Book | Show: Julia Quinn’s The Duke and I and Netflix’s Bridgerton
Featured Characters: Daphne Bridgerton and Simon Basset
As an anthology series, Daphne Bridgerton and Simon Basset’s love story is front and center during the first season of Netflix’s Bridgerton. The show’s mass success doesn’t just come from its lush portrayal of Regency London, but it comes from the heart of its characters. It comes from the gorgeous happy ending conclusion. And it comes from the detail that as a couple, Daphne and Simon’s love story is a captivating one. It’s no surprise that I am a fan of Julia Quinn’s writing considering The Viscount Who Loved Me is my favorite historical romance novel, but it’s also not a surprise to anyone who knows me that The Duke and I is my least favorite of the Bridgerton novels.
As a novel that was written 21-years-ago, The Duke and I’s problematic elements are hard to ignore today, making both characters tragically a bit unlikable until their later appearances in other novels. But that is not the case with Bridgerton’s first season, which is a joy for me as a writer and a fan of the romance genre. As an embodiment of one of my favorite tropes (fake dating), Daphne Bridgerton and Simon Basset’s relationship evolves so gorgeously in the TV show that we’re able to see the growth (and more importantly, the remorse from the ramifications in episode six, “Swish“).
In more ways than one, Bridgerton is a series centered around the heart of a family, and Simon Basset’s journey during the first season is about finding a place to belong. As a couple, it starts as a ruse, but it ends with a man learning that he is worthy of love because women refused to give up on him. (Women plural because I’d be remiss if we didn’t include Lady Danbury’s impact on him as well.)
And at its core, this genre is about how a romance always equates to something bigger—something more beautiful. It’s about two people learning how to become the very best version of themselves because they’ve opened their hearts to love.
Daphne Bridgerton and Simon Basset in an Arrangement
Between Kris Bowers’ original score “We Could Form an Attachment,” the cinematography and the performances in their final scene during “Diamond of the First Water“—Daphne and Simon’s first dance is a thing of unparalleled beauty. And though most of us could agree on the fact that their dance in “Shock and Delight” is the best of them all—their first is magic, the thing that kicks everything into motion during a ploy that promises something more.
The best part of the fake dating trope isn’t necessarily the moment that it becomes real, but it’s the moments where the friendship is fortified. It’s the moments where they slowly start to realize that their attachment is leading to the kind of closeness they have both needed.
The best part of covering Bridgerton as extensively as I did means that I’ve written a lot about Daphne and Simon. Their relationship is the first of many and it is so well done, it’s nearly impossible not to want to break every little detail down.
As we’ve said during their second dance: The thrill of it all makes it that much more vulnerable because for a moment, both their defenses are down—both their masks are off, and this isn’t a game of pretend, but a dance between two friends who’d never known such closeness as this. And that’s part of what makes their love story so beautiful—the fact that in their friendship, they find joy unlike anything they imagined, and it’s that very joy that leads to the love they find later on.
It’s knowing that there is no one else in the room with whom they can be as unarmored as they are right in this moment. It’s knowing that there is no one else in the room who could make them smile as much. And it’s the unexpected feeling of realizing that this game is effortless for them, not because they’re good at playing it, but because they aren’t—because in each other, there’s a spirit that the other’s been longing for without even knowing or understanding why. It’s Simon the notorious rake, grinning as though the world is his when he’s a man who could barely even smirk around others. For a moment, the man with demons and darkness that engulf him every hour of the day, is able to find unceasing joy with the one woman he never thought possible. And that is part of these types of dances that we adore so much, they are what awaken the emotions people have been longing for. They awaken something the others in the room could never, and for that reason, there is no looking back.
Every good thing starts with a choice and that is the case with Daphne Bridgerton and Simon Basset. They choose to embark on this attachment together, they choose to become friends, and in the end, they choose to love each other in spite of the mistakes they have both made. Yes, it’s a marriage of convenience after they’re caught in “An Affair of Honor,” but they had been falling for one another long before then and “The Art of the Swoon” proves that.
As complex characters living in a time period where conversations weren’t so vastly spread out, Daphne and Simon both make mistakes that are inexcusable, but understandable. We don’t have to condone them by any means, but we get it. At the end of the day, neither of them ever set out to purposely hurt one another, and in a romance, intention is what matters. Their marriage does not start perfectly, but their love endures the trials, and the choices they make strengthen them both individually, and as a couple.
Daphne Bridgerton and Simon Basset work because in the fight to stop everything from going one step further, deep down they both knew it was something they wanted. As a man who’s never known real, true love, Daphne’s heart is just the kind of purity Simon needs to understand that he will not be abandoned by her. He could trust her with his darkness and his secrets because she chooses to love every part of him even when he cannot understand why. And this is largely why their moment of vulnerability in “Oceans Apart” is so deeply felt even while they are separated from one another. Between Daphne tending to his wound and the moment at the opera where it becomes clear that Simon cannot bear to lose her, it’s a powerful episode to exhibit how intensely they both care for one another.
Bridgerton isn’t merely a well crafted show full of attractive people. Bridgerton succeeds because the complex characters interwoven into the love stories results in beautiful the kind of storytelling that is worth remembering—the kind of storytelling that leaves viewers full of happiness. That’s the appeal of the romance genre. We read it because we want to embark on a journey that leads to a happy ending no matter how complicated or perfectly messy the middle ground is.
Daphne Bridgerton and Simon Basset are worth remembering because their love story is about healing and acceptance. It’s about two people finding a friendship with one another and fighting to ensure that they both feel safe in this journey they’re on. Simon needed to feel that safety with Daphne, and she needed the proof that he wasn’t just a rake but a man capable of devotedly standing beside her.
Daphne always wanted a love story like her parents, but every love story is special because of the details that make it unique for the couple. Their love story is nothing like Edmund and Violet’s. In the same way, the rest of the Bridgerton siblings won’t have love stories. And at the end of the day, what matters is that the love is something that’s chosen. Bridgerton and romance novels make it clear that love is a choice. It’s never something one should merely settle for. Daphne was adamant to find a husband because it’s what she believed she needed to do, but instead, she found a partner—a best friend she’d love to the end of time.
It’s not about finding the right man because a woman must marry before they are deemed a spinster, but it’s about finding one’s person who’ll choose them every single day even when they face the worst kind of challenges.
And if I can be extremely blunt for a moment, it does not matter how hot two people are or how aesthetically stunning they look together. Bridgerton isn’t about its gorgeous actors and Bridgerton isn’t a guilty pleasure. If their love story wasn’t well done, there wouldn’t be any depth to it. That said, Bridgerton is about the bold, unabashed showcase of love stories that are reflections of healing and hope. We all have our favorite couple, but it’s a disservice to love as an emotion not to celebrate what makes each of them beautiful.
For Daphne Bridgerton and Simon Basset, it’s about a jaded man finding a family to belong to and a woman understanding the vitality in what it truly means to be the mother she’s always dreamed of being.
It’s a love story about forgiveness, hope, and learning the importance of transparency in a relationship. Part of the reason why it was so intriguing to watch them grow was a result of how their means of communication strengthened by the last two episodes. And that’s what made their happy ending feel believable. You understood by the end of the season that Daphne and Simon’s love would endure the hardships because they would continue choosing one another in the face of adversity. They would never lie to one another or be unfaithful to each other, but more importantly, going forward they’d grow better at communication.
Daphne Bridgerton and Simon Basset wouldn’t be as enjoyable without the gorgeous vulnerability Phoebe Dynevor and Regé-Jean Page brought to the forefront in each episode—the curiosities, the longing, the heart, and the friendship. There could not have been better actors to bring this love story to life because they embodied their respective characters so remarkably, which then resulted in them understanding how to bring their best to the love story.