Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Life's Little Luxuries

Mikimoto pearls
In erotica and romance writing, background and character are often sketched through referencing  fine wines and designer outfits.  Readers love these luxurious details but writers frequently get them wrong.  

making an incognito visit.

There's an additional pleasure to reading if you're gaining some incidental knowledge while you enjoy a story.  Many a key historical detail have I picked up from Asterix books, such as the important fact that if Cleopatra's nose had been a different shape it would have changed the entire course of history.  
In erotica and romance, the enjoyment of learning can be even further enhanced when what we're learning about are epicurean pleasures of luxury items.  Clever deployment of the names of dress designers, wines and posh restaurants can suggest the kind of character someone has as well as an atmosphere of decadence and sophistication.  One such character who is supremely well depicted (although he's not from erotic fiction) is Dorothy L. Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey.  Sayers tells us not only that he's from Eton and Oxford but which Oxford college and what delicacy the kitchens there produce (meringues).  Lord Peter is defined by his bibliophilia and extensive knowledge of fine wine - all of which is so beautifully accurately recounted by Sayers that I once got an assistant in the Selfridges wine department virtually on his knees with pleasure simply by asking for a wine I'd read about in a Sayers book.  (He wasn't quite so impressed when I realised there was no way I could afford it!)  
Another character expertly delineated through his taste for the good life is Ian Fleming's James Bond.  He drinks vodka martinis "shaken not stirred", drives an Aston Martin, shoots with a Walther PPK and is always faultlessly well dressed in bespoke suits from Savile Row.  
From Evinité
Names of objets de luxe run so suggestively off the pen too:  Dior, Schiaparelli (Pronounced skaparelli, dahling!), Louis Vuitton, Barbour, Chateau Margaux grand cru, Louis Roederer Cristal, Perrier Jouët Belle Epoque, twelve year old Lagavulin single malt.  Unfortunately my enjoyment of an interesting story has all too often been spoilt by my falling about laughing when these details aren't quite done correctly.  
A wine label from the
Domaine de la Romanee Conti

(most expensive wine)
We can all fall prey to such errors.  Virginia Woolf wrote a character who said she had a bottle of champagne but no corkscrew.  And I read in my weekend gardening column that in 50 Shades of Whatsit, Christian Grey is purportedly a drinker of Pinot Grigio.  Not only is this not a posh grape for wines but how likely is it that some blokey dom, king of the financial markets, is going to drink white.  (What the gardening columnist was doing reading 50 Shades is neither here nor there, particularly since as a classics scholar he has access to a wide range of indelicate literature.  Perhaps he misunderstood it as a guide to plants that might grow in the shade.)  
I thought it might help if I drew on some of my misbegotten knowledge of these matters and wrote up a set of posts on wines, fast cars and perfumes.  I'll see if I can get some guest bloggers to do some of the topics, that'll be more fun.  
Image © Naoko Smith
The best steady source for information on this way of life is probably the Financial Times Weekend.  It comes out on a Saturday, is a distinctive pink and as well as columns on wine tasting, the best restaurants around the world and what kind of yacht to buy this year, it has beautifully written left-wing critique of social problems.  Other newspapers are written by people trying to show what amazing writers they are while in the FTW they're interested in what they're writing about.  You look very cool reading the pink paper, although I'm still a bit miffed about that man who came up to me at Bristol Station saying, "If you don't need the financial pages, may I have them?"  (I mean of course I wasn't going to read them but he had no business to assume that a pretty woman on a sunny day isn't going to be totally absorbed in her stocks and shares.)  If you actually do read the financial pages you'll be able to write up a millionaire character whose money doesn't seem to come from nowhere.  You might even be able to make enough money to retire from the arduous work of writing and grow plants in the shade instead.  


  1. Nice blog/nice thread. And, since Sayers, I don't believe we can say we have had a woman luxury expert in fiction and we probably should. Why not? No reason not. Bring it on!

    1. Thanks for this! I've been checking and enjoying your blog too. What a useful thing that Top Blogs list is.
      Chateau Tanunda, mm, interesting. Immediate proof of how right the gardening columnist and I were to roll around laughing at the idea that any right-thinking manly man would choose Pinot Grigio as a fave tipple.

  2. This was a wonderful little article. Now I want a copy of that paper. Thank you for the pointers!

    1. Thank you! You can probably get the paper at a local newsagent, it's widely sold around the world. And it has some truly great articles in it. I'll never forget the one describing Bob Crow infamous hard left union leader, as having the appearance of a bulldog peering into the sunset in search of a wasp which had just stung it on the nose. If you google any picture of him you'll see why this makes me LOL!

  3. Yes, dah-ling, this is mah-velous! I'm writing/have mostly written a novel about 1923 "fantasy" Dublin, where the characters are enjoying Bushmills Irish whisky, which I think has been around since the 1700s or so. Hope I'm right on that one!

    I went through quite a phase when Lord Peter Wimsey (Peter Death Wimsey, that is!) was my fave sleuth. I still remember the savoir faire of that great Sorothy Sayers. We need more of her ilk these days, as far as i'm concerned.

    Great idea for a blog. Yes, this is hardly a seems quite polished and sophisticated. Congrats.

    1. Thank you, Erin! and never mind the Sorothy - I wrote Wimsy in my first published draft of this post and had to be corrected by someone on another thread. Ooops!
      'Tis human to err (but it takes a computer to make a complete b@££sup).