This is considered one of the great examples of romance literature, and it’s been in the top 10 of the top 100 romance novels polls on All About Romance since 2000 (in 1998, it was rated 15th). When romance reviewers are asked to name their favourite books, it keeps being mentioned, and raved about, and I just never seemed to find the time to read it. Written in 1992, it’s considered one of the works that really changed the genre (away from the frequently No means Yes rapey/forced consent romances into closer to what it is today). It’s also a wonderful book to give to someone who claims romance is just trashy escapism for frustrated, sex-starved housewives. This is about as far from 50 Shades of Grey as you can get.
So what is it about then, you ask? Christian Langland, the Duke of Jervaulx is a dissolute rake if ever there was one, but he’s also a mathematical genius, which is why Quaker spinster Archemedea Timms comes into contact with him. Her father, another mathematician, is blind, and Maddy (a necessary nickname if ever I heard one) writes out all his notes and takes them to the duke, and in turn reads all the duke’s notes to her father. Then they hear that the duke’s been killed in a duel, after an aggrieved husband called Jervaulx out. Maddy discovers this isn’t true when she arrives at her cousin’s posh mental asylum in the countryside, and finds Jervaulx locked up, senseless and in chains. She quickly realises what no one else has been willing to consider, that he’s not mad but maddened, and that he’s clearly in his right mind, just furious at being unable to communicate with those around him. A modern reader can see that Jervaulx has suffered a stroke, but it’s not at all surprising that the duke’s relatives would want him locked up and declared insane, so they could take over the running of his estates.
Maddy, despite being deeply uncomfortable with the Jervaulx’s position and his dissolute lifestyle, believes herself to have received a calling from God, to help him. She stubbornly convinces her cousin (who for all the horrors of the asylum really is quite progressive, for the time) to let her tend him, and surprisingly rapidly, the duke is calm and compliant and even able to leave his cell on occasion. They grow increasingly closer the more time they spend together, with Jervaulx coming to depend on Maddy entirely. He has no way of communicating the amount of abuse he suffers from the other minders at the asylum, and realises that he can’t risk them feeling threatened. He finally recovers enough that they deem him ready for his competency hearing, and take him to London, where most of his family still believe him completely addled. Only his battleaxe of an aunt believes him to be on the way to recovery, but she’s worried about the reputation of the family, and wants Jervaulx to marry to secure the title. If he won’t agree to matrimony, she’ll have him shipped back to the asylum. Jervaulx has no intention of marrying anyone save Maddy, his rescuing angel, but her religious beliefs make such a union completely impossible. Full review on my blog.