The next title in the Bridgerton book series will be a graphic novel. It will also be author Julia Quinn’s “last love letter” to her sister, comic strip artist Violet Charles.
The sisters worked together on the project before Charles died in a car accident last July.
“She and my father were killed by a drunk driver,” Quinn, who will be appearing at the ongoing Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on February 12 and 13, tells The National.
“It was very difficult, but I’m finding joy in [the graphic novel] again. It’s kind of my last love letter to her. I really want the world to see how talented she was. It says it was written by me and illustrated by her, but honestly, she wrote a lot of it.”
Titled Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron, the graphic novel is less a continuation of the Bridgerton saga than it is an elaboration of a literary work that appears as a running gag within the book series.
A gothic novel, it first appears in the seventh Bridgerton book, It’s In His Kiss, as Hyacinth, the eighth and youngest of the Bridgerton siblings, reads it to Lady Danbury during her weekly visits.
“It is this totally over-the-top gothic novel,” Quinn says. “It’s so much fun to write bad writing. It’s the kind where the heroine dies in almost every chapter. I had so much fun with it. Several books later, I had two more characters reading it. Then I did it again, I wrote a book where the hero was the secret author of the novel. So this book keeps popping up as this ongoing joke.”
Eventually, Quinn says, readers began to ask her to actually write Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron, but Quinn was initially reluctant, saying while it was fun writing snippets, it wouldn’t make for a good, complete novel.
“My sister was an illustrator and cartoonist,” Quinn says. “And we realised it would make for a really fun graphic novel. I think kids can actually read this too.”
Like any project between siblings, Quinn says there was moments of tension while working together. “But it was really, really special,” she says. “I’m really excited for it. It was supposed to come out last year but it got delayed.”
By this point, Bridgerton hardly needs any introduction, thanks to the hit Netflix show based on Quinn's novels.
Thinking back to the beginning, Quinn says she can’t quite pinpoint what the primordial inspiration was for the Bridgerton family. She's always been drawn to historical romances, though, particularly those set in England’s Regency era.
“I was drawn to it because that’s what I like to read,” she says. “What I read for fun in high school and university were Regency historical romances, which is basically exactly what I write.”
One reason the time period fascinates Quinn is that it is far enough in the past to evoke a fairy tale quality.
“It is removed enough that it’s a little bit not magical, but we can permit the characters to do things that we would never accept in a modern character,” she says. “We can romanticise things that we couldn’t romanticise in a closer time period. Even early 20th century is too close.”
When Quinn wrote the first book in the series in 1998, she knew there would be more. She never imagined, however, that it would grow to encompass eight novels, each featuring one of the eight children of the late Viscount Bridgerton.
“I thought I was going to do maybe three books,” she says. “The romance genre is full of trilogies and so I was just thinking I’d write a trilogy, but it then started to take off in a way my previous books hadn’t before.”
It's now also been adapted into the TV series and translated into more than 40 languages, and Quinn reveals the books are now also being translated into Arabic.
“It’s a Cairo-based publisher and it’s incredibly exciting to me just to realise the books are coming out in Arabic.”
On the television adaptation, Quinn says it was not difficult giving up creative control when Shondaland picked it up. Released in 2020, the series has become one of the most popular shows of the pandemic era, introducing the glitzy world of Bridgerton to a whole new audience.
The experience, Quinn says, has been surreal.
“It’s Shonda Rhimes,” she says, with a deep sense of awe. “I trusted her. Every single step in this journey has been wonderful. I remember before the series came out, my sister said to me ‘wouldn't it be funny if, like, you get spoofed on Saturday Night Live?’ And then it happened! They were spoofing the show but I realised these were characters I wrote and now they’re on Saturday Night Live!”
Another signal that Quinn’s world had broken into pop culture came when the US National Football League spoofed the show in their draft reveal last year.
“They made it look like the football players were the debutantes,” she says. “I never thought I’d be culturally relevant to the NFL. It just blew my mind.”
Quinn says she's now looking forward to discussing the Bridgerton books with fans at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.
“I love to travel and to be able to sort of see the world through readers is incredible,” she says. “I’m grateful. You know there are a lot of areas in the world I wouldn’t feel safe traveling to because of Covid. Dubai is not one of those. I’ve done my research and I feel we’re good here.”