This article contains spoilers for Bridgerton season 2.
In the first episode of the new season of Bridgerton, Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley) and the omniscient Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh) have a heart-to-heart.
Kate explains that her family has come to London from India so that her younger sister, Edwina, can marry into high society. To accomplish this, she describes raising Edwina and “teaching her twice as much and seeing her work twice as hard as anyone else.” Lady Danbury nods knowingly.
Bridgerton’s first season he was noted for including numerous aristocratic black characters, such as Lady Danbury, in his sexy and luxurious imagination of 19th-century London. In the second, the Sharma family is central to the plot, as Anthony (Jonathan Bailey), the eldest son of the white Bridgerton family, finds himself involved in a love triangle with the two Sharma sisters.
Including a South Asian family in Regency society was a way to expand the show’s “multi-colored, multi-ethnic, colorful world,” showrunner Chris Van Dusen said in a recent interview.
As in the first season, the new episodes treat a character’s race as a constitutive part of their larger identity. The Sharmas’ cultural heritage is ever present, reflected in the colors of their clothing, Kate’s distaste for Britain’s “sorry excuse for tea,” the passing mentions of India, and when, later in the season, we see a traditional Haldi pre-wedding ceremony.
Van Dusen said that he wanted the show to be “as authentic as possible, especially when it comes to infusing this world with specific details tied to this family’s heritage.” He collaborated with consultants and historical experts to shape the new characters’ backstories, he added.
Bridgerton’s world may be fictional, but including people of Indian descent in a story about Regency-era London is historically accurate. India and England were closely linked at the time: in the 19th century, India was under the exploitative control of the East India Co., a trading organization, and later the British state. As a colonial power, Britain had troops and administrators stationed in India, controlled the nation’s resources, and collected taxes from its people. It follows then that there were flows of people between the two countries.
“We often think that Regency England is full of conventionally white people because television narratives have portrayed characters in novels as all white,” said Durba Ghosh, a professor of British colonialism at Cornell University, who offered novels. of the Regency author Jane Austen as such examples. But these depictions do not “mean that the people who actually lived in Regency England were all white,” Ghosh added.
In Bridgerton, Kate and Edwina’s British mother was shunned by her aristocratic parents when she decided to marry the girls’ father, a lower-class Indian clerk. Her disgust is directed at the man’s “rank and title”, with racist implications. What she is missing from the show is mention of the violent aspects of British colonial rule in India.
The show is based on a series of romance novels by Julia Quinn. “I always want to honor history, but at the end of the day, this is a world reimagined,” Van Dusen said. He added that he saw the show as a “fascinating marriage where history and fantasy meet.”
The series’ depiction of relationships between Indian women and white men is another example of this encounter. In the show, Kate is headstrong and determined to find her sister a perfect match, and she has the agency to turn down those who don’t meet her standards, including Lord Anthony. Ghosh, who wrote the book “Sex and Family in Colonial India,” said that members of the East India Company, from soldiers and merchants to high-ranking officials, often associated with Indian women. However, given the power dynamics at play, in some cases “there is no way of knowing how consensual these relationships were,” Ghosh said.
Not only were Indian women engaging in relationships with English men in 19th century India, but there were also women of Indian descent living in England during this time. British officials who fathered children by Indian women sometimes had ambitions that those children would live and be educated in Europe. The story of Kitty Kirkpatrick is evidence of this desire: the daughter of a Muslim noblewoman and administrator of the East India Co., she was sent to England as a child, separated from her mother, and became a member of English society. .
There were also cases of Indian women who had relationships with European men and thus became part of their society, as was the case with Helene Bennett. Bennett, also known as Halima Begum, was probably part of India’s elite. While she was in India, probably during the 1780s, she began a relationship with Benoît de Boigne, a French soldier who had fought for the East India Co., with whom she had two sons. She would later travel with them to England and remained there until her death.
The period is also characterized by a flow of goods and culture between the two countries. In “Bridgerton”, Kate explains the things she taught Edwina in the hope that she wouldn’t be left destitute: “How to play the piano” and how to walk and talk “the right way”. When Edwina arrives at the London marriage market, the fruits of this education of hers help her gain the approval of the queen and the title of “diamond of the season”. Among the elites of India in and around the Regency era, there was a knowledge of the customs of their European counterparts.
In many of those Indian communities, “they were trying to replicate what they thought was a European social circuit,” Ghosh said. “They have balls and masquerades and they celebrate when the king is crowned.”
For Ghosh, there is a utility in the representation of the spectacle.
“By casting actors of color, the two seasons of ‘Bridgerton’ challenge the long-standing assumption that those who circulate in social circles in Britain were historically white,” he said. “To me, that seems like a significant way to think about colonialism and racism in 1810 Britain.”