Photo courtesy of Amanda M. Castro
After the Netflix period drama series “Bridgerton,” became the streaming sensation of the year, I discovered that the series had been based on a novel. Naturally, I felt compelled to read the books. The first of eight books written by Julia Quinn, “The Duke and I,” was the focus of the first season of the steamy Shonda Rhimes-produced drama. With Lady Whistledown still being the town’s gossip in the novel along with the ups and downs of the main couple’s romance, she adds a comedic effect to a book that will keep readers at the edge of their seat.
“The Duke & I” has a conventional romantic feel to it, which is understandable given the fact that it was published about 20 years ago. Unlike the series, the oldest Bridgerton daughter, Daphne, is now in her second season in society, and despite many marriage offers, none of them have piqued her interest. Daphne is maybe too familiar with men; having grown up with three older male siblings, she’s seen as a great person and a good friend, but not a romantic partner. In the book, she says that no one had regarded her as more than a friend – and she wanted nothing less.
Enter Simon Bassett, the Duke of Hastings, who has written off marriage in favor of a vow to his poor excuse of a father. Despite the town knowing this, “ambitious mamas” do not take the hint of him never wanting to marry because he is the most eligible bachelor of the marriage market and no one will let him forget it. Simon is close friends with Daphne’s older brother Anthony, the viscount of the family, and when the duke sees Daphne trying to deal with an overbearing suitor, he is eager to help her. Obviously, Simon thinks up a plan to stop the mamas by claiming to be courting Daphne, and Daphne will immediately become more appealing to other men, who will now admire her more after seeing Simon’s attention – they’d pretend a romance.
This fake romance leads the pair to develop real feelings for each other and trouble ensues when Anthony catches Simon and Daphne in a compromising encounter at a ball. The two are forced to marry after the encounter, after a duel, threats from her brothers and a slew of other intrigues. But, while Daphne’s honeymoon is a blissful sexual awakening, it isn’t all cherry-popping and loving. Simon has assured Daphne that he is unable to have children, but when she learns that his “cannot” really means “will not,” their young marriage is in jeopardy.
Prior to her engagement, Daphne had no idea what sex was all about. She has little knowledge of the details of raising children, other than the fact that it occurs during marriage. As a custom, the mother of a bride is meant to give their daughter “the talk,” and Violet, Daphne’s mother, failed to provide her with any real, concrete information about what she called “the marital act.” There’s no talk of body parts or anatomy, no explanation of how it all functions, and no mention of how babies are born. It’s only after a housemaid makes a random remark about a “seed” and “womb” that Daphne begins to piece together what sex is and realizes that Simon has chosen to “spill” his seed beyond her womb. She feels misled by Simon, who, rather than explaining anything to her honestly, led her to think that he was biologically incapable of fathering children. Simon was well aware that Daphne has no idea how it all worked; he does an excellent job of exposing her to sexual gratification while not explaining concepts to her that would go against his own goals of never siring heirs.
The tensest point in the novel – and possibly the most problematic – was when Daphne finds out that Simon refuses to have a baby; not that he can’t have a baby, and how she responds. Daphne initiates intercourse in his drunken state, and Simon is a willing partner despite this fact until they reach the climax, where Daphne, on top of Simon, refuses to let him pull out as he usually does. He feels betrayed and abandons her. But this is not where it ends and I will not be spoiling it for you.
“The Duke and I” was the first-period drama and romance novel I had ever read, and I was surprised at how fast-paced it was. Apart from the problematic climax, I can’t argue that “The Duke and I” was an engaging and enjoyable read. The characters are hilarious, especially Daphne’s older brothers, who are both fiercely protective and hilarious. There are many flaws to be found in the novel itself, but it is important to remember that it was published about 20 years ago. I’d like to think that a writer today will portray Daphne and Simon’s central tension in a different way.
Now that I am a big fan of the series, there were many points in the novel in which I wondered about the rest of the Bridgertons, but considering that I have seven more novels to read, I’m sure that I won’t be missing too much of them for much longer.
You can purchase “The Duke and I” from Barnes and Noble or wherever books are sold.