Daphne’s Diary is the first Regency I’ve ever read where the heroine was seriously neurotic. Too bad Sigmund Freud isn’t a side character here - he could have made a career off Daphne. The fact that she’s presented as perfectly logical just makes her problems stand out in relief.
Miss Daphne Hightower is delighted when her beloved grandfather sends her a beautiful leather-bound diary for her fifteenth birthday. Daphne is staying with her very pregnant sister at her Yorkshire estate, and all is bliss until she comes across her brother-in-law dallying with her sister’s companion in the Folly on the estate grounds. The two of them are only partially dressed, and the brother-in-law gives Daphne a dirty look and yells something at her she doesn’t understand. No matter! This has marked her for life! She will never trust a man - they are all betrayers and scoundrels! Daphne hastily packs her bags and hies back to London and her grandfather’s home. As the Earl of Stanford, he can protect her from evil men who only want one thing from women.
The story picks up ten years later, and Daphne is now twenty-five and still living with her grandfather. After her terrible experience, she has not visited her sister for ten years, and refused a Season rather than come into contact with - gasp - men. She might have to carry on a conversation with one, and all men are cads and bounders! They only want to seduce women! So her thoughts get poured into her diary, instead, in a series of rambling, emotional entries that are likely to put the reader to sleep:
Dr. Cartwright can insist all he wants that technically I am still an innocent. But I know what I am, what the beast did to me. I do not feel innocent. My very soul is sullied by the invasion of those memories. I am broken inside; I know it. All those romantic dreams of love and glittering gallants that filled my head as a girl seem so naïve now.
Oh, brother. Can you spell “obsessive”? Would somebody please slap this girl and tell her to grow up, already? And her characterization slips further into the realm of ludicrous when she tells us that one of her favorite authors is Boccacio. Since Boccacio’s masterpiece was The Decameron, which contains many bawdy tales of, among other things, cuckolding, fornicating priests, and gay sex, one wonders if the girl can actually read.
Wily granddad has Daphne’s number, however. Her inheritance will not pass to her unless she marries. He has a candidate - Alexander Heathercott, second son of a duke. Daphne actually runs into Alex and a friend while walking her dog in the park, and when he steps in to help her out of a difficulty with the dog, she is icy and borderline rude to him. He, of course, is instantly mesmerized by her astonishing beauty, and vows to make her his mistress. Nice guy.
There was absolutely nothing in this story to make me want to read past the second chapter. The Regency was not the Victorian era. Table legs weren’t covered, bosoms were half-exposed, and Daphne’s “experience”, frankly, wasn’t any big deal. Daphne came across as nothing more than an angst-filled teenager, determined to hang on to her imaginary problems and refusing to grow up. I’ll be blunt. I couldn’t stand her.
As for Alex, his instant longing for this pretty young thing only made him seem superficial in the extreme, and his assumption that she’s a Cyprian under the protection of the elderly Earl of Stanford was distasteful. He rhapsodizes about her tawny hair, her amber eyes, her shapely ankles, blah, blah, but any man dumb enough to want a woman who treats him like dirt and has a screw loose about men deserves what he gets.
There were a few subplots about Daphne’s legitimacy and whether Daphne will be able to control her inheritance, but they mattered little when set beside the main characters.
Near the end of the story, Daphne decides that maybe it would be okay for Alexander to, perhaps, make love with her, since he’s now been her husband for a while. Normally I don’t reveal anything about the end of a book, but this was so overwrought that I can’t resist.
Readers deserve a lot better than Daphne’s Diary, and almost any Regency you pick up would be better than this. You’ve been warned.