We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

Bridget Jones style · 29 March 07

Dear Fanny,

Am reading Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary. Finding it very funny very often (even if, as Jim says, the basic joke is the same over and over again and the tone consequently much of a muchness). I think it satiric of the culture, not the girl, but as I like reinforcement have sent away for (bought [cannot you be frank?], bought on the Net) one of those skinny Continuum Contemporaries of ever-so-perceptive critical exegesis.

I am tempted to do likewise. Every day here list how many drinks I’ve had and how many pages of text by George Anne Bellamy I’ve typed and gotten onto the Net. The trouble is the last few days my drinking has gotten out of hand. Yes I keep (more or less) to my committment never to drink before 5, and find I can’t easily drink once supper is done (around 7:30 to 8). However, the truth is I can get in a helluva lotta wine in 3 hours. And I’ve not typed a thing by Bellamy. I’ve not even begun putting my paper on Anne Murray Halkett on the Net. Nor have I begun to transcribe and type up my notes on the 18th century conference.

So I’d have a large number where a small one would be more respectable and I could fool myself with, and I’d have no number at all where I should be accumulating text.

Thus to write in the Bridget Jones fashion is an attack on self.

Yet there is something to equating one’s day with literal doings one cares about—or should do. I also note that Caroline often sounds the Bridget Jones note, like her “Official Announcement”

“As of 10am local time, my name was officially returned to its former state.

Crazy Old Lady Witkowski jokes must immediately be retired upon reading this …”

Which makes her blog funny, a sarky riff on whatever.

For example, the other day she wrote about “A Prayer Ambush,” to which I responded and now rewrite in Bridget mode:

“I was prayer-ambushed between ages 9 and 10. Father and mother had moved to Queens, NYC, and sent me to local school. For the first few days innocently safe, but then Tuesday came.

Tuesday was the day Mrs Fuller read from the Bible. Why Tuesday?

Maybe she had read Jane Austen. (Bad Tuesdays in 5 out of 6 apparently finished novels, plus fragment, The Watsons.)

Suddenly all children’s heads were down and she was reading from the Bible. I looked around, astounded. I seemed to know that this was not supposed to happen. Church and state were separate, weren’t they? I did know this by this time and also knew (obscurely but consciously enough) this was an imposition. I was being forced to enact something foreign to me, and be a hypocrite—for after all as one of Caroline’s friends said, no one knows what you are thinking so it’s a class enactment of social conformity, in this case honoring, insisting on domination of supernatural religion.

What to do? She glared at me and gestured for me to put my head down. I don’t remember if I did or not. I might’ve but then again I might not. I do remember how alien I was made to feel, how strange.

Later that day I vomited in class and had to be taken home for an upset stomach. Later that month I had a white rash on one of my thighs that stayed for months.

Prayer ambushes can get to you.”

Is it useful to write Bridget Jones stuff.? Yes, if only to keep accounts and tell it like it is, removing all pious hypocrisies and self-delusions. So, yesterday malevolent god brought down machine as it was just then I was about to read through blogs on Austen movies. Jim: “Ah yes, He reaches down with Thumb at that one machine.”

Only then of course I’m also back to attacks on self.

The question is, would keeping count (actually taking down the numbers) make me drink less and type texts I want to type? No on the first and yes maybe on the second.


Posted by: Ellen

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  1. A little on the book itself:

    The book is better than I thought, a genuine exposure or satire.

    First, Fielding gets her effects partly by tricks of style. She omits the definite article, and also the subjects of sentences (most of the time I). She writes in the colloquial present tense when the sense of the passage would usually call for the historical present. She fills her prose with genuinely funny takes on all aspects of popular culture, exposing pious hypocrisies, such as the kind of talk one comes across about World War Two: “I was just nothing, while they were all fighting and making jam out of carrots or whatever they did.” It’s the last two phrases that make the hit. I find myself reading aloud the jokes to my husband, Jim, and he laughs each time—all the while saying this is a one joke book written in the same style throughout. I laugh aloud—though I tire of it too at times. I particularly like parenthetical digs: such as when “Vile Richard” tells one of Bridget’s friends, his supposed beloved, he just wants to “be ‘friends’ (fraudulent, poisoned concept).” It’s that “fraudulent poisoned concept” that is so good (to me at least).

    And if only at some point Lessing in her Golden Notebook (which I’m also reading just now) had laughed this way, had she only thrown her head back and said “Vile Richard.” I know “humorless feminist” is an unfair charge, often thrown at women for not laughing at jokes that are sexist, cruel, adversarial, but there is a need to comedy in The Golden Notebook which only surfaces very marginally in the reader’s mind (not Lessing’s).

    I find it refreshing and am thinking to myself it satirizes the society in which this “naif” lives—for she is a kind of naif. The book is not as good as the movie in the sense that the movie moves the Darcy material up earlier and genuinely integrates it into the book where in the book it seems an afterthought, almost an overlay she put on her material to give it the structure of a story—so why she turned to Austen. She needed a plot-design for these diary entries.

    This is in contrast to Shields who in The Stone Diary clearly does have a story she is telling through the diary mode while Fielding probably had funny diary stuff she had invented and then in a dazzling bit of insight (perhaps after she watched the 1995 P&P) so how she could make a book.

    So the 1995 movie, P&P may have led to a book which has been influential in creating a type of fiction unfairly debased by the term, “chick-lit.” It was a sociological event this long enormous movie.

    Not only the hiring of Colin Firth and Hugh Grant for the male parts, but Gemma Jones as mother who at the end puts on a hat strikingly like that the hat Mrs Dashwood (Gemma Jones again) wears in the 1995 S&S are all allusions to the Austen movies. The man who played Mr Bennet in the 1979 P&P looks like Jim Broadbent, though Bridget’s father is made kindly, long-suffering (in order to send up the caricature of feminism that the mother represents) while Fay Weldon’s Mr Bennet (played by Moray Watson) is made the villain of the piece, the person who is mostly responsible for all the miseries of the family as he is so selfish and cold. Curious the mother in Austen’s P&P and Fay Weldon’s are made part innocents (though Austen does also loathe her), and so is Fielding’s: in the novel the level of caricature is much higher and the mother is not used just for caricatures of feminism but as a way of satirizing a mother-daughter relationship that has no mutual understanding of grief or at least how to deal with it.

    Elinor    Apr 1, 2:12pm    #

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