Mark Darcy is dead.
The four words that fans of Bridget Jones's Diary never expected, or indeed, wanted to hear.
Mark Darcy is not actually a real person, but if the outpouring of grief on Twitter and Facebook is anything to go by, he might as well be.
Fans of Helen Fielding's novels woke up yesterday morning to discover the horrifying news that the dashing hero of the Bridget Jones book series has been killed off.
The first book and its follow-up, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, sold 15m copies in 40 countries and were then made into two hugely successful Hollywood films, starring Renee Zellweger as singleton Bridget and Colin Firth as the tall, dark and handsome Mark Darcy.
Based on Mr Darcy, a central character in Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice, Mark Darcy swept Bridget off her feet, giving hope to single women across the world that they too would one day find true love.
Fans loved Mark Darcy because he was a decent man, kind to his parents and a human rights lawyer – the antithesis of Bridget's cheating lovers of the past, such as the cad Daniel Cleaver, played in the films by Hugh Grant.
Bridget got her (much deserved) happy ending when Darcy proposed at the end of London-based Fielding's last book.
But in the new novel, Mad About The Boy, some 14 years after the last installment, Bridget Jones is now a 51-year-old widow and mother of two children.
Fielding's publisher said it's hoped Mad About The Boy will give a voice to the more mature, social media-obsessed concerns of women who grew up with Bridget. Fans will not know how Darcy met his demise, as the cause of his death will not be revealed in advance of the book's release next week.
The character Daniel Cleaver has survived Fielding's cull and in the new story Bridget searches to lift her misery, as she explores a new phase in her eventful life, such as fretting over taking her new boyfriend, Roxster, to a 60th birthday – on his 30th birthday.
As fans mourn the shock demise of Bridget Jones' husband Mark Darcy, we ask two writers if Helen Fielding was right to make her heroine a widow?
YES - SAYS MAUREEN COLEMAN, FREELANCE JOURNALIST
When asked earlier this year which 'boy' Helen Fielding was alluding to in the title of the new Bridget Jones novel, the author raised one eyebrow enigmatically and refused to elaborate.
"Bridget's life has moved on," is all Fielding would say. And now we know how. Mark Darcy, the handsome but rather bland barrister with a penchant for reindeer jumpers, is no more. Darcy is dead. Amen to that.
It's not that I disliked Bridget's nice-but-rather-dull husband. He was infinitely more preferable than the sleazy Daniel Cleaver. But Bridget works best as an angst-ridden singleton on the look-out for love.
In Mad About The Boy, our heroine has hooked up with a much younger man called Roxter, whom she meets on Twitter five years after Darcy's death. This is more like it. If I wanted to read about happy-ever-afters, I'd pick up a fairytale book.
Many of Fielding's fans are distraught at Darcy's untimely demise, with some even threatening to boycott the third book. I say bring it on. I don't care for plots about boring domesticity – Bridget comes home, has dinner with Darcy, puts children to bed, reads them fairytale story about happy-ever-afters. Yawn.
Writing Darcy out of the equation is a brave move on Fielding's part. But I think she's made the right call. We don't want Bridget settled, we want her out there, having fun, wearing big pants and pulling unsuitable men. That's the Bridget we all fell in love with after all."
NO - SAYS LEESA HARKER, BELFAST AUTHOR
I'm depressed. I'm actually in mourning. Mr Darcy was Bridget's knight in shining armour, her one-way ticket to the land of smug-coupledom.
There will be a massive hole in Bridget's life and in the story without Darcy in it.
The start of the first book is a replica of the beginning of Pride and Prejudice and also why Darcy is named so.
Now he's not going to be a part of it!
It's a lot to take in, actually, for a massive Bridget Jones fan like me – and many others, I'm sure.
Millions of women wished they were the one being lumbered in the snow by big Mark Darcy, or being fought over by Darcy and Cleaver.
The dynamic of the story will be different. There will be a sadness about Bridget now she's a widow.
Can she still be funny and clumsy and aloof with this sadness hanging over her? Not sure. And what about the film that's inevitable? No Colin Firth? It's a travesty!
Fans like me who read the first book as singletons in the late 1990s are more than likely married or divorced mammies and will want to see that reflected in Bridget. So, I do understand why the writer has taken drastic steps.
At the same time – I really wanted a happy ending for Bridget.
Let's hope Fielding doesn't have Bridget walking around in a cloak like a Scottish widow and we can still have a giggle and some sort of happy ending."