The Duke And I, by Julia Quinn
This book is where the Bridgerton saga begins, intriguingly enough with the oldest girl and fourth of the Bridgerton children, of whom there are eight, each of whom has their own novel where they meet and then mate in typical contemporary Regency fashion. This book is somewhere around the seventh book I have read by the author, and it is clear that she has some tropes even beyond the usual Regency ones that she adopts in her literature. While this was by no means a bad novel, and was in fact pretty enjoyable to read for the most part because Simon, the Duke of Hastings and Daphne Bridgerton are generally appealing characters, for the most part, the author’s tropes caused trouble on several occasions. Essentially, the two most troubling aspects of Quinn’s novels are on display here. For one, the author appears to be obsessed with bringing her couples together through compromising incidents. I wish to discuss this more anon, so I will leave it aside for now. The second troubling aspect of the author’s works is one that seems unusual for this genre, and that is the way that she brings about sexual intimacy between the main characters through relationships with a strong degree of coercion. Here, Daphne takes advantage of Simon being drunk to have full intercourse so that she can get pregnant from him despite his extreme aversion to having children because of his traumatic experience with his father’s abuse. Unfortunately, both dubious consent as well as compromising positions appear to be a vital and troubling aspect of Quinn’s romances.
This book is between 350 and 400 pages and discusses the romance between Daphne Bridgerton, the fourth oldest of eight children in a viscount’s family and the eldest daughter, and a close friend of her eldest brother’s, Duke Simon Hastings. At the beginning, this book has the makings of a fake romance setup, where Daphne is bothered by being pushed to receive unsuitable gentlemen to court her and Simon is hostile to the idea of marriage and family because of the scars of a brutal childhood in which his father terrorized him and ultimately rejected him as dead because of his late speech development and problems stammering. While Daphne’s brother Anthony thinks his friend, who had some wild escapades like his own in Oxford, is not honorable enough for his sister, the fake relationship of the two draws approval from nearly everyone else, including the sharp-tongued gossip writer Lady Whistledown until the two are eventually pushed into making their fake relationship real, and then have to deal with the complications of sex and family given Daphne’s longing for children of her own and Simon’s lack of willingness to pass on the Hastings title. Of course, love prevails, but it’s messier than one longs for from such fiction as this.
In reading this book, I was struck by what the author could do to make her writings better. The two main negative aspects of her writing are connected to each other. The driving ahead of courtships by presenting young women of elegance and class in a compromising position demonstrates a lack of moral restraint on the part of the men and women in the author’s imagination. Similarly, the use of coercion as a way of leading to sexual intimacy suggests an inability to understand how it is that relationships can be formed through communication and mutual consent. The lack of restraint on the part of Quinn’s men puts vulnerable gentlewomen in places where their reputation would suffer ruin, which coerces the men into marrying them. In the author’s mind, this sort of balance of coercion may be a fair trade, but it is not really the way that an honorable, to say nothing of a Christian, young man and young woman would engage in conversation and flirtation as a way of gauging interest and spurring forward a match, with any intimacy waiting until marriage. This may be a bit bloodless for the author’s tastes, as she might not understand how any hot-blooded man and woman could restrain their passion before marriage, as she even struggles to have them wait to strip each other and make out until after an engagement has been set. This is lamentable, and a sign of a complete lack of ability to understand and work within moral codes of decency and restraint.