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?