Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Reading my way through the Regency, one Bridgerton at a time….

I have a confession to make. Well, actually, a couple of confessions. The first is that I like my romance with a touch of comedy. This may be a result of too many viewings of “The Philadelphia Story” at an early age, but no matter the cause, I still prefer a pair of lovers with a well honed sense of the ridiculous to those who take themselves and their budding passion very, very seriously. My second confession is that I am a creature of habit. Once I find something I like, I stick with it. Whether it is a food, a sweater, a favorite chair in my favorite sunny corner of my favorite local coffee shop, or characters in a book, I will return again and again, my enjoyment deepening rather than waning with each successive visit. What can I say? It’s an uncertain world, and I like to spend time on what I know will make me happy. And so, I cannot tell you how pleased I was to meet the Bridgertons, eight siblings each possessed of good looks, good financial prospects, and a good sense of humor. I first made the acquaintance of Hyacinth, the youngest, and enjoyed her story so much that I was delighted to find that author Julia Quinn had written a story for each brother and sister. In my typical obsessive compulsive fashion, I decided I was going to read all of them, in order. After careful study of the family tree, I hunted down and scooted off home with….

The Duke and I
By Julia Quinn
Simon Bassett, Duke of Hastings, is a man with an impeccable pedigree, a very large fortune, a way with the ladies, and a very big secret. This secret has been the driving force in his life since he was a toddler. This secret is such that his father would rather tell people that his son is dead than acknowledge it. This secret has compelled Simon to forge through life with grim determination, and has caused him to become a very private, solitary man of few words.
The secret? Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings, stutters.
True, he no longer stutters very often, and then only in extremes of emotion, but on occasion, it still happens. “So what’s the big deal?” you might ask, “It’s hardly something shameful, many people do it, and he seems to have pretty much outgrown it.” Well, if your father’s main purpose in life was to produce a healthy heir, and if this same father had decided when you were four years old that you were a simple minded idiot because of a speech impediment, and refused to have anything to do with you or to let anyone mention your existence, it would become a very big deal indeed. In spite of all this, Simon grows up to be an admirable man. He overcomes his stutter, gets a good education, travels, and is considered quite a catch on the marriage mart. But the early damage to his emotions lingers, and he develops a bone deep desire to thwart his father. Since his father’s overriding ambition is to make sure that there is always a healthy male Bassett to assume the title, Simon determines that he will never marry and produce the required heir, and so he sets out to see the world, and when he returns becomes one of London society’s more notorious rakes.
Daphne Bridgerton, on the other hand, has been lovingly raised by a doting family. Her father may have died while she was young, but she never doubts that her parents loved each other, and her mother has never suggested that she marry for any reason other than love. Having been raised with four brothers, Daphne is no shy, retiring flower, nor is she a giggling, vapid debutante with no thought beyond acquiring a titled husband. What she has become is something as close to “one of the guys” as a Regency miss can be. In the eyes of the most appealing bachelors, she is more like a sister or friend. Since Daphne would like nothing better than to fall in love, marry, and have a large family, this becomes something of a problem. In fact, she meets Simon while trying to escape the advances of one of her more pathetic, yet determined, suitors. Their attraction is immediate, but since she is a lady and the sister of one of his oldest friends, Simon considers her strictly untouchable. For her part, Daphne knows she should stay away from a known heartbreaker who has shown no intention of settling down.
If only they could keep their hands off of one another....
The conflict here could seem contrived, but because Quinn has shown us so much of Simon’s painful childhood his determination never to marry seems both believable and understandable. Since Daphne knows very little of his past, and has had such a different upbringing, she is by turns mystified and angered by Simon’s mixed signals. She may be kind and empathetic, but she is also fairly innocent and very determined. The fact that we continue to root for them as they muddle their way toward happily-ever-after is a tribute to how likeable they are. We’ve all been the friend instead of the love interest, and we’ve all had some perceived flaw that made us feel socially awkward, and so we can relate to both Daphne and Simon. The secondary characters are equally believable, and if they are named Bridgerton, likeable as well. Overall, this is an engaging, entertaining story, and I am looking forward to seeing the rest of the family married off.

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