The Duke of Jervaulx is a man who has been given enormous gifts - not only of wealth, privilege and power, a standard in any romance novel - but more interestingly, a foresight and vision into the nature of progress, and the mathematical insight to manage elaborate investments, found universities, and make significant advances in non-Euclidian geometry. Archimedea Timms is a Quaker spinster, caretaker to her blind father, a woman of Plain Speech and Plain Dress, raised in an honorable, but insular, Quaker community.
Jervaulx is brought low into Maddy's humble world by a stroke, which robs him of his ability to comprehend or output language. Maddy becomes his personal attendant in the insane asylum where he is confined in his madness, not only because she has an ameliorating influece on his daily behavior, but because she has helped her father transcribe calculus and trigonometry, and has recognised the Duke's unimpaired mathematical ability.
The Duke comes to rely on Maddy completely, at first because she is the only human who can communicate with him, and later because he recognises in her plain Quaker modesty an absolute loyalty and trustworthiness that is lacking in his own family. Maddy assists the Duke when one faction of his family offers to spring him from the insane asylum if he will consent to an arranged marriage with a brood debutante.
When the Duke decides to ditch his bride at the alter and escape to his ancestral estate, he drags Maddy along, as she has become absolutely necessary to his functioning in a world with limited language. The book details the Duke's struggles to avoid being declared incompetent to manage his affairs, and to regain his place as head of an 18th century corporation, with the vast resources he controls. Maddy struggles not to be consumed by the Duke's dominant personality and temporal power, and to remain herself, a prim Quaker lady whose ideas of virtue are rather fixed, while simultaneously becoming the Duchess of Jervaulx. As Jervaulx slowly recovers his language faculty, the enormous differences in culture, social status and philosophical values between them begin to surface. Jervaulx's affliction served as an equalizing factor between them; but his gradual recovery seems sure to end this relationship.
This report prepared by Rachel Rhys