Gentle readers: I must apologize. For the last few months my posts have been unrelentingly grim. Time to lighten up! So here’s The Fabulous Wife with one of her patented cultural reviews.
There is much to be lamented in Bridgerton, the latest piece of pseudo-Austenian skunk-butt dribble on Netflix.
Fabulous Wife, isn’t “skunk-butt dribble” a little rude?
Yes, Darling Husband, you are right. I apologize. To the skunks.
There are many spoilers to follow, if you think it possible to spoil anything as predictable, pedestrian, and baffling as Bridgerton, set around 1810 London and adapted from a series of novels by Julia Quinn. To steal from Mark Twain’s rules of literary art in his essay Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses, storytelling requires that the episodes in a tale “shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it.” But as Bridgerton is not a tale, and accomplishes nothing and arrives nowhere, the episodes have no rightful place in the work, since there was nothing for them to develop.
The plot: Boy meets girl, boy marries girl, boy and girl lose affection, boy and girl rediscover affection, boy and girl live happily ever after. See that clever twist? Boy loses girl after the marriage.
Daphne Bridgerton is old enough to get married. The handsome Duke of Hastings has declared he will never marry, so they meet, court, and marry. But the Duke of Hastings hates his father, and has decided never to father children himself. Please note: He has decided never to father children, but tells Daphne he cannot father children. The Duke’s method of birth control is coitus interruptus, which of course becomes the only sex Daphne knows. Finally, she decides something is wrong with her sexual relations and asks her maid about sex.
You see, the upper-class unmarried “good girls” know nothing about sex. Nothing. Somehow, in all their time at their country homes, they have never seen any animals having sex.
(There is sex in Bridgerton. It is unfortunately quite boring. In, out, in, out, in, out, etc., etc., and so forth. All viewed from the top, so you get to see man butts. No man fronts, very few female breasts, just heaving man butts. All the sex scenes are the same, so you can safely fast-forward through them. Or make yourself a snack or cup of tea. It takes a while for the man butts to stop heaving, so you have time.)
Time passes, nothing happens, except the Duke learns that he wants children, and the story wraps up with the birth of his heir, in the least stressful childbirth scene in the history of cinema.
While that’s going on between the Duke and Daphne, there is a murky stew of subplots. Marina is staying with the Featheringtons (my favorite name in the series) —
Wait. Who is Marina?
Sorry dear, she’s just a character they throw in. She’s pregnant by a fellow who went to war in Spain and died, and Lady Featherington has to work hard to marry off Marina before the pregnancy becomes obvious. Marina makes herself some concoction to bring on abortion. It doesn’t work, and the doctor tells her you can’t end a pregnancy with tea, at which point — remember? — I disturbed you by yelling at the television, “Yes, you can! Of course you can! There are lots of easy-to-get abortifacient herbs! What kind of a doctor are you?” Marina rejects several suitors, blah, blah, blah, and marries her unborn child’s uncle.
The Featheringtons serve as a contrast to the Bridgertons. The Bridgertons are handsome and intelligent, the Featheringtons are funny-looking and only smart enough to be devious. (One of the three daughters is — I hope you’re sitting down — fat!) Featherington père is poisoned because he bribed a boxer to throw one of the boring boxing matches I fast-forwarded through. When the authorities come to tell the family, they steal the money from the boxing match, leaving Lady Featherington and her three daughters penniless.
Then there’s the matter of the pseudonymous Lady Pennywhistle or Featherduster or something like that, who writes a scandal sheet that holds all of London in thrall. Everyone wants to know who Lady Pennyduster really is, and in the end she is revealed to be — Penelope Featherington, the fat daughter. Her nickname is Pen, so of course she’s the writer! She’s shown satisfied and smiling, riding away in her carriage. She has not up to that point been particularly clever or seemed capable of writing anything beyond a thank-you note.
To paraphrase another of Twain’s rules of literary art, the viewer should feel a deep interest in the personages of the tale and in their fates; the viewer should love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. But with Bridgerton the viewer “dislikes the good people in it, is indifferent to the others, and wishes they would all get drowned together.”