Note: Contains Spoilers for ‘The Viscount Who Loved Me’.
On the surface, the romance between Anthony Bridgerton and Kate Sheffield is not especially out of the ordinary. The couple at the center of The Viscount Who Loved Me, the second book in Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series faces conflict and obstacles very typical of the romance genre. But it is who they are as characters and how they are made to engage with the tropes and scenarios surrounding them that elevates their love story above the others in the series and shows why they are, to me, such an unparalleled love story.
For those who have yet to read the book, The Viscount Who Loved Me follows eldest Bridgerton sibling Anthony on his quest to find a woman suitable to be his viscountess. After inheriting the title from his father at 18, when the man died unexpectedly, Anthony shouldered the burden of responsibility for his large family, while also growing up with the conviction that he would in no way surpass his father, including in age. The former Viscount Bridgerton died at the age of 38 and so Anthony believes that he too will not live past that age.
With only 9 years of life left ahead of him, he decides to marry the diamond of the 1814 social season: a young beauty named Edwina Sheffield. He is convinced that they will get along just fine in the time remaining to him, and he does not see himself in any danger of falling in love with her.
A threat he does not anticipate, however, is Edwina’s older sister Kate, who has read all about the Viscount Bridgerton in Lady Whistledown’s column and has determined that he is in no way a suitable match for her sister. When it becomes clear to Anthony that the only way to Edwina’s affections is through Kate, he begins a quest to win her over which goes in a direction neither of them expected — but of course, any self-respecting romance reader could see coming a mile away.
It is hard for romance to convey enemies to lovers properly. In my experience what often gets classified as “enemies to lovers” lacks the kind of personal stakes that makes this romance trope so good. A vague, impersonal dislike isn’t enough in my view. There needs to be an active choice to engage with animosity towards the other, and Anthony and Kate do so from the word “go.”
Both of them are strong personalities and the eldest child in their families. While Kate has her sister’s interests at heart, in his own way Anthony has the best interests of his siblings at heart as well. He wishes to comfortably set up his eventual widow and heir so that the rest of his family can continue to reside in the manner to which they are accustomed without a shifting of responsibility.
On their first meeting — at a ball, of course — their first interaction is tinged with the world’s politest insults. Kate tells Anthony exactly what she thinks of him and Anthony proclaims that in spite of her protests, he is going to continue to court her sister however he pleases.
But in trying to win Edwina’s favour, Anthony finds himself increasingly pushed in Kate’s direction and in spite of himself starts to soften up towards her. Not that he lets any of this show, preferring to bluster and rage and torment her with his continued insistence that he is going to marry Edwina no matter what Kate has to say about it.
Though Kate is firm in her conviction that Anthony would be a completely unsuitable husband for Edwina, and though she is wrestling with something that feels inconveniently like attraction for the handsome Viscount, she has a hard time making her case to anyone. Even she recognizes the folly of standing in the way of her sister marrying a viscount.
After her father passed away, the family income dwindled, leaving her, her stepmother, and her sister to live on very meager finances. All of London society is falling over themselves to court Edwina, known for her beauty, while Kate is the afterthought who in her own view doesn’t hold a candle to her sister. If one of them is going to marry well, it is going to be Edwina.
That changes abruptly at a party at the Bridgerton’s country estate. Just as Kate and Anthony are finally coming around to maybe being friends one day, and are conversing in the garden, they are caught in an accidental, yet compromising position and forced to marry.
In one of the more heartbreaking elements of the book, Kate marries Anthony convinced he still fancies her sister over her. She isn’t jealous, merely unsurprised. The entire social season thus far comprised of Edwina receiving suitors, and callers, and flowers while Kate was the one everyone glossed over. It reached a point where she didn’t expect anyone at all to pay her any mind, and she carries this with her into her marriage. Though Anthony assures her that he does find her beautiful, despite her repeated insistence that she isn’t, she cannot let herself fully buy into the idea. After all, he is the one who began their marriage with a promise that while things would be amicable, their marriage would be a loveless one.
I think this is why Kate as a character resonates with me so personally. She isn’t the overexaggerated idea of a wallflower. She’s just the one who doesn’t think anyone is looking because no one would ever have a reason to. The one who is passed over in favor of more obvious, conventionally attractive beauties, and who has started to see this as a matter of course.
Beyond this, both Anthony and Kate carry with them the unresolved trauma of losing a parent at a critical stage in life — his father and her mother, respectively — and it is working through this trauma as a pair that ultimately brings them closer together and allows them to admit their feelings fully to one another. Both are, as mentioned above, the oldest sibling and the one who assumes responsibility for the family. That is a very tough front to put up, and it is one they both employ with stunning regularity and conviction.
What elevates their relationship, and makes them such a perfect match, is how in working through their anxieties and trauma together, they allow themselves to be vulnerable with one another. It sounds like it should go without saying, but this kind of open, honest emotional availability is rarer than it should be in this series. They care enough about each other to try and put the other’s broken pieces back together, and it is beautiful and swoon-worthy to watch them do it.
Each of the subsequent Bridgerton books refers to Anthony and Kate as the family’s greatest love story. They are the standard the other siblings want to emulate as the series goes on because after however many years together, they are still maddeningly in love. I think this is because of all of them, they are the two that really worked for their happily ever after. Not in the external conflict sense, but rather in the way they grow to trust one another, and really make the effort to understand each other on a deeper level.
As of writing this, I have yet to see the second season of Bridgerton, and while I understand things change in adaptation, it’s my firm hope that if nothing else, Anthony and Kate be allowed to retain the vulnerable, loving hearts that make them such a picture-perfect love story.
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This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Image Credit: Netflix.