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Review: Love & Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food, and Love by Kim Fay

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My Interest

An epistolary novel–a story told in letters, that concerns friendship, mentions many books, and tons of great food? You bet!

The Story

The less we cement ourselves to our certainties, the fuller our lives can be.”

Joan is a young woman in Los Angeles stifled by her job as a secretary for a drugstore. She reads a colorful column in a magazine about clam digging on the coast of Washington near Seattle. [The column is included after the author’s notes]. She writes to the author, Imogen (“Immy”) and Imogen writes back. A friendship is born.The time is October 1962 (when I was 7 months old!). The friends become early “foodies” and try new things and learn to cook fresh, exciting food. They share their hearts with each other about life, their men, world events, changes in the world and more. Imogen is 10 years older than Joan’s mother, but she feels like Immy could be her sister.

Note: Don’t skip over the author’s notes or the surprises at the end! So good. There are even recipes!

My Thoughts

A little disappointing. It’s hard to write too much about the story–it would all be spoilers. I must say this book was partially a disappointment–and I had truly expected to love it. An historical fiction pet peeve or two reared its/their head(s) [this ambiguity in counting is dependent upon how you view them].  Times were changing in the early to mid 1960s. but some attitudes expressed in the story were dangerously close to modern. 60 years ago was not today. At one point one of the ladies all but admits she discovered her “white privilege.” Lots of people were waking up to racism, its true, and women’s liberation was getting a great start, but it was laid on a little thick in this instance.

Also, there were things that were a bit prescient–mentioning how Scoop Jackson and others were said to be working on civil rights legislation and how cool it was to be alive at that point in history is an example. Those were a bit much. There were a few others–but that’s sampling enough of that sort of thing. I also felt having Joan, who wrote about food, being given an assignment to interview [no spoilers] had too tenuous a tie. That one was an eye-roll.

What I Loved. I liked the friendship that developed and though, probably due to today’s page limits, it had to develop quickly I did not find that difficult to accept. I liked the way Joan’s career progressed in a believable way from secretary to writer since she had the education necessary from Stanford and UCLA. I do wonder how her male friend felt about her new career (no spoilers) since he sort of got her started. I liked their relationship, but …[no spoilers]. I thought the Tijuana story, while it’s ending was the one I hoped for, did him a grave injustice.

I’d love to have know Joan, her mother, her male friend, and, especially, Immy, and Francis–and their University foodie-friends in real life. I shared Immy’s angst over the Pike Place Market in Seattle being threatened. Indianapolis’ City Market was reduced to a food court for a number of years–great lunch spot, but not what it was meant to be, so I loved the discussion of that. Urban Planning and “Urban Renewal” were very hot topics well into the 1970s–I have a great memory of that I’ll share another time.

I would enjoy reading the author’s other novel and her Vietnamese travel and cookbook and will request them from the library. She tells a good story. And, I’m in awe that she got to work at Elliott Bay Books! I loved that she, too, had an inspiring great aunt (I had more than one) who shared the New Yorker and more with her as mine did with me, and that her aunt was the model for Immy.

My Verdict

3.0

Love & Saffron by Kim Fay

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Top Ten Tuesday: Love Freebie: Cross-Generational Romances: The Best Older Man, Younger Woman love stories

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The older man! He’s always attracted me. But not the “Sugar Daddy” type. The genuine article.

Gone With the Wind, in addition to the things people criticize it for being (all deserved except the absurd marital rape accusation), is at heart a romance. Scarlett O’Hara is in love with an older man–Ashley Wilkes. But she is really in love with Rhett Butler. She kids herself all along until she looses Rhett that it is really the lovely, dreamy, blonde-haired, cultured Ashley that she loves. Ashley knows the truth but has moments of weakness. Rhett knows the truth but gets his gut full. Sad, because Scarlett was made for Rhett and Rhett, who grew up exactly the same way and in the same generation as Ashley, was made for Scarlett. Gone With the Wind, absolutely provided my gateway to the older man and probably proved the Victorians right–reading romances ruins girls for what is really available. I’d rather have Rhett!

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New to me in 2021 was the work of Shirley Hazzard. Aldred Leith and Helen Driscoll meet innocently but come to fall in love when in occupied Japan. I loved this book. You can read my review here: The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard.

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In a fictionalized version of a real affair, an over-the-hill Hemingway write of an over-the-hill Colonel enjoying a last fling with a lovely young woman in Italy. I loved this one, too, though I can see why many people do not. My review: Across the River and into the Trees.

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New to me in 2021, this lovely Victorian tale captures the true heart of romance and of a woman’s beauty being her character. How could Lord Walderhurst think of marrying and begetting a late-in-life heir with anyone but the very moral, very generous Miss Emily Fox-Seton? Unthinkable. She was made to comfort a loving husband and to proudly wear the ermine and velvet. The Making of a Marchioness (my review is linked).

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A good woman wants to be taken care of; a good man wants the job. That’s the story in essence. A Virtuous Woman was oh so good–and so believable.

 

Other than GWTW, I hold Cary Grant responsible as well for my older man fixation. That, and the afternoon movie on whichever channel it was in the 1970s on which my Mom, my brother and I sat out the Central Indiana summer heat watching classics like:

These movies made Cary Grant the darling of women of all ages–even a teenager like me.

You can read my posts on real-life cross-generational romances here:

Lady Kitty Spencer and Michael Lewis

Lady Charlotte Wellesley and Alejandro Santo Domingo

Anthony and Clarissa Eden (Lord and Lady Avon)

Pierre and Margaret Trudeau

Andrea Mitchell and Alan Greenspan

President Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom

Princess Mary and Viscount Lascelles (later the Earl of Harewood) –Ignore the stupid storyline in the Downton Abbey movie. They were not forced to marry, the had many interests in common, and were quite happy!

Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart

Book review: Margot in Love and War: Love and Betrayal in Downing Street

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Check out the rules at That Artsy Reader Girl and join in next week!

 

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Cross-Generational Romance in Fiction: Review: The Great Fire: A Novel by Shirley Hazzard

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My Interest

I learned of this book from Modern Mrs. Darcy’s recent post Where I Get My Best Book Recs + 8 Recent Reads I Loved.

When I started this blog, I intended to focus more on my own hope-to-be-books which are, at present, still manuscripts. My focus is old man–younger woman romantic stories. Not formula “romance,” just romantic. No trophy wives. No creepers. Just honest, decent older man–younger woman love stories.  I’ve posted several reviews over the years of this blog of what I term “Cross-Generational Romance” both in fiction/film or in real life. You can use the Word Cloud to find them, or in the search box type Cross-Generational. Last week I posted a Real Life Cross-Generational Romance–the wedding of Lady Kitty Spencer and Michael Lewis. You can read that post here.

Anyway, when I read Anne Bogel’s post linked above, I thought “HOW have a missed this novel??” I went immediately to my library’s website and was thrilled to bits to find an available e-audio copy–exactly what I needed to thoroughly enjoy this book.

The Story

“My need of your words: for such closeness there should be a word beyond love.”

Aldred Leith, son of a famous writer, is stationed in occupied Japan with the British Army. The Commander’s terminally ill son and daughter, both late teens, quickly become his dearest friends in Japan. Benedict, suffering from a rare illness, and Helen, his caretaker sister, have led a life largely disconnected from their parents and are now back on the periphery of their parent’s official life. Aldred and Helen find soulmates in each other.

My Thoughts

This is a hard book to review. I listened to it, and did not have time while doing so to pull over and write down some of the many quotes I loved which is a shame. Those one at the top of this post I found on Goodreads. The delicacy of the relationship, of Aldred’s ethics, morals, and his awareness of Helen being so young are well-handled. I just plain loved this book. I will probably buy it and even let myself re-read it some day! (I’m 59–I’ve pretty much quit re-reading except for a couple of “old friends”).

I have done this book no justice and I so loved it!

My Verdict

4.0

The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard

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Throwback Thursday–I Mean Friday–The Kashmir Shall

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The story of a younger wife of an older missionary was bound to attract my attention. Then add that it is set in WWII-era British India and you can see why I snapped this up and read it eagerly. The wife, Nerys Watkins, is parked at a lakeside resort while her husband goes evangelizing. During this time she comes to know herself and experience life in ways she never imagined. This is not a Christian book, but the missionary is portrayed as sincere. Unfortunately, I found the modern-day part of the story too contrived so I only skimmed it. Nerys’ story is well worth the read though. The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas.

For other stories of older man–younger women romances, see the Right sidebar and click on Cross-Generation Romance.

 

The Chocolate Lady’s #ThrowbackThursday takes place on the Thursday before the first Saturday of every month and highlights a previously published book review.

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Review: Strange Weather in Tokyo [aka The Briefcase] by Hiromi Kawakami

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My Interest

As you’ve learned if you have read my blog for a while, I love a good older man–younger woman romance. No Sugardaddies! No gold-diggers! No pervs! Just a sincere older man, younger woman pairing.

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Map Source

The Story

Tsukiko is an office worker in early midlife. One evening at a bar she encounters a teacher from her high school. They develop a close, loving relationship. “Sensei” as she continues to call him is much older, but they find they order the same foods, like drinking together, and enjoy each other’s take on the world.

“Would you consider a relationship with me, based on a premise of love?” he asks a few years later.

My Thoughts

Hopefully, no spoilers. I hate them. Sorry if I give something away without realizing it First, let me say that I loved the sound of the food–I want to try ALL the food in this book!

I’ve only read a handful of Japanese books, so I probably missed miles of symbolism in this one. For example, Sensei always carries a briefcase and in the end, we find something out about it, but I’m still unsure what it means. Some of his pronouncements, some of her acts–surely there was supposed to be more meaning than I understood in them?

This is one of the few older man/younger woman relationships that I accepted and liked but found “off.” Not pervy, not desperate, not cringe-y, just “off” somehow. I found myself hoping Tsukiko would take off for America or move-in with her high school classmate or just adopt a pet. I did not “feel” the relationship between her and Sensei in the way I believe the author intended. I found Tsukiko’s only true-to-life emotion was in the cringy last part where she wonders if a physical relationship even matters.

My Verdict

3 Stars

Read all of the reviews of Japanese Literature Challenge 13 here

#JapaneseLitChallenge13

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Review: What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age by Renee Rosen

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My Interest

I was born in “Chicagoland” and shopping to my family meant going to Marshall Field. All of my dollhouse purchases and our Matchbox car purchases came from the toy department. My father, grandfather and uncle’s suits, white shirts, and ties all came from the men’s department. My mother, aunt, and grandmother once all innocently purchased the same dress in the ladies’ department! (And three more different women you could not find in one family).  Best of all, Marshall Field’s was where Santa came. Happily, in 2003, my cousin and I took her two younger daughters (who were being VERY, VERY good sports at their age) and my two children to see the decorations and to talk to Santa just before the State Street store and the rest of the chain became….ugh…Macy’s.

So, when I learned from The Chocolate Lady’s Book Review Blog of this book, I knew I had to read it. I love older man–younger woman true romances and love historical fiction, so ….

 

Delia Spencer Caton source and Marshall Field source

The Story

On the night of the Great Chicago Fire [remember–Mrs. O’Leary’s cow??] Delia Spencer [another gaggle of famous Spencer girls!] meets the love of her life, 40-year-old, married, Marshall Field, later to become synonymous with the great department store bearing his name (among other things).  As changes happen in Chicago, and “Marsh” becomes even more powerful, Delia is there for him. Married herself to another Chicago society man, Del, Arthur (her husband), and Marsh lead a life together always complicated by the overbearing Nannie, aka Mrs. Marshall Field.

My Thoughts

I don’t usually post unmarried couples as great cross-generational romances, but this one was just shy of Mr. Rochester’s crazy wife in the attic, so I let Marsh and Dell have their day. I loved them but didn’t always like them. God doesn’t send a lady someone else’s husband, after all. Not while that other lady is still alive.

The book itself was well-paced, the writing very good. Marsh and Del were fairly well fleshed-out. The author did get too heavy on the newspaper or couturier catalog description of rooms or clothing though. In fact, that got to be a drag in places.

I didn’t find either Marsh or Delia to be that likable, except when they were alone together. Delia did lovingly care for her own husband at one point which redeemed her some.  While I found Nannie to be beyond unlikeable, she also had reason to be!

Marshall was Marshall–a man completely obsessed with his work, his legacy, his own world. Power is a quite an attraction for many women. Marsh, unless the author skipped this part, did not openly play the field. I suppose that redeemed him some, too.

You can read more about the real Delia Spencer Caton here in

The Second Mrs. Field: The Fabulous Delia Caton

My Verdict

Aside from the flaws mentioned above, and a few silly mistakes like calling Marhsall’s children “teenagers” before the word was coined, and pontificating conversation such as “he’s changing the face of State Street,” I still found this to be a good read although I acutally listened to the audiobook.

3.0

An Unexpected Employee

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Harry Selfridge source

This book was published in 2014, right when the drama Mr. Selfridge was all over PBS. Harry Selfridge got his start with who? Marshall Field, of course!

One interesting, unexpected relationship

Marshall’s daughter, Ethel, was mother to British socialite Ronnie Tree (from her first marriage) and was the wife of World War I’s Admiral David Beatty by whom she had two more sons. Marsh regarded Beatty as “a sailor.” He was 30 years her senior.

 

Ethel Field source, Lady Beatty, her husband Admiral Lord Beatty, source, and their eldest son, David, later Lord Beatty source.

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Delia, later in life. Source

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Review: Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart

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My Interest

This novel was named one of the Best Books of 2018 by NPR. I had heard of one of the author’s earlier works, Absurdistan, but had not read it. Having spent a large chunk of my working life in law firms doing finance, securities, and banking law, I liked the SEC story from the start.

The Story

Hedge-hogger Barry Cohen has over $2 billion in assets under management in his hedge fund, This Side of Capital.  His much younger, but only, wife, Seema (a name, I imagine chosen to evoke the fluid a male dispenses in the procreative act as that substance carried the defective gene related to Barry’s age) now have a little son just-diagnosed as “On The Spectrum.” Meanwhile, the SEC is hot on Barry’s heels over some questionable decisions he has made in running his fund. So, Barry takes off on a Greyhound, throwing away his phone and credit cards by schlepping along a wheelie-case of exotic high-end watches–his passion. His road trip, seemingly modeled on something by Hemmingway that I haven’t yet read, becomes cathartic and helps him to work out who he is and what his purpose is. Predictably, along the way, he meets many “colorful” “real people” who live “authentic” lives. I.e. the poor.

Running behind all of this is Seema’s own disillusionment, her overwhelming anxiety about their son and the necessity of getting him every possible therapeutic assistance available. And, of course, the election. You remember the election, I’m sure?  The one with that man and that woman–neither of whom gave me all those feels? Yeah. That one.

My Thoughts

Road trip novels are always great fun, especially in the summer. Overall I enjoyed the book. I am well-versed in the smaller city versions of Barry. I was pleased to find him asking why people who weren’t uber-rich staying in Manhattan when they could “live like minor dictators in the rest of the country”–something I’ve long wondered about. It was refreshing, too, to see Barry connect with his friend’s son, to share his own childhood obsessions (a nice coincidence, admittedly) with the awkward boy.

I always like finding genuine cross-generational couples and Seema and Barry, in spite of their age difference, had, well had had, a real marriage–a first marriage for both. Finally, I was pleasantly surprised by the non-cliche ending (to be honest, I knew this author would not and could not produce a cliched rom-com type ending.) That was a nice, unexpected, moment.

What I couldn’t stand was the author’s obsession with men giving women oral sex. A slurp-by-gulp description of each act was about the grossest thing I’ve read since Outlander. Nor did I need to know that she bent over so they could have sex. Really?? These ADD to the story?? How? Of course, Barry is shallow, but we don’t really need to know his oral fixation to understand him–especially not in such a graphic way.

One silly thing: Who the heck makes cucumber sandwiches for kids  in El Paso?? That was just “off.” Funny, but off.

A Note on the Audio Version

Probably due to the election story, my mind kept hearing President Josiah Bartlet of The West Wing for the reader sounded so much like Martin Sheen!

My Verdict

3.75 Stars

Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart

 

For Another Greyhound Road Trip Novel see:

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Greyhound: A Novel by Steffan Piper. My review is here.

 

 

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Review: The Only Story by Julian Barnes

My Interest

I discovered this book on Powell’s Books website.

The Story

19 years old, home from college and bored, Paul agrees in desperation to his mother’s suggestion of a summer membership to the local Tennis Club. There he meets the predictable “Carolines and Hugos” and Mrs. MacLeod (Susan). They play a mixed-doubles match together and start an affair that will affect the course of Paul’s life.

“Sometimes I forget about other people. About them existing. People I’ve never met, I mean.” Susan says early on. And she lives up to this well and truly.

Paul and Susan, at first, are giddy over their odd attraction to each other. Susan, long the wife of a sexless marriage and Paul, the young man eager for sex in a Britain not yet into the “real” 1960s and it’s sexual revolution, find they differ little from each other in terms of bedroom experience. They muddle on.

That’s one of the things about life. We’re all just looking for a place of safety. And if you don’t find one, then you have to learn how to pass the time.”

Only the time stops passing. It starts dragging. It stops. Totally stops as Susan either descends into alcoholism or Paul discovers her addition.

It was at this point the book seemed to just fall apart for me. I understand the premise–the tone and tenor of the book are meant to mimic and mirror the slow descent into the death of the relationship. But it did not work well to me. It was like reading a hastily scribbled draft. I felt like whatever is before a Beta reader. I lost all interest in the characters at this point and, though I finished it, I never regained my initial interest in them. Maybe that was par to of the author’s plan? I have no idea.

I often write about my fondness for sincere older man, younger woman relationships (not the Sugar Daddy/Gold digger variety) and so, reading the premise of this novel, I thought I’d enjoy it. I didn’t. He looked foolish and she buffoonish by the end. He could be forgiven due to his youth at the onset of the relationship. She was just a bored housewife and deserves the negative connotations of that term.

My Verdict

The title comes from the premise that: “Most of us only have one story to tell….only one finally worth telling.” Once the newness wore off, I’m not sure that was true of Paul’s story.

2.5 stars

The Only Story by Julian Barnes

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Review: Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses)

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My Interest

I saw this book and instantly thought, “That’s the home for me in a few years.” It sounded like a great place–and I wasn’t wrong.

“Keeping secrets after all was more about keeping them from one’s self than the world that most likely guessed long ago or didn’t care.”

Bar Harbor Retirement Home…

The Story

Three very elderly distinguished writers and an editor they’ve all know who now has early-onset Alzheimer’s are all waiting out their days at the majestic Bar Harbor Retirement Home, once the mansion-home of another great writer, and now home to elderly and a few intriguing staffers. A younger woman, an orderly with the beautiful name of Cecibel, becomes the unintentional “muse” of one of the writers–Alfronse. Together the writers and the editor produce a “book within the book” that is equally compelling.

Three Nice Surprises

I expected this to be largely a writer’s version of the Maggie Smith movie, The Quartet, but it wasn’t. That was the first nice surprise (even though I loved that movie). The characters, especially Alfonse and Cecibel, were very well developed. I loved that a real romance developed and was shown between those two, even though consummation was not the goal. The love and respect that led to those feelings were so real. That was the second nice surprise.

I wasn’t so sure, at first, about the story-within-the-story, but it worked well. I became as invested in it as I was in the “real” story. This is a plot device that, in my experience, rarely works well so this was a  third very nice surprise.

Tiny Picky Picky Faults

I did find the over-use of the terms, “my/his/a heart stitched”  to be annoying . And, no spoiler (this is a blip in the story),  I didn’t buy that Cecilia, almost surely a Catholic, had received that prescription from a doctor at the date in the story–very unlikely since it was not yet prescribed for that use.  I’m pretty sure a Navy man would have had the obvious solution in his wallet. That’s my historical pickiness is all it doesn’t impact the story, I bring it up because fact-checking got a good discussion in the story.

My Verdict

Definitely want to read more by this author!

The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses): A Novel by Terri-Lynne DeFino

If You Liked This Book

If you like the idea of an older man having a younger woman as his last muse, then check out this nonfiction book about Ernest Hemingway and his last muse. My review.

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Autumn in Venice: Ernest Hemingway and His Last Muse by Andrea di Robilant.

If you dream of maintaining a creative life into advanced old age, watch Maggie Smith in The Quartet.

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Finally, if you like real older man–younger woman romance, see this blog’s sidebar tag cloud for Cross Generational Romance” and see all of my posts on real life and fictional couples of this type.

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Cross-Generational Romance in Jane Austen? The “new” Darcy!

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 Illustration credit: (Nick Hardcastle/ UKTV) in Smithsonian Magazine

If you’ve read this blog very often you’ll have learned that I’m a fan of truly romantic, loving older man–younger woman couples (not Sugar Daddy relationships). So when I read the story in Smithsonian about Mr. Darcy being “redesigned” I thought, what if he was older? What if this was him but with his real hair–not a powdered wig?

Until about the time of World War II (an era way beyond the time of Pride and Prejudice) young women were often courted by and then married to older men. I’ve covered some of them in this blog, From Anthony and Clarissa Eden to Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall to Jefferson and Varina Davis to Lord Harewood (Lascelles) and Princess Mary, all had successful marriages. So why not, Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy?

It makes an amount of sense. An older Darcy would be settled, will have sowed his wild oats and will be able to support a wife. Pemberly is, therefore, not in danger of having to be sold. An heir, however, might be needed. What is more, he is mature and confident and can handle a strong-willed lady in his life without being threatened by her. See? It makes sense.

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Photo credit: BBC Colin Firth as Darcy in BBC’s Pride and Prejudice

 

So Elizabeth Bennett would find an odler Darcy…attractive? She was the sensible one, remember? Sure she’d nearly die of lust if Colin Firth emerged from the pond, but as a  husband the older Darcy would be the better catch in every way to a sensible girl. And, no, I don’t think she’d run off and play Lady Chatterly with the gamekeeper, either! Unless he was Colin Firth…or Laurence Olivier. Well, Olivier might get away with being a butler, but I can’t see him as the sexy gamekeeper.

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Laurence Oliver as Darcy

To me, the idea of Darcy as an older man makes the story much more interesting!