Does it make me a bad feminist that I’m a lot more excited about the return of Rupert Campbell-Black than Bridget Jones?
Bridget is ditzy, disorganised and gets by mostly by winging it and relying on her friends. Rupert meanwhile is an emotionally constipated, reactionary philistine. Apart from the philistine bit, I have a lot less in common with Rupert than I do Bridget.
Bridget blathering on about her weight, insecurities and relationship dilemmas is something I can relate to. It might be comforting, even entertaining, but it’s not inspiring. It doesn’t make me happy. Rupert Campbell-Black, on the other hand, makes me very happy indeed. Or perhaps, I should say, the stories that Jilly Cooper spins around Rupert Campbell-Black make me happy.
Riders is my all-time favourite book. I used to say it was Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, but that was before I had kids and still had some kind of attachment to people thinking I was clever. Midnight’s Children I’ve read twice. Riders I’ve read about fifteen. And still, every time I read it I laugh, cry, and forget just about everything else going on around me.
The first time I read it I was in my early teens, when I found my mum’s copy. She had to keep hiding it, but I was so determined that I found it, every single time. I can see why she tried to make it difficult for me; Riders is one long celebration of sex. In fact, all the Rupert Campbell-Black books are a celebration of sex. They are also a celebration of horses and dogs and booze and a make-believe British climate of golden summers and sparkling winters. But mostly they’re about sex. And this, I believe, is what makes Jilly Cooper’s work an important addition to the feminist canon.
Yep, honestly. Because as the po-faced (and yes, often rightly serious) arguments roll on, one thing that often gets overlooked in feminism is pleasure.
Nobody has told JC that women are meant to be hung up about sex. Nobody has told her that sex is something to be agonised over, something that makes women feel bad and men more powerful. Nobody has told her that women are so hung up over their bodies that their enjoyment of it is only ever faked. Plenty of people have told Bridget though.
Reading Riders as a teenager made me believe that sex might be something quite fun. It didn’t make me want to race out and do it (I can’t say the same for booze). But it certainly didn’t teach me that one’s main preoccupation should be one’s weight, and whether or not a boy was going to call. Had I read it back then, Bridget Jones’ Diary might well have done.
I am very lucky. I have great parents who were straightforward and open about sex. I had a lovely first boyfriend, and no scary or terrible experiences of sex growing up. Sex did, indeed, turn out to be something fun. And I hope, that when they grow up, my own kids will have a similar experience of it. Ferrett Steinmetz wrote a blindingly good piece about this three years ago, entitled ‘Dear Daughter: I hope you have some fucking awesome sex’.
I’m not sure that by the time they’re teenagers my boys will be squirrelling away my copy of Riders, but if I do have a girl, I hope that one day she will. Although now that teenagers have access to the internet, I imagine she’ll probably find it pretty tame. I also imagine I will go through the farcical rigmarole of hiding my copies, because that’s what my mum did, so that’s what good mums do.
Jilly Cooper is often criticised for not creating strong feminist characters, but this is woefully missing the point. Authors do not write books to achieve political correctness. They write books to entertain, to take transport their readers from one world to another. And they create great, great happiness in doing so.
And as I write this the most fabulous present has landed on my doorstep. My wonderful mum has just sent me a copy of Mount! Rupert Campbell-Black’s latest story. If anyone needs me during the next few days, I shall be shacked up with an ageing lothario in Rutshire, doing my bit for the feminist cause.