Bringing Down the Duke

Bringing Down the Duke

by Evie Dunmore

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Overview

A Most Anticipated Fall Release for Bustle, Refinery29, and Publishers Weekly!

A stunning debut for author Evie Dunmore and her Oxford suffragists in which a fiercely independent vicar's daughter takes on a powerful duke in a fiery love story that threatens to upend the British social order.


England, 1879. Annabelle Archer, the brilliant but destitute daughter of a country vicar, has earned herself a place among the first cohort of female students at the renowned University of Oxford. In return for her scholarship, she must support the rising women's suffrage movement. Her charge: recruit men of influence to champion their cause. Her target: Sebastian Devereux, the cold and calculating Duke of Montgomery who steers Britain's politics at the Queen's command. Her challenge: not to give in to the powerful attraction she can't deny for the man who opposes everything she stands for.

Sebastian is appalled to find a suffragist squad has infiltrated his ducal home, but the real threat is his impossible feelings for green-eyed beauty Annabelle. He is looking for a wife of equal standing to secure the legacy he has worked so hard to rebuild, not an outspoken commoner who could never be his duchess. But he wouldn't be the greatest strategist of the Kingdom if he couldn't claim this alluring bluestocking without the promise of a ring...or could he?

Locked in a battle with rising passion and a will matching her own, Annabelle will learn just what it takes to topple a duke....

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781984805683
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/03/2019
Series: League of Extraordinary Women Series , #1
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 1,407
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Debut author Evie Dunmore wrote Bringing Down The Duke inspired by the magical scenery of Oxford and her passion for romance, women pioneers, and all things Victorian. In her civilian life, she is a consultant with a M.Sc. in Diplomacy from Oxford. She is a member of the British Romantic Novelists' Association (RNA). Evie lives in Berlin and pours her fascination with 19th century Britain into her writing.

Read an Excerpt

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***

Copyright © 2019 Evie Dunmore

One

 

Kent, August 1879

 

“Absolutely not. What an utterly hare-brained idea, Annabelle.”

Gilbert’s eyes had the rolling look of a deer that knew the hounds were upon him.

Annabelle lowered her lashes. She knew it would look demure; and demure placated her cousin best when he was all in a fluster. 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. Gilbert would snatch the chance of a lifetime from her here in his cramped little study and go straight back to admiring his freshly pinned butterflies in the display case on the desk between them.

“What would be next,” he said, “joining the circus? Standing for Parliament?”

“I understand that it’s unusual,” she said, “but—”

“You are not going to Oxford,” he bellowed and slapped his hand down on the desk.

Her father’s old desk. Left to Gilbert in her father’s will rather than to her. The sturdy piece of furniture was patently wasted on Gilbert: age-worn on four carved lion paws, it would have bolstered any man’s authority, but her cousin was still fluffed up like a startled chicken. Well. It was understandable that he felt ambushed. She had surprised herself. After five long years as Gilbert’s maid for everything, she hadn't expected to feel a yearning urge ever again. She’d kept her head down, her feet on the ground, and had accepted that the parish borders of Chorleywood were the boundaries to her dreams. And then the news that Oxford University had opened a women’s college had slammed into her chest with the force of an arrow.

She had wanted to ignore it, but, after barely a week, her self-control, so laboriously acquired, had crumbled.

But surely, this was not just a case of her wanting too much. Who knew for how long Gilbert’s ramshackle household would stand between her and destitution? Between her and a position where she was easy prey for a lecherous master? During the day, she went through her routines like an automaton. At night, the awareness crept in that she was forever balancing on the precipice of an abyss and there, at the bottom, lurked old age in the workhouse. In her nightmares, she fell and fell.

Her fingers felt for the slim envelope in her apron pocket. Her Oxford admission letter. A proper education could break her fall.

“This conversation is over,” Gilbert said.

Her hands knotted into fists. Calm. Stay calm. “I didn’t mean to quarrel with you,” she said softly. “I thought you would be delighted.” A blatant lie, that.

Gilbert’s brow furrowed. “Delighted, me?” His expression slid into something like concern. “Are you quite all right?”

“Given the advantages for your family, I assumed you’d welcome the opportunity.”

“Advantages—”

“I apologise, cousin. I shouldn’t have wasted your precious time.” She made to rise.

“Now, don’t be hasty,” Gilbert said, waving his hand. “Sit, sit.”

She gazed at him limpidly. “I know that you have great plans for the boys,” she said, “and an Oxford-certified governess would help with that.”

“Indeed I have plans, sound plans,” Gilbert clucked, “but you already know more Greek and Latin than is necessary, certainly more than is appropriate. And ‘tis well known that too much education derails the female brain, and where’s the advantage for us in that, eh?”

“I could have applied for a position as governess or companion at the manor.”

This was her final shot - if mentioning Baron Ashby, lord of the manor up the hill and owner of their parish, did not move Gilbert, nothing would. Gilbert fair worshipped the ground the nobleman walked on.

Indeed, he stilled. She could almost hear his mind beginning to work, churning like the old kitchen grindstone, old because Gilbert never had enough coin to maintain the cottage. A logical consequence when his small salary for ringing the church bells remained the same while his family steadily grew.

 “Well,” Gilbert said, “that could earn a pretty penny. The master pays well.”

“Indeed. But I understand. Even a fortune wouldn’t justify impropriety.”

“‘Tis true, ‘tis true, but it wouldn’t be exactly improper, would it, given that it would serve a higher purpose.”

“Oh,” she cried, “I couldn’t go, now that you’ve shown me all the flaws in my plan – what if my brain derailed …”

 “Now, don’t exaggerate,” Gilbert said, “your head is probably quite inured to books. However, we can’t do without your hands for even a week. I’d have to hire help in your stead.” He levelled an alarmingly cunning gaze at her. “The budget won’t allow for that, as you know.”

How unfortunate that he had to discover financial planning now. No doubt he wanted her to compensate any expenses her departure would cause, since she cost him exactly… nothing. Unfortunately, her small scholarship would barely keep her fed and clothed.

She leaned forward in her chair. “How much would you pay a maid, cousin?”

Gilbert’s eyes widened with surprise, but he recovered quickly enough.

He crossed his arms. “Two pounds.”

She arched a brow. “Two pounds?”

His expression turned mulish. “Yes. Beth is, eh, in a certain way again. I’ll hire additional help.”

He wouldn’t, but she managed to take the bite out of her voice. “Then I shall send you two pounds every month.”

Gilbert frowned. “Now, how will you manage that?”

“Quite easily.” I have absolutely no idea. “There’ll be plenty of pupils in need of tutoring.”

“I see.” 

He was not convinced, and neither was she, for even the maids at the manor wouldn’t earn two pounds a months, and if she scraped together an extra two shillings, it would be a miracle.

She rose and stuck out her hand across the desk. “You have my word.”

Gilbert eyed her hand as if it were an alien creature. “Tell me,” he then said, “how can I be sure that those Oxford airs and graces won’t rub off on you, and that you will come back here in the end?”

Her mind blanked. Odd. The entire purpose of wheedling a permission out of Gilbert had been to keep her place in his household – a woman needed a place, any place. But something bristled inside her at the thought of giving her word on the matter.

“But where else would I go?” she asked.

Gilbert pursed his lips. He absently patted his belly. He took his time before he spoke again. “If you fell behind on your payments,” he finally said, “I’d have to ask you to return.”

Her mind turned the words over slowly. Calling her back meant he had to let her go first. He was letting her go.

“Understood,” she managed.

The press of his soft fingers barely registered against her calloused palm. She steadied herself against the desk, the only solid thing in a suddenly fuzzy room.

 “You’ll need a chaperone, of course,” she heard him say.

She couldn’t stifle a laugh, a throaty sound that almost startled her. “But I’m twenty-five years old.”

 “Hmph,” Gilbert said,  “I suppose with such an education, you’ll make yourself wholly unmarriageable anyway.”

 “How fortunate then that I have no desire to marry.”

 “Yes, yes,” Gilbert said. She knew he didn’t approve of voluntary spinsterhood, ’twas unnatural. But any concerns expressed over her virtue were at best a nod to protocol, and he probably suspected as much. Or, like everyone in Chorleywood, he suspected something.

As if on cue, he scowled. “There is one more thing we have to be clear about, Annabelle, quite clear indeed.”

The words were already hovering between them, like buzzards readying to strike.

Have them pick at her; at this point, her sensibilities were as calloused as her hands.

“Oxford, as is well known, is a place of vice,” Gilbert began, “a viper pit, full of drunkards and debauchery. Should you become entangled in anything improper, if there’s but a shadow of a doubt about your moral conduct, much as it pains me, you will forfeit your place in this house. A man in my position, in service of the Church of England, must stay clear of scandal.”

He was, no doubt, referring to the sort of scandal involving a man. He had no reason to worry on that account. There was, however, the matter of her scholarship. Gilbert seemed to assume that it had been granted by the university, but in truth her benefactor was the National Society for Women’s Suffrage, which she now had to support in their quest for a woman’s right to vote. In her defence, the Society had first come to her attention through a certain Lady Lucie Tedbury and her adverts for women stipends, not because she had an interest in political activism, but 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.

“Fortunately, an old spinster from the country should be quite safe from any scandals,” she said brightly, “even at Oxford.”

Gilbert’s squint returned. She tensed as he perused her. Had she overdone it? She might be past the first blush of youth, and digging up potatoes in wind, sun, and rain had penciled a few delicate lines around her eyes. But the mirror in the morning still showed the face of her early twenties, the same slanted cheekbones, the fine nose, and, a nod to her French ancestry, a mouth that always seemed on the verge of a pout. A mouth that compelled a man to go quite mad for her, or so she had been told.

She quirked her lips wryly. Whenever she met her reflection, she saw her eyes. Their green sparkle had been long dulled by an awareness no fresh debutante would possess, an awareness that shielded her far better from scandals than fading looks ever could. Truly, the last thing she wanted was to get into trouble over a man again.

 

Two

 

Westminster, October

 

          “Now,” said Lady Lucie, “for the new members among us, there are three rules for handing a leaflet to a gentleman. One: identify a man of influence. Two: approach him firmly, but with a smile. Three: remember they can sense if you are afraid, but they are usually more afraid of you.”

          “Like dogs,” Annabelle muttered.

          The lady’s sharp gray gaze shifted to her. “Why, yes,” she said. Clearly there were good ears on this one, something to keep in mind.

          Annabelle clutched the ends of her shawl against her chest in a frozen fist. The rough wool offered little protection from the chilly London fog wafting across Parliament Square, certainly not from the cutting glances of passers-by. Parliament was closed for the season, but there were still plenty of gentlemen strolling around Westminster, engineering the laws that governed them all. Her stomach plunged at the though of approaching any such man. No decent woman would talk to a stranger in the street, certainly not while brandishing pamphlets that boldly declared The Married Women’s Property Act makes a slave of every wife!

                There was of course some truth to this headline - thanks to the Property Act, a woman lost her property to her husband on her wedding day… Still, given the disapproving glances skewering their little group, she had tried to hold her pamphlets discreetly. Her efforts had been demolished swiftly the moment Lady Lucie, secretary of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage, had opened her mouth for her motivating speech. The lady was a deceptively ethereal-looking creature, dainty like a china doll with perfectly smooth pale blonde hair and a delicate heart-shaped face, but her voice blared like a foghorn across the square as she charged her disciples.

How had these ladies been coerced into attendance? They were huddling like sheep in a storm, clearly wishing to be elsewhere, and she'd bet her shawl that none of them were beholden to the purse-string of a stipend committee. The red-haired girl next to her looked unassuming enough with her round brown eyes and her upturned nose, pink from the cold, but thanks to the Oxford grapevine, she knew who the young woman was: Miss Harriet Greenfield, daughter of Britain’s most powerful banking tycoon. The mighty Julien Greenfield probably had no idea that his daughter was working for the cause. Gilbert certainly would have an apoplexy if he learned about any of this.

Miss Greenfield held her leaflets gingerly, as if she half-expected them to try and take a bite out of her hand. “Identify, approach, smile,” she murmured. “That’s simple enough.”

Hardly. With their collars flipped high and top hats pulled low, every man hasting past was a fortress.

The girl looked up, and their gazes caught. Best to give a cordial smile and to glance away.

“You are Miss Archer, aren’t you? The student with the stipend?”

Miss Greenfield was peering up at her over her purple fur stole.

Of course. The grapevine in Oxford worked both ways.

“The very same, miss,” she said and wondered what it would be, pity, or derision?

Miss Greenfield’s eyes lit with curiosity instead. “You must be awfully clever to win a stipend.”

“Why, thank you,” Annabelle said slowly. “Awfully overeducated, rather.”

Miss Greenfield giggled, sounding very young. “I’m Harriet Greenfield,” she said and extended a gloved hand. “Is this your first suffrage meeting?”

Lady Lucie seemed too absorbed by her own ongoing speech about justice and John Stewart Mill to notice them talking.

Still, Annabelle lowered her voice to a whisper. “It is my first meeting, yes.”

“Oh, lovely – mine, too,” Miss Greenfield said. “I so hope that this is going to be a good fit. It’s certainly much harder to find one’s noble cause than one would expect, isn’t it?”

Annabelle frowned. “One’s … noble cause?”

 “Yes, don’t you think everyone should have a noble cause? I wanted to join the Ladies’ Committee for Prison Reform, but Mama would not let me. So I tried the Royal Horticulture Society, but that was a miss.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“It’s a process.” Miss Greenfield was unperturbed. “I have a feeling that women’s rights are a worthy cause, though I have to say the very idea of walking up to a gentleman and—”

“Is there a problem, Miss Greenfield?”

The voice cracked like a shot, making both of them flinch. Bother. Lady Lucie was glaring at them, one small fist propped on her hip.

Miss Greenfield ducked her head. “N-no.”

“No? I had the impression that you were discussing something.”

Miss Greenfield gave a non-committal squeak. Lady Lucie was known to take no prisoners. There were rumours that she had single-handedly caused a diplomatic incident involving the Spanish ambassador and a silver fork …

“We were just a little worried, given that we are new at this,” Annabelle said, and Lady Lucie’s flinty gaze promptly skewered her. Holy bother. The secretary was not a woman to mask moods with sugary smiles. Where a hundred women clamoured to be domestic sun rays, this one was a thunderstorm.

Surprisingly, the lady settled for a brusque nod. “Worry not,” she said, “You may work together.”

Miss Greenfield perked up immediately. Annabelle bared her teeth in a smile. If they lobbied but one man of influence between the two of them, she’d be surprised.

With a confidence she did not feel, she led the girl toward the busy hackney coach stop where the air smelled of horses.

“Identify, approach, smile,” Miss Greenfield hummed. “Do you think this can be done while keeping a low profile, Miss Archer? You see, my father … I’m not sure he is aware that working for the cause is such a public affair.”

Annabelle cast a poignant glance around the square. They were in the very heart of London, in the shadow of Big Ben, surrounded by people who probably all had dealings with Miss Greenfield’s father in some shape or form. Keeping a low profile would have entailed staying back in Oxford. It would have been much nicer to stay in Oxford. A gent nearing the hackneys slowed, stared, then gave a her a wide berth, his lips twisting as if he had stepped into something unpleasant. Another suffragist nearby did not seem to fare much better - the men brushed her off with sneers and flicks of their gentlemanly hands. Something about these contemptuous hands made a long-suppressed emotion stir in the pit of her stomach, and it burned up her throat like acid. Anger.

“It’s not as though my father is opposed to women’s rights as such - oh,” Miss Greenfield breathed. She had gone still, her attention fixing on something beyond Annabelle’s shoulder.

She turned.

Near the entrance of parliament, a group of three men materialised from the mist. They were approaching the hackneys, rapidly and purposeful like a steam train.

Uneasy awareness prickled down her spine.

The man on the left looked like a brute, with his hulking figure straining his fine clothes. The man in the middle was a gentleman, his grim face framed by large side-burns. The third man … The third man was what they were looking for: a man of influence. His hat was tilted low, half obscuring his face, and his well-tailored topcoat gave him the straight shoulders of an athlete rather than a genteel slouch. But he moved with that quiet, commanding certainty that said he knew he could own the ground he walked on.

As if he’d sensed her scrutiny, he looked up.

She froze.

His eyes were striking, icy clear and bright with intelligence, a cool, penetrating intelligence that would cut right to the core of things, to assess, dismiss, eviscerate.

All at once, she was as transparent and fragile as glass.

Her gaze jerked away, her heart racing. She knew his type. She had spent years resenting him, the kind of man who had his self-assurance bred into his bones, who oozed entitlement from the self-assured way he held himself to his perfectly straight aristo nose. He’d send people scurrying with a flick of his fingers.

It suddenly seemed important not to scurry out of this man’s way.

They wanted men of influence to hear them out? Well, she had just completed step one: identify the gentleman.

Two: approach him firmly … her fingers tightened around the leaflets as her feet propelled her forward, right into his path.

His pale eyes narrowed.

Smile.

A push against her shoulder knocked her sideways. “Make way, madam!”

The brute. She had forgotten he existed; now he sent her stumbling over her own feet, and for a horrible beat the world careened around her.

A firm hand clamped around her upper arm, steadying her.

Her gaze flew up and collided with an icy glare.

Drat. It was the aristocrat himself.

 

Holy hell. This man went utterly beyond what they had set out to catch. There wasn’t an ounce of softness in him, not a trace of a chink in his armour. He was clean shaven, his Nordic-blond hair cropped short at the sides, in fact, everything about him was clean, straight and efficient: the prominent nose, the slashes of his brows, the firm line of his jaw. He had the polished, impenetrable surface of a glacier.

Her stomach gave a sickening lurch.

She was face to face with the rarest of breeds: a perfectly unmanageable man.

She should run.

She couldn’t stop staring. These eyes. There was a world of tightly leashed intensity in their depths that held her, pulled her in, until awareness sizzled between them bright and disturbing like an electric current.

The man’s lips parted. His gaze dropped to her mouth. A flash of heat brightened his eyes, there and gone like lightning.

Well. No matter their position in the world, they all liked her mouth.

She forced up her hand with the pamphlets and held it right under his arrogant nose. “Amend the Married Women’s Property Act, Sir?”

His eyes were, impossibly, colder than before. “You play a risky game, miss.”

A voice as cool and commanding as his presence.

It heated rather than calmed her blood.

“With all due respect, the risk of being pushed by a gentleman in bright daylight is usually quite low,” she said, “would you release me now, please?”

His gaze snapped to his right hand. Which was still wrapped around her arm.

His face shuttered.

The next moment, she was free.

The bustle and noise of Parliament Square reached her ears again, unnaturally loud.

The press of strong fingers round her arm lingered like the afterglow of a burn.

He was already moving past her, staring ahead, his two companions rushing after him.

She swallowed and found her mouth was dry. Her lips still tingled as if he’d brushed over them with a fingertip.

A small, gloved hand touched her sleeve, and she jumped. Miss Greenfield’s brown eyes were wide with concern and… awe. “Miss. Are you alright?”

 “Yes.” No. Her cheeks were burning as if she had fallen nose first onto the damp cobblestones. She smoothed a trembling hand over her skirts. “Well then,” she said with false cheer, “I gather the gentlemen were not interested.”

From the corner of her eye, she watched the ice lord and his minions file into a large carriage. Meanwhile, Miss Greenfield was contemplating her with covert wariness, probably trying to determine politely whether she was a little unhinged. She wasn’t, but there was no denying that she had acted on impulse. Lord help her. She hadn’t been impulsive in so long.

 “Do you know who that was?” Miss Greenfield asked.

Annabelle shook her head.

“That,” the girl said, “was the Duke of Montgomery.”

A duke. Of course the first man she tried to lobby turned out to be a duke, just a fraction short of a prince…

A pair of heels clicked rapidly behind them, Lady Lucie was approaching with the force of a small frigate. “Was that what it looked like?” she demanded, “did you just try to lobby the Duke of Montgomery?”

Annabelle’s spine straightened. “I didn’t know that he was excluded from our efforts.”

“He’s not. Just no one has ever tried going near him before.” The lady cocked her head and looked Annabelle up and down. “I can’t decide whether you are one of the bravest or one of the most foolish women I’ve recently recruited.”

“I didn’t know who he was,” Annabelle said. “He just looked like a man of influence.”

“Well, you had that right,” Lady Lucie said, “he is one of the most influential men in the country.”

“Wouldn’t it be worth a try then, to speak to him?”

“Have you seen him? This is a man who divorced his wife after barely a year, kept her dowry, and made her disappear. We can safely assume that he is a lost battle where women’s rights are concerned, and not squander our limited resources on him.”

“A divorce?” She might be from a small place like Chorleywood, but even she knew that the aristocracy did not divorce. Still, she could not seem to let it go. “Would the duke’s opinion sway other men of influence?”

Lady Lucie gave an unladylike snort. “He could sway the entire upcoming election if he wished.”

“But that means that if he’s against us, it hardly matters how many of the others we win for the cause, doesn’t it?”

“Possibly.” A frown creased Lady Lucie’s brow. “But it is of no consequence. Our army is not made for attacking such a fortress.”

“How about a siege, then,” Annabelle said, “or a subterfuge, like a big, wooden horse.”

Two pairs of eyes narrowed at her.

Oh, grand, she had thought that out loud. Being pushed by that man must’ve shaken her more than she’d thought.

“Well, I do like the sound of that,” Lady Lucie drawled. “We should put Montgomery onto the agenda for next week’s meeting.” A smile curved her lips as she stuck out her hand. “Call me Lucie. You too, Miss Greenfield. And do excuse me, I believe that is Lord Chiltern over there.”

They watched her plunge into the fog, her red scarf flapping behind her like a pennant. When Miss Greenfield turned back to Annabelle, her expression was serious. “You saved me from Lucie biting my head off in front of everyone earlier. Please call me Hattie.”

It felt a little wrong, such familiarity first with a lady, and now an heiress. Annabelle took a deep breath. This was her new life, being a student, petitioning dukes, shaking hands with unfathomably wealthy girls in purple fur stoles. It seemed that the wisest course of action was to pretended that this was all perfectly normal.

“My pleasure,” she said. “And apologies for not keeping a low profile earlier.”

Hattie’s laugh floated merrily across the square, attracting almost as many scandalised glances as their pamphlets.

They failed to enthuse any man of influence that afternoon. In between half-hearted attempts, Annabelle’s gaze kept straying back to the direction where the coach with the duke had disappeared.

Reading Group Guide

Bringing Down the Duke
Evie Dunmore
Discussion Questions

1. What obstacles do you think Annabelle and Sebastian will face now that they have finally chosen to be together, considering the opposition their union will encounter in their social circles? How do you envision their first year of marriage?

2. At Lady Lingham’s Christmas dinner, Annabelle contemplates how experiencing passion has ruined her for otherwise perfectly eligible men. Is this something you can relate to? How important is passion in a romantic relationship?

3. There are several examples throughout history of British aristocrats who went against protocol and married their commoner mistress, a courtesan, or their favourite actress. Why do you think Sebastian chose Annabelle over his life’s work? What consequences do you think he will face?

4. Why do you think Annabelle rejected the position of Sebastian’s mistress even though it would have given her the safety net she badly needed? Do you agree or disagree with her choices?

5. When debating the trade-off between freedom and security with Sebastian, Annabelle quotes John Stuart Mill, who says “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.” What do you think this means? Do you agree or disagree?

6. Annabelle and Sebastian navigate complicated gender and power dynamics as they build their relationship. How would you describe these? How do you think their relationship compares to modern standards?

7. The University of Oxford is an integral part of the book. Why do you think the author chose to set the story there? How does the academic setting impact the story? What does Oxford represent to you?

8. What do you think were the main arguments and worries against women receiving a higher education? How do you see these arguments played out in the book?

9. It is important to Annabelle that she continue her education, even after she marries Sebastian. Is education important to you? Why do you think Annabelle is so determined to receive her Oxford degree?

10. It took British women and their male allies nearly seventy years to achieve the right for women to vote in Parliamentary elections or to run for the office of Member of Parliament. Why do you think the process was so slow? How does it compare to the women’s suffrage movement in the United States?

11. Annabelle and her friends organize protests and lobby politicians to fight for their rights. What parallels can you draw to today’s political activism? How has political activism changed since then?

12. Both Queen Victoria, the most powerful woman in Europe, and Miss Elizabeth Wordsworth, the first warden of Oxford’s first women’s college, were against female political activism and women’s suffrage. Why do you think such influential and educated women would oppose women’s rights? What connections can you draw to present-day politics?

13. In order for the National Society for Women’s Suffrage to succeed, they needed to gain the support of influential male figures in the government. What role do men play in modern feminism?

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Bringing Down the Duke 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
gaele 17 days ago
Annabelle is tired of being the ‘governess/maid of all work/ servant’ to her cousin, a vicar. He’s more interested in keeping Annabelle in line, a not so easy task as she is determined, intelligent and chafing against the restrictions placed on her by the simple fact of her sex. While we know that am indiscretion when she was a teen left her disowned and needing to rely on her cousin, it has led her to not trusting in any man, and determined to find a way to define and live her own life despite the constraints placed on women. She does have an out though – her own acceptance into Oxford to continue her studies of the classics – if only she can convince said cousin to let her go and her ability to pay him for her absence. Once in Oxford – it feels a great relief were it not for her tutorials taking place over teashops and in rooms set far away from the college proper – and with plenty of time to use her brains and determination for other things. Soon she is in the movement to amend and alter the property laws that mean that a wonan will give up her property to her husband’s management and ownership when they marry. Secondary issues here result in the laws stating that only “men of property” have the right to vote – and while suffrage and the vote isn’t the primary issue, it’s all tied together. With her two special friends, the three are given the task of ‘changing’ the mind of particular Lords and members of Parliament – and Annabelle’s chance encounter with the Duke of Montgomery – a confidante of the Queen, and feared by all for his powerful management of himself and his interests. Often thought cold and unfeeling, Sebastian has several secrets and plenty of worries – not the least is his failed marriage and his recalcitrant brother. Sebastian is intrigued and drawn by Annabelle – her determination, brains and ability to make him rethink things in new ways have him off-balance and spending more time (and political capital) on thoughts of her, or actions on her behalf. He was hurt badly once, and it is mostly fear and worries about ‘what people will think” after his rather disreputable father near bankrupted the title and holdings – all of which Sebastian has worked tirelessly to mend. While the difference in status bothers them both – and both have reason for shying away from a more ‘formal’ arrangement, or even marriage – the two of them are unable to deny the attraction or that they are so well matched. A lovely debut that only muddled a few times with stories of Sebastian’s brother’s disappearance and Annabelle’s friends, but these moments gave us a deeper understanding of the characters the two have as friends and family, and added depth. I’m interested in the next book, and can’t wait to see how long it took the scandals around the match of Annabelle and Sebastian took to die down. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility. Review first appeared at I am, Indeed
wendm_ccbh 17 days ago
Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore was a hit! Just another reason to devour more historical romance books #yum The setting is England, 1879. Annabelle Archer is the destitute daughter of a country vicar. She has been accepted to be among the first female students to attend the prestigious University of Oxford but first she needs to convince her cousin to give her permission. Her scholarship requires her to support the rising of the Women's Suffrage Movement. Annabelle is charged to recruit men of influence to support the cause. She soon selects Sebastian Devereux, the Duke of Montegomery... This is when the fun begins y'all. Annabelle is feisty, brilliant, and fearless. She fights for what she believes in. Her biggest fear is getting her heartbroken. Sebastian comes off cold, calculating, and snobbish. He's involved in politics. Favored by the Queen, he works to get back his property that his own father lost in gambling. The moment Sebastian sees Annabelle: Instant attraction. They fight this push and pull. Sebastian is drawn to her but he knows because of her low status he can't make her his wife. Hello angst, my old friend! What a wonderful debut novel by Evie. Passionate, witty, and refreshing. I couldn't get enough of the writing. Being transported to Regency England was timeless. I'm looking forward to book 2
Anonymous 3 days ago
3.75 stars Romance isn't my usual genre, but I read several glowing reviews so decided to give it a try. It was an entertaining read set in the 1880's featuring an impossibly handsome and autocratic duke and a spirited and beautiful suffragette and commoner. The final destination was never in doubt but the trip there was fun. Clever conversation, strong physical chemistry between the leads, and some worthwhile history as well. Lots of strong women characters, and some surprisingly empathetic male ones. And an interesting glimpse into the constraints of British life for women in that era. Just one thing, authors -- must you continue to have your male characters "mount" their love interests? Or could we just consign that term to animal husbandry conversations? Thanks to the publisher and to Net Galley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.
LeighKramer 4 days ago
What a fun historical romance debut! The rising British suffrage movement proved to be a refreshing take on the duke trope. Annabelle and Sebastian were wonderful spar partners and well matched. Annabelle is intelligent and determined to go hard after her education. Sebastian on the other hand is the kind of emotionally suppressed man I can't help but root for his undoing at the hand of the heroine. While their attraction was immediately apparent, there were so many reasons they could not be together, not the least because Sebastian is a Duke and his main purpose in life is to help the family name recover from past scandal and reclaim the family seat his father lost. On top of that, the Duke is Annabelle’s political opposite and he’s not likely to be recruited to the suffragist cause. I loved how they truly saw one another, even as it made my heart ache because there didn’t seem to be a way for them to come to a good compromise. Annabelle doesn’t want to settle for less than she deserves, rightly so, but there are fewer good options for women to begin with and I really empathized with her quandary. There were so many great side characters, in particular the women Annabelle meets through the suffrage movement. They’re all there for different reasons and what they’re trying to accomplish comes to mean so much more to them by the end. (Obligatory mention that the Queen was such a hypocrite for not supporting the suffragists and her scenes made me so angry.) Because of the whitewashing that can occur with the American suffrage movement, I was curious about how women of color played into Britain’s movement. At that time, people of color made up a very small percentage of the population, with the majority of those being men. Fewer WOC were involved as a result. The whiteness of this book is then in accord with history as we know it. I did feel that “we can’t get married because class differences” went on for too long. Even when the duke decides he does want Annabelle and he doesn’t care about the consequences, she rebuffs him and I really didn’t understand why. It was quite the relief when they both gave in and finally decided to be together, regardless of the consequences. CW: sexual assault (groping), past pregnancy and miscarriage, past death of a parent, past alcoholism Disclosure: I received an advanced copy from Berkley in exchange for an honest review.
eclecticbookwrm 5 days ago
This book reminded me of all the reasons I love historical romance. It's fiercely feminist and I adored Annabelle from the first page. Compelling, with fun, fresh takes on a lot of the historical romance tropes. I'm so excited to see what Evie Dunmore does next. Highly recommend!
JezzaBelle 8 days ago
Bringing down the Duke started out slow, but once it picked up, I couldn't put it down. I loved the history of this one and the focus on suffrage. The romance here was well told and I enjoyed this story immensely.
Anonymous 15 days ago
the plot was engaging, entertaining, and unusual. characters had wit, strength, and purpose. the time period was fasinating and the book picked up the spirit of the times wonderfully. last but not least, the writing itself was rechnically very fine. it is a pleasure to read without stumbles in grammar, etc. i am looking forward to the next book.
Anonymous 15 days ago
What a great read. Highly recommended!
wendm_ccbh 17 days ago
Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore was a hit! Just another reason to devour more historical romance books #yum The setting is England, 1879. Annabelle Archer is the destitute daughter of a country vicar. She has been accepted to be among the first female students to attend the prestigious University of Oxford but first she needs to convince her cousin to give her permission. Her scholarship requires her to support the rising of the Women's Suffrage Movement. Annabelle is charged to recruit men of influence to support the cause. She soon selects Sebastian Devereux, the Duke of Montegomery... This is when the fun begins y'all. Annabelle is feisty, brilliant, and fearless. She fights for what she believes in. Her biggest fear is getting her heartbroken. Sebastian comes off cold, calculating, and snobbish. He's involved in politics. Favored by the Queen, he works to get back his property that his own father lost in gambling. The moment Sebastian sees Annabelle: Instant attraction. They fight this push and pull. Sebastian is drawn to her but he knows because of her low status he can't make her his wife. Hello angst, my old friend! What a wonderful debut novel by Evie. Passionate, witty, and refreshing. I couldn't get enough of the writing. Being transported to Regency England was timeless. I'm looking forward to book 2
rlane 18 days ago
Bringing Down the Duke was sooo good! There was a delicious push and pull between Annabelle and Sebastian. They started out as enemies with opposing political views, and Sebastian was quite arrogant at first. It was a meeting of minds with intelligent conversation, and an undercurrent of intense attraction! For as much as they were at odds at times, Sebastian was quite the knight-in-shining-armor often coming to the rescue even when it put him at risk. I fell hard for him! Annabelle was a breath of fresh air! The kind of woman I hope I’d be in the face of such obstacles. It really was a tough time for women back then. This was set in a time when women had few rights, really appalling when you think of it. The situation Annabelle found herself in with her cousin was infuriating, and I’m glad he had little to do with the story other than at the beginning. I can’t believe Bringing Down the Duke was a debut novel! While it took me a little bit to sink into the story, I was solidly glued to the pages as soon as I hit the %15 mark I didn’t want to put the story down eager to find out what happened next! I love how everything turned out, and I can’t wait until Lucie’s story next, especially after reading the teaser at the end!
taramichelle 19 days ago
I really enjoyed this one, it was fascinating to learn more about the fight for women’s right to vote in England. I actually went down a pretty deep internet rabbit hole researching that topic after reading this one so you know the book was good. Bringing Down the Duke is one of those rare books that perfectly balanced politics, female friendships, and the main romance. It was fun, entertaining, and I actually learned a lot while reading it! I absolutely loved Annabelle and Montgomery, they were both such well-developed and nuanced characters. Plus the romance is excellent! If you like historical romance, I would highly recommend checking this one out! I’m also quite glad that it’s the first in the series, I can’t wait to read the others. *Disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
bookbruin 19 days ago
I don't normally read historical romances, so Bringing Down the Duke wasn't really on my radar initially. After reading the blurb and seeing the beautiful cover around though, I decided to give it a chance and I'm so glad I did! I enjoyed the hate-love/enemies vibe immensely between Annabelle and Sebastian. Their verbal sparring ramped up the anticipation so well and their chemistry was amazing. I would have loved even more scenes between them. The story started a little slow for me, as the world and characters were being established, but once things got going, I was hooked. My heart was fluttering and there were plenty of chest squeezes/turns thanks to the lingering, longing glances and brushes of physical contact. I love a good forced proximity and this trope played out perfectly between Sebastian and Annabelle. The secondary characters were just as wonderful and I enjoyed the strong friendships between all of the women as much as the romantic aspect of the story. I really enjoyed the author's writing style and wit, but I did have to stop from time to time because I wasn't familiar with all the terminology/britishisms. A quick google search had me back in the story though. ;) This was a fantastic debut and I'm very excited to see that Lucie's story is next! *I voluntarily read an advance review copy of this book*
bayy245 19 days ago
I enjoyed the feminist plot of this romance novel. It was a great reminder of how far we've come by reading about suffragettes and the rampant sexism they faced. Anabelle and the Duke are both very strong characters. Anabelle was a fully fleshed woman with ambitions, a past, and was there for more than just to eventually bed the Duke. I like that this had a strong plot to go along with its swoony romance. However, I wish we saw more about her schooling and learned more about her past. Her going to Oxford was a big part of the social dynamic in the book. She had to beg her cousin to go and men looked at her differently for going. It was so monumental that Oxford let women in. It was just kind of glazed over and not mentioned all that much except when she had an essay due. I wanted to see more about her education, how she grew as a person from this, and what she was gaining from the societal ridicule. Her family seemed to be a big part of her past and carried some shame and yet we learned almost nothing about them. There was a comment about how horrible her cousin's wife was and yet we never even learned her name let alone why she was horrible. Why did her cousin receive her father's estate? Did she get anything? Why did he treat her like a maid and not a family member? Why was she not even permitted her bed? There was just a lot missing from this part of the plot and I was disappointed. It would've fully fleshed out our MC. Overall, Bringing Down the Duke is a great period piece about doing what's right, no matter the societal consequences. It just had a few flaws. *I received a complimentary copy of this book from Berkley through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.*
thereadingchick 19 days ago
Destitute daughter of a vicar, Annabelle Archer earns a place as one of the first female students at the illustrious University of Oxford. In return for her scholarship she must join the women’s suffrage movement and try to gain the backing of a man of influence. Her target? Sebastian Devereaux, Duke of Montgomery and political advisor to the queen. Her beauty catches his eye and despite her fellowship with independent women he’s drawn to her. Can she hold him at arms length while still earning his backing of their movement? Can he convince her to become his without the promise of marriage? Evie Dunmore’s debut novel is atypical of other historical novels in that it dives into the politics of this time and the societal divide a lack of income and good background creates between a man and woman. Bringing Down the Duke was an intricate love story, but also a historical eye opener. Despite the fluff that the word “Duke” brings to a historical romance title, this novel was anything but. The intricate love story between Sebastian and Annabelle was revealed a piece at a time and was enthralling, don’t get me wrong, but it was the history of the time and how that impacted these two characters that held my attention. I can only recall having read one other novel set during the women’s suffrage movement and as an independent woman myself (even though American), I’m very interested in how and when women’s rights were fought and granted In England. The fact that Evie Dunmore chose this time for a romance gave it a more modern feel. Sebastian started off the novel as you would expect. Frigid Duke taking all of his responsibilities very seriously gets upended by a beautiful woman. BUT because of the setting we get to see how his thoughts change about women’s rights as Annabelle is threatened through her actions while fight for them. That makes Sebastian different than other historical romance heroes giving the story more impact. In real life a Duke couldn’t consider a woman for his wife if she wasn’t in the correct societal rank without throwing away his own livelihood and lands. Of course in romance novels there are no rules and Dukes marry whomever they want, but this novel doesn’t seem to throw away those societal rules and the Duke’s decisions propel not just the romantic side of the story but the historical plot as well. I liked Annabelle a lot. She was smart, educated, pretty, but also had a head on her shoulders. She was no innocent and new how her actions would affect her future, but also the future of those around her. She was always thinking ahead. Her attraction to Sebastian was HUGE, but she was no ninny. She knew what it meant if she became a mistress or a wife. Her decisions were based upon real life plot lines and not romance novel plot lines. That made her so much more interesting and real! Bringing Down the Duke is one of those novels where you pick it up not knowing what you are going to get. The only hint is from the picture on the front where the woman is seated in the saddle of the horse and the Duke is behind her when usually their placement would be in the reverse. A very subtle hint at her independence. I don’t want to give the impression that there isn’t any tension or romance between these two characters. There is plenty of food for the bodice ripping romantic! These two have heat, and their romance was riveting. Even more so because of everything that was happening that I mentioned above! Also, Annabelle’s friends in t