My Fair Duchess
Megan Frampton has a talent for writing entertaining stories laced with subtle humor and featuring endearing characters, which is exactly what she delivers in My Fair Duchess – the fifth stand-alone book in her Dukes Behaving Badly series. Most readers will thoroughly enjoy this nod to My Fair Lady, but you’ll need to suspend a fair amount of disbelief to find the story plausible; and if you can’t, you might find My Fair Duchess more exasperating than amusing.
Lady Genevieve has unexpectedly and suddenly inherited a duchy – a very rare occurrence among the English aristocracy – and she is now the Duchess of Blakesley. Ms. Frampton includes an author’s note at the beginning of My Fair Duchess that acknowledges this is ‘extremely improbable’ but ‘not unprecedented’, and she evidences the first Duke of Marlborough, who was able to get Parliament to pass a special act to allow his eldest daughter to inherit his title.
Genevieve might be the daughter of a duke but she has no idea how to be a duchess, because she grew up on a remote estate and was raised by servants – without even a nanny or governess. She was left there and ignored for the majority of her life after her mother passed away and her father remarried. Even though she was essentially forgotten, it seems like someone should have anticipated her inheriting the title due to the absence of male heirs and thus prepared her for it. After all, this is a dukedom we are talking about, and the act to allow the unusual succession must have been of significant note in society, so this lack of foresight and planning seems more unbelievable than does a female inheriting a peerage in her own right.
Genevieve’s godmother, Lady Sophia, realizes how clueless Genevieve is and sends her steward, Archibald Salisbury, to help get the estate in order. He’s a retired Captain, war hero and the third son of a viscount. Few people know about his family ties, because he was disinherited when he went against the wishes of his family when he joined joined the army more than five years ago and he has not seen them since. He’s not happy at the prospect of assisting Genevieve, whom he assumes will be a spoiled and flighty aristocrat; plus living with her will place him near his estranged family. He reluctantly leaves his position with Lady Sophia and moves in with the Duchess of Blakesley.
When Archibald and Genevieve meet, they are instantly intrigued and attracted to each other, but alas, nothing can come of it because they are employee and employer relationship and massive social gulf between them. (Genevieve doesn’t yet know Archibald is the son of a viscount.) When they begin working together on estate business and getting to know each other, Archibald realizes how woefully unprepared Genevieve is in ALL areas of duchess-ness – not just estate business. She doesn’t know how to talk like a duchess, dress like a duchess or act like a duchess; therefore, he appoints himself her tutor for all things duchess-y. He instructs her in proper deportment, how to talk to servants, how to dance, and he even takes her – without a chaperone! – to the dressmaker to order a new wardrobe.
Archibald and Genevieve spend a lot of time together alone, and they find it increasing difficult to ignore their growing feelings. Genevieve is funny, compassionate and endearing as she clumsily attempts to adapt to her new status, and Archibald is reserved and obsessively organized but patient, caring and surprisingly sensitive. Neither can prevent themselves from falling for each other, but a relationship between them is seemingly impossible.
Even more improbable is the idea that a man who was formerly in the military and is now a steward, would have the first idea of how to train a lady to be a duchess, or that he would be allowed to if he did. Historical romance is littered with highly accomplished dowagers and matrons – surely one of those would have been better suited to the job? It also would have been quite a shocking scandal if it were discovered that Genevieve was spending significant time with her steward unchaperoned. She discusses estate business with him in his room below stairs. They travel together to one of her remote estates with only her newly hired lady’s maid, who rides in the baggage coach that gets delayed leaving them alone for the night. These many instances of implausibility make My Fair Duchess feel more like a fairytale, and readers that prefer an element of realism in their historical romance will be frustrated with some of these departures.
But if you can abandon disbelief and go with the flow, you will undoubtedly be charmed and entertained. Every chapter is prefaced with a comical letter between characters – most often Archibald and Genevieve – and their correspondence is original, clever and fun. Both Archibald and Genevieve are interesting, immensely likeable and seemingly perfect for each other, and their love story is enchanting and truly romantic. If there was a historical-ish fairytale romance sub-genre, I would unreservedly recommend My Fair Duchess, but until this exists, I’ll need to include a small qualification with my endorsement.