While quarantining in Miami before seeing my niece and nephew last week, my mother in law suggested we watch Bridgerton on Netflix together. Now I had heard about some scenes that would make most uncomfortable at the prospect of watching with an in law, but mine is pretty darn cool. But I insisted I read the books ahead of time.
From the publisher marketing:
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 deuced 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…
A few notes to start – if you care about the subsequent books in the series and want to leave yourself in some suspense, DO NOT read the second epilogue! I didn’t realize there were “spoilers” for later books and was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t clear. After I started reading, I realized that the show on Netflix and the book should really be viewed as two entirely different entities. While Daphne’s brothers make appearances in The Duke and I it is entirely in relation to Daphne’s relationship with Simon, the duke. None of the other characters storylines are in The Duke and I. That all being said, after the first few chapters, I realized that I could watch the show and read simultaneously because I separated the two completely in my mind.
Let’s start with what I liked about the book before going into it’s problematic elements. This was a lighthearted and fun read. I started it right after finishing the latest Sarah J. Maas book (review of A Court of Silver Flames to come next week!) and it was a great way to stave off the typical post-Maas book slump. Character-wise, I enjoyed Daphne’s spunk and independence at the beginning of the book and prefer book version of Nigel (not creepy, more adorably misguided) and Anthony (way more supportive of Daphne marrying for love). I also enjoyed the progression of Daphne and Simon’s relationship as I felt like they really did get to know each other in a short amount of time – they could actually talk about things (though not Simon’s deep dark secret).
Now for the things I didn’t like. When reading any sort of fiction these days, I always keep the Bechdel test in mind – two named female characters have a conversation about something other than a man – and in this case that is a resounding no, it does not pass. The test was created by Alison Bechdal in 1985, fifteen years before The Duke and I was originally published. With romance novels written in the last few years, authors have made a concerted effort to present well-rounded female characters. A book can be a romance without focusing 100% exclusively on the primary romance. While I was disappointed to see this as the case in the book, I was really excited that the show explores female friendships in greater detail – I particularly loved Penelope and Eloise’s relationship.
Second problematic element and we’ll say it for what it is, Daphne rapes Simon. We can dance around it calling it a problematic sex scene, but in the scene in question, Daphne forces Simon to finish within her in an attempt to make him conceive a child with her without his consent. It is sickening, but also should spark conversation amongst readers of the book and those who watch the show (which also includes the scene but with a slightly different preamble, but the concern remains).
I would love to say I could overlook the things I didn’t like and can definitely recommend it, but I fear the renewed popularity of the series, when presented to younger readers, might lead to young women believing that such behavior is acceptable – both speaking only of your romantic relationships with your friends, and ignoring your partner’s consent in a relationship. While I enjoyed reading The Duke and I, I’m a thirty-something year old woman who knows that Daphne’s behavior is unacceptable, regardless of how much I might like her spunk and personality, and that no one should aspire to a relationship built fundamentally on lies and mistrust.
Rating: 7 out of 10