Saturday, March 15, 2008
The Duke and I
Quinn, Julia. 2000. The Duke and I.
The Duke and I is the first novel in a series of eight books focusing on the Bridgerton family. There are eight Bridgerton siblings: Anthony, Benedict, Colin, Daphne, Eloise, Francesca, Gregory, and Hyacinth. (4 boys. 4 girls.) Each of the novels focuses on a Bridgerton and on the soon-to-be significant other of the Bridgerton in question. The Duke and I is narrated by Daphne and Simon. Simon is actually Simon Arthur Henry Fitzranulph Basset. (At his birth he was already an Earl, Earl Clyvedon). A child destined for greatness, upon his father's death he'd be the tenth Duke of Hastings.
The prologue sets Simon up as a troubled, bitter, and angry young man. His mother died giving birth to him. His father rejected him because of a childhood stutter. He's been raised by servants. His father lived on another estate and pretended he was dead. It was even hinted that he faked mourning for his son. (Though I could have misread that passage.) If there is one thing that is clear about Simon it is that he hates his father. Hates with a capital-H. He despises everything about him. Because of this angsty adolescence, Simon is not the marrying kind. He doesn't want to fall in love; he doesn't want to get married; he doesn't want to have children; he doesn't want to pass on his title.
The first chapter introduces us to two important characters. (Well, more than that really. But hear me out.) Lady Whistledown. The secret, mysterious authoress of a London's society (gossip) paper. Every chapter of this book (and most of the other Bridgerton series books) begins with a glorious snippet of juicy gossip from the pen of Lady Whistledown. These bits are pure fun, a pure delight to read. The book opens with Daphne and her mother reading that morning's edition of Lady Whistledown.
The heart of this novel revolves around marriage. Violet Bridgerton, the mother, is anxious (extremely anxious) to get her oldest son and oldest daughter married off. She has even given lists of eligible prospects to both. Anthony, as the head of the family since his father's death, is a Viscount and quite a catch. He is the one responsible for overseeing Daphne's courtship. (I don't know if that's the right word. He's in charge of who is allowed and not allowed to call on her, to decide who is a proper enough escort, etc. And ultimately the one to give "permission" for her hand in marriage.) Daphne is a lovely girl but one without many suitors. It's not that there are none, she was proposed to by several men in their late fifties and early sixties, it's just that no man has all of the necessary factors: the intelligence, the wit, the wealth, and the attractive appeal to win her heart or win her respect.
It is when Daphne is fleeing from an ardent (and quite drunk) gentleman, Nigel Berbrooke, that she meets Simon. (The setting is a dance, a ball. A ball at Lady Danbury's home.) Simon is ready to rescue this damsel in distress. Didn't he overhear her telling the gentleman to back off, to leave her alone? It's his duty, his privilege to save her. But before he has a chance to act, Daphne lets Nigel have it. He's down for the count. (I don't think she meant to floor him though! But she's used to standing up for herself and has certainly watched her brothers fighting.) Now Simon and Daphne are in cahoots about the situation. How to get him out of the hallway without causing a big scene. She isn't aware of who he is, but he knows almost from the very beginning that this dynamite of a girl who can pack a punch is the little sister of his good friend, Anthony, whom he attended school with all those years ago.
As soon as she does learn his identity, she lets it slip that her mother told her to stay away from him because he was a Rake. (A.K.A. mad, bad, and dangerous to know) Simon can't let this golden opportunity go, he tries to "scare" her with his ardent charm. It fails miserably. All he does is succeed in giving her the giggles. She tells him, "you shouldn't be so melodramatic. It doesn't suit you. . .Well, actually, it does suit you, I ought to admit . . .You looked quite dangerous. And very handsome, of course. . .That was your intention, was it not? Of course it was. And I would be remiss if I did not tell you that you would have been successful with any other woman besides me." (57) She proceeds to tell him, "I'm quite flattered you thought me worthy of such a magnificent display of dukish rakishness...or do you prefer rakish dukishness?" (58)
The chemistry is there alright. The banter between the two, the easy-going friendship of sorts that starts to form from the very beginning. It all makes for an interesting proposition. Not that kind of proposition either. He wants to woo her, to court her, to keep all the other Ambitious Mamas away along with all their daughters for the season. She agrees because she knows that being wooed by him will make her attractive to all the other men. After she's really and truly fallen in love with someone, she can be the one to end their engagement or courtship or relationship. They both think it's a good (and slightly manipulative) way to maneuver in a society obsessed with the marriage mart. (Her mother won't be after her to find a man because she thinks her daughter is being courted by a duke...quite a catch.) The one with the doubts? Anthony. He knows Simon's reputation. He shares Simon's reputation. He knows exactly the kind of man Simon is. Can he really trust Simon to keep his hands off his sister?
This is a delicious novel. As you can imagine, Simon does put Daphne in a compromising position. And Anthony is all for a shotgun wedding or a duel.
Can Daphne persuade Simon that marriage with her really would be better than certain death?
There is a reason--a very very good reason--that Julia Quinn is my favorite romance novelist. Her books are always well written. (Formulaic in parts yes, but always well written.) Her Bridgerton novels are especially delightful. For Quinn's novels are always always always more than just a lame excuse for (corny) graphic sex. It really is about the characters. Really is about the story. In my opinion, most other novelists have flat characters. The whole book revolves around the smut. You could essentially mix and match heroes and heroines from any romance novel and the novels would read the same. I don't like [insert-name-here] love scenes. I don't. Which is why an occasional Quinn novel will slip into my tbr pile. Yes, it's a guilty-pleasure to indulge in adult romance novels. But reading Quinn is not as guilty and as shameful as indulging in other authors. (She has more nutrition and nourishment for the mind than most others.)