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I’m into comfort TV. To me, that includes series with likeable, quirky characters who rub against each other in interesting and funny ways—series like Northern Exposure, Parks & Rec, Grace and Frankie.

My most recent go-to comfort TV is an older comic mystery series called Lovejoy, which I watched on BBC while I was living in the UK. It was also on A&E.

The title character, played by Ian McShane, is a shady antiques dealer who is also a “divvy”—someone who can spot a genuine treasure amongst less valuable items. Lovejoy is the quintessential charming rogue, a bit of a con man but with redeeming characteristics. The series is based on books by John Gash (which I haven’t read) but I’ve read that the books were darker and Lovejoy less likeable.

For much of the series, he works with Lady Jane Felsham (Phyllis Logan), lady of the manor and interior decorator. They are professional partners and dear friends. There’s also an ongoing sexual tension, but they don’t end up together (and shouldn’t). He has other love interests, but it’s even stated at one point that he is more in love with the idea of romance than any one woman.

Here’s a clip of his first meeting with Jane.

The appeal to me and possibly other Regency romance fans is more the British setting, the stately homes, the countryside, the language, and of course, the antiques. Many of the items featured are pre-Victorian so they are things Regency characters might have possessed. I can call it research!

A deeper theme is that of the genuine versus the fake. Lovejoy has a deep appreciation for beauty, history, artistry, and craftsmanship. He may scheme to make money, but it’s not just about the money. He also has that appreciation for people. His affection for Jane is, I think, in part because he recognizes that she is what an aristocrat is supposed to be: cultured and honorable. He also values good-hearted people of any social status. Sometimes he gives up profit in order to help such people. The ones he usually cheats are either shallow and pretentious or coldly materialistic—people who value antiques only for their monetary value or status appeal.

In one of the episodes he says you can’t con an honest person. I interpret this as meaning a person who doesn’t expect a deal that is too good to be true.

I like shopping at shows and stores that feature antiques, collectibles, and secondhand items, but to me, a treasure is a reasonably priced item that will make me happy when I look at or use it. Provenance doesn’t matter to me.

I’ve already blogged about my attraction for Georgian and Regency era inspired furniture. I’ve collected some nice reproductions made in the early 1900’s—elegant and better made than most new furniture is now, and I don’t mind a few signs of wear.

I feel the same way about dishes. I’m downsizing, so I want to get rid of the rarely used “fine china” set that I never really liked that much, and my rather tired everyday stuff. I am replacing it with a growing collection of mismatched, used blue transferware. I had a few pieces already and it’s been a blast to find more. Here’s a picture of my haul from the Madison Bouckville Antique show last August.

Such dishes are often reproductions of designs from the Regency through Victorian eras. They are inexpensive (I’ve been averaging about $3 a piece) and I think they look more interesting mismatched. So I can have friends over and if someone drops a plate, we can just laugh about it and I can have fun hunting down a replacement.

How about you? Do you like shopping for antique and vintage items and what do you look for?

Have you seen Lovejoy? What do you think of the show? What is your comfort TV?


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I will warn everyone in advance: I do not know where I am going with this post.

And then I will say: Cara, avert your eyes. I’m talking Richardson.

Awhile ago, I got a copy of the BBC production of Clarissa, starring Sean Bean and Saskia Wickham.

When I was a teenager, I read and re-read Samuel Richardson‘s Clarissa; it is a tortured, compelling story of an honorable woman stuck between a rock (her family’s insistence she marry an awful man) and a hard place (Lovelace, a rake who falls violently in love with her). Honestly, I love this story. Each time I read it, I hoped Lovelace would reform earlier, or Clarissa’s family would relent, and each time I cried at the end.

I started watching the other day (my reward while ironing a random dozen of my husband’s shirts), and the televised version puts in an uncomfortable plot point: Clarissa’s sister and brother are dabbling in incest.

I was miffed that they would choose to make that a plot point because the book makes it clear why her siblings are being so terrible to her, but then I thought again that it might’ve happened more often back then.

Think about it: After a certain age, the sons were sent off to school while the daughters remained safely at home. They were separated so they didn’t have that sibling contempt (as in ‘familiarity breeds . . . ‘), but when they were together, they lived in the same house, so they had access to people of the opposite sex. And being teenagers, they probably were interested in sexual experimentation, and found the easiest solution: Their siblings.

We’ve all read with horror–and some salacious interest–of Byron’s suspected affair with his half-sister, Augusta Leigh. They were raised separately, and began keeping company again when they were adults.

But back to Clarissa. One thing that made the book so compelling for me is that although Clarissa is a virtuous girl, she is indeed intrigued by Lovelace; certainly, he is far more appealing than the suitor her family has chosen, whom Lovelace warns her will be the cause of her early death. And who wouldn’t be fascinated by him? He has a shocking reputation as a rake, he is handsome, charming, and persuasive (that he is played by Sean Bean in the miniseries certainly does no damage in my eyes, either).

But since she is so pure of heart, and of motive, she decides against Lovelace, but circumstances ultimately force her to him. Which, in turn, forces her to her eventual demise.

If Clarissa were a romance novel, she would have reformed her rake early enough to achieve her happy ending. But Richardson wasn’t writing romance, he was writing virtue, so while Lovelace and Clarissa’s siblings get what they deserve, Clarissa herself does not.

I don’t think I would actually like Clarissa if I met her, whereas I would definitely have a great time with Jane Eyre or Elizabeth Bennet.

Let’s see: I’ve brought up incest, sexual taboos, great (or not) works of literature, non-romance novels, unhappy endings, just rewards, and which heroine you’d get along with. Pick any or all and discuss, if you like. Thanks for following along with my train of thought, which has gotten very, very derailed.

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I was bitterly disappointed in the Beau Brummell movie! I watched it with my “Writers Group” and afterward my friend Helen said, “This makes the Stewart Granger version look like a documentary.”

To say the movie was shallow is an understatement. The BBC website makes it appear that it is based on Ian Kelly’s biography of the Beau, but, if so, the BBC read a different Kelly biography than I did. Kelly’s biography explored a complex man, one who, by the end, I thoroughly cared about, but this Beau Brummell has no redeeming features, except perhaps being depicted by the thoroughly handsome James Purefoy, who does a nice acting job with what is given him to do.

Purefoy doesn’t quite share as much of himself as he did in Rome, but he does show off the clothes very well–and what is underneath the clothes, too; however, the show does not begin to do justice to the dressing ritual for which Brummell was renowned. And the very first scene is wrong wrong wrong. It shows Brummell donning a white shirt–one that clearly opens all the way in the front. (That’s wrong, isn’t it, Kalen? Men’s shirts did not open all the way). You’d think they’d get the clothes right for a show about the man who transformed gentlemen’s dress and whose influence is still felt today.

There were other things that struck me as wrong. The Prince Regent, Beau Brummell, and Byron all calling each other by their first names. That just was not done! Schoolboy friends might use first names, or one’s siblings, but the Prince Regent?

Furthermore, Brummell, according to Kelly’s biography, had faithful friends who understood his problems and really did stick by him even after his exile. The TV movie makes Brummell seem like everyone turned against him. The TV show makes a big deal about the waltz–and the Regent’s supposed objection to it. It is hard to believe that the Patronesses at Almack’s would have approved the waltz if the Regent opposed it. Additionally, the biography says there is little evidence Brummell even danced it, although he did stand with the patronesses and tell them who danced well and who did not

The show was so busy chronicling Brummell’s fall that it never got around to showing the vast extent of his celebrity. It was Brummell’s celebrity that paid the bills at his tailors, all of whom were thrilled for him to wear their clothes. If Brummell wore their clothes, other men flocked to their shops. It is like Johnny Depp wearing Armani on the red carpet–walking advertisement. Mystifyingly, the movie never showed Robinson, Brummell’s renowned valet, assisting him in his dress. Instead Robinson acted more like an officer’s batman.

But the worst part of the movie was the angle involving Byron. The show makes a somewhat tantalizing relationship with Byron the reason for Brummell’s falling out with the Prince Regent, yet the book does not connect the two in this way. In fact, Kelly makes a good case against Brummell having an affair with Byron at all, even though the men apparently admired each other. Kelly indicates that there is no strong evidence that the Beau had a preference for men except in that adolescent, pack of pals kind of way.

What really is a shame is that there was a story here that would have been fascinating and emotionally wrenching. James Purefoy certainly would have been equal to the task of depicting a more complicated, more likeable, more tragic Brummell. I’ll suggest you all read Kelly’s book to discover it, though.

Here’s the Boston Globe‘s take on the show.

Did you see the show? What did you think? Did you spot any other errors?
Have you ever looked forward to a movie only to be bitterly disappointed?

On a happier note, take a trip over to the Romance Vagabonds. Their guest blogger all week is Joanne Carr, an editor for Harlequin Historical and Mills & Boon Historical. This should be helpful if you are interested in writing for the Historical lines or if you are just curious about the workings of publishing behind the scenes.

*Purefoy’s photo is from the Boston Globe site.

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