From Hannah: When I was in high school, I first became fascinated with the nineteenth-century novel — Sense and Sensibility, Jane Eyre, David Copperfield.* And listeners of the show (and anyone who has ever met me, probably) know that while I changed how and why I read these novels, I never stopped reading them. Or consuming contemporary entertainment set in the nineteenth century.
If I continually return to a fictionalized Regency period for entertainment, and in particular, to feel a cozy kind of comfort, then I’m not alone. Colin Firth, Keira Knightley, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Alan Rickman’s Jane Austen adaptations receive much praise and replay. (We dedicated an entire episode to why Austen continues to grow in popularity, after all.) And it isn’t just Austen, historical genre writers from William Makepeace Thackery to Georgette Heyer to Julia Quinn (the writer of the Bridgerton novels) to Courtney Milan have transported readers back to the Regency over and again.
The newest, splashy Regency(-ish) sensation is the Netflix Shondaland series Bridgerton, released Christmas 2020 and recently renewed for a second season (sadly featuring the least likable member of the titular family, but I won’t get into that here). And, if you’re anything like me, you may have consumed all eight episodes of Bridgerton as quickly as possible, allowing yourself to be swept into a world of intrigue and romance. The strangeness of the Regency romance genre, to me, has always been the fact that stories like Mansfield Park or Vanity Fair or even Bridgerton acknowledge just how precarious and inequitable the world is … and yet, somehow, it is what many people turn to for comfort. Netflix’s Bridgerton certainly explores gender, race, class, and disability even as it seduces its audience with, to borrow Lady Whistledown’s words, shock and delight.
But what are the politics of Bridgerton’s speculative fictional Regency world? What does the Regency genre have to say to us in 2021, and does Bridgerton revise old narratives or simply repeat tropes from early domestic novels? Why are we so obsessed with British landowners and their accumulation and hoarding of wealth, anyway? What are our hopes for Bridgerton season two and the future of the romance genre?
A lot has already been said critics and academics, and I’m going to — in advance of our episode — list a few of analyses of Bridgerton here. I expect some of them will come up in our discussion, and they’re absolutely worth your time:
- “Unsilencing the Past In Bridgerton 2020: A Roundtable,” Mira Assaf Kafantaris, Ambereen Dadabhoy, Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall, Jessica Parr, and Kerry Sinanan
- “Why Did Bridgerton Erase Haiti?” Marlene L. Daut
- “Bridgerton has a rape scene, but it’s not treated like one” Aja Romano
- “Were Regency Women REALLY That Clueless About Sex? Bridgerton’s Sex Scenes Laid Bare“
- “The Black Ton: From Bridgerton to Love & Hip-Hop” Tressie McMillan Cottom
- “Shondaland’s Regency: On “Bridgerton” Patricia A. Matthew
*Jane Eyre and David Copperfield were published well into the Victorian period.