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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Gotcha!

One of the pleasures of life as a pedantic Janeite killjoy is the opportunity to call out minor--yet vexing!--Austen-related errors encountered in the wide world of pop culture.

 

Far be it from me to deprive myself of such pleasures! And thus it is that we must turn to Bridgerton, Netflix’s smash-hit Regency romance series, whose third season premiered last month.

 

About twenty minutes into the first episode, our hero du jour, Colin Bridgerton, tries to give his bluestocking sister Eloise a book. “I am in the middle of reading something,” she tells him. “It is called Emma.”

 

“A novel?” Colin says, brow handsomely furrowed. “You’ve never been one for silly romances.”


“Perhaps my tastes have changed,” replies Eloise, who is still smarting over the previous season’s various catastrophes, including a bitter estrangement from her best friend. “The writings I read before, of women making their way outside society—those were the romances. This book has humor and truth, the pains of friendship. It is altogether more probable.”

 

As literature, Emma may indeed be more probable than Eloise’s previous choices. Alas, what is not probable—indeed, what is pretty close to impossible—is that Eloise could be reading Emma at all. For these episodes of Bridgerton take place at the start of the London social season in 1815, and at that moment in time, Emma hadn’t yet been published.

 

“But how do you know when this Bridgerton season takes place?” you may ask.


Let me marshal the evidence:


--The first episode of Season 1 begins, we are explicitly told, in 1813, on the day that aristocratic debutantes are to be presented to the queen.

--Among the young women who are “out” that year is Penelope Featherington, the heroine of Season 3.

--In Season 3, which also begins on the day that aristocratic debutantes are presented to the queen, we are explicitly told that Penelope is in her third year on the marriage market. Ergo, it is 1815.


But when in 1815?

--Sources (for instance, here, here, here, and here) suggest that the opening of the London social season, which corresponded with the sitting of Parliament, changed over time, shifting from as early as October to as late as Easter. Everyone seems to agree that, whenever it began, The Season ran until July or August.

--In theory, then, these episodes of Bridgerton could be taking place in the autumn (October, November) or in the spring (March, April). When they are pretty clearly not taking place is in the winter, since the weather is charming and the women’s clothing is lightweight.

 

Emma was published on December 23, 1815. Ergo, in March/April or October/November of 1815, Eloise can’t be reading Emma, unless she has a time machine or a hotline to Chawton.

 

A deeper question may be: Given that Bridgerton is a cheerful soap opera with no claims to historical accuracy, and that Eloise’s reading habits aren’t material to the plot, why do I care about a little Jane Austen anachronism?

 

It’s a mystery. I guess we pedantic Janeite killjoys just can’t help ourselves.

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lona manning
lona manning
10 de jun.

Yes, I'm a Janeite pedant too, and an error (at least I think it's an error) at the Jane Austen House Museum is really grinding my corn. I write about it at my blog: https://bit.ly/452I3qE

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Kylowna Moton
Kylowna Moton
10 de jun.

I read this blogpost this morning, and I thought of you:

https://janefriedman.com/writing-lessons-from-austen-story-questions-and-northanger-abbey/


Hope you enjoy it.

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