to write in the format of a diary, attempting to provide a narrative that could belong to any woman in her 20s or 30s struggling to fit society’s constructs. Bridget starts her diary by listing New Year’s resolutions; these things she will or will not do are reflective of the consumerist ideals that dictate her life. By taking something as basic as spending money and identifying that it should have limits, Fielding offers a moral outlook on a societal ritual. This list also critically examines Bridget’s, and consequently any woman’s, perception of self. In doing so, she references the flawed way in which the majority of women in any given western society are forced to view themselves.
Bridget Jones’s Diary represents the interpretive qualities prevalent in all forms of popular literature. In the case of Austen’s and Fielding’s texts, readers pick up novels that are labelled “chick lit” and discover the fallacy the term denotes.