Given the phenomenal interest in Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series, we thought it would be fun to republish this!
originally published on March 2, 2015
Welcome to our new column, Winsome or Loathsome. (I was rooting for Dreamgirl or Disaster but was outvoted.) Like its counterpart, Dreamboat or Douchebag, this column will look at well-known heroines and ask the pointed question: Winsome or Loathsome? We will reserve our critique for heroines who are not universally loved or who are known for behaving badly at some point in their stories.
We at AAR have defined elsewhere what each thinks are the characteristics of a good heroine. For me, a good heroine is one who deserves the Happily Ever After she gets.
Does Daphne Bridgerton?
Daphne is the oldest girl and third child of Violet and (the deceased) Edmund Bridgerton. Daphne’s story, The Duke and I, is the first in Julia Quinn’s wildly popular Bridgerton series. Daphne certainly ends up with the life of her dreams: She marries one of her older brother Anthony’s best friends, a handsome Duke named Simon with whom she has five children. (She is not the most prolific of her siblings–her brother Gregory ultimately has nine children.) Daphne is, like most of Ms. Quinn’s heroines, self-deprecating, smart, and kind. She is a warm friend and a loyal and devoted sibling. And yet there are many who feel she is at the very least morally iffy and at the worst morally despicable.
Well, if you haven’t read the book and want to be surprised, stop reading now.
Still with me? OK.
When Simon and Daphne meet as adults, Simon makes it crystal clear to Daphne he has no intention of ever marrying anyone. Despite knowing that, Daphne lures Simon into the gardens where he compromises her. This causes her brother to challenge Simon to a duel which Daphne stops–right before the men begin–and begs Simon to marry her. Simon reluctantly agrees but makes it clear to Daphne that he will never have children. Here is what he says:
“I can’t have children.”
There. He’d done it. And it was almost the truth.
Daphne’s lips parted, but other than that, there was no indication that she’d even heard him.
He knew his words would be brutal, but he saw no other way to force her understanding. “If you marry me, you will never have children. You will never hold a baby in your arms and know it is yours, that you created it in love. You will never—”
“How do you know?” she interrupted, her voice flat and unnaturally loud.
“I just do.”
“I cannot have children,” he repeated cruelly. “You need to understand that.”
Despite this, Daphne, who loves him, tells him she wants to wed him. She says to him, “You’re worth it.“
Daphne, like many a girl of her era, is clueless about sex. Her pre-wedding day chat with her mother, though hilarious, fails to educate her. Thus, when she begins having a passionate sex life with her husband, she has no idea that his use of the withdrawal method, has anything to do with the childless future he said they’d have. However, a few weeks into her marriage, a candid chat with the housekeeper at Simon’s ancestral home suddenly makes it clear to her that Simon is choosing not to have children. She is furious and, after accusing him of taking advantage of her procreative stupidity, she locks her bedroom door against him. Simon goes out and gets thoroughly soused. When he comes home, he begs Daphne to stay with him as he falls asleep. She does and, an hour later realizes Simon is sporting an erection despite being asleep and inebriated. She makes a decision.
Daphne felt the strangest, most intoxicating surge of power. He was in her control, she realized. He was asleep, and probably still more than a little bit drunk, and she could do whatever she wanted with him.
She could have whatever she wanted.
As Simon sees it,
Daphne had aroused him in his sleep, taken advantage of him while he was still slightly intoxicated, and held him to her while he poured his seed into her.
By the novel’s end, Simon has not only forgiven Daphne, he is grateful to her for pushing him to get past his anger at his awful father (He vowed to never have children to spite his dad.) and is happily trying to make beautiful babies with her. Simon and Daphne are known as “most besotted couple” in the ton and they adore their kids.
So AAR, what do you think? Is Daphne Winsome or Loathsome?
LinnieGayl: It’s funny, when I read that Daphne was the first choice for this new series I was puzzled: I honestly couldn’t remember what Daphne had done that was so awful. It’s been years since I read The Duke and I but remember liking it, and being excited that it was part of a series. After reading the recap, I now remember what happened, but am still hazy about my reaction to it on first reading. I recall being angry with Simon, thinking that he deliberately hid the truth from Daphne. She was very naive, and was horribly hurt when she finally figured out — with help — that it wasn’t that he “couldn’t” have children, but that he “wouldn’t” have children.
So yes, on reflection, what Daphne did was wrong, but what Simon did to her was awful as well. Do these two wrongs cancel each other out? Probably not. But in the end, I know that at the time of my first reading I came down much more on Daphne’s side than Simon’s. I suspect a large part of my “tolerance” of what she did has to do is with the time of the story. Would I be so accepting in a contemporary? Perhaps not. But on balance, I come closer to placing Daphne a hair on the side of the Winsome side than on the Loathsome side.
Cindy: I remember being thrown by this scene but then I bring my own baggage to the table. As someone who married a man who told me we might not be able to have children, it was something I had to consider. In the end he was correct and even though I knew it was more than likely true that we would not have children when we married, we both still had hope. So there was my frustration with the HEA of a situation that is very real to people in all previous times in history. Even with the medical help today there is no guarantee. Now, take the scene as it is and yes, it’s rape. There are romance books with the plot point of the hero not taking the heroine to bed because she is too intoxicated – why would we accept that a heroine has a different choice in the same example?
Furthermore, Daphne took away Simon’s choice – because even though this is a historical and yes, children were important, this didn’t give her the right to decide she was right and Simon was wrong. Not only that, she did what would make her happy and that is not what love is supposed to be about. In the end, both characters were selfish and made horrible choices and even though the story ends with them having a bunch of kids and being known by all as a loving couple their story is not all that romantic. What’s interesting is that with everything I’ve said, this book is one of my keepers.
Maggie: I second what Cindy said re Daphne took away Simon’s choice – because even though this is a historical and yes, children were important, this didn’t give her the right to decide she was right and Simon was wrong. Not only that, she did what would make her happy and that is not what love is supposed to be about. ” More Loathsome than Winsome to me for sure.
Lee: It’s been awhile since I read The Duke and I so I’m just going by Dabney’s summary and what everyone else has contributed. I think in this particular story, both parties were in the wrong. Simon obviously didn’t tell Daphne why he couldn’t have children but he must have known that being a mother was the second most important position (after being a wife) a gentlewoman aspired to in their time. As for Simon going out and getting drunk and then begging her to sleep with him, well, what did he expect would happen? So I’m not absolving Daphne of blame. Both Simon and Daphne needed to communicate a LOT more than they did, but obviously if they had, the story would have been totally different.
Anne: I’m like LinnieGayl. It has been so long since I read any of these books that I couldn’t remember what Daphne did wrong. I kept looking at the list of heroines, wondering if it was a misprint. One of Julia Quinn’s heroines in this list?
Now that I’ve read the piece, I remember the story, but I still don’t remember what I thought of her actions at the time. It might have been a feeling of growing horror, knowing that she would be sorry. I had a similar feeling when the heroine of an Amanda Quick story spilled wine on the hero’s bedsheets to make him think he had already taken her virginity so that he would stop trying to seduce her — although that wasn’t as bad as what Daphne did. What Daphne did reminds me more of Joanna Lindsey’s Prisoner of My Desire, only at least Daphne didn’t kidnap Simon and chain him to the bed.
In both cases, the heroines had pressing reasons for their actions, and I understood them. Yes, Daphne wanted a child, and it was dumb forr Simon to deny her that, and to deceivee her. But still… Yes, the heroine of Prisoner of My Desire needed to get pregnant with an heir fast or lose everything. But still… Our teachers used to remind us “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” It feels weird to learn that those old sayings can still be true. At least in our books. Then again, if our characters realized that right away, our books would often be really really short.
Caz: I’m a big fan of the Bridgertons and I remember this and the next book in the series being among the first HRs I read, so for that reason alone I have a soft spot for them. But even then, when I hadn’t read many romances at all, Daphne’s actions didn’t sit well with me. I suppose one could argue that what she did by having sex with someone who couldn’t or wouldn’t consent was the same thing that many husbands did regularly with unwilling or uninterested wives , although of course that doesn’t make it right, either.
Looking at it from a more dispassionate point of view, I’m not a fan of misunderstandings and miscommunications in romances. It’s a frequently used device, and the more I read them the less I like them on the whole, although some authors make it work better than others. But this is one of those times when the couple should have had a bloody conversation! The way Ms. Quinn writes Simon’s objections – he “can’t” have children – is suitably ambiguous, because of course what he’s saying is not that he’s incapable, but that he’s unwilling. Semantics of course, but had he said “I will not have children” it would have prompted the conversation which would have rendered the plot-point used to create the break-down of their relationship late in the book completely redundant.
To my mind, that’s lazy plotting and I’m sorry to say that I’m probably more annoyed about THAT than I am about the way the character behaves, because ultimately her actions are dictated by the needs of the plot. The fact that she clearly wants children perhaps mean that her actions are not completely out of character, but there’s no denying what she does is stupid and, as others have said, tantamount to assault.
Much as I love this series and wanted the couple to get their HEA, I can’t call Daphne a “Winsome”. What she does is stupid and selfish; she wants what she wants and doesn’t even think about the consequences, not just the obvious physical ones, but the effects such actions could have on her marriage.
That said, I can’t completely condemn her as “Lose-some” either, because she genuinely loves Simon and he has to bear some of the responsibility for her failing to completely understand his refusal to have children. I put her actions down to naivété more than anything else, because Simon is so intractable and doesn’t explain his reasons fully which means that she has no way of knowing how deep-seated his fears are and thus thought that when presented with a fait-accompli, he’d come around and forgive her.
I’m going to have to sit on the fence on this one, although I suspect I’m more inclined to the Lose side of it than the Win one.
Dabney: I am not a Daphne fan. I don’t think there’s any way to interpret what she does to Simon as benign. The scene where she “steals” his seed from him is beyond icky and, to me, unnecessary. It seems so obvious that with time and communication she and Simon would have ended up with the same HEA the book gives them. I can’t feel good about the way Daphne behaves no matter how much she–and Ms. Quinn–justify her actions. Daphne gets the thumbs down from me.
Readers, what do you think?
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These are all really interesting points everyone’s made – I’m glad I stumbled across this post.
I think, historically, within the understanding of what marriage was at that time, she wasn’t incredibly out of line. Nor was it aggressive, or like he couldn’t just push her off. They were already having sex in the confines of their marriage in the 1800s. His obsession with that dumb vengeance against his *DEAD* father’s wishes, over his completely logical wishes of his wife, is absurd. Not only that, he had recently realized that his absence as a caretaker of the land had greatly affected many people. He needed to stop being stupid about the revenge against his dad because of a myriad of reasons.
Side note – everyone is calling this ‘Victorian’? It’s not. It’s the regency period.
Daphne’s actions were a reasonable response to the situation Simon’s lie put her in (sterilized without informed consent or social ruination). The justice system would not have, “made her good”, so she had to do it herself.
Would be completely different today with divorce legally and socially available.
So, this is never a popular opinion but The Duke and I is my favourite Bridgerton book and I managed to get past this issue pretty quickly. I though both were equally at fault. Simon used her sexual naviety against her and she used her newly discovered information against him, but it doesn’t excuse either of them. Neither come off looking well but in comparision to some of other Bridgertons (especially the men), Daphne is the one I like the most. Anthony is an arrogant ass, Benedict is a stalker (though a handsome one and very nice one) and Colin berates Penelope until she gives up writing Lady Whistledown to make him happy. To me the most loathesome is Colin and Daphne is winsome.
But that’s what makes books great – people get to love them for various reason and talking about why you do is the most fun part of reading!!
I also agree there were many other ways for Quinn to handle this – how about Daphne believes she’s pregnant (cause the pull out method is so effective), leading to an argument about why Simon didn’t want kids, the truth coming out and this sepertaes them. They still get back togeher in the same way but without the ickiness.
The pullout method was VERY unlikely to work over time. Especially if Daphne hadn’t learned enough to combine it with rhythm method.
I just re-read Romancing Mr. Bridgerton and Penelope had given up Lady Whistledown before she and Colin got together in any official way. He has kissed her once (when she asked him to) then she resigns as Lady Whistledown after Lady Danbury offers the one thousand pond reward and everyone is trying to uncover who LE is. She also sees how worried Colin is when he thinks it’s Eloise. But he doesn’t know it’s Penelope and he certainly doesn’t berate Penelope into stopping, she’s already stopped.
Colin finds out when Penelope goes in the hired carriage alone to a bad part of London to drop off her note saying Cressida isn’t LW. He’s angry and worried at that point but she’s already made a big public farewell as LW. He does tell her she should let Cressida claim to be LW to protect herself. He’s rightfully upset she goes behind his back and the big announcement overshadows their engagement party.
When Penelope is blackmailed he’s the one who tells her not to try and use Lady Danbury to hide behind and arranges all his support and family to reveal her as the brilliant Lady Whistledown and toast her to the Ton.
With the understanding that rape is a crime.of violence … did Daphne really “rape” Simon?
There was no violence in her motivation.
She wanted a baby.
Simon sought to deny her that, deliberately. Yes, he had warned her that he “couldn’t” have children, which was surely a sin of some sort, as he knew he COULD have children, he just didn’t think he wanted any.
What Daphne did was to take the football from Simon to run into the end zone. Except it was, in the end, a fumble. She wasn’t pregnant.
When Daphne got on Simon to have him come inside her, there was no violence in her. Nor did he didn’t fight her off. She simply stayed on top as he came inside her.
And Simon won in the end: she wasn’t pregnant.
I don’t feel Daphne is Winsome, nor Loathsome. She made a move to achieve what Simon purposefully denied to her — a baby. And it failed.
In the end, though, it was all just a tragic way for them to grow up.
I know I’ve posted this elsewhere but I’m firmly in the middle on this one. Both Simon and Daphne did bad things, but in my mind Simon was far worse.
Simon not only has all the real power being a man and a Duke- (he could have compromised Daphne and walked away if he wanted) he has all the knowledge. He lies to her knowingly and because she’s been raised in complete ignorance he can perpetrate his “fraud” on her while she has no idea of what is going on. It’s also clear he has no intentions of ever telling her any differently (although he may have been surprised one day as his method of “birth control” has resulted in who knows how many people walking around the earth).
I also take objection to the term “rape” with Daphne. It’s made clear Simon doesn’t want kids, but he’s never objected to sex with Daphne and while he’s intoxicated he knows he’s having sex, wants to have sex and is clear headed enough to know he would be controlling the sex if he were more sober. His only objection is that he doesn’t get to end and control the sex as he usually does. It’s “forced conception” if you want to call it anything as opposed to the “forced prevention” Simon has been practicing.
Being that Daphne has no idea if she’s even correct in her assumptions until she goes through with her idea as she’s had to puzzle things out on her own and it occurs to her after Simon showed up inebriated (as opposed to Simon who knowing plotted and planned to use Daphne over and over again) I’m willing to give her more leeway.
Looking at it in the 21st century with all the knowledge we have now, sure it’s an egregious act. For an ignorant 19th century heroine who has been lied to, taken advantage of and is still working everything out beyond “he did this to me so I will do this to him” will I toss all the blame on her, no. I won’t.
I do also think it’s interesting how many people assign the blame to Daphne. She does one wrong thing in hurt and anger after being taken advantage of horribly and so many people think she’s a rapist and the villain. Simon and Daphne are both wrong, but I think he was worse.
I think in general, women readers are very hard on women in novels in some ways but we also expect special treatment for them in others. It’s an odd mix. Take for example the title of this series about women.
“Welcome to our new column, Winsome or Loathsome. (I was rooting for Dreamgirl or Disaster but was outvoted.) Like its counterpart, Dreamboat or Douchebag, this column will look at well-known heroines and ask the pointed question: Winsome or Loathsome?”
Why are we uncomfortable using the same terminology? Can only the men be the douchebags? If so many women think Daphne is a literal “rapist’ should we just call her a “douchebag” also?
Just throwing it out there.
Douchebag was VERY unpopular.
The Wedding ceremony from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer:…….”First it was ordained for the procreation of children…” Italics mine. Here’s where I can see that Daphne’s anger had some validity. Although moving on- the third reason (mutual society, help, and comfort) would have gone a long way to more responsible behavior. And don’t we all like to see mutual growth and understanding with the discussions that lead to that? And before anyone thinks I memorized all this…..it’s the penultimate scene in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice. I remember being surprised that procreation was the number one reason.
When I got married in the Episcopal Church a bazillion years ago the reasons for marriage were:
Mutual joy and support
The procreation of children (if it is God’s will)
Be building blocks for society
They worked for me then and work for me now. In Daphne’s era, the idea of suborning God’s will about progeny would have been blasphemous.
Interestingly, I have become over the past five years, easier on Daphne. I don’t feel that what she does is any worse than what Simon does. I now think of her actions as far more forgivable given how Simon’s misleading behavior is literally taking from her the thing she wants most.
I think one way Bridgerton increased my sympathy for Daphne was by universalizing her experience. In the book, I saw this as Daphne vs. Simon. In Bridgerton, I saw it as “man, with full knowledge and sexual empowerment granted to him by society, exploiting woman, who is kept ignorant by a patriarchal society.”
We say frequently that Simon didn’t consent to Daphne… but due to her ignorance, did Daphne give full and fair consent to Simon? He absolutely took advantage of her to get the sex he wanted without the consequences he didn’t. Since she cuts him off as soon as she realizes, isn’t it fair to say that she would never have consented to sex in the first place if she understood what was going on?
I agree. I’m obsessed with the historical disenfranchisement of women so I think I’ve always seen it that way. But Bridgerton really makes it clear.
We should rerun some of these columns. I love the discussion!
Absolutely! So interesting to see strong views (and old voices) and great debate here at any time. I wonder if the debates were re-run between the same voices the same stance/conclusion would be the outcome. Time has a fascinating effect in our outlooks and opinions.
Ironically, I have been influenced here by the #MeToo movement.
In my opinion, she is a loathsome heroine. If the only major issue this couple had was the fact that Simon lied and didn’t want to have children, this book would have been cheesy, but altogether fine and moderately good. The reason why I think this book is not good, and nor is it’s heroine, is that… Daphne raped Simon. She knew he wouldn’t give her consent while sober and in a right state of mind, and as soon as he realized what she was doing, he started saying that he couldn’t do this, that she had to stop… And she didn’t. She raped him. Rape, in any form or matter, is absolutely wrong. It doesn’t matter if a woman did it, it’s still wrong. And the worst part is that the book doesn’t even mention exactly how awful that is. From Simon’s perspective, his gagging in front of Daphne was worst than her raping him, and that… in my opinion, is simply wrong.
There was social stigma if they got caught. Few people ever think they will get pregnant or get caught. While social stigma did place a rein on sexual activity, it hardly stopped it. In the late 19th century, there were 65,000 illegitimate births per year. Writing about sexual relations in the Victorian era is not wallpaper history. It may be distasteful to those who do not wish to read about sex, but it is hardly historically inaccurate no matter what era we place it in.
I would need to see some of these sources as they sound quite bloated. Nevertheless, Victorians were conflicted on sexuality and so while we now go to the extremes and paint Victorians as hyper-puritan or hyper-sexual, the truth is more likely in middle and also the truth is that they themselves were torn over a society that condemned sexuality but also could not properly contain it. Even those who dabbled, shall we say, in pre-marital sex, there would likely have been plenty of agonizing and soul-searching about it. That’s my quick and dirty take of sexuality from the period.
I should say also that a common analysis on Victorian sexuality is that the more a society tries to repress something, the bigger the issue becomes for everyone. It’s not really surprising that Freud himself emerged in this period. Conflict, dissent, and anxiety are often key words for sex in the Victorian age. One of the best fictional books I studied on this topic is _Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde_, not a book that on the surface stands out as one about sex, but it is viewed as such now, and is typical of Victorian conflict and subterranean attempts to examine issues.
Society has never been able to contain sexuality. Even the prospect of death (in terms of homosexuality and women in earlier eras) was not able to make people adhere to the puritanical version of sex. What I like about the modern writing of historical romance is the freedom to actually explore the sex that was going on without restriction. Because it was going on.
I agree that society does not fully contain sexuality, but there are key differences among different historical periods. I do not think for instance that the Victorian period should be conflated with other periods. I’m not sure if you intended that, but by running them all together and leaving the issue at “”Society has never been able to contain sexuality,”” that analysis is quite incomplete.
Yes, historical writing is writing about sex. We all agree on that, I think. Historical writing often is not taking into account just how complex sexuality was in the Victorian age, and so there are far too many Wallpaper romances and modern takes on sexuality that make historicals from this period look like a contemporary romance collided with a fancy dress party. I just DNF’d one from Miranda Neville because it’s too ridiculous and I could not overcome my disbelief.
If you are talking about norms, then yes different historical periods have different norms. However, novels do not necessarily deal with “”norms.”” Many heroes/heroines fall outside of the norm precisely because these people tend to be more interesting. So while a non-sexually repressed heroine would not have fit the Victorian profile, they did exist. Just as there were men who supported equality for all while most were jingoistic, sexist and racist.
If you are talking about norms, then yes different historical periods have different norms. However, novels do not necessarily deal with “norms.” Many heroes/heroines fall outside of the norm precisely because these people tend to be more interesting. So while a non-sexually repressed heroine would not have fit the Victorian profile, they did exist. Just as there were men who supported equality for all while most were jingoistic, sexist and racist.
Yes, different periods had normative behavior that represents the history of a period and it has unconventional behavior that represents the period. If you go back to my earlier response to Maria you’ll see that she and I were discussing birth control, and I was trying to point out that there was a subterranean birth control movement and plenty of rejection of the desire for children from women, married and single. That is considered an example of behavior outside of the norm and yet, it is historically accurate nonetheless. Sexual women certainly existed in the Victorian age, but I would argue that they rarely did so without some respect for prevailing and heavy-handed social stigmas. I respect writers when they write normative, unconventional or even iconoclastic behaviors as long as it is rooted in history and bears some resemblance to history. Readers, I’m sure, have different thresholds on what they find believable in a historical romance, but for me I see far too many so-called historicals that are historical in only the most flimsy of resemblance. I think I’ve articulated this as clearly as I can and so I’m happy to move on now. Thanks!
That’s pretty much my view as well – it’s mostly lazy plotting which forces an otherwise admirable heroine into doing something questionable.
Yes, and I think I would be willing to demonize Daphne is she had been constructed as a troubled character early and that was developed over time. I recall the ending as a little startling and so I can’t really see blaming a character for what seemed a rather obvious late-plot development.
When I first saw Daphne was the heroine I thought well surely she’s winsome I mean she’s a Bridgerton! How bad do they really get?! Then reading the article I remembered the whole ‘seed stealing’ scene… Is it bad that when I first read this book I totally missed that element, I just remember thinking why is Simon mad at Daphne he was the one who lied. Granted I was only 14 so perhaps a little young and naive for the ‘subtleness’ of the writing shall we say.
Or maybe I should just become a more observant reader?! Hopefully I have since 14.
If my memory serves, Simon stuttered as a child and was berated, quite cruelly, by his father for what was considered back then as a “”mental defect.”” Or I am thinking of another book?
You are correct.
I agree that books written in Victorian times would have shown understated passion. However, a novel written ABOUT Victorian times that is accurate would show sex going on. How would they have attained those large families without it? ;0)
Large families take place in the context of marriage though, where sexuality is permitted to exist. For instance, single motherhood was not an option, of course, even though illicit pregnancies certainly occurred. I think the OP was objecting to the *modern voice* in historical romances where sex existed free of concerns about morality. In that sense, she is correct that Victorian literature carefully acknowledges passion while often at the same time denounces it, and certainly denounces it outside of marriage. Of course we all know that people had sex! How Victorians had discourse on the topic is a subject of widespread interest to contemporary scholars and is quite fascinating. As a reader of both Victorian literature as well as historical romances set in the Victorian age, I would generally have to agree that there is a modern tone to historicals that is at odds with the period.
But, there is a difference between the reading of Victorian literature and the reading of modern literature about Victorian times. Of course there is a more modern tone to novels written by modern authors. Even in those books I have read that try to re-create a 19th century author’s style, no one would mistake it for 19th century prose. Personally, I would not want them to. Trying to replicate their style usually turns out very stilted and unauthentic IMO.
There certainly is a difference between reading literature and reading historical literature! I don’t think you’ve stated anything here with which I would disagree. Writers do not write in vacuums and historical writing always embodies modernity. I’m actually a big advocate for historicity when studying writing, which includes modern writing, and that includes modern writing that looks back on the past and recreates historical periods.
I think the original poster was suggesting that with respect to sexuality, too much of a modern voice around sexuality can occur to such a degree that it becomes difficult to enjoy the attempt at historical fiction. This might affect some readers more than others too depending on how much someone is able to suspend disbelief. But if modern writers are representing unmarried women from the 19th century jumping into bed as if they are women from _Sex and the City_, the stories lose some value. I have noticed this in plenty of historical romances. Not all though, by any means.
I think we have a tendency to whitewash sexuality in the 19th century (as well as before that). From various sources between 30-40% of Victorian era brides in England were pregnant on their wedding day. The rate is even higher for American 19th century brides. Northwestern England had very high rates of illegitimacy and overall illegitimacy rates during the 19th century range from 5-15%. So between 35-55% of childbearing age women had premarital sex that resulted in pregnancy. That does not count those women engaging in relations that did NOT result in pregnancy. So while society frowned on sexual relations outside of marriage, that did very little to stop it from occurring. I think the modern take on sexuality in historical romances is probably more true and accurate than anything that might have been written in the 19th century.
I actually think Daphne’s actions were more reprehensible than those of Rowena in Prisoner of My Desire. Daphne entrapped Simon into marriage and then into fatherhood. Her motives were selfish and her taking advantage of his incapacitation was rape. Rowena had the threat of her mother’s life at stake when she “”raped”” Warrick. Her mother had just been savagely beaten in front of her and that was the only thing that made her agree to marry the old man and then have sex with Warrick against his will. She did not really consent to sex with Warrick either. They were both victims. Daphne was not.
Agreed. I can’t seen Rowena as a rapist. She was coerced and clueless. Daphne, at best, was just clueless.
I don’t connect with Julia Quinn’s books. One of the reasons is precisely that I’m not interested in heroines like Daphne, whose only purpose in life is being married and having children. It’s a good personal option, of course, but not one that makes an heroine interesting -at least for me.
I wouldn’t have read this book if it were not in the Top 100 AAR list of 2013.
And I didn’t like her.
First, her life & thoughts & purposes in life are just plain boring.
Then, there’s a moment that I really liked, when Simon is talking about his travels and describing the Southern skies and I thought, well this is a real & magical moment. But then I realised that Daphne couldn’t be less interested in what Simon is telling. Someone so obsessed with her one desires that cannot share the dreams of her partner is not a good heroine for me.
And she’s got this way of behaving, always punching the gentlemen that I found so improper for a lady of her times. I even dislike that when a girl does that nowadays. You cannot hit anybody, female or male.
And last but not least – rape. To use someone who cannot give consent is obviously rape or at least a sexual assault. He does not want to have children. He should have told her, yes. But anyone, there’s no excuse for what she did.
So those were more or less the things I thought when I read this book, and expressed them in my review. So it’s a Loathsome heroine for me.
Bona…””I don’t connect with Julia Quinn’s books. One of the reasons is precisely that I’m not interested in heroines like Daphne, whose only purpose in life is being married and having children. It’s a good personal option, of course, but not one that makes an heroine interesting -at least for me.””
I’m pretty with you on this, as I feel much more drawn to heroines that express a passion for something in their lives beyond motherhood and marriage. If I had to list elements in romances that particularly appeal to me, one really key element is a heroine with a motivation and driving purpose beyond traditional gender roles. I think romances are getting better at this though, as there seem to be more options out there now.
I agree. I found Eloise to be much more interesting. And the rape is worse than the omission. Simon told her he could not have kids. She claimed he was enough, then turned around and tried to figure out if not being able to have kids is the same as not wanting them. She should have figured that out prior to marriage. At the least, she should have been honest herself and admitted that having a family was more important to her than the love of Simon. Her naivete does not excuse her. So for me, more an the rape, her lie of saying he was enough was more egregious than his omission.
I enjoyed this piece from Dear Author about heroism in romance. (http://dearauthor.com/features/letters-of-opinion/on-heroism-in-romance/)
In it, the author asks if we like our hero and heroine to be “”aspirational and if so, for what?”” Or do we like those who are “”more relatable than admirable?”” Thinking about Daphne in those terms, I’d say I respect her determination to have the life she longs for but I don’t respect the way she goes about pursuing her dreams. On the other hand, I like Daphne–she’s wryly humorous, compassionate (usually), and loyal. For me, she is a character I could understand but not one I admire.
Maria: “”I guess my problem is that every supposed historical almost NEVER takes Victorian attitudes and morals regarding sex seriously. No one in historical romances ever worries about sin or hell or the wrongness of birth control. All of these things were mainstream thinking at the time.””
I agree! Most historicals are not overly concerned with historical accuracy. The ones that are become even more valuable, especially if they offer new insights about social customs and values. I suspect that many readers are not looking for that though and are happier with a more modern tone because sex sells. A more accurate Victorian romance may have only one or two kisses, such as _Jane Eyre_ where passion is implied rather than shown.
This was my least favorite Julia Quinn book. When I first read it, I thought Daphne’s behavior was repulsive, as well as hideously selfish and arrogant. Simon, on the other hand, was an absolute idiot. He refuses to have children as a way to punish his father, who is a) dead and b) probably too busy dealing with brimstone and pitchforks to notice what Simon is or isn’t doing.
I liked both Daphne and Simon, and while my notes at the time say I didn’t approve of Daphne’s actions, I really don’t (and didn’t) approve of Simon’s actions either. While I don’t think of Ms Quinn’s works as bastions of historical accuracy I still make allowances for the historical context where children are a main point of marriage, there really is no understanding of issues of consent within marriage, and Simon placing the need for revenge against his father by ending the family line over the emotional and social needs of his wife was unacceptable too. I guess it’s one of those cases where in a historical I forgive actions I would never accept in a contemporary. But still not my favorite Bridgerton novel.
I totally agree (uh, see above).
I love the Bridgerton series–except for this one. I’ve read the other seven books repeatedly, but this one I’ve only read twice. I read the books in order, so I guess the first time I read this book, I didn’t mind what Daphne did too much–but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve only read it one more time since. It took a second reading for me to realize how wrong what she did was. I haven’t read it since. So while I may find her winsome for most of the book, I find what she did to try and resolve her situation loathsome.
I didn’t read the BRIDGERTON series in order, although I wish I had. I would have stopped reading JQ right then and there, too. For me it was RAPE, regardless of how the author tried to spin it. Were there social stigmas attached to childless couples, regardless of their social status? Yes, for sure. How else to prove your worth as a man/woman than the ability to procreate? And, of course that was more important for the aristocracy. But, in that vein, there were people who decided not to have children, too, for whatever reasons. Contraceptives were available, and knowledge in how not to conceive was out there. People were not as ignorant as we think, or would like to think. I believe when we readers read “”historicals”” we read with a Victorian POV. If an issue is ignored/not talked about, therefore that issue did not exist. For to acknowledge such things would be considered to be defective, deviant or kinky. Not within the norm. And who wants to be judged or frowned upon by society for not fitting within or straying beyond those societal confines?
But I agree with Caz, from her “”reviewer’s pov”” that this was lazy plotting. I, too, loathe the “”big misunderstanding”” in books. Communication is not something new to this 21st century. And since AAR started this blog–on what makes a hero/heroine worthy– I have a lot of beefs with the romance genre, in general. I thought the genre had come a long way from the old skool and the body rippers tropes. But phrases such as “”his mouth descending on hers in a PUNISHING kiss”” seem to be more prevalent these days. Why is the kiss punishing? Frankly, it don’t understand that, especially when I see it in contemps.
This book made me decide never to read another Julia Quinn. That is how offended I was by that scene.
Simon was raped. He was drunk; if I remember correctly, he begged her to stop when he realised what she was doing; he felt violated afterwards. There is no such thing as a perfect victim; blaming him for what she did is not much different from blaming women who are raped while drunk at frat parties. Yes, he deliberately misled Daphne about his ability to have children, but that doesn’t absolve her of her actions at all. She still raped him.
Offended as I was by this scene (which, I agree, was completely unnecessary), I was offended even more by the author’s presentation of Daphne. The book was clearly written with the intention that the reader would be on her side and hold Simon completely responsible — if I remember correctly, he does all the grovelling, and she never so much as apologises to him. Furthermore, he had told her that he didn’t intend to marry and she compromised him. That didn’t sit well with me at all. If the author had ever indicated that she was aware Daphne’s behaviour was questionable beyond Simon’s initial reaction, I would probably feel less strongly about it, but she didn’t.
All the best heroines are loathsome – Becky Sharp, Scarlett O’Hara, to name only two.
In real life my great grandmother was a little careless with the truth. She put her age back by ten years in order to obtain a marriage proposal from my 23 year great grand father. And thus I am here today.
I was a little surprised to see Daphne chosen, as I recall her being a pleasant heroine and the novel presenting a loving relationship despite both characters making mistakes.
Instead of blaming Daphne, I think Quinn made a clumsy and tasteless decision to resolve the pregnancy dilemma late in the novel by having Daphne take matters into her own hand. It seems the easy way out because genuine conflict over deciding to have children is elided and the plot becomes about Daphne’s actions and Simon’s forgiveness, and then all is wonderful as they join together to celebrate parenthood. If I have to “”blame”” anyone, I suppose it would be the writer for choosing to wrap up her book this way and push sincere conflict under the rug.
I agree with LSUReader though that this is one scene in a book that had largely presented Daphne in a positive light.
To me, Simon’s attitude to children and marriage was bullshit and ahistorical. Marriage back then was not ever thought of as a place where children were a “”choice,”” and something you had any right to withhold. Marriage existed almost solely as a structure to unite the father and mother to their offspring. Love and feeling between spouses was secondary. Simon’s attempt to seperate marriage and children is modern thinking and would have been almost akin to a joke or the ravings of a lunatic. So to my mind, his thought process as historical is a complete fail.
Because I thought of Simon’s determination to not have children as crazy and ahistorical, the book got placed In a sort of historical fantasy land, where regular morals don’t apply. So I applauded Daphne’s decision. Her actions made sense to me because she was thinking the way people in her time period thought of marriage, as THE place to have kids, choosing to NOT have kids and practicing any kind of birth control was considered a mortal sin (something that never gets addressed in””historicals””). So she, in the logic of the times, was saving their marriage from becoming a sinful state. So her actions made sense and allowed me to understand her rape of Simon.
You have good points about the need for historical accuracy. However, there were actually subterranean movements in the 19th century around birth control and birth control methods were known and discussed and sought. The modern birth control movement emerges from the 19th century, and so while the norm was for marriage and parenthood to prevail, not all aspired to it and not all bought into the concept of sin either. Victorian ideologies had strong control over the population, but as with anything, that control was never absolute. I would be fine to read a historical romance with a counter message on these issues if they are handled well because they were very real and thought-provoking. One of the best I’ve encountered is in Cecilia Grant’s _A Lady Awakened_ where the burden of constant pregnancy and its ill effects on women’s bodies is a theme. In the 19th century though a number of authors carefully explored the issue of unwanted pregnancy, including George Eliot and George Gissing (_The Odd Women_).
Courtney Milan’s novella “”A Kiss for Midwinter”” explores this.
I felt similarly. I looked at my old review of the book and I didn’t mention it at all, which is really odd considering that I’m childfree and usually am NOT cool with plots like this. But at the time I remember thinking that well, it’s not like the dude had the option to have sex and not have children really, AND his entire reason for staying childfree was to spite his dead dad. Which is pretty ridiculous. So while I didn’t think either of them acted terribly great, it seemed like things were inevitably going to end this way in a historical novel.
Daphne deserves her HEA. I’m not sure it’s fair or accurate to base a decision on one scene in a novel. We can isolate incidents in many of our favorite novels that leave us questioning that “”favorite”” status. And Heaven forbid, we begin to judge ourselves on that single-moment criteria! Given the whole of the work, she is a good heroine.
I had totally forgotten about that element in the book. It’s strange how an overall HEA makes you forget some of the murkier details. At the time I read this book I, like other people in the article, fell more on Daphne’s side than Simon’s but looking back with hindsight I can’t help but be a little shocked that the scene in question actually took place! Kind of unnecessary I guess.