Fielding, Helen 1958–
Fielding, Helen 1958–
PERSONAL: Born February 19, 1958, in England; daughter of a mill manager and a homemaker; companion of Kevin Curran (a television writer and producer); children: one son. Education: Oxford University, 1979.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Penguin Putnam, 375 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014.
CAREER: BBC-TV, England, producer, 1979–89; freelance writer, c. 1989–; columnist for the London Independent, 1995–97, 2005–.
AWARDS, HONORS: British Book Award, 1997, for Bridget Jones's Diary.
(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, reissued 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.
Cause Celeb (novel), Picador (London, England), 1994, Viking (New York, NY), 2001.
Bridget Jones's Diary (novel), 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.
Contributor to the Independent (London, England) and Newsweek. Coauthor of screenplays for Bridget Jones's Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.
ADAPTATIONS: A film version of Bridget Jones's Diary was released in 2001 by Miramax. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason was released in 2004 by Universal Pictures and Mirimax.
SIDELIGHTS: Helen Fielding achieved international fame with her humorous novel Bridget Jones's Diary, which sold more than four million copies worldwide, and was published in thirty countries. Fielding had already established herself as a producer for the British Broadcasting Corporation; in 1994, she had published her first novel, Cause Celeb. Its success led to an offer from the London Independent for Fielding to do a column in the persona of a character. The author responded by creating the beloved Bridget Jones, who discussed the often humorous trials of a single British woman over thirty in the column. Bridget and the column proved so popular that Fielding turned her adventures into a novel, Bridget Jones's Diary, which became a best-seller in 1996 in the author's native country, and then, two years later, in the United States. Bridget Jones's Diary also garnered Fielding the prestigious British Book Award, was made into a highly successful motion picture, and generated two sequels, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Bridget Jones's Guide to Life.
Even before Cause Celeb, Fielding collaborated with Simon Bell and Richard Curtis on 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 a classmate of hers at Oxford University, and went on to write the screenplay for the popular British film Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Cause Celeb features 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 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 the region they explore into starvation; when their agency ignores the evidence, they 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 humor with the serious subject of African famine relief. Nicola Walker in the Times Literary Supplement maintained that the novel was not completely successful. "Cause Celeb is neatly plotted and its attack on the iniquities of the Western media machine is topical and legitimate," Walker conceded. "However, 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 Observer that "Cause Celeb 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," Kella-way 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."
It was Fielding's second novel that made her a literary celebrity. For Bridget Jones's Diary, the author knew that she could not just take the columns and put them into book form. According to Sarah Van Boven in Newsweek, Fielding based "the story on Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen. She quipped to 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. 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 she knew that "Bridget Jones is satire, a sassy spoof of urban manners. But Bridget is such a sorry spectacle, wallowing in her man-crazed helplessness, that her foolishness cannot be excused." Van Boven, however, asserted that "Bridget's post-feminist sorrows could be tedious in the hands of a less charming writer—they include such trivialities as the inability to find a pair of tights in her bureau without holes or bits of tissue stuck all over them." But, the critic countered, "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 another review for 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." She 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.'"
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 seemed "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, "Bridget's propensity to misunderstand and bungle everything becomes predictable," but still had praise for the book. The heroine's ups and downs with her Mr. Darcy, her attempts to deal with the impossible assignments handed out by her boss, and her trials in dealing with a carpenter who ruins her apartment are humorous, and Bridget's disastrous vacation in Thailand is "a genuinely suspenseful and hilarious episode." 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.
In 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. Reviewing the book for Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, Julian Satterthwaite called it "shamelessly of-the-minute," adding: "The novel aims to satisfy the airport blockbuster crowd with a litany of brand names and far-flung locations." While the title character may seem a far cry from Bridget Jones, however, Satterthwaite notes that like Fielding's earlier creation, Joules also struggles with male-female relationships and phones her girlfriends when things go wrong. The novel is really "firmly in Fielding territory," according to Satterthwaite; "indeed, it reads like the fantasies Bridget Jones might have had while not occupied pursuing Mr. Darcy. Get the guy and save the world, all while wearing the right accessories: This is Bridget Jones empowered." Amy Jenkins, reviewing the book for the London Observer, also 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 wrote, 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."
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, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Newsmakers 2000, Issue 4, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2000.
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, December 1, 2000, Kristine Huntley, review of Cause Celeb, p. 675; July, 2000, Mary McCay, review of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, p. 2054.
Daily Telegraph, June 6, 1998; April 13, 2000.
Dallas Morning News, April 16, 2000, p. 9J.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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; November 9, 2003, Amy Jenkins, review of Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination, p. 15.
People, June 22, 1998, p. 199.
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; December 11, 2000, review of Cause Celeb, p. 61; May 13, 2000, p. 22.
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.
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.
Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/ (November 7, 2003).