I don’t know if you’ve ever read a book by Barbara Cartland, but she was something of a romance powerhouse. I mean, she was Dame Barbara Cartland. I feel that everyone romance fan should read one of her books at some point. After all, they’re category length, and some are quite good. The Disgraceful Duke is a cute story, rather intricate, and entertaining.
Shimona Bardsley is the daughter of a famous actor, yet she’s lived a very quiet and solitary life. Her mother and father created quite a scandal when they ran off to get married. Shimona is rather unconventional, because she grew up sequestered; her only interaction seems to have been with her parents, her nurse, and her father’s dresser. She’s well read and well educated for a woman, but quite innocent. She’s a bit in awe of her father, as she’s been brought up to believe that his wants and desires are utmost. It’s this conditioning that leads to the actual story. Her lifestyle has also made characters in plays more real to her than actual persons and nobility.
The Duke of Ravenstone is known to all as the “His Disgrace” (which is rather clever, no?) because of his disreputable lifestyle. He grew up with an incredibly stern and austere father, which resulted in him rebelling at the first taste of freedom. He’s actually reformed since then, but we all know how gossip and follies stay with a person – especially in Regency England. Ravenstone is both selfish and not – he’s decided to help his nephew, Alister McCraig, secure an inheritance, willing to set up an intricately delicate situation to do so. Of course, he claims he’s doing so to keep his Alister out of his hair in the future. He needs an actress to pretend to be his nephew’s wife. The reason being his nephew married an actress, and is someone his great uncle The McCraig would approve of. It’s a rather ironic and complicated situation.
Enter Shimona. She overhears Ravenstone soliciting her father at the theater for an appropriate actress, and she decides to do it. They need the money, because although her father is an extremely celebrated actor (of course), he’s too softhearted and gives all his money away to his colleagues. Beau is extremely ill, and Shimona is determined to take him to a warmer climate. Ravenstone is offering 1,000 guineas for a job well done. (You can imagine what results.)
There actually are some twists and turns in the story, involving an extension of the charade, and tragedy. Shimona is a very typical Barbara Cartland character – unsophisticated and unworldly, yet sprightly and intelligent. I read this book and found myself thinking “oh, how cute/quaint” a number of times. I also will say I like the story more than I thought I would. It really is quite interesting.
One thing that does bother me is how stilted and halting the heroine’s speech is. I opened to a random page and counted eight ellipses. This is one characteristic of Ms. Cartland’s writing that seems inescapable. At times, it makes you want to smack, or muzzle the heroine, but if you ignore it, the story reads well. Whether it’s meant to be so or not, I tend to read Ms. Cartland’s books with a tongue-in-cheek mentality, and it has served me well.
In a desperate attempt to earn enough money to save her dying father, Shimona Bardsley accepts the Duke of Ravenstone’s offer to act a part for two nights. Yet her involvment with the dissolute Duke known as “His Disgrace,” sets off a long train of events following her two nights of pretense. After he gallantly rescues her from a dangerous fire, she has the chance to save his life, but loses her heart. Can the Duke leave his sordid past behind and fall in love with Shimona?