To Sir Phillip, With Love, by Julia Quinn
When you have read enough books by an author, as I have with Julia Quinn, one sees consistent patterns and approaches in the writing, and sometimes this can be a good thing, and sometimes not. There are at least a few patterns that are present in Quinn’s writing that show themselves in this work and in many of her other novels that irk me a bit, and it is worth commenting on them as they demonstrate opportunities for the author to grow out of her own less than ideal tropes. Most of Quinn’s novels appear to have at their core some element of coercion when it comes to the relationship in question. Here, the coercion comes from Eloise Bridgerton’s four brothers, who coerce her suitor into marrying her by threatening him with intense bodily violence for having put their sister’s reputation at stake, although the brothers themselves had behaved in even more flagrant fashion themselves. The second trope of the author’s that is irritating is that the author seems unable to get two people married without some kind of compromising position that coerces people into marrying, where they later find themselves in love. Unsurprisingly, that is the case here, although the compromising position is more of a self-own as a desperately lonely Eloise, whose friend married her brother and left her alone as a spinster, runs off unannounced to the home of a widower whom she has exchanged letters with, which forms the setup of this particular novel.
This book is about 400 pages long, and the inevitable wedding takes place about two thirds of the way into the book. The setup of this novel and its romance is somewhat interesting, in that Eloise is twenty-eight years old and a spinster and sends a letter to a distant relative by marriage whose wife died of a fever after trying to kill herself. This book has a certain heaviness to it, in that the story has a certain degree of desperation, with a man who has not been with a woman for eight years and has two rambunctious children who do not take to Eloise at all. While Eloise run off without telling her would-be partner, having a plan but suspecting that it would not be approved by her relatives, the result is that Philip and her find themselves to be different than they were in writing, with much more serious issues in communication as well as the problems of dealing with the families of both of these people. Eventually, of course, everything works out well, but there is a lot of drama that takes place and it takes both people learning how to respect and appreciate and perhaps not judge so much on appearances while capitalizing on their physical chemistry.
To the extent that this book is an appealing novel even with the author’s marked limitations in creating compelling and moral regency romances, the appeal is in Sir Phillip himself as a character. Phillip is an appealing figure overall, a person with a marked sense of honor, a strong degree of hostility towards a childhood where his widowed father was immensely cruel and brutal, and a person whose feeling and the expression of that feeling have a wide gulf. While he is certainly a flawed person, especially when it comes to dealing with his needy children, he is a decent and worthy romantic hero in a way that is not a rake. His story, moreover, has a great deal of pathos given the high amount of suffering he has faced over the course of his life as well as his devotion to botany and his fondness for writing letters, in which he is able to give vent to emotions that otherwise remain unexpressed. The author’s striking insight into a type of man who uses writing as a way of expressing what he cannot say is notable and praiseworthy, and if this is not as good a novel as it could have been, it is likely as good a novel as the author can create given her limitations in understanding morality as well as, surprisingly enough, romance. It is puzzling, and more than a little troubling, that her heroines in particular long for passionate romantic love but the author cannot provide a way for people to get together without being forced into matrimony.