Content Warning: I will be discussing fictional violations of consent and disclosure. If this is not the right time for you to engage with such, I completely understand. RAINN is my go-to resource for support. They have resources in English and Spanish, online and phone.
Full disclosure 1: I generally choose to not link to the precipitating discussion because I tend to think giving air to bad takes is not useful.
Full disclosure 2: I have been working on series for next year about fictional sex (more on that later, I promise) and so while I generally would be wary of wading into discussion of a televised representation of something when I have only read the book, well, it seemed like this kind of fell into my wheelhouse, if you will.
So, Netflix released "Bridgerton" last week. Full disclosure, I don't have a Netflix account. I have access to more content than I can watch right now, to say nothing of my TBR. I had toyed with signing up for a free trial, or signing up for a month and then cancelling the way I did with Disney Plus because between "The Prom" and "Bridgerton" I was interested, and well, the reality of my December spending suggested I did not need another thing right now. This is a very long way to say I have not seen the show.
Note: Pajiba had an excellent post that looked at “Bridgerton”, “WW84”, and “Teacher” and how they each treat male consent.
I have read "The Duke and I" along with the rest of the Bridgerton series. My book club is planning to discuss it in January so I plan to reread, assuming the library holds smile upon me. I read the series during my used book store days, which means I read them completely out of order as I happened upon them in the various used book stores I had found that carried romance. My memories are vague.
But yes, I am aware that in the books Simon is closed off and rude, and tells Daphne that he cannot have children and - well - being a girl with no access to good sex ed - she doesn't understand that can't means does not wish to, or that his use of the withdrawal method is to prevent pregnancy.
So, a couple of notes. Historical fiction, while attempting to reflect a specific time period, is always speaking to the audience of its publication or presentation. The author here was not expecting that her books would be teleported to the Regency time period for folks to admire the accuracy, it was for the readers of 2006. And so in 2006, which seems both terribly far away and yet not that long ago, a discussion of birth control of any sort was pretty wild. I can still count on one hand the number of historicals that have referenced things like sponges or withdrawal or anything else.
When Daphne discovers that the withdrawal is what's preventing pregnancy, Daphne decides to take matters into her own hands (if you will) and basically sets up a scenario where Simon can't withdraw.
Now in the books it is 100% a violation of consent. I can tell you that it arrived in a time where this scenario was occurring with some regularity in fiction, especially historical, but also paranormal and contemporary. I could tell you that it was likely an attempt to subvert traditional power dynamics. That it represented women taking control of their sexuality. But that's also kind of crap.
Because you don't take back power by asserting it over someone. Violating people back isn't power, it's just violation.
So, the TV show is arriving to a 2020 audience. From what I can glean from my Twitter thread and other reading, they have attempted to stay true to the essence of the book, while making some updates, including of course casting Simon as Black. So the show spends more time looking at how bad Daphne's pre-marital sex ed is, how much she is reliant on Simon as the first person to tell her how things work, and therefore how upsetting it is to discover he has left out a crucial piece of info. One of the interesting things about historical romance is that marriage often happens earlier in the book than it does in other sub-genres. So it isn't will they get married, it's will this marriage be a miserable slog or a happy one? And there is sometimes an outsized focus on pregnancy as proof of happiness even though that is not a very great measure of such.
So yes, as much as is possible without myself watching it, I feel I understand what the show was trying to do to update it some. And I also think it's okay for people to feel the execution is a fail for them. Or that there was no interest for them in a show that cast a Black actor only to have his consent violated by his white wife.
Look, I watched "Veronica Mars" and "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend", I have watched shows with characters that were not great in their behavior and who I chose to root for anyway. You can love the show. But you do not have to hand wave away the consent violations to do so.