Monday, March 10, 2008
a comparative female protagonist analysis of the novels pride and prejudice and bridget jones’s diary
A century apart, the romantic comedies Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones’s Diary are remarkable for having created female protagonists that depart from the traditional portrayal of women as the male-dominated society want them to be fashioned. Jane Austen’s Elizabeth and Helen Fielding’s Bridget are strong-willed, independent-minded females who seem to defy the macho men around them. What is more amazing is that Elizabeth gets borne out of a more conservative England as opposed to Bridget who is right at the heel of the feminist movement, making Elizabeth a woman ahead of her time and in the same league as Bridget’s. Austen portrays Elizabeth as one of the five daughters of Mrs. Bennet. By being just one out of five, Elizabeth could have been herded into the general category of women without any defining characteristic to distinguish her from the rest of the Bennet brood. Even their mother was single-minded about her fate which was seen to be the same destiny her other sisters would figure out in as well: to marry them off to some capable bachelors just so Mrs. Bennet won’t be trapped with the dishonor of five unmarried daughters. However, Elizabeth is depicted as the most practical of the women in the family. Indeed, she plays along when the Bennet sisters attend the ball to improve their social and economic prospects by meeting Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy, but women of 19th century England could not be expected to be anti-socials under the pains of spinsterhood. But going there does not follow that she is too desperate to get hitched; in fact, when the snobbish Mr. Darcy refuses to dance with any of the girls (deciding that no one looked pretty enough to dance with), she takes it with a grain of salt. For Elizabeth, it is not the end of the world if she in particular does not appeal much to Mr. Darcy. By acting that the insult is not a big deal for her, Elizabeth shows the different breed that she is from her sisters, who are far too keen than her about the outcome of the social event. Even when she admits that Mr. Darcy’s wealth and looks legitimize his pride, these were not enough for her to like him, a condition she sustains despite Mr. Darcy’s eventual apparent liking for her. She even threatens to bust him for eavesdropping on her conversations, a proof that she is not afraid to take it against him who intrudes into women talk. When Mr. Darcy all too proudly says that he does not mind dancing with Elizabeth, she refuses, citing that dancing her out of pity or pressure is a no-no. As Elizabeth’s acts of defiance against Mr. Darcy unfold one after another, it becomes too clear that Elizabeth is a woman who is not about to make a compromise with men despite the latter’s display of power and arrogance and despite her own social status being endangered. Elizabeth does not affirm women’s inferior status of her time by not compromising before a husband material, by forming a mind independent of the men and male-influenced women around her, and by subscribing to her own will. A hundred years after and women of Elizabeth’s ilk populate modern England. One such woman, Bridget Jones, is an update of Elizabeth, but with a twist. In Fielding’s novel, Bridget is already in the age of spinsterhood, thirtysomething, and yet she remains single in the urban jungle of London. Like Elizabeth, her social prospects could have been better if she chose between her boss, Daniel Cleaver, and Mark Darcy. However, when the boss proves to lay his interests in another woman and Darcy appeals to her as repulsive, Bridget can be viewed as not too desperate as to compromise her romantic happiness by settling for what’s available and not for what is best. Even if it looks like her love choices are not necessarily picking up, she does not surrender to men who know no better than womanize or fear commitment. Even if she gets plagued with the perennial question about her love life, she does not compromise herself just so she can get hitched. She is more than Elizabeth in that she goes on a diet, struggles to give up smoking and attempts to be independent with friends in a quest to be responsible to her herself and not for any patriarchy-inspired rule. More than just subscribing to silly self-improvement schemes or to the dictates of the society, Bridget is conscious that the only person who can make her fulfilled is herself.
Elizabeth and Bridget may be years separated and yet they show qualities of independent women that are different from the norms of their respective times. For their strong will, they deserved to be admired instead of being labeled as wild women.