Helen Fielding: She's back - (hurrah!)

Helen Fielding's comic creation has come home: she returns to the pages of 'The Independent' from Thursday. What will this most famous singleton make of a world where Camilla has replaced Diana? And, if she thought her thirties were bad, how will she cope with her forties?
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The Independent Online

For Bridget was not only a synonym for a single woman in her thirties who wanted to get married but was equally anxious to look like an independent woman who did not require validation by a boyfriend. She was the incarnation of the age, the age in question being the mid-Nineties.

Since she last appeared in print, BJ's creator, Helen Fielding, has got married - to one of the scriptwriters for The Simpsons - moved for a time to Los Angeles and had a baby. The two Bridget Jones films turned Bridget from a London phenomenon into a global celebrity (in the process dispensing with the local colour and making her coterie of best friends, Jude, Tom and Shazzer, look like a coven). And while Bridget herself remained locked in the Nineties, Helen Fielding caught up with the zeitgeist by writing a book called Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination, about a go-getting Bond-style heroine who tracks down Osama bin Laden. It was undeniably topical, but it lacked the charm of Bridget Jones, not least her redeeming self-doubt.

It's going to be fascinating to see how Bridget handles the personalities and issues of contemporary Britain. What will she make of human rights lawyers (and Mark Darcy was eligible precisely because he was one) now that the best known of the breed is, er, Cherie Blair? How will she handle the frightful spectacle of the entire British establishment, plus Hello! magazine, toadying up to Camilla? Bridget is not judgmental, but she was essentially a Diana girl.

She'll have been against the Iraq war - goes without saying - but what will she make of British Islamic fundamentalism, so hostile both to her love life and her drinking habits? Bridget has the disconcerting capacity to home in on precisely the issues that most of her sex and contemporaries are really interested in, rather than the ones they, and she, know they ought to be interested in. Which is why, in her last job as a television researcher, Bridget produced a remarkable number of the "And finally..." end-of-programme items on the Sit Up Britain programme she worked for.

So, while BJ will know that she should really be thinking about the IRA ending the armed struggle, she will probably be thinking about how cool Nicole Kidman looks by comparison with Tom Cruise's fiancée, Katie Holmes, and how the root of the problems between him and Nicole was obviously that she was about a foot taller than he. Most of Bridget's admirers would have given anything to hear her thoughts on Kimberly Quinn during the business with David Blunkett.

It will also be interesting to see how the introduction to her daily diary looks these days. The first entry for Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason goes as follows: "9st 3 (total fat groove), boyfriends 1 (hurrah!), shags 3 (hurrah!), calories 2,100, calories used up by shags 600, so total calories 1,500 (exemplary)".

It is, of course, a summary of all her chief preoccupations, except that for once she doesn't include an alcohol unit and fags count. Bridget is by no means chaste, but she does like her sex to be in the context of committed relationships, where possible. And at the end of the book, as at the beginning, she's having lots of sex with gorgeous Mark Darcy, who in the first Bridget Jones adventures got her mother out of the hands of a dodgy Portuguese gigolo and, in the second, got Bridget sprung from a Thai jail, where she'd ended up because of her friend Shazzer's unwise relationship with a drug-smuggler.

So although Bridget is totally career-minded, when she's not thinking about relationships, she is also curiously old-fashioned. She gets into scrapes as a result of her warm, impulsive nature; Mark Darcy gets her out of trouble using cool thinking and legal know-how. She knows about reality television and self-help books; he knows about politics and economics. She went to Bangor; he went to Cambridge. So, while she's obviously a feminist (though not strident about it, because there's nothing less attractive to men) and, one day, she'll get round to reading Susan Faludi's Backlash, her love life is premised on a traditional division of attributes between the sexes.

Her politics, too, are feminine rather than feminist. Her parents may be the pure embodiment of Middle England, to the extent that they are C of E, their friends have New Year's turkey curry buffets and her mother shops at Dickens & Jones (now gone, alas), but Bridget would rather die than vote Tory - for emotional rather than rational reasons. If she did, she says, she'd be "a social outcast. It would be like turning up at Café Rouge on a horse with a pack of beagles in tow or having dinner parties on shiny tables with side plates". She is intolerant of Mark Darcy's Old Etonian baggage, but how will she handle New Labour?

Not that it matters. Because the crucial feature of Bridget is that she is the embodiment of every woman's neuroses: about her figure - though readers who weigh more than 10st find Bridget's angst when she's over nine particularly galling - about her relationships, about her age. And particularly about being single and over thirty. As Shazzer puts it, "As women glide from their twenties to thirties ... the balance of power subtly shifts. Even the most outrageous minxes lose their nerve, wrestling with the first twinges of existential angst: fears of dying alone and being found three weeks later half-eaten by an Alsatian." Nobody has put it better.

But will Helen Fielding still be able to identify with singletons (a term of her very own devising) now that she's married herself? And, now that she's successful and filthy rich, will she be able to remember what it was like to miss the minimum payments on her Access card? Bridget used to get uptight when her overdraft hit £200. To take account of contemporary debt levels, she'll have to add a nought or two.

And if Bridget Jones was in her thirties 10 years ago, doesn't that, er, make her 40 or so now? If a single woman in her thirties is tragic, what does that make a single woman in her forties? This week, to universal rejoicing, we'll find out.

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