Sunday, January 10, 2010

Nurse Harriet Goes to Holland-1970

The original title was Tempestuous April. I do not understand why this was considered objectionable enough to be renamed. And then the later editions become Tempestuous April again. Go figure.

Are you ready for the Cook's Tour? Because Betty Neels threw everything but the sluice (British word alert!) room sink in this, one of her earliest works.

The principles:

St. Nick's Men's Surgical Night Sister Harriet "Haughty Harry" Slocombe (yes that is the best nickname ever!) a gorgeous dainty blond who eats like a horse, crushes the pretensions of overly-familiar housemen (hence the name), carries a pocket knife with her at all times and has two older sisters(who get names and babies) and three younger brothers (only one of whom is named--the others presumably live in foster care as we see neither hide nor hair of them). She travels to Friesland with her best friend Sieske who becomes engaged to her boyfriend Wierd--which qualifies as loopiest Dutch/Fries name in the entire Betty Neels canon.

Dr. Friso (which I always want to read as "Crisco") Eijsinck does not have a harassed expression, a permanent stoop nor a soup stained waistcoat (like she'd been imagining he had). Instead, he's 34, sardonic, a great one for the ladies and the owner of a dark blue Bentley, a sturdy Land Rover and...wait for AC 428 Fastback--which she's already seen and fallen in love with him in so that we are presented with the most wonderfully ridiculous sentence in the whole book: "Every now and then she thought about the man in the AC 428 Fastback." From this we must conclude that Betty possibly had an endorsement deal with the AC 428 Fastback guys and was raking in the dough from product placement. Otherwise she would have said, "...about the man in the blue sports car..." Kudos Betty.

Fairly run of the mill--girl and boy meet and immediately fall in love. He turns out to be not so nice but then he sort of is. Lots and lots of sightseeing in the surrounding countryside ensues (seriously, it was like Betty thought she would never write another book again and felt the need to include everything). Think I'm kidding? Here's a partial list:

Amsterdam (along with particular sites named)
Sneek(to sail in a boat and talk about a botter)
den Haag
Queen Juliana (she's walking at a brisk trot through the tulip garden at Keuknhof)Brief discussion on Fries engagements, sailing practices, hand shaking customs, bicycling, canals (there's actually an accident involving one), dijks and reclaimed lands, Dutch midwifery law (yes, actually)
La Bonneterie
Great Pier
A semi-important statue of a cow
And a laundry list of Dutch customs and words: tot ziens, dominee, guldens, polders, dank u, botter, deftig. (I could go on.)

I'm not sure but that this book might serve me better than a Rick Steve's travel guide. Anyway, she ends up using her pocketknife and midwifery skills to both rescue a dog and assist in a delivery in a house located in a flooded polder. And if that sounds like several Betty Neels novels disemboweled themselves on one page you're not alone. She would return to all these memes in novels to come.

The doctor now treats Harry with diminished disdain (though he does make a crack about her dressing up for his benefit when she's wearing an "almond green thin wool dress" capped by a silk turban. You should never comment on a woman's looks when she's wearing a turban (see below) as it is obviously indicative of her fragile mental condition. But he's bit of a git. (Though it pains me to say it.)
He woos her by lecturing her in turns on orchids and the weather and by trotting out this line, "Shall I add you to my list of girlfriends?" Clearly he doesn't know who he's dealing with.

Finally they seem to be getting along--or he is just quoting he Friesian National Oath for kicks?--when he tells her that love lasts "so long as the wind from the clouds shall blow and the world shall stand". But before you can say My dijk's sprung a leak, the wind stopped blowing and the world fell recumbent. Yup, he's given her the cold shoulder and she's taking the next boat back to London.

See, while they were busy discovering love's true bliss there was a viper in the grass. Teike is a fourteen-year-old little sister to Sieske. She is also a sociopath. Probably she kicks dogs and tears the wings off butterflies and has a future of poisoning neighborhood cats. Having developed a totally rational passion for the good doctor she sets out to sabotage the relationship. And boy does she. Disappointingly, she is never administered the spanking she so obviously requires.

All's well that ends well, though. He chases her back to Dartmoor and proposes in a village shop (common to Neelsdom) and, as nice as you like, tells everyone that the wedding is "tomorrow at 11." The End.

I'm really not sure why I didn't like our hero very much. I mean, cold aloof and mocking is practically a requirement in the land of Betty Neels. Still, he seemed unnecessarily irritating. At one point he says, "And if I tell you that I shall miss you a great deal more than Moses (a dog), what will be your answer, my dear Harriet?" I had a marriage proposal that sounded suspiciously like this one. My advice? Throw him over and wait for the short Mexican. So, I'll give our hero a "treacle tart"--not terrible but I've seen better.

What gets my unqualified endorsement is the nursing atmospherics at the very beginning. You can almost see the ghost of Grandma Hanna spending her night nursing inconveniently-timed cardiac arrests, stuffing patients back in bed, walking the ward barefooted. It's the best and most realistic depiction of nursing I think I've read. So lashings of whipped cream on that.

If I even the two out I'd give this a "mince pie". It was a great early effort but she had not yet learned to make her heroes likable and her travel guide less episodic.


  1. I think this sounds like the best Betty Neels ever.

  2. Finally, I can answer a question and not *merely* butt in where not wanted/needed etc.

    Mills & Boon published first all the books that Harlequin then published in North America. Back then, romance as a genre was pretty limited, and the Powers That Were at Harlequin were concerned that Doctor-Nurse books should have titles that telegraphed to readers that it was, in fact, a Doctor-Nurse romance. Hence, "Blow Hot, Blow Cold" had to be renamed lest a stupid American reader think it was going to be about meteorologists.

    As you can see, they gave that up after the first few books by Neels; I guess people got it that her name meant a Doctor-Nurse romance.

  3. I read this last night. I had no idea that the Dutch are such large people (according to Neels.) and the stew from tins.

  4. Betty Broodje KaasMay 25, 2012 at 7:27 PM

    The AC 428 Fastback car turns out to be not just a sports car, but a really rare sports car: only89 were ever made. Italin body, British chassis and American engine. A really really big engine (7 litre V8!). Our Great Betty knew how to spot the future classics. And she seemed to really understand what rich people bought/drove/owned, even in that era pre-celebrity bling shows. But Great Betty did live in the era of Hollywood movie stars who really were stars with their own bling, like Burton buying jewels for Taylor.

  5. 89!? No wonder The Great Betty mentioned it so much!

  6. I have to admit that I like "Tempestuous April" better, because "Nurse Harriet goes to Holland" unfortunately reminds me of an ... ahem ... adult movie with a similar title that I saw advertised on a hotel pay-per-view channel while on a school trip in junior high.

    1. I can't stop laughing at this reply. Hilarious.

  7. "I should like you to meet Wierd."

    You had me at hello.

  8. I would have had to say, "Hi. This is Wierd." Betty Needs also taught me that dutch people are tall (splendidly BUILT). Then one day i read Dantes Inferno and he also mentioned that the Frieslanders were the tallest in Europe. Even the classics support Betty!

  9. I'm new to this site, but let me say that you Betty's crack me up and reading this blog is a joy! Have now started on one of the 6 BN' s that I found at my local thrift shop. Thanks for all the great reviews...I am so enjoying them.

    1. Welcome, Betty Judith! Enjoy reading the books. Do you have Judith, by the way? It is one of my favourites! Love the lone historian in the œuvre.
      Hmpf! Betty A. turning positively green with envy. A BN named after you! You lucky girl!

  10. I had no idea, how lovely!! I do not have Judith, but will remedy that forthwith. Thank goodness for eBay, Amazon and the B and N used books sites because I'll have to acquire more BN books as quickly as possible.

    Do I understand correctly that there is also a FB page for BN fans?

    Betty Judith
    ps I am a mere 5'2" and can't even imagine being able to reach up to kiss one of these "vast" BN men...they all sound huge! How did these girls do it?

    1. Reminds me of an old b/w movie where young Queen Victoria played by Jenny Jugo solved this problem by pulling up a footstool after she had successfully proposed to Albert, so she could proceed with the snogging in comfort. Protocol forbade his proposing marriage to her. So she, delightfully flustered, asked him to be her wife... Haha.
      You cannot see the difference in height in the picture.

  11. Having stumbled onto this blog a year or two ago,I was astonished to see so many books written by an author, who I found I really loved. Being in my early 20's, I'm supposed to be more in love with the current range of M&Bs coming out; but whenever I feel a bit blue, out comes a BN for me, and I am happy.So, I vowed to read more BN books than the 4 I had read. And I did.:D

    I must say reading the review before the book didn't put me in a right frame to think much of Friso or Harriet.
    I loved Harriet. That sudden "knowing" she met the man of her dreams, is something I hugely identify it. Although I haven't met him yet. :P And I love that she is dreamy, and so enchanted by Netherlands. I feel the same.

    I wouldn't call Friso as my favourite RDD. That goes to Gijs (Uncertain Summer ). But I love the way he does woo her. And it is apparent he is smitten by her, and her by him. And he makes it clear many a times. And she knows.

    I confess that partially why this book comes in my Top 5 is because it has a Fantastic description of the Netherlands.Never has a set of romance novels so help develop my knoweldge of geography and culture as BN Novels.

    And I love... love... this blog. I wonder if it makes me too much of an idiot to comment on everything.

    I think Max said it best ( Blow Hot, Blow Cold) said it best
    "All you'll say and do is a never-ending delight to me"

    1. Welcome, Betty Crystal! I really love your comment. So much so that I went back and read my original review.

      I don't think I ever really got to the nugget of why I felt the way I did about Friso. I haven't picked up this title in a while, but I think that my review of All Else Confusion comes closer to what bothered me about the set-up. The heroine is gorgeous but her prettiness masks a sentimental heart. I don't like when the heroes treat them like babes (who might dress up in vivid pantsuits for traditional family gatherings!) instead of tender-hearted women--it makes me question their judgement and makes me feel so bad for the women. (There's a whole Mary Stewart novel about a couple who divorce early because the couple made a lot of rubbish assumptions based on appearances. But in the end, all's well that ends well.) It's silly probably not to like it in the case of 'Nurse Harriet' when I'm sure I like it quite well that the hero can't see past the end of his nose in other novels.

      I heartily agree that all the atmospherics are described so vividly.

      Anyway, I just adore your boosterism of this book and, while I don't feel the same way about it, I'll remember when I read it the next time!

  12. Welcome, Betty Crystal! What a very nice comment. Thank you for sharing your ideas with us. Gijs is one of my top favourite RDDs too, by the way. I think it is best to read the novel before the review. Some of my favourite characters did not get great reviews... If I had read the review first I might have been influenced against them and not enjoyed the books as much. Reading a bad critique after having read a novel does not spoil it for me.

    Oh, and thank you for commenting. I looked up your profile and found The Dutch Table. Great blog!

    1. There were links to two Pickwick tea commercials.
      From the 70s, watch for the tea glasses.
      From the 90s: Awwww, cute!

  13. I have an acquaintance with a Dutchman named Hub (pronounced hoob). I use him as the mental model for the RDD - he has the hooded eyes, the slightly incomprehensible and mocking smile, the height and size, the large but surprisingly gentle hands. He is quiet and speaks only when necessary but usually says something quite pithy. I don't know what kind of car he drives. Next time I see him I am determined to ask him, and also find out if (as I now suspect thanks to BN) he's Friesian...
    Betty van den Lurkdom