Jude Deveraux’s The Duchess was my first romance novel. Had the library not been depleted of the latest V.C. Andrews melodrama, I would have never picked it up. After all these years, I still love The Duchess and everything…well, almost everything Jude Deveraux. So that’s why it pains me so much to muckrake with the plot, but for those of you who love Jude as much as I do, you must appreciate the humor in this sometimes outlandish Victorian romance.
The year is 1883. Buxom American heiress Claire Willoughby arrives in Scotland with her family to stay in an ancient Scottish castle, home to her handsome, if somewhat dim-witted fiancée, Harry Montgomery, the 11th Duke of MacArran. But wait, I will not get too much into the plot; it’s complicated, convoluted, dizzying…but that is not to suggest that it’s not entertaining.
Let me just focus on the hero in question: Trevelyn Montgomery, Harry’s rakish older brother, the true Duke of MacArran and notorious Victorian explorer known to the world as Captain Frank Baker. Why is Harry the Duke? Because the Royal Geographic Society assumed Captain Frank Baker perished into the interiors of Africa.
Or did he?
Claire tramples this Victorian Indiana Jones while ridding sidesaddle through the brambles of the Scottish Highlands. Reminiscent of the first meeting between Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre, Claire falls off her horse, Trevelyn loses his balance and falls also…into Claire’s bosom! How kind of Claire to cushion his fall! I can tell you one thing, this never happened in Jane Eyre.
Trevelyn Montgomery isn’t exactly at the peak of health. He’s weak, exhausted, emaciated, fevered, chilled, nauseated, yellow in color, and it burns when he pees. Wait…it burns when he pees? He told Claire that he’s returned to Scotland to recover from a nasty bout of malaria that he contracted from his exotic explorations, but it sounds like he’s contracted something else as well…
Now, how do you think he got himself into that pickle jar? Do you think sleeping with twenty-five Nubian princesses in a single night might have contributed to his little “problem” ? Claire Willoughby picked a winner…
Oh, but Claire and Trevelyn have such chemistry and the wittiest banter this side of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. What’s a little French disease in comparison to such mental stimulation, such clever wordplay? For there truly must be complications when you fall in love with a lecherous man.