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25 Years of Bridget Jones’s Diary: In Homage to Helen Fielding

HAYLEY reviews Bridget Jones's Diary of Popular Fiction

Part 2: In Homage

If you haven't read Part One of Hayley's Bridget Jones piece, you can find it here.

Popular Fiction is..?

Both the books and the films of the series can undoubtedly be described as popular fiction. This does however lead me to the task of narrowing down exactly…what is popular fiction? Who better to help us ponder this literary question than Bridget herself. After all, working in the publishing industry and all those days spent trying to avoid the watchful eye of Perpetua whilst simultaneously trying to catch the roving eye of Daniel must have given her an insight!


Bridget Walking a Mile in Hayley’s Shoes

Wednesday 28 July 2021

Number of scary looking, ridiculously expensive books on popular fiction on book list: 27. Number of scary looking ridiculously expensive books on popular fiction purchased, borrowed or read: 0. Number of minutes spent trying to understand notes scribbled in introductory lecture: 52. Number of minutes googling ‘what the hell is popular fiction?’: 49. Percentage of certainty that actually know what it is I am studying and have agreed to write several thousand words about: No idea. (If I knew about percentages, I’d be on a maths course, not an English one).

8 a.m. Ooh, have woken before alarm which is not bad for a day when have nothing scheduled. Will spring out of bed like motivated student and write introductory piece for new course am doing on popular fictions. Will just quickly check phone for messages.

9.45 a.m. Oh god, oh god, where did the last hour and three quarters go?! I only picked phone up to check for urgent messages but whilst replying to text from mum asking if I’d like a fuchsia set of thermals for Christmas, a tweet notification appeared for the BBC about a free course for aspiring writers. Followed link and booked course via Eventbrite, only for the app to suggest several other events I might like to go to. Whilst checking calendar on phone for availability, I received several Facebook notifications which turned out to be Shazza posting links to various petitions and protests which she demands I attend. Was just once again checking calendar to see availability for ‘online march against physical marches during a pandemic’ when Instagram threw its notifications into the mix. Was trying to reply to Shazza using appropriate supportive-yet-non-comital emoji at the time and accidentally clicked on the insta notification banner only to be taken to Tom’s account where he was doing a dump. Not literally, you understand, although can’t be sure for his other account as that’s private and he won’t let me follow. A ‘photo dump’ is all the rage now though apparently. It’s where people post pretty much everything on their camera roll to make us all jealous that whilst they’re pictured laughing gaily in beautifully filtered sunlight, all I have on phone is a screenshot of a twitter reply I managed to get from Rick Astley. I’m sure I looked up at the clock and it was only about 8.30am, then realised I hadn’t checked my email, gmail and uni outlook account which somehow ended up with me spending £70 in the White Stuff sale and still being in bed, starving and in my pjs at nearly 10 a.m.

10.30 a.m. Right, have had breakfast and sorted outfit for the day. Will just pop in shower… ooh popmaster is on radio 2. Testing self on pop knowledge with needlessly complicated scoring system is sure to get brain in the right mood for academic writing.

11.30 a.m. Have tidied kitchen and put washing out. Waved at neighbour over garden fence whilst trying to pretend unicorn patterned pyjamas were a blouse and casual trouser set. Is terribly slovenly not to be dressed at this time of day. Finally, will get in shower and be ready to start writing.

Midday. Might as well have lunch now.

2.10 p.m. Whilst having lunch I popped on an old episode of ‘Steph’s Packed Lunch’ I’d recorded before their summer break. Forgot I was watching a recording and somehow watched it all, including ad breaks, to the end. Oh god, must start writing before moon comes up.

Fiction that is…Popular

4.20 p.m. Right. It would seem, after hours of ‘research’ (googling) that popular fiction is… er… fiction that is popular. But according to the notes I can decipher from the introductory lecture, it doesn’t have to be popular now. It is kind of the opposite of literary fiction. But things can change. Dickens, for example was not considered literary fiction in his day and was more like a soap opera as people tuned into the papers where his stories were published in instalments. Wonder how they put the Eastenders style drum beat on the end of each episode? Or did they just end the piece with an illustration of Oliver Twist shouting “you ain’t my muvva” and Fagin in a revealing top of Nancy’s yelling “yes I am!!!”.

To make matters more confusing, popular fictions can also become unpopular. Tastes can change or content or author’s opinions can become problematic. Wonder what shelf it gets put on in the library when this happens. Imagine my old Diaries on dusty forgotten shelf, covered in cobwebs. Wonder what the Dewey decimal system number is for ‘we once loved this but now know better and have replaced with something more relevant’. Feel sorry for formerly popular but now hideously shameful and unpopular fictions. Imagine copies of said books standing awkwardly in dark corners at parties, staring mournfully into warm glasses of cheap wine and trying to think of interesting and up to date things to say as copies of Sally Rooney’s latest novel glide by.

Types of Popular Fiction

Apparently, popular fiction has a huge crossover with commercial fiction. Stands to reason, I suppose. Commercial fiction surely means it sells well and if something is popular then folk are going to buy it. Unless they borrow it from friends or libraries. Or steal it. That would explain the large amount of popular crime fiction.

Retellings are a big thing in popular fictions. For example, modern re-tellings of the classics such as Pride and Prejudice. So a kind of bonnet period drama without the bonnets. Can’t imagine that would catch on though.

Women’s fiction can apparently be popular fiction. Can practically hear Shazza bursting with fury at the term ‘Women’s fiction’. “Chick Lit!!” she once shouted in the middle of a book club we’d joined because we’d heard they gave out free wine and men attended in order to meet intellectual women. “Chick Lit!! They don’t call Ian McEwan ‘Dick Lit’ do they?! Why are geniuses like Marian Keyes who write about the timeless human condition written off with a misogynistic, patronising rhyming label and sold in the supermarket next to disposable cutlery and party hats?! If a man writes about relationships and pins his entire novel around the unfortunate use of a crude term, he’s hailed a literary genius!”. I suppose she has a point, although I wish she hadn’t made it quite so forcefully just as Dylan, the rather gorgeous library assistant was handing out the nibbles.

Annndd Breathe

Well, that seems to have got to the bottom of things. Kind of. Anyway, it also appears that adaptations and modernisations are a big part of popular fictions. The original novel can be ‘in conversation’ with film or TV versions and snobby people like Perpetua are no longer allowed to look down their noses at us for replying “do you mean the one with Emma Thompson?” when they ask if you’ve read Sense and Sensibility. Merchandising is a big part of popular fictions too. This is all very good news. Am going to spend the rest of the weekend doing my homework by watching the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice and buying beautiful notebooks with intellectual quotes on from Waterstones.

11.30 p.m. Apparently, the wet shirt Darcy in the lake scene wasn’t in Jane Austen’s book!

Now I know what they mean by the original novel being in conversation with the adaptation. I would imagine the novel’s side of the conversation went something along the lines of “phwoar, I wish I’d thought of that!”.

Written by Hayley

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