Dear Readers, I have a confession. When I read The Viscount Who Loved Me, I didn’t care much for Anthony Bridgerton. He was… fine? *insert shrugging emoji here* Now Anthony’s story has come to Netflix in Season 2 of Bridgerton, Jonathan Bailey’s acting has me re-evaluating my feelings about Anthony (and in my opinion, the show’s big love declaration > the book’s). Watching the show has also made me reflect on my favourite part of Anthony’s story: the depiction of how trauma, grief, and strict gender roles can affect a person.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Season 2 of Bridgerton and The Viscount Who Loved Me.
When Anthony Bridgerton was eighteen years old, his father, Edmund Bridgerton, suffered a fatal allergic reaction to a bee sting while on an outing with Anthony. Anthony did not understand what was happening and was helpless as Edmund died in front of him. The show does a brilliant job portraying this moment (full credit to Jonathan Bailey and Ruth Gemmell for their acting). Anthony was barely able to process his shock or grief when Violet, his mother, several months pregnant and flooded with her own grief, instructed him to shield his younger siblings from what happened.
Then, the household staff immediately turned to Anthony for instructions. As the eldest son, he was now Lord Bridgerton, head of the family. He was suddenly responsible for making decisions for the household and his family, including making funeral arrangements for his father.
Trauma, grief, and gender roles collide
The Dual Process Model of grief by Margaret Stoebe and Henk Schut suggests that healthy grieving involves oscillating between loss-orientated activities (e.g. imagining what a loved one would say in a certain situation, looking at old photos) and restoration-orientated activities (e.g. attending to life changes, taking on new roles and responsibilities). Anthony did all of the latter: he threw himself into the role of viscount and stayed there. As an adult, he is all about duty, whether that’s keeping the family’s accounts in check or making sure his siblings can thrive in society. He seemed to do little to none of the grieving. He rarely talked about his father. Daphne remarked that Anthony never cried about Edmund’s death, and I can imagine he never would’ve discussed his own emotions around it either.
It is perhaps no wonder then that the trauma remains raw many years after. When Kate Sharma, Anthony’s love interest, is stung by a bee, Anthony panics. We can even accurately used the term ‘triggered’ in this sense. Being triggered is more than being upset: it occurs when something happens in the present that throws us right back into a traumatic memory, makes us relive it all over again. Anthony’s reaction to Kate’s bee sting was portrayed quite similarly to his reaction when Edmund suffered the anaphylactic reaction: the same facial expression, the same panic. He hyperventilates and stops thinking logically. The latter is very evident in the book, where Anthony grabs Kate’s breast and try to suck the bee venom out. (I like the show’s version better, but Vanessa Zoltan presents a good argument for keeping the book’s version here).
We see also how grief and trauma impact Anthony’s view of love and relationships, romantic and otherwise. Despite dedicating his life to his family, he can be brusque towards his siblings and closed off from his mother. In Season 1, he tried to dictate Daphne’s marriage prospects without taking her wishes into account. At the start of Season 2, he declares that he intends to choose a wife using his head and not his heart out of the ‘greatest love’ for his family. What’s love got to do with it? Later, he talks about having witnessed Violet’s devastating grief after Edmund’s passing, and how he doesn’t wish to ever feel that way or leave anyone like that. The book goes a step further: Anthony is convinced he too will die young.
Why do I care?
Romance lives and dies on the strengths of its characters, which means it is an excellent genre to explore the way people experience and deal with traumas. With an HEA (Happily Ever After) promised to come, the genre is able to approach trauma while offering a sense of hope. Towards the end of his story arc, Anthony starts talking about his father’s life as much as his death, opens up to others about his feelings, and allows himself to be vulnerable and form a genuine connection. This is how he manages to be with the love of his life. An HEA may not be as definite in real life, but it is important to show people that it is possible to process trauma and grow.
Also, the patriarchy is bad for men too, folks. Losing Edmund in such a sudden manner is traumatic for sure, but what would it have been like if Anthony weren’t then expected to be the ‘man of the house’? Constrained by the same gender rules that made Anthony a viscount at age eighteen, Violet was not able to take things off his plate. The labour scene illustrates this point: it didn’t matter that it was her body, or how many times she protested that Anthony was just a child. It was still up to Anthony to choose if his mother or baby sibling should be saved. Had there been more gender equality, Violet could have shared some of Anthony’s load, and they could both have had space to grieve. They might have leaned on each other! He might not have shoved down his emotions in order to lead his family! The possibilities!
Bridgerton is now a proper sensation, watched by millions of people. The stories it chooses to highlight and the representations it includes have an impact. It is not perfect (for example, Zoya Patel wrote about her mixed feelings about the representation of British-Indian and Indian culture). Still, if Season 2 can open up conversations about grief, trauma, and gender roles, then it has done something right.