As a 12 year old, my English class was asked to give presentations on a topic of our choosing. My topic of choice? Jane Austen. Even then I was fascinated by the culture, the fashion, even the language.
It was no surprise, then, that when Netflix released their newest Regency-period drama ‘Bridgerton’ on Christmas Day I couldn’t help but finish the series in a matter of days. The books by Julia Quinn, and subsequently the series, have stirred interest for a number of reasons: an alternative version of the time period in which social classes are not dependent on race or cultural background, feminist characters ahead of their time disguised in typical empire line gowns, and lastly the unapologetic portrayal of sex which is unusual for this genre.
For those who have not yet watched Bridgerton (or don’t intend to!), at the heart of the story is an age-old romance with the twist of beginning as a ruse in which Daphne and Simon pretend to be courting so as to save each other from the torments of their obligation to try and attract suitors, and ending in the real thing as they discover that through building a friendship they have in fact fallen in love with each other more deeply. (Aha! The first nod to Catholic teaching!)
Amidst the scandal and intrigue as the plot develops, unmistakable - and perhaps unintentional - Catholic stances creep out unexpectedly.
1.Love is a choice
‘We chose to love each other, day after day’.
Daphne’s mother may not have told her the finer details of marriage, like anything at all about how sex works, but she did pass on this pearl of wisdom from her own marriage to Daphne’s late father. Theirs seems to have been one of the only ‘love matches’ to come from the marriage market of the time, and it’s clear this isn’t just because it was love at first sight but rather because they understood the commitment it takes to remain in love regardless of trials. Love, ultimately, is far more a choice than a feeling.
2. Love follows sexual ethics
‘I may not know much about love, but I do know that is not it.’
In a mind-boggling, yet alarmingly accurate, portrayal of how uninformed young women were at the time, Daphne is several weeks into marriage before she discovers that if her husband withdraws before finishing the marital act she cannot get pregnant. Intuitively, she recognises something is amiss here. For love to be complete, the Church tells us it must be ‘free, total, faithful, and fruitful’. Intimacy of this kind is neither total - he withholds something of himself from his wife, nor fruitful - intentionally avoiding procreation.
3. Love doesn’t require perfection
‘Every scar, every flaw, every imperfection. I love all of you.’
In the happy ending we all hoped for (and possibly predicted), Daphne discovers the reason for her husband’s deep seated fear of love and of fatherhood. ‘Your father made you believe you must be perfect to be loveable. He was wrong!’. It’s a sad truth in today’s society that too many feel the need to achieve perfection before taking the next step: test driving relationships with cohabitation before getting married, reaching career or financial targets before having children, contracepting between births to take control over openness to life, to name a few examples. Love is present. Love doesn’t seek to change someone to suit oneself but rather accepts the other as they are. In sickness and health. For richer, for poorer. It does not wait for perfection, because perfection cannot be achieved in this lifetime.