There can be very few people who by now have not heard of or viewed Bridgerton, the Netflix series based on Julia Quinn’s book, The Duke and I. Some people love it and some people hate it, certainly everyone seems to have an opinion on it.
As someone who read the book several years ago, I was looking forward to seeing what it would look like on screen, and I have to say that I was not disappointed. Like the book, it was a light, frothy, escapist romance with an undercurrent of more serious and darker matter. It was certainly not an historically accurate representation of the period generally known as the Regency. I’m amazed that anyone expected it to be.
Reading the book was my first foray into the modern and mostly American authored genre of Regency romance; that is, stories set in a Regency-type England. These are stories that are not generally historically accurate but which reference enough details of the social life of the time to pass as accurate by readers who are not bothered by such things. As a historian, and someone who regards Georgette Heyer’s stories as the pinnacle of the Regency genre, I was at first shocked by the liberties taken by the author in her depiction of British upper class life in the early 19th century. Her characters had modern thoughts, expressed themselves in modern ways, even when bound by the conventions of the time. But importantly, I did not stop reading; the story drew me in with its humour, witty dialogue, and clever plot. Yes, I enjoyed it – so much so that I went on to read the others in the series.
Much as I enjoy tales that accurately reflect the period, I think that there is room for stories that have only a veneer of history. People, especially in these trying times, are seeking escapism in literature, films, and television programmes, and I for one, can’t see anything wrong in that. If escapism of this sort helps people cope with the challenges of everyday life, surely that’s a good thing?
Other criticisms about Bridgerton concern the casting, costumes, and hairstyles… and I haven’t even mentioned the sex! Yes, the casting was colour blind, depicting a black Queen Caroline and black members of the aristocracy, but what does it matter? It is a fantasy past being depicted. Besides, it always annoys me when people claim that there were no black people living in Britain in the early 19th century… of course there were. People of all ethnicities have lived here for centuries, although usually not as members of the aristocracy. One exception to this is heiress Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761-1804), natural daughter of Sir John Lindsay, who was brought up by Lindsay’s uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield. Although not fully accepted by society, Dido Elizabeth was brought up as part of this noble family.
Back to the costumes…on screen they were colourful, flambuoyant, and constructed in fabrics probably not invented at the time the story is set. But again, what does it matter? They were a visual treat for the eye, conveying a sense of the styles of the time and not an accurate depiction.
I’ve even read a criticism of one of the sex scenes – where Lord Bridgerton is enjoying himself with a maid up against a tree – his rather nice bottom was on display, pumping up and down energetically. Not accurate, someone complained. His breeches wouldn’t need to come down, he would just unbutton the front falls to achieve congress. Yes, that’s right, but this is television and fantasy and titillation, so we get to see his bum.
Romance is so often denigrated, as if it’s something shameful or only for women. There aren’t as many complaints or snobbery about what I call ‘boys’ own’ stories, in which the hero defeats the villain, drives the fastest car, and the girls are always willing to jump into bed with him. Whenever the latest Bond film comes out, there is usually a flurry of fawning articles about the wonderful special effects and car chases. Why is it that when a romance fantasy aimed at women is released, there are snobbish and condescending articles about ‘bodice-rippers’ and historical accuracy? Double standards?
Well, I hope you might realise that I thoroughly enjoyed Bridgerton and I’m eagerly looking forward to the next series. If nothing else, it has generated interest and discussion about a genre of writing that I love. It’s not pretending to be history – it’s escapism, romance, and telling a good story. And for a short time, it took my mind off the dreadful state of the world today.
A Bachelor’s Pledge
If you enjoyed Bridgerton but might like to explore a more historically grounded (but still fun!) book set in the period, you might consider A Bachelor’s Pledge.
The woman who haunts his dreams
Secret agent Phil Cullen is upset when he discovers that the young woman he rescued from Mrs Newbody’s establishment has absconded from his housekeeper’s care without a word. Thinking he has been deceived, he resolves to forget about her… something easier said than done.
The man she wants to forget
Sophia Turner is horrified when she is duped into entering a notorious house of ill-repute. Then a handsome stranger comes to her aid. Desperate that no one learns of this scandalous episode, Sophia flees to the one friend she knows she can trust. With luck, she will never see her mysterious rescuer again.
But fate has other plans…
Months later, Phil is on the trail of an elusive French agent and Sophia is a respectable lady’s companion when fate again intervenes, taking their lives on a collision course.
Traitors, spies, and shameful family secrets – will these bring Sophia and Phil together… or drive them apart?
Heart-warming romance combined with action-filled adventure make this third book in Penny Hampson’s Gentleman Series a must-read for all lovers of classic Regency fiction.
Penny Hampson writes mysteries, and because she has a passion for history, you’ll find her stories also reflect that. A Gentleman’s Promise, a traditional Regency romance, was Penny’s debut novel, which was shortly followed by more in the same genre. Penny also enjoys writing contemporary mysteries with a hint of the paranormal, because where do ghosts come from but the past? The Unquiet Spirit, a spooky mystery/romance set in Cornwall, was published by Darkstroke in 2020.
Penny lives with her family in Oxfordshire, and when she is not writing, she enjoys reading, walking, swimming, and the odd gin and tonic (not all at the same time).
For more on Penny’s writing, visit her blog: https://pennyhampson.co.uk/blog/