The furor, thank heavens, has started to die down, says the would-be murderer of Colin Firth.
“People are starting to come through it,” reports Helen Fielding, who stirred up a literary crisis with her latest Bridget Jones novel, Mad About the Boy (Knopf, $26.95). “It’s extraordinary, isn’t it? I knew there would be a reaction, but I wasn’t expecting to be watching the news and see something about the Syria crisis and the next thing is: ‘Mark Darcy is dead.’ ”
That sentence would require a spoiler alert if the news hadn’t hit the Internet, TV and news outlets over the past few weeks, sending shockwaves throughout the Twitterverse and beyond.
Fielding’s contemporary stand-in for Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy — the most dashing of all romantic heroes — is dead, which creates all sorts of confusion.
“In Britain, he’s one big mix of Colin and Mark and Mr. Darcy,” Fielding says.
Firth played Mark Darcy in two films based on Fielding’s books; he also played the original Mr. Darcy in a BBC television series. The whole metafictional aspect has caused a massive pop culture whiplash.
Fielding, who appears Saturday at Miami Dade College as part of a series celebrating the 30th anniversary of Miami Book Fair International, has her reasons for killing off Mark, a human-rights lawyer whose death occurs several years before the events of Mad About the Boy. Despite pressure to do so, she hadn’t planned on writing another Bridget Jones book after 2000’s Edge of Reason.
“I actually care about Bridget as a character quite a lot,” she says. “In some ways she’s the best and worst side of me. ... I didn’t want to keep parodying myself. But I did keep writing down funny material all those years.”
Mad About the Boy wasn’t originally intended as a Bridget Jones book, she says.
“I hadn’t said to anyone I was doing it, so I didn’t feel the pressure,” Fielding says. “But then I realized the voice was Bridget’s voice as I read more of it. I don’t write in a linear fashion. I write bits here and bits there. But that voice was just there. And I did love writing this book.”
In Mad About the Boy, Bridget is 51, devastated by Mark’s death but forging ahead. She still experiences some dark moments, but she’s keeping busy by trying to break into the movie biz with a screenplay, though she’s flummoxed at every step (“Don’t want to be a Prima Donna, but setting Hedda Gabler on a yacht in Hawaii is somehow changing the mood and meaning of the whole piece”).
She remains wildly disorganized and prone to panic, and attempts to calm herself by writing in her journal (“Minutes spent writing script 0, minutes spent dealing with people’s nits instead of getting on with work 507. … ”). She’s still friends with the incorrigible Daniel, her old boss, who has problems of his own.
Most important, she’s a single mother of two returning to an unrecognizable dating scene that involves websites and profiles and texting, a potentially humorous situation that hastened Mark Darcy’s death.
“Comedy has to do with pushing things further and further,” Fielding says. “And Mark would never leave her. He’s a gentleman. I didn’t want to change his character, so that’s just what happened. I don’t plan things out exactly; it’s a bit more organic.”
Fielding, 55, who’s also the author of the novels Cause Cel eb and Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination, had other reasons to return to Bridget’s story: She wanted to make a point about women and middle age.
“I think all comedy comes from something real, and quite often something painful,” she says. “A lot of the comedy in the first book was about that painful thing women feel in their 30s with their biological clocks ticking. ‘Am I going to have children?’ ‘Am I going to meet someone?’ We didn’t talk about that sort of thing when I wrote the book. But I was aware it was painful.
“The whole ‘Are we going to get you married off?’ at the Turkey Curry Buffet comes from something quite real. ... And then there’s this idea that when you’re in your 40s and 50s, you’re sitting around staring morosely at a lake. Women carry on and do the same sorts of things they did before. They’re still wearing clothes from the same shop. That idea you have to change at a certain age is hopelessly outdated. What I was seeing around me was women in their 40s and 50s looking great, still dating, being consumed with life.”
True to the title, Bridget gets involved with a much younger man, the funny and charming Roxter, whom Fielding uses to highlight the dangers of stereotypes.
“I find the expression ‘cougar’ cruel,” she says. “Like women would chase him down like a deranged leopard. Roxter is quite an equal. They share a sense of humor; he shares a sense of playfulness with her. Neither has exploited the other. They’re really fond of each other.”
Of course, the late Mark Darcy was an awfully good guy, too.
“He’s proof a weird garment can conceal a true gentleman,” Fielding says. “It’s nice that years after the books were written, people cared so much about him.”