The show was a huge boon for romance lovers too.
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But what will change and who will benefit from it is a story that has yet to be written.
Unsafe times have turned everyone into romantics
“Romance has a moment. The trend is to pass out,” Tessa Dare, a bestselling historical romance writer, told CNN. She says it was exciting to see Bridgerton become a worldwide phenomenon and to prove what millions of romance readers already know: these types of stories have something for everyone.
“Love, sex, and relationships are generally compelling subjects,” says Dare.
They are also profitable. A spokeswoman for Avon, the cast that publishes the “Bridgerton” novels, said CNN sales of the original eight “Bridgerton” books have “increased exponentially since the show premiered.”
It’s no surprise that such ultra-romantic, ultra-sensual stuff tops bestseller lists and breaks streaming records. In fact, it’s just business as usual.
“Last year was so difficult for everyone. Together we needed a mass infusion of joy,” says Dare. “If the world can not agree on anything else, at least 63 million households can celebrate the perfectly raised eyebrow of the Duke of Hastings.”
“Bridgerton” could attract new romantic readers
Although it is a thriving and evolving genre, outsiders often view romance novels with disdain. Every time a show like “Bridgerton” takes hold culturally, part of that stigma falls away. The effect can be a win-win situation that attracts more readers to the romance and encourages long-time fans who may have hidden their passion to talk more about the genre they love.
“Growing up, we had the picture of cheesy novels you bought at the grocery store, and people stuck to that idea,” says Roni Loren, a bestselling contemporary novelist. “Seeing the popularity of ‘Bridgerton’ legitimizes the genre for some people. It gives people permission to check things out in the romance section.”
Exactly why novelists and readers continue to struggle with these assumptions is a sensitive question.
“Sexism,” says Tessa Dare simply. “Society is prepared to regard everything produced by women for women as inferior, and there has always been an assumption that romance is frivolous, poorly written, and unattractive to men. Bridgerton’s success proves that all of these assumptions are wrong. “
Just like in the books, there are parts of the “Bridgerton” show that are spicy to say the least. (Episode 6. It’s episode 6. You’re welcome.) There are even some real tears in the bodice. And a lot has been written about how the series, like most romance novels, is all about the female gaze: women are best friends, family, rivals and sharp schemers. The men are complex in their own way, but everything you could want from a partner: caring, funny, respectful and good, very hot.
“I look at ‘Bridgerton’ for the plot,” says another popular meme, followed by various photos of the sexy male leads labeled “The Plot.”
That kind of value can’t be tagged with a dollar sign, and having people joking and sharing their naughty romantic opinions on social media doesn’t only add to the bottom line. It reveals the true impact of the genre and invites others to bask in the softly lit glow.
New eyes for romance put inclusivity in the spotlight
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That glow doesn’t seem to be the same across all experiences, however, and when it comes to inclusivity, “Bridgerton” takes a strange place. From the start, the show attracted attention due to its diverse cast, including a black lead, a black queen, and people of color in all sorts of roles, big and small. This is a departure from Quinn’s novels, which make no reference to race and, like so many Regency-era novels, are set against the very white backdrop of 19th century London high society.
While “Bridgerton”, the TV series, offers its fans a comprehensive experience, this level of representation does not carry over to the romantic world in its current form. While there are sparks of new interest in the industry, the writers hope that the show’s success will lead readers to explore a wider range of love stories.
“We welcome new readers to Bridgerton with open arms,” says Suliekha Snyder. “But the crux of the ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ philosophy is that sometimes it only lifts certain boats.”
“Will these new people just be interested in the romance of the white Regency era? Or, by opening a book by Julia Quinn and realizing that the Duke is indeed white, will they look for more diverse and comprehensive books and thus expand the web ? “
When South Asian Snyder got into novel writing, she noticed many books in the genre fetishized and other South Asian people. This led her to write stories with characters of South Asian heritage.
Snyder cautions against viewing this level of “variety” in publishing as some sort of option, or as a way to fill a specialized bookcase in the store. She indicates that it’s just a reality.
“Diversity and inclusivity are not just a teaching tool. It’s our life. That’s how we love,” she says. “And that’s part of the struggle we’ve had over the past few decades. We just have to remind people of that [authors of color] exist and are real, and our books have just as much mass appeal as those of a white author. “
Speaking of mass appeal: Bridgerton, the TV show, has also raised exciting questions about the popularity of inclusive media.
“I don’t think the show is helping to fuel the conversation about diversity in romance,” says writer Alyssa Cole. “But was it not the other way around?”
Cole, a contemporary, historical, and science fiction novelist, has won multiple awards for her books featuring black, disabled, and LGBTQ heroines. Historically, the romantic fiction of and with people outside the white, heterosexual, able population has been shunned by major publishers. In recent years, even the Romance Writers Association, the genre’s top organization, has been torn apart by accusations of prejudice.
In short, it was a common belief that such stories don’t sell.
But Cole notes that the truth that Bridgerton’s success and future he might invite has set out looks more promising.
“At this point, we’ve seen several romantic adaptations with black and colored characters – would these shows have been as successful without a diverse cast?” She asks. “And if diversity is a major factor in the success of an adaptation, why not adapt more books by color authors?”
In romance, everyone deserves a happy ending
If there is really to be a “Bridgerton Effect” in the romance industry, it is clear that it has to be one that encourages writers and readers of all backgrounds. After all, the unifying theme of romance – whether you’re into werewolves, cybersex, Scots in kilts, or women in residence – is that everyone deserves a happy ending.
“I think here is the importance of inclusion, having this space to safely navigate our identities while we know it will end in a happy ending,” says Snyder. “Queer readers, readers of colors … when we reflect on the pages, we see our happy aftermath normalize. And that’s radical. It shouldn’t be. It should be commonplace. Unfortunately, we are not yet there. “
These are the things to remember the next time someone dismisses romance as frivolous. Yes there is sex. Yes there is fun and escape. And these things don’t justify an apology.
But romance means more to people.
“It’s very feminist. In many romances, women save themselves. It’s so consenting – it’s our fantasy that we want to be treated with respect,” says Roni Loren.
Cole says another big win is trust. “Characters are often protected because of past trauma. Part of their story is learning to trust someone, and that trust isn’t a mistake,” she says.
“One of the greatest fantasies is that you can show yourself – all of yourself, including the bad things – to a partner or friend and trust that they will still love you. In a romance, that trust will always be rewarded in the end.”
When readers open a romance novel, they trust that something of themselves will be reflected on these pages, no matter who they are, who they love or how they live.
And if a very sexy, very profitable Netflix show can pave the way for more of those stories, then bring on the love.