First book read for this year was the Duke and I by Julia Quinn. I was in the mood to start this year with a light romance and I did not expect The Duke and I to be such a controversial book. When I noticed the new series Bridgerton, I knew I’d be hooked on the show. Historical romance drama/comedy? Count me in! And of course when I heard that the show is based on a book series, I had to read the book before watching the series on Netflix. I kinda wish I hadn’t, even though 80% of the book was enjoyable.
I was so ready to just enjoy a fluffy, historical romance (sort of if Jane Austen would have written for a more steamy Harlequin series), so imagine the surprise and disappointment when the book offered a very weird, disturbing twist towards the end. I can only hope that the Netflix series handles the scene differently when eventually I will watch all the episodes.
The book was originally published in 2001, but in case someone hasn’t read the book or watched the Netflix adaptation, beware of spoilers.
The premise of the book is very good for anyone expecting to read a light historical romance. It’s early 1800s, there is a gossip columnist (very Gossip Girl) that reveals details and secrets of the high society of London and there is the big Bridgerton family with their eldest daughter Daphne in search of her husband. Then we have the juicy plot between the dashing Duke of Hastings and Daphne where they pretend to be courting and of course end up falling in love. So far so good? Yes. The build up between the Duke of Hastings and Daphne Bridgerton was done well. They have a connection, a common goal to each survive the social season: the Duke not married and Daphne with a husband. Along the way they become friends, there is chemistry, flirtation, a duel, a wedding, lessons of sex for the virgin maiden. As a reader you know that all is going as should in a historical romance: the hero and heroine will eventually fall in love and get married and live happily ever after. What you don’t expect is for the heroine to rape her husband in order to get pregnant. I mean, what was that? Why, why, why. It was such a facepalm moment after reading a very enjoyable romance between these two characters.
The Duke of Hastings doesn’t want children because he hated his father and vowed to end the family line. Daphne has always wanted children, but agrees to marry the Duke even when he says he won’t ever have children. The trick here was that he didn’t actually say he can’t have kids e.g. for some medical reason so he was somewhat untruthful to Daphne. Daphne on the other hand doesn’t even know how children are made and agrees to these terms because she loves him and wants to save his life (there was a duel happening). At some point Daphne realises that something is odd when the Duke always uses the pull-out method when they have sex in stead of coming in her. She confronts him and they have a big fight leading to the Duke of Hastings going away to drink his anger away and Daphne devastated about him lying to her about his ability of having children. So then the Duke comes home from very drunk and Daphne helps him to bed and they go to sleep. And then at some point they end up having sex. He is still drunk and she has the idea of using this moment to her advantage to see if she could become pregnant. At this point the duke is still drunk but very willing to have sex. So she takes control, straddles him and keeps him still in the moment of orgasm so he cannot pull out even when he tries. And so a moment of passionate (drunk) sex becomes a moment of abuse.
That’s just a horrible scene to have in a fluffy, romantic book. If the roles had been reversed, I believe there would have been more discussion about this scene even in the early 2000s when the book was published. I get that back then there was perhaps less talk about what is considered consent and what isn’t. But reading the scene in this day felt really disturbing. Especially since afterwards the characters have very little discussion about what had happened and the story just sort of gets back on the romance track of them realising that they can’t live without one another and having that traditional happy ending. Characters make mistakes, sure, but when they do the mistakes should be addressed more thoroughly, otherwise things like rape/abuse can just be thrown at characters without any true meaning to the story or the development of its characters. I hope the developers of the Netflix series have dealt better with this scene if it’s included, since it’s now year 2021 and we hopefully know better than to include meaningless abuse/rape scenes in entertainment.
Since I did enjoy 80% of the book I think I’ll read the next one of the series which focuses of another sibling of the Bridgerton family. I hope I won’t be disappointed.
The Duke And I by Julia Quinn fills these prompts from the two Reading Challenges I’m doing this year:
A book related to a TV series or a film (Helmet Reading Challenge)
A book set somewhere you’d like to visit in 2021 (Popsugar Reading Challenge)