Hello, everyone! My first post of 2021 will be a little bit of rant, so I apologize in advance. One of my biggest literary pet peeves is when authors kill off beloved characters either off screen, or so quickly and with so little fanfare that it’s like they never existed. Why do I bring this up on a random Sunday in January?
It all started a few days ago when I started reading Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy, the third novel in the series. A week ago I wrote a post about how even though the first Bridget Jones novel seems very superficial, it’s actually a scathing commentary on the shallowness of society, so you know I take my Bridget Jones very seriously. Anyway, I was all ready to tuck into the third installment of this series, which is set 2 decades after the second novel, when on the first page, Bridget starts talking about sleeping with some rando named Roxter, and not her husband Mark Darcy, a.k.a the very person whom the two previous books spent 600 pages lauding as Bridget’s soulmate. I was all ready to go along with this temporary new love interest, confident that Mark would pop up in a chapter or two to win back Bridget, when I was smacked in the face with a page dedicated to Mark Darcy’s obituary. Mark Darcy, dead? Killed between novels? Not even a final scene to send him off? It actually outraged me. It would be like Jane Austen writing a sequel to Pride and Prejudice and mentioning as a one-off that Mr. Darcy died in a hunting accident, but it’s fine because this book is about Lizzie’s “personal development” and not their romance.
The Bridget Jones series is about a lot more than romance, but the romance between Bridget and Mark Darcy is a central feature of the novel. It’s the type of romance that readers would have been waiting impatiently to read more of, and the idea of a third novel without Mark was like a slap in the face. Author Helen Fielding was aware of how disappointed and saddened readers would be by a Darcy-less novel, but she explained her choice to unceremoniously murder him thusly:
Fielding has said she felt Darcy had to die because she wanted to write about Bridget as a single mom, and Darcy, to be true to his character, would never have left Bridget of his own volition.“An inquiry into the death of Bridget Jones’s Mark Darcy” by Janet Davison
In a way, the sudden cruelty of Darcy’s death rings true in the Bridget Jones universe. The first book shows her struggling constantly with self-loathing, a thankless job, a manipulative boyfriend, and nagging parents. Perhaps it was too fairytale for someone like Bridget to end up with someone like Mark Darcy, whose kindness and loyalty were always constant, even if Bridget’s own feelings were not. To hope for a third novel that finds Bridget happily married to Mark Darcy, while still dealing with her own issues, might have been too much to ask for, but I don’t think that the way Fielding “got rid” of Darcy was good writing. After her sharp critique of modern society, and the way she managed to hide those barbs beneath the “superficial” surface of a thirty-something woman’s diary, it feels silly and lazy for Fielding to kill Mark Darcy off-screen like he was nothing more than a paper-thin love interest, instead of the three-dimensional character that so many readers loved. He is the type of love-interest that so many characters like Bridget don’t often get; men who are kind, loyal, generous, stable, and emotionally open. It just shows me that Fielding didn’t feel confident enough to write problems for Bridget when she was in a stable relationship, or to imagine that there might be more issues for her outside of searching for a new one. Excuse me if I’m not invested in seeing if Bridget finds love with this “boy-toy” Roxter when there were a million other good storylines waiting with a living Mark Darcy.
Of course, Helen Fielding isn’t the only author known for infamously killing off beloved characters in this fashion. There is the off-screen death of fan-favorite Newt from Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, who falls off a horse and breaks his neck before the beginning of The Streets of Laredo. Conveniently, Newt never gets to learn that Woodrow Call is his real father, because perhaps that would require too much emotional development for McMurtry to consider writing. JK Rowling is also famous for doing this, having killed off half-a-dozen major characters in the Battle of Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, most whom get no more than a passing mention afterwards. I remember being absolutely devastated by these deaths, especially because I felt like they were major characters who were thrown away like trash by the author.
In real life, people die unpredictably, so it makes sense for literary characters to die in between novels or “off-screen” when other major plot-points are taking place. From an emotional perspective, however, it feels cheap and lazy for the reader to learn that a beloved character has died and that they will never get any “closure,” whether that be in a death scene, or even a scene that properly wraps up that character’s storyline. It feels like authors would rather kill off characters in this manner because they don’t want to expend the energy on continuing to incorporate them into the story, and they don’t feel like giving them a proper send-off. Either way, these type of deaths make the reader feel angry and disappointed, and in least in my case, are enough to put me off reading a book altogether. As you might have guessed, I have never gotten around to reading Streets of Laredo, and I’m having difficulty finding motivation to finish Mad About The Boy. Maybe it’s silly to get emotionally invested in fictional characters, but they do feel like our friends, and not even getting a chance to say goodbye really stings.
Alright, rant over! If you have any other off-screen character deaths that you’re still pissed about to this day, let me know below. I’d love to know which book series I need to avoid like the plague.