Books to read to feed your Bridgerton Obsession

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The gossip, scandal and sex of the Netflix sensation Bridgerton has set our locked-down hearts alight and has inspired daydreams of frolicking in frocks and flirtations at a debutante ball with the handsome Duke.  Inspired by the book of the same name by Julia Quinn, if you have been living under a rock for the past couple of months you would have missed the frenzied response to Netflix’s latest period drama that pushes the boundaries of gender and race within an eighteenth century period series whilst also providing us with a sexy burst of energy on our screens which has been much needed during this third lockdown. As an avid reader, after finishing the series my attention quickly turned to my bookshelf; with a multitude of classics filled with the drama, scandal, leading ladies and to-die-for heartthrobs, this article will provide you with the must-read books to feed your Bridgerton obsession before the next series starts. 

Emma- by Jane Austen

Jane Austen of course is at the very top of the list for books that are going to quench your thirst for more Bridgerton. With the titular character Emma Woodhouse, a young socialite, who is wealthy, clever and of course pretty, she is also incredibly nosey, and her pursuit of gossip drives the comedy and drama within the novel. Filled with youthful foolishness and romantic misunderstandings, this book skilfully deals with the complicated issues of gender, marriage and social status, wrapped together by comedic circumstances. 

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The Portrait of a Lady – by Henry James 

When writing this novel, Henry James said that he wanted to create a young woman who was “affronting her destiny.” The central character Isobel is brought to England by her Aunt with the expectation that she will soon marry. But as she turns down two eligible suitors, she is deceived by the charms of Gilbert Osmond, who’s poisonous betrayal sets her on the path to ruin. Isabel’s tale of love and betrayal still strikes a chord with modern romances and will entangle you in a web of desire and deception. 

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The Time Traveller’s Guide to Regency Britain – by Ian Mortimer 

If fiction doesn’t really get your goat, then take a look at this book by Ian Mortimer. Acting as a guidebook, Mortimer takes his readers through the highpoints of Georgian British culture and military victories, as well as take you down into the depths of criminals, disease, beggars amongst other Georgian delights. Mortimer will take you on a journey through one of the most transitional periods in British history, a time of social and sexual freedoms before the stifling world of the Victorians, providing not only an excellent read but creating a true sensory experience of the regency era. 

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A School for Scandal – by Richard Brinsley Sheridan 

If your eyes are tired from reading, and your cravings for Bridgerton can only be satisfied by something to watch, then Sheridan’s A School for Scandal is for you. First performed in 1777 in Drury Lane, the play was incredibly popular and remains widely admired centuries later. The play is a comedy of manners which explored how those in society hide and become exposed, as character’s true natures are unmasked, with hypocrites placed on display and reputations are corrected. You can either read Sheridan’s play or watch the 1963 adaption on Youtube here and become embroiled in another Georgian world of mischief and mayhem. 

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Hopefully this list will satisfy your Bridgerton cravings, thank you for taking the time to read my blog. Let me know in the comments what you have done to quench your thirst for more Bridgerton and if you enjoyed this article, show it some love with a like. 

Redefining what it means to be a “hot little devil” in the world of Beauty.

Marilyn Monroe reading James Joyce’s Ulysses

It is hard to imagine a world that has not been enthralled by aesthetics; ‘beauty’ has been a concept that humans have always orbited around. From the Ancient Greeks bleaching their skin with vinegar or lemon juice, to our modern day practices of cosmetic surgery and Instagram filters,  there seems to be no limit to the lengths we will go to achieve what we as a human society deem to be beautiful. My own relationship with the idea of beauty, like many young women’s, has been complicated, conflicted and temperamental. I have been torn between finding great joy in wearing my own clothes and makeup, but often find myself struggling to match up to the standards that dominate our society.

Within this twisted scale of beauty, disabilities and those who have them have been marred, and outcast from how beauty is defined. Lennard J. Davis pushes the idea that the concept of disability is in itself “a cultural phenomenon” in his essay Enforcing normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body. He outlines how disabilities themselves have become categorised, enabling society to determine what to accepted and reject within the beauty community. He notes that as a society we have ‘split’ disabilities into two separate categories; “limiting” and “disabling”, or put simply, “good” and “bad”.  Davis reiterates that there is a difference in perception of those who wear glasses and those who wear hearing aids, as “wearing a hearing aid is seen as much more disabling than wearing glasses, although both serve to amplify a deficient sense.” The fashion industry has capitalised on these implicit connotations of “good” and “bad” disabilities by producing glasses without lenses for fashion accessories, thus providing us with real life evidence of Davis’ assertion that disability is a construct which works within a system where “value is attributed to body parts”. Disabilities or the disabling body part removes value from the person, but these gradations of value are socially determined.

The defeminisation that is attached to the concept of disability is tied within this idea of value being attached not only to people, but their body parts. Davis explains this through discussing how “breast removal is seen as an impairment of femininity and sexuality, whereas the removal of a foreskin is not seen as a diminution of masculinity.” Through specifically devaluing feminine body parts this positions disabled women as the antithesis of beautiful. As a young woman who is still struggling with the acceptance of her own able body, the thought of a disabled woman being placed at the bottom of the beauty pecking order is heart-breaking, and makes me wonder if the standards of our societal beauty have the capacity to evolve.

This cultural process of desexualising and defeminising disabled women is directly combatted by James Joyce through his creation of the character Gertrude Macdowell. Despite Ulysses being published 101 years ago, the creation of a physically disabled woman who is perceived as beautiful not in spite of her disability, but regardless of it, helps to challenge the perceptions of beauty and disability in our current society.

Leopold Bloom, the central character of the novel, uses Gerty as the object of his masturbation; he hides behind a rock as she sunbathes on the beach. Gerty happens to notice Bloom, but rather than being disgusted, she lets her hair down and raises her skirt to stimulate Bloom’s arousal further. Through this episode, Joyce retains Gerty’s sexual agency, and prevents her disability from becoming the sole focus of her characterisation; she is allowed to tease and entice, and her lame leg is not perceived as “limiting” or “disabling” as she thrives as a sexual being.

Gerty is “Greekly perfect” and “pronounced beautiful by all who knew her” which provides classical allusions to beauty to be challenged as her disability is not in line with the classic aesthetic. Her highly sexualised nickname “hot little devil” continues to push against the idea that disability and beauty are not synonymous. Joyce’s language, and his decision to position Gerty as an object of Bloom’s sexual fantasies breaks down the “splitting” of disabilities that Davis noted we unconsciously make when regarding disabilities.

The Venus de Milo

Despite Joyce’s creation of Gerty just over a century ago, our society’s stance on disability and beauty has not shifted. Davis offers readers a painful taste of reality in his juxtaposing descriptions of the Venus de Milo and Pam Herbert. He describes the statue that is considered the Western Ideal of Beauty and eroticism through grotesque language as he provides a detailed list of her deformities and scars, before presenting extracts from Pam Herbert’s memoir. Pam is a quadriplegic who also has muscular dystrophy, but despite her physical disability, she has not experienced the same accolade as the statue of Venus de Milo. In disbelief Davis questions why the physical deformities of the Venus de Milo are glorified yet the physical disabilities of Pam Herbert are met with pity and horror. I continue this line of questioning, but extend it to Joyce: is our acceptance of beauty of those with physical impairments only contained within fiction and art? 

This de-eroticism of those with disabilities is not a new phenomenon, and is symptomatic of the increasingly aestheticized society we inhabit. A Beauty Renaissance that reshapes our deformed societal views on physical image is yet to commence. Pioneers such as Joyce and Davis indicate a demand for redefinition; a redefinition of beauty and what it means to be disabled. The campaign ‘Aerie Real’ which was kick-started by the fashion brand Aeire in 2014 refuses to use supermodels in their campaigns, has forgone re-touching images, and models from a diverse range of body types are used in public campaigns, which also includes women with physical disabilities. This campaign provides the same agency that Joyce gives to Gerty, and demonstrates how we are gradually redefining what it means to be a “hot little devil” as those with disabilities are gradually being introduced into the Beauty narrative.