Bridget Jones came into being in 1995 when Helen Fielding went to interview Colin Firth after he had played Mr Darcy in the BBC TV series of Pride and Prejudice, wet shirt and all.
And just in case anyone missed the connection with Pride and Prejudice, Firth played Mark Darcy in the movie of Bridget Jones's Diary.
In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet has a real father, but he's a bit of a bumbler who has made a foolish marriage and is incapable of governing his unruly gang of daughters. When Lydia runs off with the worthless Wickham it is Mr Darcy who fulfils the father role, by saving the family from disgrace and seeing that Lydia is properly provided for.
The man who groans with passion and rips the heroine's bodice is still senior, stern, unapproachable. In the '30s, his kisses had to scorch through whalebone; now he has to acquit himself of "great sex".
Even as we applaud the achievement of the sexual relationship at the end of any Austen novel, we should be aware not only that the heroine has had a tough time but that she could be facing an even tougher one. If to be a spinster in Austen's world is to be exploited by one's family whenever the need arises and otherwise completely overlooked and ignored, the role of wife-and-mother is so difficult that most of Austen's wives-and-mothers are hopeless at it.
The best mothers are the dead ones, like Emma's mother or Anne Elliot's mother. Fanny Price's mother, with an unemployed husband, nine children, inadequate housing, no money and a sweet nature, makes no attempt to regulate her household. Lady Bertram likes her pugs better than her children and can't rouse herself to anything. Mrs Bennet is a raucous vulgarian, avoided and ridiculed by her husband, who has nevertheless fathered five children on her. What's to say Elizabeth Bennet won't one day be as sore an embarrassment to Fitzwilliam Darcy as her mother is to her father?
This is but the first piece of a long article by Germaine Greer that appeared in The Age last weekend. To read the rest go here.