Historical romance can be problematic, especially depending on when it was written. The Bridgerton series is a gorgeous take on the series by Julia Quinn, but it’s not without its share of issues either.
Bridgerton dropped on Netflix Christmas Day, and it was a true gift to romance lovers. That’s not to say that we don’t see and recognize the issues within the original text (The Duke and I) and season one of the series.
One of the most controversial topics that has been brought up via Twitter and think pieces alike is: Does Daphne rape Simon?
I will say that upon re-reading the novel, The Duke and I, I was very uncomfortable by the scene and the aftermath. In the novel, Simon is extremely drunk when Daphne seduces him, and he doesn’t realize what has truly happened until he gathers his senses after the act. Daphne is most definitely in the wrong here even if Simon lied to her about his ability to have children. In the novel, much like the series, they don’t really address what happened between them afterward. It’s just fixed.
In the series, Simon is fully sober when Daphne initiates sex, but it becomes a battle of wills in way. During, it seems like Simon understands that Daphne is trying to call his bluff. She is astride him and controlling the situation, and up until this point, the writers have shown us Simon’s strength so we know if he wanted to, he could move Daphne away. This is where things get very murky and gray for a lot of the audience, and I think it has to do with our relationship to romance in general. We tend to forgive a lot of overstepping for “romance reasons.”
In the novel, I feel like we’re in dubious consent territory. In the series, with the drunkenness done away with, Simon knows exactly what Daphne is about to attempt. His call for her to “wait” is definitely not heeded and that is a breach of consent on her part. I felt the series handled this scene much better than the book did. I know enough to realize that my very small opinion doesn’t take away from other people’s experiences. Many women and men who have had their birth control method tampered with feel differently about this scene. Television, as with literature, is made for people to bring their own prior knowledge into the experience, and I imagine this will be a long debated topic in the romance community. It will also now invite new discourse from people who found Bridgerton through their Netflix account.
The main issue with season one that I would like to spend some time on, though, is Marina Thompson.
Miss Marina Thompson comes to the Featherington’s home as a distant cousin, looking for a chaperone for her first season. She gains much more attention than her cousins, but she’s pregnant. An issue that’s only discovered when a main notes that Miss Thompson’s courses haven’t came in over a month. Afterward, we get several hastily put together pairings as to not destroy the reputations of her cousins without too much worry of her own well-being.
This is all well-and-good. It’s a typical historical romance trope, and anyone familiar with romance would catch it for that. However, Marina Thompson isn’t actually introduced in the novels until book five, To Sir Phillip, With Love. This is Eloise Bridgerton’s book.
At first, I thought this was a way to bring in a minor character and show the audience what happens to women in society when they’re found in a certain condition without a husband. Marina is a solid character, and the audience wants her happiness. This was a trap I fell into, and I’m a seasoned romance reader. Bridgerton season one is about Simon and Daphne’s love story. No one else is guaranteed a HEA. The side characters are there to show you what can happen to members of society if their prospects are ruined. This is why when Sir Phillip Crane showed up, explaining the death of his brother, Sir George, Marina’s beloved, that it hit me at once.
They didn’t introduce Marina to show us how love can conquer all. They introduced Marina so we’d have the ground work for future seasons, particularly Eloise’s novel, should we get it, and I was so upset.
If you don’t want to be spoiled or if you haven’t read Eloise’s book yet, stop here.
We are introduced to Marina in the prologue of book five as the wife of Sir Philip Crane who has recently died, leaving him to care for their two young sons. It’s highly speculated that Marina attempted to take her own life by throwing herself into an icy lake. She didn’t drown, though. Philip saved her, but she developed pneumonia and died of that instead. Sir Phillip is the man that Eloise ends up corresponding with and eventually running off to the country to meet and marry.
After all Marina went through in this season, I’m disappointed that this is what they went with. In another post about the things I liked about the Bridgerton series, I mentioned that Marina was one of them. I also know that I’ve said not everyone is guaranteed a HEA, but to set Marina up for such tragedy after we’ve known her is heartbreaking.
All that being said, it’s time to add on the fact that Marina is a Black woman. So far, in this Netflix series, the Black women shoulder way more of the heartbreak while being fewer in cast.
Marina with Sir George’s death and forced marriage to his brother, Sir Philip.
The Queen with the King’s madness and loss of her child.
Lady Danbury with the devastating loss of her friend.
Simon’s mother, the former Duchess of Hastings, dying cruelly in childbirth while he husband celebrates his son a few feet away without a care in the world.
The only other notable Black woman who remains relatively unscathed this season is Alice Mundrich, wife of prize fighter Will, and friend to Simon, Duke of Hastings. That remains to be seen, though. What if those same men go after Will the way they went after Lord Featherington?
I understand there was a desire to have a diverse cast with Bridgerton, and we can all agree they did a better job that a lot of series’, but continually making Black women and other women of color the object of disappointment in love and tragedy was absolutely a decision someone should have noticed.
On the surface, Bridgerton was an escape we so desperately needed in 2020, but if we dig a little, as romance readers are want to do, we see the issues with it, too. If there’s one thing I’ve come to love about the romance community, it’s that we don’t shy away from difficult conversations, and we always try to be better. Well, most of us for the most part.
I sincerely hope that the writers of Bridgerton don’t have Marina’s fate be that of the books.
Bridgerton is now streaming on Netflix