Thursday, 30 April 2009

Persuasion

The enthusiast for 19th century fiction may often neglect to discriminate. After all, no new publication that is just to her taste is likely again to appear. In consequence, imagined sequels and prequels are very acceptable, and TV adaptation often a treat. Even a modern-day take has its attractions (although travel through time and/or Space will not do!).

Bridget Jones, then, may be a source of delight, perhaps especially for the starved traditionalist; rather frothy, of course, and thin on the ground, but with a just sufficient vestige of that combination of romance and reserve that defines so the 19th century's novel, not excepting its more apparently cerebral examples: 'You'll forget all about me,' suggests Eliot's Dorothea upon Ladislaw's making farewells. His reply: 'How can you say that, as if I were not in danger of forgetting everything else?' Is there anything superior to this burgeon of sentiment in its tightly laced corset of words? Is there anything quite like that symbiosis of feeling and phrasing brought so to perfection by the 19th century writer?

If one's answer is 'No,' then even Bridget Jones may be comprised in one's enthusiasm; its imitation of one of the 19th century's classics will do, in these spartan days, to occasion the kind of enjoyment that only yet another aspect on one's favourite landscape can give. Which is why it seems incomprehensible that the trick was not tried out again. The Age of Reason, Bridget's sequel, fails miserably, as if all but the film had turned up for the filming.

Of course, Bridget begins her sequel having already secured the young man in possession of a large fortune: therein, no doubt, lies The Age of Reason's rub. But let us imagine the following:

Having given her consent to a man outside her station in life (it is no easy thing, after all, to picture Mark Darcy slamming tequila with Bridget's three mates), Bridget is quickly persuaded by her friends that the relationship is unpromising and that more suitable offers are bound to present themselves, that she is, in short, too young and too fun to settle for the staid life of the staid wife of a top London lawyer. Consulting neither Darcy's opinion nor his feelings, Bridget breaks with him, consoled by the sense that the camaraderie that has been so central to her formation as a young, social, single woman in London is preserved - even strengthened. Shortly afterwards, Mark takes a job in New York to work at the cutting edge of human rights law (and this time he stays there), and Bridget hears nothing more of him than newspaper reports of the success of one of his high profile cases and his subsequent accession to something of the status of star in his native land, not least due to his marked and widely reported ability to lay aside the wigs and powder pretensions of the law and enjoy the grass-roots celebrations of grateful immigrant clients.

In the meantime, Bridget deteriorates somewhat: the flush fades at last from the fast London life, as her two girlfriends get, respectively, married and bitter, and her gay boyfriend drifts into the Scene. Recession hits hard and, to save her diminishing earnings, Bridget spends most nights of most weeks at her parents' house, where the food and the bills are for free. Through all of these trials, it is needless to add that her self-image suffers, as the short skirts and see-through blouses are replaced by clothes more appropriate to her new pounds of flesh. In all, Bridget's lot becomes a rather unenviable one, too often dominated by the caprices of her dissatisfied mother and with little real prospect of a mode of escape. To make matters worse, she finds herself frequently called on by the friend who got married (and who has moved with her family to a place close by the Joneses), ostensibly to help care for the children but really to hear lengthy and exaggerated accounts of the grand career she left behind for all this, and repeated complaints at her neglect by the bitter friend whose feminist views have become so extreme as to make motherhood nought but a treason. But, her own patchy career and humble retreat to the family home bring Bridget herself in for feminist ire and make her a less than effective, and excessively harried, intercessor for her two former friends.

It is into this situation, after some years have run past, that the triumphant, and humanized, Darcy returns. Having made a name, and a fortune, for himself in New York, he has come back to England, where he plans to work pro-bono and far less, and where, most importantly, he intends to settle down, get married, and start a family. As he returns initially to his parents' house, Bridget, who has engaged to stay with her married friend as a companion during her husband's protracted business trip (a trip that has done nothing to improve the married friend's spirits, but has rather added to her round of complaints the suspicion that her husband is having affairs), finds herself unwittingly and helplessly close to Darcy and likely, given the fact of her married friend's desire to resurrect the grandeur of her own lost law career in interaction with England's star lawyer, to be brought into regular contact with him and his circle. Efforts to forestall this contact by means of a sudden willingness to babysit her married friend's children can only delay the inevitable, and Bridget and Mark find themselves, once more, in the same room together.

It is Christmas Day, a day now painful to Bridget in any case, but this time made all the more painful by Darcy's polite but distant attitude to herself despite an obviously improved general sociability. The pain is acute when Bridget's married friend, prompted by a default jealously of Bridget's single status and elated at the intermittent law talk she has had that day with a reluctant Darcy, takes the earliest opportunity that evening to report having overheard Darcy remark on how he should hardly have known Bridget had she not been pointed out to him, so greatly had she changed since last they met. Facing herself in the mirror that night, Bridget admits to herself the grounds for such a remark; what were fabulous curves have grown frumpy and dull, and the finished effect is: decline.

As time passes, and the comings and goings of the circle of family and friends continue apace around the holiday period, it becomes clear that Darcy is beginning to enjoy the rather overt attentions of one member of their party in particular: a young woman who has been renting the converted-garage attached to his parents' house. This young woman is a very nice young woman, and has been especially friendly to Bridget, not simply because Bridget's television connections might open career doors but because she feels genuinely warm towards a person whom she regards as requiring cheering up. Bridget, however, while acknowledging to others and even to herself the many merits of the young woman of their party, feels the insurmountable distance that must separate a personality bouyed up by a natural optimism and apparently independent means, and a nature, such as hers, bound to find out the opportunities for resigned melacholy in every situation that offers itself. In consequence, she and the young woman of their party are not on the terms of intimacy that the latter had hoped for. This is not helped by the ongoing and generally apparent flirtation between the young woman and Mark Darcy, with which the latter is whiling away the holiday period in pleasant style.

Come New Year's Eve, however, a change of scene and society becomes necessary to all the younger members of the Christmas gathering. Bridget travels to London, where she has planned an old-style get-together with her friends, married, bitter and gay. Along too have come Mark and the young woman, the latter having promised to show Mark something of the London scene from which he has been so long removed but having had, to fulfill her promise, no actual knowledge of the scene other than that Bridget and her friends are the best ones to follow. They manage to wedge themselves into a newly opened and fashionable bar for the occasion and Bridget and her friends succeed in resurrecting old times sufficiently to guarantee a thoroughly enjoyable night. Bridget, who has half-consciously given more attention to her appearance during the holidays and as a result of Mark's presence than she has for some time, is looking very well and has unearthed an outfit of her old sexier clothes for the occasion. For the first time in a long time, she feels something of the old enjoyment in life. The general effect of this does not go unnoticed by Mark, who appears - though not yet to Bridget - to be more and more aware of the merits of the woman for whom he had not, a few years ago, been sufficient. Perhaps to counteract this growing effect, perhaps unconsiously to bring it to a climax, he continues, almost by default, his flirtation with the young woman of their party, whose eagerness to be seen as an accomplished reveller on the London scene is leading her to imbibe too much too soon, as Mark, at her request, provides her with drink after drink from the bar. He, for his part, is beginning to tire of the over eager, over youthful, spirits of the young woman of their party and beginning to compare her rather unfavourably with the reanimated Bridget.

And then who should pass by but Daniel Cleaver, who gives such a long, appreciative look at Bridget that Mark, had he not already begun to feel its stirrings, could have remained unaware for no longer of the old attraction of Bridget's real-woman's curves and down-to-earth, melancholic, humour when compared to the too enthusiastic, too readily pleased, too slender, too unformed, young woman getting drunk at his side. Cleaver looks tanned, healthy and well, and his sudden and brief appearance causes great interest amongst Bridget and her friends, whose enjoyment of the evening is gradually marking them off from Darcy and his young woman and growing none the less enviable to Mark as a result...

...the tale writes itself. With only one snag: what can that circumstance be, that results from mere heedlessness on Darcy's part, that is so insubstantial as to wane in the course of a month, but that binds him in honour for life while it lasts? What in our time can rival the threads by which a man then could be tied? Tis a riddle whose key would complete what, in a parlance too modern for even our starved traditionalist, might be termed: Bridget Jones: The Reboot.