Helen Fielding conceived the character of Bridget Jones for a humor column that would deal with the specific and occasionally idiosyncratic issues facing a single woman no longer considered young, but still a good way from middle-age. The column caught on like wildfire, thrusting Bridget Jones to icon status among her followers reading the London Independent. Convinced that an audience not just beyond the hustle and bustle of London, but on the side of the waters isolating England could connect equally with her heroine—and recognizing that she would be following in a grand tradition of British authors focusing on the feminine—Fielding decided to write a novel that set Bridget into the thematic landscape within the long shadows of a little bit of pride and sense and a little bit of prejudice and sensibility. The result was not just one of the biggest selling novels of the end of the 20th century, but the transformation of the chick lit genre.
Bridget Jones’s Diary has, in fact, been labeled the novel which gave rise to the chick lit genre running strong throughout the 21st century. Several academics and scholars have noticed that the bulk of the fiction falling into that genre does not exhibit the pervasive sense of irony which helps define Bridget’s perspective toward the world within the pages of her diary. In fact, the disconnect between the irony in Fielding’s novel and the lack of irony within the chick lit genre has situated Fielding's novel in the odd position of being the defining example of a genre to which it really may not even belong.
The confessional format of Bridget Jones’s Diary provides the basis for the knowing ironic stance of its lead character. It is also the preferred format for imitators utilizing the intimacy to pursue more sincere—often overly sincere—pursuits that mirror those of Bridget Jones but lack the zest of spirit as well as the recognition displayed by Fielding. What is really taking place within her book is a postmodernist reappraisal of the precepts of both traditional romantic fiction and feminist fiction.
Originally published in Britain in 1996, the novel became a success in the U.S. in 1998 and led to the equally successful film adaptation and its sequels.