Saturday, September 15, 2007


Pawnshops and moneylenders in fiction are delightfully seedy, and often provide a critical plot element (at least in the sorts of books I enjoy). Think of Beany Malone nervously pawning her engagement ring in Tarry Awhile (and Carlton gallantly retrieving it for her). Another favorite is Sophy Stanton-Lacy's decisive visit to the office of Mr. Goldhanger, the money lender in The Grand Sophy, when she retrieves her cousin's rash pledge. Sophy is the most outrageously assertive heroine of Heyer's and one of my favorites by far. Unlike Beany, she is a brilliant and creative problem solver. Beany is more like the rest of us - she always gets caught.

Edith Layton, an author I have enjoyed since my former boss Brian Heller first handed me one of her novels in 1990, has a short story, The Earl's Nightingale, in one of the Regency Christmas anthologies in which the heroine pawns a music box and it is sold before she can retrieve it (there is a happy ending involving a nobleman who joins with Eliza to recover her precious music box).

In real life, pawnshops are also the background for secrets and stressful situations, and surprisingly the pawnshop continues to be a neighborhood institution in certain areas and is thriving, with about 12,000 in the US currently and there are even tradeshows! As the New York Times states, the pawnshop is a place "[w]here people go to put their jewelry to work for them, sometimes pawning the same item over and over again." It sounded a lot more glamorous in Regency England, alas!


LaurieA-B said...

A pawnshop figures importantly in one Trixie Belden book, The Mystery at Saratoga. An expensive pair of riding boots found in a pawnshop window aid the intrepid sleuths as they track down a missing groom.

(I think there are probably other pawnshop incidents in Trixie, but perhaps I'm just thinking of Trixie giving her diamond ring to Mr. Lytell as collateral.)

CLM said...

I am ashamed to say I only read one Trixie Belden (the first one), which I found extremely unimpressive. Perhaps this was a series better read as a child or not at all? So this pawnshop is not one I ever encountered but I am happy to add it to my collection. Thank you!

Bully said...

I had a vague impression that pawnshops always featured heavily in several P. G. Wodehouse novels, but 22 books into his canon and I haven't hit a scene where one physically appears yet. There's been a couple occasions where a pearl necklace or such is (off screen) pawned and replaced with fakes by well-meaning but hard-on-their-luck dukes, but no actual scenes in actual pawnbrokers, so either I'm misremembering or haven't hit one yet.