The Truth About Love and Dukes
There has been a subtle shift in female characterisation in Historical Romances. No longer is a feisty, independent spirit enough for the ideal heroine of the past – now she must be purposeful and liberated enough that she doesn’t need a man in her life if she so chooses. These thoroughly modern women are very easy to relate to intellectually but they aren’t the most believable when it comes to finding their romantic side. Laura Lee Guhrke does her best to find some balance between both in her latest release The Truth about Love and Dukes.
The advice was titillating for anyone reading between the lines. Lady Truelove, a columnist for the popular newspaper Society Snippets, has just encouraged a Lady to elope with a roguish foreigner! The whispered gossip in every ballroom already linked the dowager Duchess Torquil with the handsome Italian painter Signore Foscarelli; however seeing it printed clearly in black and white is scandalous. It’s even worse for the members of the Cavanaugh family to see their private family business splashed on the pages of such a publication. Henry Cavanaugh, Duke of Torquil, is annoyed that his mother would write a letter soliciting advice from a stranger and is livid when he discovers that she has heeded the columnist’s advice to run off with an obvious fortune hunter. Determined to stop his mother from making a mistake that will disgrace the entire family, Henry goes right to the source of the news to either get a retraction or find out exactly where his mother has fled.
Irene Deverill expected to generate buzz by publishing the duchess’ letter but didn’t expect her son to storm into her offices demanding to confront Lady Truelove about it. Writing under a pseudonym gives Irene the freedom to provide honest advice to her readers while creating a distance between that role and her job as editor of Society Snippets. Torquil’s insistence that she reveal the duchess’ confidences goes against her commitment to journalistic integrity and also pricks at her belief that a peer has no right to force his will on others.
It’s a stalemate between the pair until Torquil decides to go over Irene’s head and appeals to her wastrel father to bring his parental authority to bear. The duke’s trump card is the money and influence he can offer in order to bring Irene and her younger sister back into the good graces of their estranged grandfather, a viscount. Irene would like nothing more than to throw Torquil’s arrogance back in his face and refuse but the laws are on her father’s side. He agrees to sell Deverill Publishing to the duke for his help in bringing his daughters out in society and Irene is left to deal with an angry peer set on getting his way.
Henry isn’t proud of blackmailing the beautiful Miss Deverill into helping with his mother but his own efforts to buy off Signore Foscarelli or change his mother’s mind were all unsuccessful. With only a two week window to stop the wedding from happening, Henry is sure that Irene, as the voice of Lady Truelove in the flesh, will have a better time of convincing the duchess that she’s wrong. Little does he realize that Irene isn’t intimidated by his position or his pocketbook. She’s firmly on the side of the duchess having the right to choose the course of her own life. Knowing that the future of her newspaper is at stake, Irene decides to subvert Henry’s arrangement with her father by convincing him to accept his mother’s choice of husband.
Discussing progressive topics such as Women’s Suffrage and the political shifts towards the middle classes with Henry briefly reinforces Irene’s belief that the titled are an outmoded class. However, spending time in his home and seeing Henry interact with his family slowly reveals another side of the man that Irene finds very attractive. For Henry, the line between his desire for Irene and his duty to his family and the title is very clearly drawn. As much as he comes to respect Irene for her independence and strong character, he cannot overlook the different worlds in which they live. Their contrasting ideologies seem destined to tear them apart and yet the feelings and passions they bring out in each other can’t be ignored.
The Truth about Love and Dukes seems patterned on the adage about the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object. Someone in Henry’s position has to consider the social ramifications of his mother’s choice on his entire family while Irene is focused on the individual cost of sacrificing love for duty. I found myself empathizing with both of them at different stages of their relationship. In the beginning I was totally ‘Team Irene’, and loved how she stuck to her ideals in the face of Henry’s imperiousness. When Irene keeps digging in her heels about how the status quo needs to change I did find myself empathizing with Henry because the social structure of the classes is all he really understands. This firebrand of a woman has no need for his title or his wealth so all he is left with is the man underneath it all; a man he hasn’t really been in touch with since his school days.
This constant war between the sexes makes it difficult to believe in how their relationship unfolds, because the conversations between the two seem to stress the fact that Irene and Henry don’t like each other very much. Even when they think they’re meeting in the middle there is a chasm neither one seems ready to jump across to see the other side of the argument. The arrangement they work out in order to satisfy their physical needs comes very late in the story and doesn’t quite resolve the underlying problems regarding any future they might build together. Due to the timeline established for Irene and Henry’s courtship – a matter of three weeks – all of the concessions made to give the reader their happy ending feel forced. Given how heavily the story discusses Irene’s need to buck convention, I think Ms. Guhrke missed an opportunity to end her story on a more unorthodox note instead of following long established rules.
The changing role of women at the end of the 19th Century is a wonderfully rich source of material with which to empower historical heroines. With the preponderance of female supporting characters in The Truth about Love and Dukes there are many ways Ms. Guhrke can develop her Dear Lady Truelove series to showcase these forbearers to our own modern liberation. I’m eager to see more capable women finding heroes who compliment them in their fight for equality.