Bridgerton fever is about to break out across the land. As Netflix launches the second season of the Regency romance, engagements will be canceled and evenings will be spent at home, hooked on the intrigue generated by London’s elegant high society.
No one could be more excited by this than Julia Quinn, the author of the series of books on which Shondaland’s world-beating adaptation is based. Quinn, 52, has been a successful writer of romantic novels ever since she sold her first at the age of 24 and is the author of 19 consecutive New York Times best-sellers.
She wrote her first book about the Bridgerton family in 2000 and the subsequent volumes have sold impressively ever since. But it was only when powerhouse producer Shonda Rhimes fell in love with their wild, sexy wit and sprawling, love-filled stories that Quinn’s life changed forever. The first series has been watched by well over 80 million households, and counting.
“The biggest change for me is that something I created so long ago is now in the cultural zeitgeist. That’s just bonkers,” she says, cheerfully, a lively figure in a black polo neck and big black glasses, speaking from her Seattle home.
The fact that Bridgerton arrived on TV just before the world closed down with Covid made an already surreal experience even stranger. Quinn’s husband, Paul Pottinger, is an infectious diseases specialist, who was engulfed in advising hospitals on how to cope with the virus, just as Bridgerton was taking off.
“There was a period when every day something new and incredible would happen in Bridgerton-land — which is how we joke about it — and he’d come home from work, exhausted and defeated. And he’d ask, ‘So what happened in Bridgerton-land?’, and I’d tell him all the news. It was such a sparky, joyful, happy thing.”
Shonda Rhimes fell in love with the Bridgerton novels’ wild, sexy wit and sprawling, love-filled stories.
The first series revolved around Daphne, eldest daughter of the rowdy Bridgerton clan, and Simon, Duke of Hastings, played with such smoldering appeal by Regé-Jean Page that it led to feverish speculation that he will be the next James Bond. “I’ve got my fingers crossed for him,” says Quinn. “I have no inside information. This is just my hope and dream.”
The new season will proceed without him, with the focus shifted to Daphne’s brother, Anthony (Jonathan Bailey). “Bridgerton mimics the way romance novel series work,” says Quinn. “They’re a collection of spin-offs rather than sequels. If the next book were about Simon and Daphne, we’d have to give them some terrible conflict and that would mean that their happily-ever-after didn’t stick and it wouldn’t be a romance any more. So two different people come to the fore.”
Quinn feels that romantic novels have always been looked down on by TV and film, unless they were written by Jane Austen. She was so delighted when Rhimes came calling that she signed away any creative control — “I wanted to be the author they wanted to work with” — but she adores the way they have been configured for television, with diverse casts, brilliant costumes and an ahistorical zing.
“I loved the addition of Queen Charlotte,” she says, of the wife of George III, who is played by Golda Rosheuvel. “I am torn between wishing I’d written her into the books and being glad I didn’t because I would never have done it as beautifully as they’ve done it on the show. Golda is just my idol now.”
“Bridgerton mimics the way romance novel series work. They’re a collection of spin-offs rather than sequels.”
Quinn continues to be involved in her own Bridgerton spin-offs too. She had been working with her sister, the cartoonist Violet Charles, on a graphic novel version of Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron, which is mentioned as the gothic drama the characters are reading in her fiction.
It was pretty much finished when Violet and their father, Steve Cotler, were killed by a drunk driver in a car accident last summer. It is coming out in May.
“I have reached the stage in my grieving where it really brings me joy because it celebrates Violet in so many ways,” Quinn says, quietly. “You can see her in every illustration, every joke. She was just so funny. I want this book to burst into the world as best as it can.”
Like Bridgerton itself, it will bring happiness and love into the darkest of days.
Season Two of Bridgerton premieres on Netflix on March 25
Sarah Crompton is a freelance writer and a theater critic for WhatsOnStage