An American Duchess
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
It’s the 1920’s after the terribleness of the First World War and American heiress Zoe Gifford needs to marry even though she longs for the freedoms being attibuted to women in this new age. But her father has left her a huge amount of money that she does not receive until she marries and she desperately needs it to help her mother out of a potentially very embarrassing and serious situation.
And so Zoe has agreed to marry Sebastian Hazelton, the younger brother of a Duke whose family has fallen on hard times and desperately needs an injection of cash to maintain the family pile. Zoe will gift Sebastian a sum that will allow his older brother Nigel, the Duke of Langford to keep the estate going and then later on, she and Sebastian will quietly divorce.
What Zoe didn’t count on was the incredibly cold and austere Duke, who makes no secret of the fact that he doesn’t approve of Zoe or her impending marriage to Sebastian. Having served in the War, the Duke is still greatly feeling the effects of the tragedy he witnessed and was party to although he takes great pains to hide this from others, knowing that if anyone were to discover his weakness it would be off to some sort of asylum for horrific treatments. Nigel is desperately clinging to the old ways of the aristocracy and this brash American challenges his every belief.
Despite their differences, there’s no denying that there’s also a time when they’re in perfect harmony and when Zoe ends up marrying Nigel rather than Sebastian, she believes she can make him happy. However Nigel remains closed off and distant from her, refusing to allow her the freedom to choose her own path and Zoe may end up having to choose between the life she wants to live and the husband she has fallen in love with.
I’ve read a few books set in the 1920’s recently and it’s an era that I’m really coming to enjoy. I was also drawn to this one because in a way, it turns the romance formula a bit upside down. Zoe was raised in America and is far more liberal than many English so she’s the one who embraces sexual freedom, choices, equality and seems to very much dominate Nigel, who is in turn, far more repressed and inexperienced in ways of flirting. He’s been raised to make a good match and the war and responsibility of the family estate have weighed heavily on him. Nigel is clinging on to the old ways, where women stayed in the family home until they were married, generally to a suitable and often advantageous match and then they went to keep their own home. Zoe, who flies her own plane and drives a car and tempts him in many ways, is hardly his representation of the ideal wife.
Despite the fact that she finds him stuffy, Zoe can’t really seem to leave Nigel alone and she seeks him out, even when it seems he would avoid her. Nigel knows that his conservative grandmother is not going to react well to Zoe and her outlandish ideas and the family has several very heated discussions about a woman’s role versus women’s liberation. I loved the chemistry that the two have – despite their different ideas, or perhaps because of them, every scene they’re in together in the first half of the book fairly crackles with it.
Zoe and Nigel do end up marrying and I liked that Page tried to portray that just because they’ve found some kind of harmony, the happy ending isn’t always easy. Both Zoe and Nigel have to struggle through different issues: Nigel still wants to maintain the proper and correct decorum and Zoe just wants him to throw caution to the wind and live a little. Zoe married Nigel thinking she could make him happy but it isn’t that simple – you can’t make someone happy, they need to be happy in themselves first and as well. Nigel still has many issues with his post-war trauma and the two of them do stumble attempting to find their way.
I feel as though Nigel and Zoe are both extremes at opposing ends. At times Zoe is clearly too reckless and determined to do her own thing, almost as if to make a point because Nigel doesn’t want her to. She does tend to ignore his feelings at times in favour of ‘I’m a woman, this is the 1920’s, I do what I want’ and it has dire consequences for her and their marriage. I kind of understood her desire to be selfish on one hand but on the other she made me a little exasperated because she wanted everything right now and didn’t seem to understand the possible repercussions until it was far too late. The further the book went on, the less I actually liked Zoe, especially after she went back to America. It seemed much like she just wanted Nigel to grovel and tell her how right she was about everything when really at most times, she was just as unbending in her own ways and views as he was.
Still, I enjoyed this book and their interesting relationship. There’s a little unfinished here with Nigel’s younger sisters and I’m kind of hoping they might get their own stories in the future.
Book #200 of 2014