Thursday, March 11, 2010

Damsel in Green - 1970

The Return of the Half-Dutch!!! An entire family of half-Dutch - including the hero this time. At least I'm pretty sure they're all half Dutch...the family tree explanation could have used a bit more exposition, but when you have a seven year old boy doing the explaining, you're lucky if anything is coherent.

The romance in Damsel in Green is pretty subtle...for me, this book was all about the Van den Berg Eyffert family (which I always read as Vandenberg Airforce Base). Betty gives us a rare glimpse into the hero's entire family. And it's a big one.
Georgina Rodman, age 23, has recently passed her State Examination to become a Staff Nurse. Everyone calls her George (I would too. I once knew a woman that we called George. Her real name was Kay - her nickname had to do with what she looked like without her wig on, but I digress). I can't quite decide what her type is, so I guess I'll peg her as an Outlier. She's medium height, good-looking (but not pretty), long, fine, silky light brown hair...and a little plump. Her hair sounds like the kind that is constantly getting static. She was orphaned at age 9 (parents died of the flu - not an auto accident!) and spends her off-duty at polio stricken Great Aunt Polly's house...somewhere near Thaxted.

Julius Van den Berg Eyffert (33) is some sort of Professor/Doctor, but we never really find out what he specializes in - which is unusual. If I followed the family tree correctly, his father was Dutch and his mother was English. We meet him fairly early on in Cas because three of his young cousins were involved in an RTA. As his 7 year old cousin/ward Cornelius explains, there are 5 of them (cousin/wards)...and during the course of the book we get to know all of them.
The Story:
We are first introduced to Cor (Cornelius), Beatrix and Karel. Cor has suffered two broken legs, Beatrix has a possible concussion and needs a few stitches and Karel has a problem with his collarbone (evidently not too much of a problem as it is never mentioned again). Cousin Julius shows up and for a brief moment it seems as if this is a troubled family...Nope, they are truly a happy family. Despite the fact that between the six of them they have managed to lose five (5!) parents. And that doesn't count George's lost parents(totting up sums, that makes seven dead parents). It's risky to be a parent in Neeldom!

Julius plans to take Cor back to the family home (Dalmers Place ) near Debden (sounds like something you'd call my office: Deb's Den) which is only a hop, skip and a jump from Thaxted. They will need a nurse and George is just the nurse they want. She reluctantly agrees to go...even more reluctantly when Julius tells her that she is to wear her nurses uniform at all times when she is on duty...which you know will be practically all the time. She is even to wear it to meals. George asks, " May I know why - I mean about the uniform?" "No, you may not," he said blandly. George rides to Dalmers Place in the ambulance with Cor...then helps with the setting up of the Balkan Frame. For most of the rest of the book much of the "action" takes place around the Balkan Frame. Let's take a minute or two to become acquainted with the other inmates of Dalmers Place.

Karel: age 22. Currently attending Cambridge, but comes home for holidays and the odd weekend. He is half brother to Dimphena, Franz, Cornelius and Beatrix. Julius is his cousin. He does come on to George a little bit - in a puppyish sort of way.
Dimphena (also referred to as Phena): age 16. Has recently left school in preparation to going to what sounds like finishing school in Switzerland. Loves clothes, is helpful with little sister Beatrix. For a Christmas party she wears a pink velvet trouser suit.
Franz: age 12. Rides his bike to a nearby day school - because his father was Dutch and they don't believe in boarding school. He occasionally sits with Cor and does jigsaw puzzles. He plans to go to Cambridge when he's older.
Cornelius (aka Cor): age 7. He of the Balkan Frame. Despite the fact that he's a bed-bound 7 year old, he is surprisingly (and unrealistically) good-natured about it.
Beatrix: age 5ish. I didn't notice her age being given, but we do know that she's younger than Cornelius. She has an adorable bedroom and calls the dog Robby and the cats her "nightlights" because they lay on her bed when Cousin Julius isn't home...and their eyes glow. Editors Note: This is obviously fiction, because any 5 year old I've ever met would be scared of eyes that glow in the dark.

I think the most surprising thing for me about Damsel in Green is La Neels consistency in using the supporting characters. Even the couple who live in the teeny-tiny gatehouse, Mr. and Mrs. Legg, are given more than one glance.

Okay, okay, back to the story. George spends lots and lots of time caring for Cor and entertaining him and little sister Beatrix - around the Balkan Frame. She even goes so far as to let Beatrix accompany her on her afternoon walks...thus gleaning little nuggets about Cousin Julius. Christmas is closing in, so she and the kiddies (along with Dimphena and possibly Franz) spend weeks making Christmas decorations and hand painting cards - around the Balkan Frame. Query: Does anyone actually paint their own Christmas cards?? Even though this is evidently a posh house, all of their decorations are new and handmade. The boys insist that balloons are part of this decor. Balloons? Whatever.

George takes a day off and drives up to London to go Shopping. She buys herself a dark green velvet dress - with a white clerical collar and organdie cuffs. I keep trying to make this sound "come hither" and fail. She wears it to the Christmas party - after first showing seven year old Cor who remarks; "George, you're a smasher - Cor love a duck!" George reproves him - "...where did you learn that vulgar term?" He looked innocent. "Vulgar? Mr. Legg often says it."

She spoils much of the evening for herself by wearing her mother's rose diamond ring and letting everyone think she is engaged. Quite a silly thing to do...and Julius calls her on it before the evening is over. They end the evening drinking Damsel in Green...a Dutch liqueur. Julius pays George a compliment, "...You're a damsel, aren't you? And you're in green...and just as heady as the liqueur." Soon after this Julius has a conversation with her about his family. He asks her how she feels about her "job". "...I'm very fond of Cor and Beatrix - and Franz and Dimphena..." she says. He says, "You forgot Karel." "Karel? Oh, yes, They're like brothers and sisters." That's just what Julius wants to hear... As George heads out of the office Julius kisses her "without haste". She still hadn't found her tongue (I'm sure that doesn't mean what it sounds like) when he remarked "Your uniform isn't enough." He sounded resigned. You see...He wanted her in her uniform so that he wouldn't be too tempted to kiss her unexpectedly. I guess. George and Julius go to church together in the morning - in the Mini.

Since they're half-Dutch, it's time for some to-ing and fro-ing. As soon as Cor gets his casts off - no more Balkan Frame - they all pack up for a trip to the family home in Holland. This house is named Bergenstijn (hopefully not Dutch for B*** House). It's lovely and grand...lots of family come to visit and give George a bit of a once over. We get the BEST EVER (well, really it's the worst) name for girl - one of the maids is named...Pancratiana...and they call her Pankie for short(it just sounds like a disease -pancreatitis). George tells Julius that she's accepted a post as Night Sister in Casualty (after all, this job is just about over, and a girl needs to look to her future) she exclaims "It's - it's what I've always wanted!" So of course Julius has to invite Madame Defarge to the family gathering...a beautiful youngish widow, thin as a wand, who wears a silver trouser suit. Actually her name is Madame LeFabre but I always read it 'Defarge'...one evil villainess is pretty much the same as another -right? Her main contribution to the story is to pretend that Julius said it was okay for George and Beatrix to go skating...which is what they do and then NEARLY DIE!! Julius has a typically Neels reaction...he gets mad at George - George swears the kids to secrecy about Madame Defarge...but then...(remember, these kids are only 1/2 English)...the Dutch half spill the beans! Kiss kiss. I've been in love with you since we first met, but I had to be fair; I had to give you a chance to see what life with me would be like. You had to decide for yourself if you could be happy with my fabulous lifestyle and a ready made family of 4 partly grown kids (I guess Karel doesn't count). Well of course I could be happy with your fabulous lifestyle and the remarkably un-angsty kids, kiss kiss, The End.

Food: prawn cocktail, roast gosling, chocolate mousse, zambaglione, little bouchees filled with smoked salmon, haricots verts (?), potatoes noisettes.

Fashion: Savile Row tweeds, a delicious milk chocolate organza dress, deep orange sweater with elderly slacks, corduroy coat, cherry red dress (Beatrix).

Literature: George spends a lot of time reading aloud to the kiddies. She reads Faithful John, The Rose and the Ring by Thackery, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny by Beatrix Potter, and The Wind in the Willows.

Automobiles: Rolls Royce Silver Shadow Drophead Coupe, dark blue Aston-Martin, Mini

Fun Quote: "Your bosom is heaving too - so many girls don't have bosoms these days. I suppose it's the fashion." He sighed.

Rating: For sheer commitedness to an entire family I would dearly love to give this one a full lashings of whipped cream...but, sadly George just doesn't quite work for me. She's just a little too compliant...she's the one to tuck in everyone's children while the rest of the adults are whooping it up, watches the babies while the rest of the adults have tea and conversation, play games with the kiddies while rest of the adults pretty much ignore the children...I guess she's just a little too self-sacrificing for my taste. Sure, she gets a handsome,rich family man in the end, but she doesn't have a lot of fun getting there (the closest thing to a date she has is staying up late after the Christmas party and going ice skating - before the almost dying thing). I do like Julius - he mostly plays fair by her - gives her a chance to get to know the whole sitch and only occasionally waylays her with kisses (Question: Is kissing your employee without asking ethical? It seems not.) I think I'll have to settle for Boeuf en Croute on the strength of the sheer homeyness of the story.

Cross Over Characters: Yes! If you want to visit Dalmer's Place and company, you can find them all(plus a baby, 5 years later) in A Small Slice of Summer (not a favorite of mine -the heroine is called "Tishy").