When an intelligent but impoverished woman is accepted into Oxford’s first class of female students, she must juggle a spectrum of challenges, but nothing prepares her for the attractive and intimidating Duke of Montgomery.
“Of all the types of men she had learned to manage, the ‘ignorant yet self-important’ type was not exactly the most challenging. Then again, when her very fate lay in the hands of such a man, it added insult to injury.” When Annabelle Archer wins a scholarship to Oxford from the National Society for Women’s Suffrage, she first must convince her dullard, self-righteous cousin to allow her to go. She lets him believe the stipend came from the school, since he’d never agree if he knew the real source: “It was a safe guess that on the list of moral outrages, votes for women would rank only marginally below scandals of passion in Gilbert’s book.” After reaching the school, beautiful, overeducated Annabelle is asked to help the Society convince gentlemen of influence to overthrow The Married Women’s Property Act. The first man Annabelle approaches is the Duke of Montgomery, arguably the most influential man in England, who is at the beginning of what everyone expects will be an illustrious political career. The two notice each other, and as their paths cross again and again, their stories become more and more entwined, tightened by their attraction and shared experiences, yet thwarted by their respective places in society as well as conflicting goals. Dunmore’s beautifully written debut perfectly balances history, sexual tension, romantic yearning, and the constant struggle smart women have in finding and maintaining their places and voices in life and love, with the added message that finding the right person brings true happiness and being with them is worth any price.
A brilliant debut.