This contains spoilers someone should have warned me about.
In my mind, there’s an order of operations for watching adaptations. First movie, then book, then television series. It’s about the level of detail that can be fit into the time given. A movie is about two hours of detail, a book is maybe five hours of detail. A show? That’s going to be at least ten hours of detail. Sure, written details are different from filmed details, but it generally works.
Look at Harry Potter, the rage everyone had about stuff like SPEW getting cut from the movie. But then, have you ever read the Darkly Dreaming Dexter, which the show Dexter is based on? Dexter’s sister, Deb, has the level of detail Lab Tech #2 has in the show.
And if you like something, you don’t want to lose details, right? You want every experience with it to have added value. So while it may seem pretentious to say, “Oh no, I have to read the books before I watch the show,” it totally makes sense.
But watch the movie first, or prepare to be disappointed. Looking at you, Divergent.
With that in mind, I thought I was making the right decision getting the first Bridgerton book, The Duke and I, from the library. I’d just binged a bunch of Tessa Dare, I was in a historical romance mood, strike while the iron’s hot. And straight up, I expected to hate the series. I don’t even know why now. Maybe Outlander left a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe it was the whole 50 Shades thing. Maybe it’s the fact that every time I pick up a romance because it’s gone mainstream in any way, it turns out to be a bad romance.
Have you read Den of Vipers? Don’t. I’m all about messed-up sex scenes. These were gross in the least erotic way, and the plot was awful.
To my surprise, The Duke and I started really well. There was a bit of an “I’m not like your typical historical romance, I’m different” vibe that was a little obnoxious but forgivable, and I enjoyed the author’s voice otherwise. The characters and plot were bog standard historical romance, which is what I’m here for. I wouldn’t read historical romance if I didn’t want archetypal characters and overused tropes.
Basic rundown of this, with aforementioned spoilers: Daphne comes from a gigantic, happy family and wants her own gigantic, happy family but has been friend-zoned by all the desirable men. Simon is a mysterious duke who had a nightmare childhood and wants to never get married, definitely never have kids. and is besieged by hopeful debutantes looking to nab a duke. Simon and Daphne form an alliance with the thought that if they’re seen together, it will make her look desirable and him unavailable. The usual historical romance shenanigans ensue: they fall in love, he compromises her at a public event, her guardian demands he marry her. He refuses at first because he knows she wants a bunch of kids and he refuses to have kids, telling her simply that he can’t, but she’s understanding and wants to marry him even if they can’t have kids. So far, so good.
And then…it turns to shit.
So, listen. I have issues with the trope of the man who hates kids and vehemently refuses to have them, only for the woman to convince him that kids are actually the best thing ever and he’ll be an amazing father to a whole herd of them. It’s always bothered me because it’s basically saying that any actual person who doesn’t want kids is an idiot who’s going to be proven wrong. It also implies that everyone can be a good parent and there’s something intrinsically deficient with people who are bad parents.
My mother was a bad mother. As best as I can tell, her mother was a bad mother. They tried their best, and they came from a time when society didn’t give women much of a choice in the matter. Am I messed up because of my mother? Yes. Do I hold ill feelings toward her because of it? Also yes. Am I able to recognize the fact that this was not the life my mother would have chosen for herself, and no matter how much she failed abysmally, she really was trying her hardest to be something she’s not? Absolutely.
A lot of people are bad at math. If you’re bad at math and you think it’s really obnoxious when math geniuses are like, “No, you just need to do it right,” that’s what it’s like for someone who knows they’ll be a bad parent being told that they just need to have kids and they’ll be fine.
Except society shames you and now you have kids you can’t handle and all your life’s plans are ruined.
Oh, also, I’m losing my home because my roommate who hates kids and never wanted kids now has a kid. So there’s that.
Anyway, this happens a lot in historical romance, and usually it doesn’t bother me so much. It’s irritating but not a total deal-breaker, and most of the time, I’m invested enough in the series by that point that I just roll with it. It started to get really irritating in Bridgerton, and I told myself it was because I knew I’d be going from the book to the show, and I was worried that it was going to be harder to stomach in television format.
But there were other things.
They’re married, and Daphne doesn’t know how babies are made. She knows that it happens via sex, but not that it’s actually the semen doing it. Which is kind of absurd. High society women were sheltered in the 1800s, but only so much sheltering was feasible. There are even references in Bridgerton to her younger sisters reading what passed as erotic literature at the time. And you know what? I did forgive this, it was just irritating in retrospect.
What was really irritating as I was reading it was the fact that once Daphne realizes how babies are made and that Simon has been preventing it, she loses her effing mind.
I can’t stress enough that she agreed to no kids. That was part of the deal. He didn’t tell her why he couldn’t have kids, but she also didn’t ask. And she finds out it’s not a can’t so much as a won’t in the same breath that she finds out he was horribly neglected as a child, to the extent of being written off as dead because he had a stutter.
And instead of being sympathetic, of focusing on healing the psychological damage the man she loves suffered as a child in hopes that he would come to realize he isn’t too broken to have his own family, she’s just pissed at him. How dare he lie by using the word can’t. How dare he withhold children from her. How dare he hold her to her agreement that they wouldn’t have kids.
Massive fight. His stutter comes back. That stutter that ruined his childhood and his relationship with his father, that he’s built his entire life around controlling just to prove to his father he isn’t deficient, that stutter comes back. He rides off into town, comes back stinking drunk.
And then Daphne rapes him.
I’ve been told by several people who watched the Netflix series that in the show, this scene is questionable. They’re having sex, she’s on top. He’s about to climax, he tells her to get off, she doesn’t. He’s rightfully upset, but is it truly rape?
In the book, it is rape. He is passed-out drunk. She gets up on that. He wakes up in the middle of it, still drunk, and he’s a dude. His initial response is like ok, this is pretty cool. And then he realizes what’s actually going on, tells her to get off, and she doesn’t.
Having sex with someone who is passed-out drunk is rape.
We know this.
And we knew this in 2000, when this book was written. We hadn’t quite reached the point of drunk consent is not consent, but we certainly knew unconsciousness is not consent.
I almost stopped reading at this point. I absolutely would have, but I decided it was more important that I finish the book so I could write about it. And so I put my faith in them eventually having a serious conversation about how inappropriate this was and how she’d broken his trust in her and how hard they’d have to work to get back to where they were and how her actions proved she cared about his feelings no more than his father had and—
No, their reconciliation comes when he admits to her that he’s not mad at her for raping him, he’s mad at himself for HAVING A FUCKING STUTTER WHAT THE FUCK.
What the fuck.
As someone with a stutter, what the actual fuck.
I admit, I’m oversimplifying some. It’s a whole thing about his relationship with his father and how it’s still controlling him and blah blah blah but literally at no point is he like, “Don’t rape me again.”
And then they have a bunch of kids.
Bridgerton, folks. Watch the show. I’m told it’s a bunch of hot people boning in attractive but historically inaccurate clothing. Don’t read the book unless rape that leads to a happy ending for the rapist is your jam. And also the rapist gets everything she ever wanted and is really proud of herself for raping him.
Oh and later on says she doesn’t even need kids right this second, she’d be cool with waiting. Because yes, that happens.