Born February 19, 1958, in Morley, Yorkshire, England; daughter of a mill manager and a home-maker; companion of Kevin Curran (a television writer and producer); children: Dashiell Michael. Education: Oxford University, graduated, 1979.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Penguin Putnam, 375 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014.
Novelist and journalist. British Broadcasting Corporation, London, England, producer for BBC-TV, 1979-89; freelance writer, c. 1989—; columnist for the London Independent, 1995—.
British Book Award, 1997, for Bridget Jones's Diary.
Cause Celeb, Picador (London, England), 1994, Viking (New York, NY), 2001.
Bridget Jones's Diary, Picador (London, England), 1996, Viking (New York, NY), 1998.
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Viking (New York, NY), 2000.
Bridget Jones's Guide to Life, Penguin (New York, NY), 2001.
Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination, Picador (London, England), 2003, Viking (New York, NY), 2004.
(With Andrew Davies and Richard Curtis) Bridget Jones's Diary, Miramax, 2001.
(With Andrew Davies, Richard Curtis, and Adam Brooks) Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Miramax, 2004.
(With Simon Bell and Richard Curtis) Who's Had Who, in Association with Berk's Rogerage: An Historical Rogister Containing Official Lay Lines of History from the Beginning of Time to the Present Day, Faber & Faber (Boston, MA), 1987, published as Who's Had Who: An Historical Rogister Containing Official Lay Lines of History from the Beginning of Time to the Present Day, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1990.
Contributor to London Independent and Newsweek.
Helen Fielding is best known for her worldwide bestselling novel Bridget Jones's Diary, which has sold more than four million copies worldwide, been published in thirty countries, made into a successful motion picture, and earned Fielding the prestigious British Book Award. Bridget is a kooky, thirtyish, unmarried career woman trying to quit smoking, cut down on her drinking, and lose weight while fending off inquiries about why she is not married. Fielding created Bridget while writing a column for the London Independent newspaper in the persona of the character. Fielding's fictional narrator proved so popular that Fielding turned Bridget's adventures into a novel, and Bridget Jones's Diary became a British best-seller in 1996. Two years later Jones found equal favor in the United States. Bridget Jones's Diary has also generated two sequels, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Bridget Jones's Guide to Life.
Fielding was born in 1958 and raised in Morley, Yorkshire, England, where her father was a mill manager and her mother was a homemaker. Fielding attended a private girls' school for several years before matriculating to Oxford University, where she graduated in 1979. She worked in communications as a producer for the BBC, contributing to such programs as Nationwide, a current-affairs show, and Playschool, a children's show, before becoming a freelance writer.
Fielding's first published book was a collaboration with Simon Bell and Richard Curtis, the 1987 volume Who's Had Who, in Association with Berk's Rogerage: An Historical Rogister Containing Official Lay Lines of History from the Beginning of Time to the Present Day. A spoof on the famous volume that outlines the ancestry of all of Great Britain's nobility, the "rogerage" and "rogister" of the subtitles play on the British slang verb "to roger," which means to have sex. One of Fielding's partners in this literary effort, Richard Curtis, was her classmate at Oxford University and went on to write the screenplay for the popular British film Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Humor Apparent in First Novel
Fielding's debut novel, Cause Celeb, follows the adventures of Rosie Richardson, an administrator with an international food charity who attempts to escape the consequences of a bad love affair by traveling to Africa to aid famine relief. The book uses flashbacks to show readers Rosie's romantic difficulties with television presenter Oliver Marchant, but in the novel's present timelines she finds herself attracted to a young doctor also employed by her relief agency. The pair investigate the rumored possibility of a locust plague that threatens to send their region into starvation; when their agency ignores the evidence, Rosie and her doctor friend return to England to enlist the aid of various celebrities, including Marchant, to publicize the coming disaster.
Reviewers of Cause Celeb frequently commented on Fielding's mingling of humor with the serious subject of African famine relief. Nicola Walker maintained in the Times Literary Supplement that the novel is not completely successful. While Cause Celeb "is neatly plotted and its attack on the iniquities of the Western media machine is topical and legitimate," Walker noted that "Fielding is not a subtle or imaginative satirist, and the result is an uneasy combination of celebrity-bashing and African misery." In contrast, Kate Kellaway noted in the London Observer that the novel "is amazingly poised. The plot is about as challenging as walking to Africa in stilettos but is managed without a wobble. What makes it such a pleasure to read," Kellaway continued, "is its variety of tone: flip, flirtatious, serious, mocking and moving." Another Observer reviewer praised the "bitter-sweet power" of Fielding's "comedy of manners."
Welcome Bridget Jones
Fielding's second novel made her a literary celebrity. For Bridget Jones's Diary, the author knew that she could not just cobble together her newspaper columns and have a book. Instead, Fielding based her story on the celebrated novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen; as she quipped to Newsweek contributor Sarah Van Boven: "There's several hundred years of market testing on that plot." Hence the last name of the man that Bridget finally ends up with is Darcy, straight from the original story. Bridget takes note of the irony before taking a liking to him: "It struck me as pretty ridiculous to be called Mr. Darcy and to stand on your own looking snooty at a party. It's like being called Heathcliff and insisting on spending the entire evening in the garden, shouting 'Cathy!' and banging your head against a tree." Before Bridget and Darcy come together, however, many pages are filled with Bridget's laments about bad dates, inappropriate relationships in the workplace, her parents' pressure on her to find a husband, and family friends who make ticking noises at her to suggest the running out of her biological clock. Bridget also struggles with her weight, or her perceptions of it; Fielding confided to Alexandra Jacobs in Entertainment Weekly that "Bridget's height is kept deliberately vague, like her age, so people can fill in the rest as they choose to imagine and identify with their chosen level of paranoia." The heroine fights daily to quit drinking and smoking, and records the amount of alcohol consumed and the number of cigarettes she smoked in each day's diary entry along with her caloric intake.
Bridget Jones's Diary was met with predominantly favorable response, though some feminist critics lambasted the novel. Alex Kuczynski in the New York Times explained that even though it is apparent that the book is "satire, a sassy spoof of urban manners…. Bridget is such a sorry spectacle, wallowing in her man-crazed helplessness, that her foolishness cannot be excused." Van Boven, however, asserted that while "Bridget's post-feminist sorrows could be tedious in the hands of a less charming writer…. Fielding has managed to create an unforgettably droll character." Similarly, Shane Watson hailed Bridget in Harper's Bazaar as "a wonderfully quirky comic creation," and elaborated: "To come up with a character who is loveable, ingenuous and a crack social commentator called for a mixture of kooky wit and razor-sharp professionalism." Schulman, in the Times Literary Supplement, declared: "Quotation fails this novel. Its humour is not remotely aphoristic; and no quotation can convey the quality that constitutes Bridget's claim to be as durable a comic figure as Nigel Molesworth or the Provincial Lady." The reviewer went on to conclude that Bridget Jones's Diary "rings with the unmistakable tone of something that is true to the marrow; it defines what it describes. I know for certain that if I were a young, single, urban woman, I would finish this book crying, 'Bridget Jones, c'est moi.'"
Thanks to the success of Bridget Jones's Diary, Fielding became a millionaire. The book gave rise to the term "singletons" to describe unmarried women, and "Bridget Jones" entered the popular lexicon to characterize certain kinds of erratic or hedonistic behavior typical of the heroine. Many asked if Fielding based the character on herself. In response, she commented in People, "I don't drink, I don't smoke and am a virgin … yeah, right!"
Bridget Heads for the Silver Screen
In 2001 Fielding collaborated with Richard Curtis and Andrew Davies on the screenplay for the wildly popular film version of Bridget Jones's Diary. The casting of American actress Renee Zellweger in the role of Bridget caused a small uproar in the British press, which all but disappeared once the movie opened. According to a Newsweek contributor, Zellweger is "so disarming and so deeply Bridget—gliding between mortifying slapstick and pathos—that she's entirely won you over by the time the credits have rolled. The opening credits." Calling the film "a very romantic romantic comedy" in Time, Richard Corliss complimented the "smartly adapted" screenplay. Peter Travers, reviewing Bridget Jones's Diary in Rolling Stone, offered similar praise, observing, "Wisely, the spirited screenplay … takes time to catch Bridget's loneliness in a crowd. Rather than settle for a trendy Brit gloss on Sex and the City or Ally McBeal, Fielding cuts deeper."
The success of Bridget Jones's Diary led to a sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. The fast-paced plot includes Bridget's disastrous interview with actor Colin Firth, her apparent happiness with Mr. Darcy, notes on her mother's trip to Africa, and even her imprisonment in a jail in Thailand. "Fans will adore this," advised Francine Fialkoff in Library Journal, who remarked that The Edge of Reason "actually has more of a plot than the original." Fialkoff found that "sidesplitting humor is still present" in Fielding's writing, and noted that if Jones seems "dumber and ditzier" here than in the original book, "it's not necessarily a drawback," as these qualities are part of Bridget's charm. Other reviewers found that another volume of Bridget was too much, especially since the character seemed to have learned nothing from any of her experiences. For example, Elizabeth Gleick wrote in Time, "Hapless can be endearing. But hapless with no sign of a learning curve, in a sequel that has none of the novelty of the original yet is much longer, now that will try the patience of even a Bridget fan." The reviewer observed that Bridget seems "unable to learn from her mistakes, move forward or pull herself together the tiniest bit," and concluded: "The fact that the reader is so much smarter and more observant than Bridget is, this time round, irritating rather than suspenseful." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly allowed that, after a time, Fielding's protagonist's "propensity to misunderstand and bungle everything becomes predictable," but still praised the book. The heroine's ups and downs with Darcy, her attempts to deal with impossible job assignments, and her attempts to deal with the carpenter "renovating" her apartment are humorous, and Bridget's disastrous vacation in Thailand is "a genuinely suspenseful and hilarious episode." A 2004 film version of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, with a screenplay by Fielding, Davies, Curtis, and Adam Brooks, did not fare as well as its predecessor. Fielding further capitalized on the popularity of her heroine by publishing a short parody of a self-help book, titled Bridget Jones's Guide to Life.
If you enjoy the works of Helen Fielding
If you enjoy the works of Helen Fielding, you may also want to check out the following books:
Marian Keyes, Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married, 1996.
Melissa Bank, The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, 1999.
Allison Pearson, I Don't Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother, 2002.
Chick Lit Meets Thriller
For her next book, Fielding created a heroine who is superficially worlds away from Bridget Jones. Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination is a fast-paced thriller featuring a young female spy who must confront terrorists, bombs, and assorted other life-threatening scenarios. Despite its action-packed plot, "the story of special agent Olivia Joules, complete with a lethal bra concealing a syringe in the underwire, is clearly in the deliberately outlandish tradition of the James Bond books," according to News-week reviewer Cathleen McGuigan. Though the title character may seem a far cry from Bridget Jones, like Fielding's earlier creation Joules also struggles with male-female relationships and phones her girl-friends when things go wrong. Amy Jenkins, re-viewing the book for the London Observer, noted that while Olivia is trim, effective, and superficially confident, "Bridget keeps bubbling back up to the surface, primarily because Fielding cannot resist those klutzy BJ moments." Jenkins added, however, that "What was lovable in Bridget is mildly irritating in Olivia." Yet the reviewer concluded that "there is plenty of lively action and amusement to sweep you along, to say nothing of a marvellously cosy tone that is very addictive, even if it doesn't supply much dramatic tension." In the words of Tim Cavanaugh, reviewing the work in Reason, "at its best, Olivia Joules takes the most dreadful and serious business of our time and cheerfully places it in the context of a genre known mainly for its starstruck, media-engorged frothiness." Cavanaugh added, "Readers may differ on whether this combination of Chick Lit and techno-thriller succeeds, but it's hard not to admire the audacity of the experiment." Asked why she chose to write an action novel, Fielding jokingly told a People interviewer, "I thought if I taught myself how to write one it would be an excellent basis for my future profound works—and would mean I didn't have to steal any more of Jane Austen's plots."
Discussing her work with John Walsh in an interview for the London Independent, Fielding commented: "I'm interested in trying different kinds of writing. But I prefer being funny as a way of looking at things, because it's more enjoyable to read. I don't like books that are trying to impress rather than entertain. I like books that make you want to turn the page and see what happens."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 231: British Novelists since 1960, Fourth Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Newsmakers 2000, Issue 4, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Whelehan, Imelda, Bridget Jones's Diary: A Reader's Guide, Continuum (New York, NY), 2002.
Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, November 22, 2003, Boniface Linley, "From the Diary to the Dire"; December 14, 2003, Julian Satterthwaite, review of Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination.
Book, January, 2001, Mimi O'Connor, review of Cause Celeb, p. 70.
Booklist, July, 2000, Mary McCay, review of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, p. 2054; December 1, 2000, Kristine Huntley, review of Cause Celeb, p. 675.
Boston Globe, October 26, 1998, "Eat, Drink, Diet: The Mind behind Bridget Jones," p. C7.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), June 6, 1998; April 13, 2000.
Dallas Morning News, April 16, 2000, p. J9.
Entertainment Weekly, June 19, 1998, p. 68; July 31, 1998, p. 14; March 3, 2000, Lisa Schwarzbaum, review of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, p. 65; April 20, 2001, Lisa Schwarzbaum, "Britty Woman," p. 42; June 11, 2004, Karen Valby, "Deadly Agent," p. 127.
Guardian, November 7, 2003.
Harper's Bazaar, July, 1998, p. 62.
Independent (London, England), November 10, 2003, John Walsh, "From Singletons to Spies," p. 2.
Library Journal, December, 1999, Catherine Swenson, review of Bridget Jones's Diary, p. 205; February 1, 2000, Francine Fialkoff, review of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, p. 116; June 15, 2000, Catherine Swenson, review of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (audio version), p. 136; December, 2000, Francine Fialkoff, review of Cause Celeb, p. 187; September 15, 2001, Catherine Swenson, review of Cause Celeb, p. 127.
New Republic, September 7, 1998, p. 36.
New Statesman, July 26, 1999, review of Bridget Jones's Diary, p. 51; November 24, 2003, Zoe Williams, "Killer Joules," p. 54.
Newsweek, May 4, 1998, p. 82; June 29, 1998, pp. 64, 66; March 6, 2000, p. 69; April 16, 2001, "Jonesing for Miss Bridget," p. 54; June 14, 2004, Cathleen McGuigan, "Goodbye, Mr. Bond; Here's a Gal Spy—from Bridget Jones's Creator," p. 59.
Newsweek International, November 29, 1999, p. 101.
New York, April 23, 2001, Peter Rainer, review of Bridget Jones's Diary (motion picture), p. 138.
New Yorker, April 16, 2001, Anthony Lane, review of Bridget Jones's Diary (motion picture), p. 90.
New York Times, February 17, 1998, Warren Hoge, "Bridget Jones? She's Any (Single) Woman, Any-where," p. E2; June 14, 1998, Section 9, p. 1; February 27, 2000.
New York Times Book Review, February 27, 2000, Anita Gates, review of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, p. 12; February 25, 2001, Maggie Galehouse, review of Cause Celeb, p. 20; June 20, 2004, Caryn James, "The Spy Who Loved Me," p. 9.
New York Times Magazine, February 20, 2000, Susan Dominus, interview with Helen Fielding, p. 18.
Observer, July 17, 1994, p. 17; July 24, 1994, p. 14; May 31, 1998, Robert Yates, "The Observer Profile: Everywoman's Everywoman," p. 20; November 9, 2003, Amy Jenkins, review of Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination, p. 15.
People, June 22, 1998, p. 199; June 14, 2004, "Helen Fielding: Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination," p. 51.
Publishers Weekly, January 24, 2000, review of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, p. 293; April 3, 2000, review of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, p. 36; May 13, 2000, p. 22; December 11, 2000, review of Cause Celeb, p. 61; June 7, 2004, review of Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination, p. 31; June 21, 2004, Daisy Maryles, "Kudos for Chick-lit's Queen," p. 15.
Reason, February, 2005, Tim Cavanaugh, "Bridget Jones, Super Spy: Chick Lit Goes to War," pp. 51-54.
Rocky Mountain News, July 12, 1998, p. 1E.
Rolling Stone, April 26, 2001, Peter Travers, review of Bridget Jones's Diary (motion picture), p. 66.
Time, March 13, 2000, Elizabeth Gleick, review of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, p. 88; April 16, 2001, Richard Corliss, "Full-Witted," p. 79; June 14, 2004, Rebecca Brown Burton, "Q&A with Helen Fielding," p. 93.
Time Canada, March 27, 2000, review of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, p. 52A.
Time International, April 16, 2001, Richard Corliss, review of Bridget Jones's Diary (motion picture), p. 68.
Times Literary Supplement, August 19, 1994, p. 20; November 1, 1996, p. 26.
USA Today, May 28, 1998, p. 5D.
Vogue, February, 2001, Hilton Als, review of Cause Celeb, p. 196.
iVillage.com, http://www.ivillage.co.uk/ (July 25, 2005), "Helen Fielding: The Woman behind Bridget."
http://Powell's.com, http://www.powells.com/ (July 25, 2005), Dave Weich, interview with Fielding.
Writers Guild of America, http://www.wga.org/ (July 25, 2005), Alan Waldman, "Q and A with helen Fielding."