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").

23 comments:

  1. Barbara here-
    FYI: haricots verts are very skinny young green beans. Yum!
    Re: the green velvet dress. I often got the impression that La Neels was describing favourite dresses from her youth when she described our heroines' fancy clothes. She was fairly good about being up to date for casual clothes or for fancy frocks for other female characters (note how often the 'other woman' is wearing couture!). But our poor heroines--Sigh.

    Thanks for another great review-especially the illustrations. A great way to start my day.

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  2. I love the picture of Mr. Incredible. That is how I always picture a Betty hero in a mini.

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  3. If you are imagining that this book was written in 1970 the green dress is not hard to imagine. Gross but imaginable,

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  4. It's not so much the green velvet that bothers me - I can visualize that okay - it's the white clerical collar and the white organdie cuffs that throw me. Especially the collar.

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  5. Oh, gosh -- I like (liked and still like) the green dress. I mean, sure, if we're all using dresses worn to awards shows as our yardstick, then Betty Neels won't be winning Project Runway any time soon. But I think the high collar and cuffs can be very pretty -- think of the dress that Audrey Hepburn wears toward the end of My Fair Lady -- the pink one -- that has a rather floppier version of the same thing.

    Anyway, here's the aspect of the family tree that I don't get: Julius's parents: they marry first and have Julius; no problem. Julius's father's brother marries Someone Else and has Karel approximately 10 years after Julius's parents have married -- so he knows his sister-in-law (Julius's mother's sister; still with me?) for a LONG time before he marries HER and has Dimphena, Franz, Cor & Beatrix.

    Now, what's he thinking about his sister-in-law, who is a lot younger than Julius's mother, all those years between meeting her for the first time and then finally marrying her? Is he secretly in love with her, even though she's just a kid (creepy) or is he ignorant of her charms until he's a widower? Just saying...

    The Rose and the Ring is a wonderful book and I highly recommend it. My mother read it aloud to me when I was quite grown up and it was AWESOME. (She was an actress in an amateur sort of way, and had English parents, so she did wonderful voices.)

    I would rate Damsel in Green pretty close to Lashings of Whipped Cream. George seems age-appropriate. All Betty Neels heroines lack the "I can tell he's interested in me" gene, so the kissing etc. never seems to germinate as a notion that maybe just maybe the Dutch guy *is* that into her.

    The other thing about this book is there's no conflict. Think about it, apart from the dea ex machina Madame LeFabre (who, as a Veronica, wouldn't be caught dead knitting so not Madame Dufarge), everything's going along swimmingly. George just can't believe that someone like Cousin Julius can be interested in her, so she's not being coy, she just figures she's got to take the ward sister position.

    BTW: Veronica's always have the "I can tell she's in love with him" gene, but seem to lack the "I can tell he's not going to marry me just because I want him to" gene.

    About the polio: I had a friend in grad school who had to use braces and those crutches that fit around the forearm. Let's see -- that was in 1977-8 and she was older, maybe in her early thirties. Some super rude guy stopped her in the dorm and asked her "What d'you have?" and didn't mean what had she eaten for lunch. She explained that she'd contracted polio the year before the vaccine was universally used. That would have been sometime in the 50s.

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  6. Oh, I think I have to read this one! I just read A Small Slice of Summer recently and have to admit that I liked George and Julius better than Tishy and whatshisname. Not to mention the fact that this book seems to explain Karel and all the other random Efferts that were running around in Summer, confusing the heck out of me.

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  7. I just re-read this one for all the Christmas references -- c'mon, admit it, this book has way more Christmas stuff than A Christmas Wish had. And I still love it tons & heaps -- it's much better than The Fifth Day of Christmas, which was about 20,000 words too long (I never thought I'd say that about a Neels book, but it was).

    Here, knowing ahead of time that Julius is in love with Georgina from the beginning made the book even sweeter, but then I like that plot device. His reason for not telling her seemed *almost* plausible.

    Lashings of whipped cream for me. Off to read A Small Slice of Summer for the glimpse of Julius & George post-implied marital relations.

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  8. Betty Barbara here--
    Hey thanks, Betty Magdalen--I went back to re-read this and you are sooooo right--lots of Christmas prep going on here! Now why had I forgotten that?
    One thing I noticed this time around--one of the kids (Cor maybe) mentions casually that one of the au pair girls that they had had liked to pinch them. George asked if they had told Julius. 'Oh no' was the reply-Cousin Julius doesn't hold with tale-bearing/tattling. And George does not take the time to instruct them on the very important difference between telling an adult when another adult is abusing them and telling on a sibling because s/he's broken a lamp!!!

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  9. Good point, although what constitutes abuse today varies a goodly amount from what constituted abuse in 1970 -- and that's even here in the U.S. In the UK, it would have been an even wider divide.

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  10. Betty Magdalen--
    Maybe "abuse" was too strong a word. But the basic situation is that kids shouldn't feel that mentioning that an adult is being "mean" to them constitutes "tattling". Otherwise you are left with the kids feeling that Mom/Dad/Guardian approves of they way they are being treated because they hired the caregiver! And, as we all know, kids CAN think that way!!
    Betty Barbara

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  11. Betty Barbara -- You and I are in complete agreement on this.

    I actually have another problem with the "no-tattling" rule as applied by The Great Betty more generally. The rule isn't construed narrowly (as in your perfect example of the spiteful or goody-goody child tattling on the possibly-innocent child just to get a dig in) but instead construed far too broadly.

    For example, too often the heroine -- upon whom the RDD has foist stepchildren or whatever -- doesn't report to the RDD misbehavior of said children because tattling is wrong. In the books, the heroine's forbearance is rewarded by the children coming around. That's not what would happen in real life!

    But then I remind myself that if I'm going to apply the most likely outcome in REAL LIFE to the events of virtually any book in The Canon . . . well, let's just say we'd be here for a long time! LOL

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  12. Betty Barbara here--
    Betty Magdalen--yeah--I want all those Neels heroines to tell the kinder that 'fessing up IMMEDIATELY is the greatest virtue in the world!!

    And yes, I often remind myself that Neelsdom is an alternate universe!! And an alternate universe that I like to visit!!!
    No matter how crazy it makes me.....

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  13. Green Velvet dress was real. My sister, a nurse (!) wore a long sleeved, high necked, 6-gore, long velvet dress in darkest green as a bridesmaid at a winter wedding of a fellow nurse. The bride wore white velvet (same style: severely plain) and the bridesmaids were all in the hunter green. The bride carried a red rose, the bridesmaids carried a white rose. It looked superb because the dresses were all cut in fit-and-flare style. Think Princess Margaret's wedding gown in terms of elegance. So I must be one of the few people who understand why the green velvet dress can work. Of course, I was a little kid and maybe I improved the "look" in my imagination... But Betty knew what she was talking about on this one, I think. Now, the long blue crinkly crepe with lace edging to make piecrust collar AND lace edging along the seams on the bust: that was a 1970s bridesmaid dress that even I didnt like, but my sister dutifully wore it. Nurses seemed to spend their weekends being each other's bridesmaids in the 1970s. My sister did it at least 6 times during her training or shortly after becoming a Sister.

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    1. Betty Norma! Welcome -- and tell us all about yourself and your sister, Sister Betty [fill in the blank]. I believe you're the first Betty with actual experience of, say, the silver belt buckle.

      We would love to hear more.

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  14. I know I'm coming late to the party here, but I just have to say that we do know what Professor van den Berg Eyffert specialises in. The lovely Dr Ned (and why don't we see more of Dr Ned in this book, Betty? I think he's half in love with George as well) says he's "Anaesthetics. Right in the front row. Knows all the answers" and he does the anaesthesia for Cor's surgery.
    Betty van den Lurkdom

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    1. Why don't we see more of Dr Ned in this book? – Here is The Great Betty's answer:

      Ned had a roving eye, which had settled, for the time being at least, on the pretty staff nurse on Men's Surgical.

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  15. Is anyone else bothered that (frequently very very) intelligent and highly competent young women give up important work in the community for a life where they are left alone with the help while the husbands work and travel?

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    1. Betty Grace here:

      It bothered me a lot when I first started reading Neels novels in the 1970s, since that was when feminism was really taking off in a big way. Later on I came to accept that Betty Neels was a woman of her time - born in 1909 - so to her running a home and family after marriage was a valid career choice. (Still is, to many people.)

      I've always objected, though, to Betty's use of 'to marry' as a career option to be contemplated by single women. There's a bit in Damsel in Green where Julius is talking about what his young cousins will do in the future - Karel will be a doctor, etc - and he says something like 'I think that Dimphena will marry'. The kid was 16 at the time and had a world of opportunities at her feet, but 'to marry' was the only future he could see for her. And five years later, in A Small Slice of Summer, it seems she has already found a husband.

      To indulge in a slight tangent - I knew a woman in the early 1970s who loathed the office job she'd just been promoted to. She wanted to leave but to give a polite reason to Management, so she resigned saying that her husband didn't want her to work outside the home. This was accepted as a perfectly good reason, and nobody thought any the worse of her.

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  16. FAMILY TREE

    Somebetty please draw a family tree for the Eyfferts – because, no matter how often I read this, I don’t get it!

    ‘You’ll have your guardian to see you,’ she observed in conciliating tones, ‘and your other— er— uncle.’
    ‘He’s not my uncle, he’s my stepbrother,’ said the huffy little voice from the bed.
    She looked surprised. ‘Oh, is he? I thought that he— they— were both your uncles.’
    ‘You’ll listen carefully if I explain?’
    ‘Of course.’ She willed herself to stay awake and interested, while she longed above all things to get a meal and go to bed for an hour or two before going home.
    ‘Well, it’s like this, you see. Cousin Julius’s mother and Karel’s mother were sisters; only Cousin Julius’s mother was almost grown up when Karel’s mother was still a little girl… and she married Julius’s father and he was Dutch. Her sister— my mother— died when Beatrix was born. My father was married before he married my mother— to Karel’s mother…,’ he broke off. ‘You do see, don’t you?’
    Georgina blinked. ‘Yes, I think so. But you’ve all got the same name.’
    He eyed her with youthful scorn. ‘Well, of course. My father and Cousin Julius’s father were brothers.’
    She gathered woolly wits together. ‘Two brothers married two sisters. But why do you live in England if you are Dutch?’
    ‘We live in Holland sometimes. My father lived in England for years; his first wife was English. Cousin Julius says we’re all half and half. So are Franz and Dimphena.’
    Georgina stifled a yawn. ‘So stupid of me— I feel I should know who they are.’
    ‘My brother and sister, of course; Franz is twelve and Dimphena is almost grown-up— she’s sixteen.’

    Why is Karel Cor’s stepbrother, why not half-brother?

    1. Cousin Julius’s mother and Karel’s mother were sisters

    2. Cousin Julius’s mother was almost grown up when Karel’s mother was still a little girl

    3. and she married Julius’s father and he was Dutch

    4. Her sister— my mother— died when Beatrix was born.
    This is where he loses me. First, he said Julius’s and Karel’s mothers were sisters, now he says Julius’s mother’s sister was his mother. Huh?

    5. My father was married before he married my mother— to Karel’s mother

    6. My father and Cousin Julius’s father were brothers.’

    7. Two brothers married two sisters.

    I always tally up three sisters.

    I would appreciate if somebetty could unravel this mystery for me.

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  17. It sounds like The Great Betty should have written out a family tree before she sat down to pound this out. I confess that I've never read it the relationships that closely, waving the magic Mills and Boon wand when I got confused.

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  18. My only guess here is that in some contexts, using step and half for siblings is interchangeable.

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  19. Betty Debbie that was amazing. I must confess I really love this book and your affectionate and witty review just makes me remember how much.

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