- Insider recently spoke with Julia Quinn, the author of the Bridgerton book series.
- She discussed season two and her forthcoming project, “Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron.”
- Read the full Q&A with Quinn below.
The past several weeks have been a whirlwind for Julia Quinn.
Shortly after the Bridgerton-series author crossed the pond for the show’s season-two premiere in London, the 52-year-old jetted off to her book tour in France, which, she assured me during our
call, was “as awesome as you might think.”
By the time we got a chance to speak, Quinn was back home in her Washington abode, where she was dog-sitting for a friend and catching up on some much-needed rest. It was late April, and the dust surrounding the buzzy
release was slowly starting to settle.
But based on season two’s record-breaking viewership and the show’s renewal through season four, “Bridgerton” is only picking up momentum. Quinn, a creative consultant on the Shondaland adaptation, is still trying to wrap her head around the way the Regency romance has infused itself in the “cultural zeitgeist.”
The inclusive depiction of 19th-century England has been a topic of conversation in late-night show monologues, inspired “Saturday Night Live” sketches, and led to a spinoff series. Quinn even donned “Bridgerton”-branded shoes (“easily the most expensive” pair of footwear she said she’s ever owned) to the London premiere.
“Everybody keeps asking, ‘Oh, what’s it like with your characters?’ They focus on creative changes. I’m like, ‘No, for me the crazy part is everything else,'” Quinn told Insider.
Post-premiere, the author is solely focused on another project, one that’s very personal to her: “Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron: A Graphic Novel.”
Set to hit shelves on May 10, the novel started as an inside joke between Bridgerton book fans and evolved into a collaborative project between Quinn and her sister, a burgeoning illustrator named Violet Charles.
However, after Charles and their father, Stephen Lewis Cotler, were killed by a drunk driver in July 2021, the book became Quinn’s “last love letter” to her sister. She also dedicated the project to their late father.
Insider had the chance to speak with the New York Times best-selling author about finishing “Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron” in her sister’s memory, watching Shondaland adapt her novel “The Viscount Who Loved Me,” and more.
‘Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron’ is a wink to Bridgerton readers
You have “Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron” coming out in May. Do you want to start out by telling me about that graphic novel?
It first appeared in “It’s In His Kiss,” which is the seventh book in the Bridgerton series. It’s the one about Hyacinth. In the books, Lady Danbury is a little bit older. Her eyesight is going, so Hyacinth reads to her. They’re reading this book called “Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron,” which is this completely over-the-top Gothic novel. It’s very poorly written.
It just kept popping up because I was having so much fun with it. Eventually, readers started saying, “You should write this book.” And I said, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Because it’s really fun to do excerpts from it, but this will not hold on for a complete novel.
My younger sister, who was killed last year by a drunk driver, was a cartoonist and an illustrator.
It occurred to me: We could turn this into a really amazing graphic novel because you could play with the over-the-top aspects of it and you don’t need as many words, which is really good because it’s not a well-written book.
Even though the cover says “written by me and illustrated by her,” it’s more than half written by her too. It’s collaborative. I may have been the genesis, but it was really her thing.
It’s heartbreaking that she’s not seeing this because this was going to be this big turning point for her. She was somebody who had taken a while to find what she wanted to do.
She was 37 when she died and she was already starting work on another one of these graphic novels, because this fictitious author had done several of them. We already had several titles of other works by this author and we were hoping to do another one. It’s super fun.
You have such a strong fan base, from the Bridgerton books and the show. So it seems like somewhat of an inside joke between you and the fans.
It’s a total wink. It’s a total wink.
There’s ‘rarely anything’ Quinn requests to change in the ‘Bridgerton’ scripts
We talked last year about watching “The Duke and I” get adapted. You gave up creative control but you stayed on as a consultant for both seasons. Was it different at all watching “The Viscount Who Loved Me” get adapted?
The process was the same in terms of my level of involvement, which is minimal. It did veer farther from the book than season one did, but my attitude towards season one, and it really is the same thing for season two, is that they go really well together.
I don’t expect them to be word-for-word and I don’t want them to be carbon copies. It’s really neat, you have these two things that complement each other really well. You can watch the show and read the books and have both two separate experiences and one big experience.
When I lurk on the interwebs, about half the people I see talking about either season one or season two are like, “Oh, the books are better!” and about half say, “Oh, the show’s better!”
That means we’re all doing a great job.
I’ve had people say to me, “Don’t you want everyone to say that the book’s better?” And I was like, “No, I want the show to be awesome.” I want people to have trouble deciding. It means things are going great if people are split, and the creators of the show chose to emphasize a slightly different aspect of the many relationships that occur within the story.
With any book, there’s always going to be more than you could put into a show. You have to really think about: “OK, what is going to work best within the season?” We’re already renewed through season four and I think everyone hopes there will be more, but thinking about the whole thing, because you do have more characters.
My books are very, very tightly focused on the protagonists, which is interesting because I’m also known for having good secondary characters, but I’m very careful about how they appear. Within my books, you’d be very hard-pressed to find a scene that doesn’t contain one of the protagonists.
There are plenty of scenes that will have one of them with someone else, but there’s always one of them. That’s something that they do differently on the show. That type of art form and medium has different requirements and needs.
In an interview with Town & Country, you mentioned that you’re rarely one to tell Shondaland that something needs to be left in. However, the pall-mall scene was non-negotiable. Was there anything else that you felt really strongly about seeing?
I’m a firm believer in choosing your battles. For me, that was the one thing that had to be there.
It’s really funny because I’ve seen clickbait where people are like, “The one thing Julia Quinn demanded.” It makes it sound like there was a fight.
I was like, “I just want to say I really think we should keep this.” And they’re like, “Oh yeah.”
That was the extent of the conversation.
I got to interview the episode-three director, Alex Pillai, and he had such amazing insight into making the rules of the game. They seem really complicated, which I’m sure you figured out.
Well, no, because the whole point for the Bridgertons is that they don’t play by any of the rules. I didn’t have to worry about that at all.
The whole idea for pall-mall came from when I was growing up. We used to play croquet in my grandparents’ backyard, and I was back East recently. I knew I was going to be driving through that town. I actually went back. I have a picture of me now with the famous tree where my sister and I would always take one of the wickets and put it over the tree root to make it really hard to get it through.
That was the inspiration for: “We’re not setting up a regulation course. Instead, we want to set up a course dastardly where the point is not to win the game. It’s to make sure someone else loses.”
Why do you think it resonated so much with fans?
All the scenes that I hear about the most from people, it’s always these group scenes.
Group scenes can be really hard to do well because you want to make sure all the characters are distinct, you know who’s talking, and their personalities are coming out. When you can do it well, they’re so much fun.
Anybody who has a sibling has, even if they haven’t had death croquet, they’ve done something where all that matters is making sure your sibling loses.
We definitely got some great group scenes in season two.
I love the scene where nobody comes to the Bridgertons’ ball, but they dance together.
The country dance! When Anthony calls Hyacinth down.
I wish I’d written that.
I’m sure it’s wild to see those small changes. Can you explain the process of getting the script?
I get the script and if I want to say something, I do. But in general, they’re so good there’s rarely anything to say.
In season one, I would get things like, “Oh, we want the Featheringtons to have a title. We don’t want them to be as high as the Bridgertons. So, can you tell me?” It’s often very technical things like that.
I’m really detached from the whole process. There’s a certain element of trust, but, obviously, the trust is not displaced.
When it comes to where the on-screen story is headed, our guess is as good as Quinn’s
I was shocked when I saw Anthony get down on one knee at the end of episode four. I know that you are detached from the writing process, but as the author of the book, what was your reaction when you realized that the story was actually going there?
I knew that they were actually going to get all the way to a wedding scene before I saw the scripts. I had been talking with a writer and she was like, “Oh yeah, no, we’re getting all the way there.” And I was like, “Oh my gosh. We’ll see what they’re going to do.”
It’s interesting because by doing that, there are certain other scenes that obviously wouldn’t work. They still had Kate getting stung by a bee, but he didn’t react in the same way. Obviously, they couldn’t be seen by everybody because that forces their marriage in the book. What it did was it enabled them to build Edwina up.
In the book, I did work very hard. I didn’t want her to be two-dimensional. I didn’t want her just to be the good sister. I didn’t want it to be a competition, but I think they were able to bulk up her character.
The idea is to make more of this sisterly relationship than was in the book, which I think is great. I love exploring those side relationships as well. I love that it’s not just romantic love. One of the things that the series does really well is focus on all the different types of love and friendship.
That was a choice they made: “Alright, we’re going to put more focus on this sororal relationship and make it a little bit more complicated than it was in the book, too.”
Anthony and Kate’s wedding wasn’t a massive affair in your book by any means, but were you surprised at all when they fast-forwarded through it?
I don’t think it necessarily made sense to have the wedding. There had already been a wedding. Frankly, given the constraints of time, I would rather see what we saw.
I’m excited that Jonathan Bailey and Simone Ashley are both coming back.
Me too. I rarely get insight into a lot of these things — like casting, who’s coming back. Occasionally I get information ahead.
When Regé-Jean Page wasn’t coming back, I did know that a little bit before everyone else. But when Simone said in some interview that she’d be back, that’s when I found out.
I guess I get the bad news ahead of time. But the good news I hear with everybody.
Then you can celebrate with everybody.
I’ve heard no bad news yet.
I’m happy to hear it. Another change from the book is that, like so many debutantes in the Regency era, Kate is naive about her marriage night. On the show, she has a lot of agency and control over the situation. She ends up marrying Anthony because it’s her choice. What was it like for you to watch that shift?
It’s a shift, but for me, I have written other books. I don’t even think I realized it when I was writing them but it happened that I wrote two books in a row where people basically have to get married because they’ve been compromised.
But I have many other books where that’s not how it comes about. So for me, maybe it was a shift in this story, but not a total paradigm shift in what I write. It’s also in keeping with her character.
We don’t know if the show will continue to follow your series, but if it does, we have Benedict up next. Can you tell me what fans can look forward to from that storyline?
I don’t know how they’re going to adapt that storyline. The storyline, as it is in the books, is a real Cinderella story. I have to be very clear, I’m only talking about the books right now.
At that time, I would get a lot of comments from people about historical accuracy. Like, “Your characters are too modern!” So I ended up doing something with Benedict that was very, very realistic to the time, which was he asked Sophie to be his mistress, not his wife, which for the time, made total sense.
People got so mad at me about it. They were like, “Why would he do that? He disrespected her!” and I’m like, “You guys, no.”
Sophie, in the book, is of illegitimate birth and would not be considered an acceptable wife for a Bridgerton. It’s a Cinderella story, but it’s also looking at differences in social class and how that affected them in that time period.
Benedict’s character experienced so much growth this season. It was so much fun to watch him come into his own.
Luke Thompson. First of all, he’s delightful in real life. He kind of stole every scene he was in.
People are also so eager to see Penelope and Colin come full circle. It got a little sticky at the end, at the Featherington Ball. It seemed like a moment they were going to come together, but then Penelope overhears Colin.
The overhearing thing, that’s actually a moment in “An Offer From a Gentleman.” She overhears something that’s a little different than that. It’s not quite as cruel in the book.
He’s talking with his brothers and he says something like, “I’m certainly not going to marry Penelope Featherington.” But they realize that she’s heard them in the book and then it becomes a super awkward moment for everyone.
I’m eager to see how they move that forward. Because in the book, she does immediately say something like, “I don’t recall ever asking you to.” She really takes charge of the moment.
Colin wants to — cause he’s a good person, you know? — he instantly wants to dig himself a hole and throw himself into it. He’s fairly clueless. He’s clueless in the book too.
The big thing with Colin is he’s just somebody who needs to grow up. In the books, he’s a little different. He’s a little more of the Benedict character. He’s more of a jokester in the books than they’ve made him out to be here. But he is still quite earnest in the books.
I interviewed Luke Newton, and he mentioned that during the pall-mall scene, he really tried to play up the fact that Colin was one of the first ones to pick up on a connection between Anthony and Kate in the books.
Oh, in the books, he’s totally the one. He’s really quite meddlesome in the books. I would love to see them let him be a little bit more meddlesome.
I do want to ask about Eloise because I was not expecting her to end up having a love interest this season, if it is a love interest with Theo.
Your guess is as good as mine because that’s not in the books. I wonder if it’s her — again, this is my speculation as a viewer — but to me, it just showed her less so much a love interest and maybe more of a recognition of her own privilege, a little bit.
A widening of her horizons?
Exactly. She’s this character who is always complaining about injustice. Yet she’s easily one of the most privileged people in the country and I’m not sure how much she realizes that.
I’m not knocking her for that because the injustice that she is commenting upon is very, very real. I think it’s helping her realize that there’s more injustice than what is raining down on her. To me, it seemed like less of a romance. It’s more of an intellectual awakening for her.
I don’t know. I have no idea what will happen.
In the books, she ends up with Philip Crane, who is with Marina in the show. That was a twist that I did not expect.
In the books, you never actually really meet Marina. She’s never even mentioned until book five and it’s really just at the beginning with her suicide.
So that was a choice. They had to bring her in earlier. Actually, when they first brought her in and I was reading the scripts, I was like, “Gosh, I don’t know if you want to use that name.” I didn’t even realize this was the same person. I was like, “I don’t know if you want to use the name Marina, because there’s another character…”
On the show, Marina also has a really interesting arc. It was unexpected to see her in season two. She was moved on, which came as a surprise to Colin.
Well, it was very self-indulgent of him to be like, “Oh, I need to reassure myself that all was okay.” And she’s like, “Yeah, all’s okay, and it has nothing to do with you.”
Was there one character that you recall being especially difficult to write?
The story that was the most difficult to create was Penelope and Colin. The reason for that was usually when you write a romance, if you’re doing a series, you have one character who’s established who you’re spinning off, and you can make the next character whatever you need for that story.
When I wrote “Romancing Mister Bridgerton,” that was the first time I had ever written a book where I had two characters who were very firmly established. It was much harder to craft their story than I had anticipated because they were so well established.
That makes a lot of sense.
Then with Francesca’s story also, that was a little difficult because what had happened was I realized I never intended to do eight books. If I had, I would’ve set things up much better. I realized I was going to have three 28-year-old spinsters in a row.
I was like, “Oh, I don’t want to do that.” So I think it was in the third book, I just mentioned that she got married and was widowed. I was like, “I’ll figure that out later.”
And then when I got to her book, I had to figure it out.
You’re like, “What did I do to myself all those years ago?”
Exactly. It’s like, “Oh, now I have to pay the piper.”
I’ve read that you grappled with potentially killing off Danbury, which I am so glad that you didn’t.
She’ll never die now.
In the book, she’s not as aligned with the Sharmas/Sheffields, but it worked so well in the show that they were paired.
Oh, absolutely. She’s not even in all the books. I think we all want her to be in all the seasons, so more power to them. They should find a way to keep her there in every way, shape, and form. It also makes sense. It’s the perfect way to have her in there.
She and Kate mirror each other so well.
I’m always team Kate, but when Danbury gets the better of her, I love it. I’m of Danbury’s age now, so for me, it’s just like, “Oh yeah, you think you know everything.”
Book fans seem to have an avid adoration for Kate. Why do you think that it is?
She’s always speaking truth to power. She’s got all those things that we think of as stereotypical romance-novel-heroine qualities. I hate the word feisty, but she’s feisty, she’s spunky. She stands up for herself and yet underneath it all, she’s very, very real and human.
She’s not annoying. She’s not a Mary Sue. People can relate to the fact that, just like Anthony, sometimes she does stupid things, but it’s because she loves the people around her so much.
Readers love a romance heroine who brings the hero down a peg, and she totally does.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.