The Duke and I by Julia Quinn (my review here!)
The first book in the Bridgertons series by Quinn, The Duke and I largely focuses on Simon and Daphne as a couple, while introducing some of the important side characters that appear later in the series. The all important Lady Whistledown is also introduced in this book. The book covers Daphne and Simon’s unconventional introduction, the deal they strike with one another, and the evolution of their attraction that eventually leads to a marriage arrangement. The latter half of the book then addresses them learning to be a married couple. I will say that since I’ve only read the one book thus far, my knowledge of the rest of the series’ events and how they made it to the screen in the TV show is limited.
Bridgerton on Netflix
The Netflix adaptation is, I believe, meant to be more far reaching than the first book. While the first season certainly focuses on Daphne and Simon, and conveys the events of The Duke and I, the introduction of other characters and plotlines implies that the producers intend to adapt the entire series, with a Gossip Girl like bent on also portraying the intrigue of Lady Whistledown. Characters such as Colin, Eloise, and Penelope were present in The Duke and I, but did not have fully formed story arcs. Maria wasn’t even mentioned throughout the book, though I sincerely hope that she makes an appearance later. The show is clearly adapting the characters and stories at large, while also maintaining a season focus on a book’s plot. I think it’s a smart choice, and I’m interested to see how they maintain those stories moving forward.
What did they change?
The first point I want to briefly touch on is the introduction of an alternate history to the Bridgerton series. The showrunners came across the idea that the Queen may have had some Black ancestry and incorporated this idea into the show, changing the history it portrays. There are far more insightful and nuanced discussions by Black watchers of Bridgerton that can give you an idea of what the show does well and poorly with this presentation. But this idea was a show original, the books do not incorporate an alternate history.
In fact, the show changes a surprising amount of small details. Daphne, for example, is given a complete makeover. In the books she is pretty but not exceedingly so, never taking the spotlight during her seasons (because yes, in the book she is not a debutante). She describes herself as too friendly to be regarded as valuable by potential suitors, and her brothers are also highly protective and discerning, leading to her not receiving many offers. This differs of course from the show where in her debut, Daphne is identified as particularly pretty and elegant, and spends the rest of her season striving to uphold her reputation as the season’s diamond. As a result, her personality is also somewhat different in the show. She is more concerned with her reputation in the show, and more ambitious in social circles. In the book, she has no direct rivalries with other women vying for Simon’s affections and she doesn’t spend much time worrying about her social status outside of at least wanting to be taken seriously as an eligible match. Though she enjoys the attentions of her other suitors in the book, Daphne never really has any serious courtship outside of Simon’s.
Another odd change: Daphne is less concerned with a love match in the book than in the show. In the show, this is her primary goal, followed by forming a large family. In the book, she mostly just wants to marry someone who’s appealing in some manner, but she does also want a large family. This changes her behavior just slightly as she falls in love with Simon and initiates their marriage, and her difference in personality really shows itself in the beginnings of their marriage. The controversial moment where Daphne attempts to force Simon to give her a baby and force him to admit he had lied to her in the show plays very differently in the book. She confronts him with her new knowledge first, they fight, and then later during their reconciliation Simon blames her for trying to force him to impregnate her in a situation that at best is a grey area, but more likely she has no blame for. Additionally, whereas in the show Simon is hostile and keeping an eye on Daphne to see if she is pregnant, in the book Simon completely abandons Daphne and requests she tell him in the event of her pregnancy.
To be entirely honest, this change in plot and personality I think is to make Simon look better. Whereas in the book I felt that Simon was being unreasonable (and he seems to realize he was too), the show creates a fight in which both parties are in the wrong and both must apologize to the other. Additionally, the frightening anger that Simon displays in front of Daphne that I took issue with in the book is pared down quite a lot. On the other hand, Daphne’s behavior is now much more scheming and borderline violating, as she does not directly confront Simon but somewhat entraps him in admitting his lie.
What did they do well?
I liked that the show fleshed out so many more of the characters. Though I’m sure some of this was to fill up an entire season, I have never really enjoyed how little development side characters get in romance novels. The idea to have the main plot of the first season focus on the plot of the first book but to still introduce many of the other series’ characters and begin their own plotlines early was a great idea. In doing this, the show also introduces a lot more interest and nuance to Lady Whistledown, who in the first book is honestly not nearly that important. I think the show manages the balancing act between the romance story, the groundwork for other stories, and the gossip intrigue of Whistledown very well.
I love the way Simon’s backstory was explained. From the flashbacks (all of which were very book accurate) to the inclusion of his boxing and the way he and Lady Danbury act on screen, I loved it all. I am desperately sad the actor won’t be returning to season two, and I only hope it’s because he has so many other offers on the table because I would watch anything Rege-Jean Page is in. I think that the showrunners did a really good job of taking the most cinematic moments in the book and putting them on screen. I also think that the actors did a wonderful job of putting the right emotions into each scene, and there was a lot of great on screen chemistry.
What did they get wrong?
Though I appreciated the ways they changed Simon’s character, I disagree with the changes to Daphne’s. She was an interesting enough character without making her the diamond of the season, giving her her competitive edge, or making her a little bit more conniving. I’m not sure what these changes served other than perhaps making the differences in her and Simon’s characters lesser? Or perhaps to make her and Simon’s love story draw out just a bit longer? A lot of drama was created by Daphne’s new personality, so perhaps that had something to do with the changes as well.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Netflix show, and the show inspired my reading of The Duke and I, which I also enjoyed. Personally, I think the show might be a bit more interesting just because of the way it has those Gossip Girl elements, the introduction of the alternative history, and the blending of more stories than just Daphne and Simon’s plot. I think that the only part of the show I disagree with is trying to make Daphne so significantly different in order to make Simon look better–especially since the show had already sufficiently shifted Simon’s personality to be better than the one he has in the book.