If you are a Bridget Jones fan, then you will surely have already heard the news: Mark Darcy is dead!
Yes, in the opening pages of the new Bridget Jones book, Mad About the Boy, released on Tuesday, we learn that Darcy has passed away five years before. Bridget is now a wealthy but permanently frazzled widow and mum to two small kids.
And it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a husband, or at the very least a good shag.
Author Helen Fielding has come in for some fairly critical reviews of the new book. Sara Crompton wrote in The Telegraph that the book is “lies as flat on the page as its heroine’s overcooked spaghetti.” Christina Patterson in The Sunday Times wasn’t much more encouraging: “I hardly believed a word of it. I didn’t believe that a 51-year-old woman would tot up the number of minutes she’d spent on Twitter.” And Melanie McDonagh lamented in the Evening Standard: “Helen Fielding has changed, and so has Bridget. Less like us. Inevitable, I suppose, but a bit sad too.”
But Bridget has always proved herself to be remarkably critic-proof.
We asked three die-hard Bridget Jones fans what they thought of the killing off of Mark Darcy—and whether they would buy the new book.
Bridget Harrison, journalist and author of the memoir Tabloid Love, was often referred to as a “real-life” Bridget Jones. For more than three years she wrote a must-read column for the New York Post about her life as a single British journalist looking for love in Manhattan in the early noughties. She says:
Helen Fielding must be a confident woman. By killing off Darcy, she has done the equivalent of a horse-trainer euthanizing his most successful, crowd-pleasing thoroughbred whilst hoping the punters will still come to the races. Darcy is female fiction’s ultimate romantic archetype: the handsome, all-capable man who is tortured by a passion that he must restrain in the interests of honor and duty. A man who, despite his pedigree, loves the ordinary plucky girl but struggles to show it; a man who can provide chapter after titillating chapter of misunderstanding, yearning, hope.
The original Darcy made Pride and Prejudice one of the greatest ever romantic novels. His teenage version, aka Edward Cullen, caused the Twilight saga to become a billion-dollar franchise. It was the ‘adult version’ of Darcy, aka Christian Grey, not Kindle, that made Fifty Shades the fastest-selling book of all time.
Helen Fielding’s Darcy helped every gaffe-prone, overweight, aging single woman believe her quirks and failings could charm a prince. Cue instant bestseller. But once Bridget had her man, where could the story go? The Darcy-drive narrative of misconnects and unexpected gallantry has a lot less room for maneuver once plonked into married life in the London suburb of Queens Park. Perhaps they could have divorced, then reconciled. But with two kids in the picture, it would have felt wrong. Darcy would never have left his children.
For Bridget’s story to live on, Darcy had to die. But what will keep us turning the pages this time around? Will it be the dynamic surrounding Bridget’s younger man, who she’s met on the Internet? Doesn’t sound too promising. A Darcy could never be a toy boy. It’s unlikely to be the reappearance of Daniel Cleaver, either—no longer roguish, just camp.
The answer, of course, is Helen Fielding’s humor and laser-sharp observational skills. The appeal of her books was never simply the romance but her ability to define and send up the female neuroses of an entire generation.
She still has the skill to make women laugh, cry, and identify. But without Darcy, they may not be quite as vested. Tess Morris is a London-based screenwriter:
If Helen Fielding felt that Darcy needed to go, then, well, Darcy needed to go.
I appreciate Bridget fans have been waiting a long time for this next installment, and I loved the first one when I read it way back when, but I've (hopefully) evolved since then, and (hopefully) so has Bridget. She's got to find her relevance for women today, and maybe she needed to be free of Darcy to do that, although admittedly, they could have just got divorced.
I’m not surprised she’s done something so radical in a way, though, but for me personally, I’m more interested in how the movie version will unfold...no Colin Firth?!
Sophy Grimshaw is deputy editor of The London Magazine:
I was 14 when I read and loved the first Bridget Jones’s Diary, lent to me by my mum, and I felt rather proud at having recognized the Pride and Prejudice references in the story; though given that Fielding had named the male romantic lead Mr. Darcy, that hardly made me a sleuth. So I’ve grown up with Bridget. The new book, in which she struggles with social-media etiquette and the like, was automatically beamed to my tablet via Wi-Fi this morning, which seemed fitting.
I was relieved that Darcy has been killed off. As feminists we’re used to subverting and reimagining romance novels for kicks, but killing off Prince Charming literally, instead of just figuratively, seems like Fielding’s way of heralding the post-feminist pop-literature landscape.
Darcy’s dead; now what? Now Elizabeth Bennet, or Bridget Jones, or me, or you, have to forge our own happiness from scratch once again. If Jane Austen were writing in 2013, I bet she’d have killed Darcy off, too.
What’s also crucial about Darcy’s death is that is makes Bridget the underdog once more, and that’s what we demand of her as readers. That’s why Carrie Bradshaw had to get jilted at the altar the first time she tried to marry Mr. Big. We don’t want our protagonists ever to have it too easy, because we know it never is easy.
The success of the Hollywood franchise and length of the gap since the last novel meant there was a danger no one would want to relate to Bridget in the same way, like the standup comedian who becomes a millionaire from DVD sales and Wembley gigs—now what do they moan about? That a tragedy has been visited upon Bridget since we last saw her means we are firmly on her side again.
Long live Bridget!