Title: The Duke and I
Author: Julia Quinn
Published: 5th January 2000
Genre: Romance, Historical, Fiction
Number of Pages: 464
Start Date: 3rd March 2022
Finish Date: 4th March 2022
The Duke and I is a romance set in the Regency era. In the ballrooms and drawing rooms of Regency London, rules abound. From their earliest days, children of aristocrats learn how to address an earl and curtsey before a prince; while other dictates of the ton are unspoken yet universally understood. A proper duke should be imperious and aloof. A young, marriageable lady should be amiable, but not too amiable.
Daphne Bridgerton has always failed at the latter. The fourth of eight siblings in her close-knit family, she has formed friendships with the most eligible young men in London. Everyone likes Daphne for her kindness and wit. But no one truly desires her. She is simply too honest for that, too unwilling to play the romantic games that captivate gentlemen.
Amiability is not a characteristic shared by Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings. Recently returned to England from abroad, he intends to shun both marriage and society; just as his callous father shunned Simon throughout his painful childhood. Yet an encounter with his best friend’s sister offers another option. If Daphne agrees to a fake courtship, Simon can deter the mamas who parade their daughters before him. Daphne, meanwhile, will see her prospects and her reputation soar.
The plan works like a charm at first. But amid the glittering, gossipy, cut-throat world of London’s elite, there is only one certainty: love ignores every rule.
The build up for this romance was really well done. The characters had great chemistry when they were falling in love. My initial intro to the characters was great, and it is easy to latch on to them.
I fell in love with the characters, the world, and the tone almost immediately. From Lady Whistledown to the entire, boisterous Bridgerton family and their hilarious yet strong matriarch, to the banter and comedic situations involving Simon and Daphne, I'm here for all of it. I do want to address the controversy because it is sensitive, but also I don't know the last time I felt this connected to and invested in a romance series right off the bat. I can already tell it's something I will want to reread in the future.
SPOILER AHEAD! IF YOU WANT TO AVOID STROLL DOWN UNTIL YOU SEE ANOTHER TWO LINES
That said, let's talk about the elephant in the room: the scene in question takes place after Simon and Daphne are married. It's a complicated situation.
Things to know: Simon started speaking late and had a stutter. His complete asshole of a father called him stupid and wanted nothing to do with him. Now his dad is dead, but he has vowed never to have children and doesn't plan to marry. Which gets complicated when he gets frisky with Daphne and must marry her to preserve her reputation.
Daphne (like most young women of her day) has never taken sex ed and therefore knows virtually nothing about sex or how conception works. This leads to some hilarious scenes and conversations, but it's also tragically historically accurate. So when she marries Simon, she doesn't realise that when he says he "can't" have children, what he really means is he "won't" have children. Nor does she realise what he's doing when he pulls out every time they have sex. Simon takes advantage of her naivete, even knowing her intense desire for children, and basically lies to her for months. Honestly, I found his behaviour to be pretty reprehensible and selfish, even if we understand that it's rooted in trauma.
So when Daphne learns more about how things work and realises she has been lied to, it sets off an understandably giant conflict where she (rightly so in my opinion) tells Simon she will no longer be in his bed. He gets very drunk and comes home asking her to stay with him and be with him. This sets the stage for more horrible behaviour where Daphne has sex with him and basically refuses to let him pull out. Whew. Okay, so there are people saying this is basically marital rape. And reading the scene I can see why that has been said. It certainly has elements of dubious consent at the very least.
The thing is, it's not painted as okay, or as sexy in the book. It's very clearly portrayed as wrong, but I also think from the perspective of a sheltered, relatively powerless young woman at the time, I kind of get it. Selfish? Of course. Both of them are selfish and do terrible things, but for me that was part of the point and part of how they learned and grew together. And the behaviour doesn't occur in a vacuum either. I think the author does a fantastic job of creating a nuanced portrait of what each of them has experienced and how that shapes their choices.
I am glad that a child didn't end up as the product of that night. I would have had a harder time dealing with that, but it's a non-issue.
To readers who hated this and want nothing more to do with these characters, that's valid, especially if this is a personally triggering issue. I imagine if it was written today rather than 20+ years ago, Julia Quinn might handle it a little more carefully (admittedly we maybe could have used a bigger conversation about what happened between the characters later on), but I found it to be compelling and thought-provoking, and most of the book was just a whole lot of fun and made me laugh out loud on multiple occasions!
I want to devour all the Bridgerton books now. I was into this from page one and could not put it down. I absolutely LOVED Lady Whistledown's Society Papers at the beginning of each chapter. They are pure gold and really set the tone for life of the upper echelon in British Society. This romance was a breath of fresh air and exactly what I needed to yank me back into my love of reading. I was fully invested in the characters.
The whole time I was comparing it to the series as that is what got me into the books. I am so glad I’ve started reading the book though, it is so much better and I love it more than the Netflix show. This is definitely a book I can pick up again and again. I highly recommend this to anyone who love historical fiction especially in the regency era.