Four Weddings And A Sixpence: An Anthology, by Julia Quinn, Elizabeth Boyle, Laura Lee Guhrke, and Stefanie Sloane
This book is, like many contemporary romances, an anthology that is written about several couples by several romance authors, each of whom has an interest in regency romance fiction but simultaneously is not quite as skilled at capturing the morality and mentality of the time as they are of viewing the period as a place for regency cosplay. This particular novel also gives the authors the chance to write about feminist themes with women who have ambitions for freedom as well as intellectual achievement, some of whom are “down on love” until various circumstances force them into the arms of suitable men. Indeed, at least a few of the examples and setups of these stories may be seen as being destructive of a view of loyalty to family and morality in general. Those who want steamy romance novellas that are loosely connected together with a frame story will find what they are looking for, but these stories are certainly nowhere near as worthwhile as the age itself that the book is set in and not particularly true too because the authors approach their subject matter with modern attitudes.
This book is a bit more than 350 pages and is divided into five parts. In the first part, Julia Quinn writes a short prologue where four girls at a not very rigorous women’s academy run by someone who was fraudulently pretending to be a Frenchwoman find an old sixpence and immediately make some sort of pact between themselves to send the sixpence to each other when they find love. After that Stefanie Sloane writes about Anne Brabourne, who is under obligation to marry by the time she is twenty-one but does not go about it in the right way until a new relationship gives her an understanding that it is not as hard for her to find love as she thinks. Her success then leads the sixpence to be passed to Cordelia Padley, who pretends to be engaged to an old friend of hers who feels himself to be almost trapped in a marriage to a cold but wealthy daughter of a gauche middle-class father, but who finds Cordelia’s zaniness and love of adventure appealing, until of course they find themselves engaged and in love for real and not only pretend. This is then followed by a story by Laura Lee Gurhke where the unlucky Lady Elinor Daventry has the sixpence stolen by a former partner who is now devoted to bringing down her father, and her efforts to get the sixpence back only lead her further and further trapped in a situation where her father’s reputation and freedom are at stake. By the time that the sixpence returns to Beatrice Heywood, Julia Quinn writes a story where the sixpence keeps sending Beatrice to the wrong man until things finally work out right.
In reading a book like this, the reader can note several sorts of problems with the material. For one, these women are not generally very appealing partners. Nor are the men necessarily all that appealing themselves as partners, so perhaps these unappealing men and women might belong together. There are plenty of misunderstandings, some of them deliberate, and there is an element of coercion behind at least some of the pairings. For example, Lawrence, the hero of the the fourth story, ends up being the “something blue” rather than the intended target of Elinor’s desire to clear her father’s good name by frustrating his investigation of his shoddy muskets. Similarly, Beatrice appears to be a character out of those irritating astronomer DBQ’s I had as a high school student in AP European History. All in all, the sixpence itself appears to be a bit of an occult material in the way that it leads the women to find love and romance, despite their lack of character and unappealing personalities and prospects. The problem with authorial providence, though, is sometimes that it does not recognize the limits of good sense or decency in trying to throw people together for the interest of the readers.