Monday, March 29, 2010

Tulips For Augusta--1971

Tulips For Augusta. Boy did I love this one. Sometimes when you hit the used book store and pick up three or four Neels that you've never read before (as used to happen to me *tears*), you have a tendency to whip through them pretty quickly, lost in a Betty fog. Both Betty Debbie and I are finding that even with taking copious notes and a going at a plodding pace, these Neels books are holding their own and some of them (Tulips For Augusta, Grasp a Nettle, I'm looking at you...) are better (way better) then remembered.

Augusta Brown, 23, Staff Nurse at St. Jude's is in a bit of a snit. She's been summarily ordered to tend the patients of the private wing. Her steady date, Archie Dukes, won't get to see her as often (which is for the best as those with names like 'Archie Dukes' are, like Communism and Fascism, doomed to litter the ash heaps of history). And she'll have to consort with Private Patients--those who The Venerable Betty must have had only the scantiest affection for. These include, like the cast of a mystery who-done-it:
  • Spoiled child and ineffectual mother. "Stop crying Marlene."
  • An old man with a young wife--too young, sister observed darkly
  • A film starlet Dawn Dewey (or is she Miss Scarlet?)--discontented and a little vapid
  • a chronic alcoholic with a pretty, weak face and a gushing manner--we'll call her Mrs. Peacock
  • The Brigadier (Colonel Mustard)--he and his leg will part ways in the morning. This reminds me of Benedict Arnold. In serving in the American Revolution, Arnold injures his leg but goes on to fight for 'the dastardly Tories'. Arnold's question, "What will the Americans do with me if they catch me?" A plucky officer replied, "They will cut off the leg which was wounded when you were fighting so gloriously for the cause of liberty, and bury it with the honors of war, and hang the rest of your body on a gibbet. Which story I find ghoulishly delightful.
  • Lady Belway--fractured femur, lace nightcap and a marabou (!) cape
Mr. Boddy has been found whacked over the head with a wrench in the sluice room and fingers are pointing everywhere.
No, of course, I jest. La Neels only kills off inoffensive parents in order to cast our heroines adrift.

Lady Belway has the most interesting visitors. A tall man (a giant really) with straw hair and Miss Susan Belsize (a character like a cold sore--disfiguring but ultimately treatable. Also, she spends a lot of time in Paris--that's how you know she's rotten) who dazzles the work-a-day nurses with her up-to-the-minute fashion. Augusta just wants to pop in and grab the chart when the blonde giant's eye is caught by her carroty hair. Yes, he calls it carroty but you forgive him because it's as plain as the tip-tilted nose on your face that he's just lost his heart to a certain Staff Nurse.
Is he chatting her up is he merely curious? Augusta is puzzled and annoyed but not so off her head that she isn't glad to be wearing her new elegant slingbacks as she passes him in the forecourt. This somehow compensated for the fact that he drove a Rolls-Royce.
On a particularly hairy day she receives tulips from The Man. He catches her on the stair and says, "You make me feel so welcome. There's an old song; something about a lady sweet and...kind." The Venerable Betty expects us to be geniuses, I expect, and know to what he was referring. I offer the rest of the song which is from Thomas Ford's Music of Sundry Kinds:

There is a lady sweet and kind,
Was never a face so pleased my mind;
I did but see her passing by,
And yet, I'll love her till I die.

Her gesture, motion, and her smiles,
Her wit, her voice my heart beguiles,
Beguiles my heart, I know not why,
And yet, I'll love her till I die.

Cupid is winged and he doth range,
Her country, so, my love doth change;
But change she earth, or change she sky,
Yet, I will love her till I die.

Well that just about sums up The Man's feelings about his dear Miss Brown. You love him too, right?

Before you can say boo to a goose, Augusta is off to Holland for her holiday with two great-aunts. She's a quarter Dutch and speaks a fluent if verb-mangled tongue. While there she meets your standard-issue Dutch fink/fashion photographer Piet who tells her that she's too short for a midi-length dress. Okay, that's it, buster. Gloves are off. The Union Jack didn't come to fly over half the known world by taking petty jabs from fishy Dutchmen lying down.
"How dare you tell me what to wear and--and criticize my legs? Keep your shallow-brained remarks for the bird-witted creatures you purport to photograph."
you don't know that I have a very good knowledge of English?" he queried stiffly.
"Why I counted on that."

I fully expected Dutch fink to show up later for retribution. Neels baddies have such a way of repeating on one. But evidently Augusta planted him a facer that kept him belly down on the canvas--consorting with snakes and other low-bellied vermin in his natural milieu. Hm. I pity the fool.
One of the aunts has an angina attack in the middle of the night and Augusta rushes to call the doctor. Hey, but what about The Man? If a doctor shows up he'll be bound to steal Augusta's heart and upset the balance of the Force! The Karmic wheel solves that knotty problem by making The Doctor and The Man one and the same (Remarkable Fate!). Showing no surprise that it is Augusta who answers the door, Doctor Constantijn van Lindemann (33 and with a brother named Huib--please get me a Dutch pronunciation guide for this name! I'm reading it 'Heeb'.) calmly tells her that he recognized her the moment he heard her. I should know your voice anywhere... Hot Dutch Doctor to Fuddled Brit Girl translation:
Darling, the solicitors have been notified and will be bringing the marriage settlement papers over in the morning.
The rest of Holland is just awesome--chock-a-block with his endearments to her. (And one of the best kisses ever.) But she is still wary of him. See, her brother and family still call her Roly (Brit for 'tubby') and then there's the Chanel No5 malodorousness of Susan Belsize. What does she mean to him? Why won't he discuss it? Has he got a homeless graveyard in the backyard?
So she hangs onto a shred of her dignity and doesn't tell him where she lives. Well, she does say something like, "In the shadow of the everlasting hills, by the banks of a mighty river..."
Back in England she goes back to work but manages to get a weekend off. Remember, her last vacation was a barrel of laughs--what with the angina and the sleeplessness and the Dutch fink. This one's got a quarry accident! Little Timmy, whose mother lets her six children (I expect a comment Betty Debbie) roam the countryside at will, has fallen into the abandoned quarry and Augusta slides down the shingles to the rescue, rips her petticoats (so much more romantic than cotton slacks and top) and shouts for rescue.
What to her wondering eyes does appear...? Constantijn! How did he come to be there?
"I wrote asking [the doctor] if he knew of a vet by the name of Brown who lived on the Somerset-Dorset border and owned a donkey named Bottom."
And if you're not in love with him yet you're past praying for. But then it gets even better than that! He follows her the next day to a jumble sale. Again, too many wonderful details to pick just one. But if I had to narrow it down (skipping, most regretfully, the spot of snogging in the vicarage kitchen) I'll mention the truly hideous-sounding fairings that he must have tracked down and bought (from the cold, dead hands of just the kind of parsimonious elderlies to frequent jumbles and buy ugly fairings) just because she'd off-handedly said she wanted them.
So we've got the second proof in as many days that he's paying scrupulous attention to everything she says (first the description of her home and then the knick-knacks). And now, the minor irritation of Susan Belsize erupts like a cold sore on a wedding day. Augusta is in love with Constantijn and someone--anyone--needs to explain the bubble-head taking up all the air in his life. But no one does.
Actually, that's not quite true. In a fit of misguided candor, Constantijn admits that she is his ward and that he had thought of marrying Susan about a year ago but it came to nothing...
Editorial Note: Girlfriend is pretty firm about needing to know about Cold Sore Susan but keeps getting headed off or, worse, snubbed. Of all the things to let fall about the highly decorative darling while you're wooing a once tubby sensible type this is not it.
But he not-quite saves things by calling her Roly and carroty and saying, "You know that I've fallen more than a little in love with you."--which phrase, no matter how nice, reminds me of Rocky Balboa proposing to Adrian (I was wondering if you wouldn't mind marryin' me.)
A hospital emergency disrupts her off-duty and when Constantijn collects her for tea the warden says, "He's yer young man, cos he said so." Now that's more like it.
She asks him again more particularly about Susan (which should clue him in to Susan's importance in Augusta's mind) and is told that he doesn't want to talk about it. (Well, make time, Buddy.) She tells him that she loves him (on a hammock--so put that cozy picture in your delighted brain) and is invited to Cold Sore Susan's 21st birthday party.
On the way back to London from a weekend at home, Constantijn proposes but she's trying desperately not to be disappointed at it's anti-climactic air. He did it in a half-filled restaurant! He didn't say he loved her! What does it all mean?
The pieces seem to fall into place with a sick little thud as she overhears an hysterical Susan tell Constantijn that she's in love too and hears Constantijn reply that he won't see 'this other girl' get hurt in any way.
That's the answer. It makes perfect sense. Roly (she has to think of herself as an unattractive alternative to Susan now) was just a diversion and Constantijn will feel duty-bound to marry her if she doesn't break it off. In a rage, Augusta fibs (poorly) about off-duty and free weekends. She must have time to think.
Constantijn is finally confronted with Augusta. Tears, heartache, recrimination! But he hardly says a word--just lets her get back into the car and drive off. It is up to Lady Belway and Mrs. Brown to sort out Augusta:
Cold Sore Susan was really Homewrecker Susan who wanted to steal Constantijn's best friend away from his sweet wife. Constantijn prevented it--but if a man can be captivated by a girl who might regularly don a white midi with a tapestry belt and T-strap lizard shoes (and handbag) then I give the marriage five years...tops.
Back Augusta goes to apologize and be kissed. A marriage is in the offing.

Rating: So totally a lashings of whipped cream that I don't know where to start. With the heroes' unabashed pursuit of his Darling Miss Brown? With The Venerable Neels particularly descriptive and delightful prose? With the quarry, torn clothing episode? With the nickname Roly?! I couldn't put a fifth of all the wonderfulness herein contained. Constantijn, unlike your more run-of-the-mill Neels hero, has zero problem letting everyone know that Miss Brown is the gal for him. The only part I don't care for is the very very end--I thought Augusta was justified in being in a rage and Constantijn has to let her sort it out herself? No helping? Thumbs down. But, then, if that was absolutely perfect then this novel would have earned itself right off the chart and we can't have that. Also, for reasons I can't figure out, I hate the name Augusta Brown. (Both fine without the other but together bug me.)

Food: Alkmaarse Jongens (a Dutch buscuit), Marquise Montmorency (a pudding that doesn't really float my boat), Mirabeau steak, lemon custard (and so help me you must try this, Betty Debbie sometime when I'm around) and a dry martini (since when does The Betty have heroines drink martinis?).

Fashion: Augusta's slacks (torn) and cotton shirt (also torn), a mid-length yellow lawn dress with long ballooning sleeves (that she wears for his proposal), a Terlenka pantsuit with a white tunic top, a blue and aubergine organza evening dress (that she wears to Susan's 21st)


  1. Oh, and I personally think that's Bern Smith's best cover portrait ever. I mean, sure, she doesn't look at all like a girl who could ever have been called Roly, but she's so pretty and friendly.

    That's the great thing about Neels heroines -- they're maybe not best friend material (not quite confiding enough) but they are people you know you could have a lovely natter with over tea, wafer-thin sandwiches and delicate biscuits, with the hero dandling their babies on his knee and smiling lovingly at the heroine. *sigh*

  2. I've often wondered how the cover artists got their instructions. This one looks accurate--even down to the right color tulips (though Miss Brown's real nurse's cap has a bow under the chin). But some cover art looks nothing like anything that happens in the book.

  3. I find the song lyrics charming. Thank you for posting the whole song.

    I think there were at least 4 references to "midis" in this book...that takes me right back to the 70's obsession with hemlines.

  4. Yup, I had more than one "maxi-dress" back in the day. Wow, I can still remember the print on one of them. I was even going to make a long coat in putty-colored wide-wale corduroy, but it proved to be too difficult. (I was no tailor.)

  5. So many great parts--

    Another is after the quarry incident (and added mortification by Mom), Augusta cleans up and comes back in:
    "[H]er mother's look was quick and missed nothing, the doctor's was leisurely and it also missed nothing."

    Not quite as roguish as the handsome Dutch doctor ogling legs in “A Valentine for Daisy” (see my comment on that review), but still a reminder that these red-blooded Dutch males may not have booked a room in Brighton but still can glance at the travel brochure.

  6. If I was a milk drinker, it would be snorting out of my nose right now. Thank you Betty JoDee.

  7. When my daughter hits puberty do you think by then we'll all have figured out enough ways to discuss Brighton that I'll not have to be any more explicit than, "All the boys will want to take the Brighton exit or stop at the historical marker placed in a lay-by near the exit. Tell them you're not getting out of the car until you reach Ziekerzee."?

  8. I am a milk drinker, and it's good thing Betty Debbie reminded me to swallow before I read Betty Keira's comment. Otherwise, I'd have been desperate to clean this laptop keyboard...

    To answer Betty Keira's question, yes, we will. In fact, we may have drawn up a handy "How to Talk to Your Teenager About Brighton" pamphlet that should help.

  9. Thanks for yet another review that makes me rethink the book. I mean, I fell for Constantijn with the very first bouquet of tulips given just because the sun was shining and she was stuck inside. But as pages and pages went on with no one explaining who Susan was I was really getting annoyed. He could have avoided a whole lot of Augusta-angst by explaining things a couple of chapters early. But then you go and post the lyrics to the song he quoted to her and I’m all in love again.

    The more I think about it, his introductory line of “I don’t like carroty hair” reminds me of Gilbert Blythe pulling Anne Shirley’s braid on that fateful school day. If only Augusta was well-versed on her Anne of Green Gables she would have known right then and there that it was meant to be.

    Michele B

  10. I think it was slowing down and really paying attention to the prose that made me really like this book--which is happening a lot with the books I review. The whole Susan kerfuffle made me too irritated to see past it too how great the rest was.

    And I so agree, Betty Michele, that Gilbert Blythe was all over this.

  11. Okay, I hate to be the Little Cloud casting shadows over everyone's sunny bouquet of tulips, but Augusta annoyed me. (I just finished rereading it last night; better late than never.)

    He says he's more than a little bit in love with her, but she still has doubts. He woos her and she still believes the worst. He proposes marriage, she accepts -- and she still JUMPS at the chance to convince herself that he's going to dump her for Susan. Yeah, sure he should have said something (even just, "I know this looks odd, but trust me darling, I love you and only you and Susan is nothing to me. After all, she doesn't have carroty hair..."), but why doesn't Augusta ever believe he loves her?

    Because here's what really gets me. She loves him with all her heart, she tells him she does, he proposes, she accepts -- but she doesn't trust him. How can you love someone with all your heart and agree to marry that person but still doubt their honor, their heart, their commitment? What does "love" mean to Augusta?

    Put it another way, why was she so quick to assume her heart would be broken that she had to leap to that conclusion faster than she slid into the quarry?

    So I have to ask myself, why is the ending satisfying? Just because Augusta now knows about Susan? What about the next attractive woman to come along? Why am I supposed to believe that Augusta had reasonable doubts that have been completely satisfied and NOW she's going to trust him.

    Sorry. I'm done ranting now. Little Cloud-B-Gone.

  12. I don't think he really feeds her insecurity too much though. His original protestation of love was a little water-y and his proposal was also a little so-so and I think the end works because he tells her unequivocally tells her he loves her (--which even he was surprised he forgot. But there's no indication that he'll take any poor-mouthing of herself anymore.)

    I agree though that the love story is the okay part but the prose is just first-rate.

  13. Everything could have been solved with just a little two-way communication...but then we wouldn't have a story.

    Hero: I love you. Susan may be a homewrecker - but she won't wreck OUR home.

    Heroine: I overheard a disturbing conversation. Was it about me?

    The End.

  14. Yes, I get it. But, c'mon, Betty Debbie -- there are 134 of these books, and they share the same problem: Lovely hero meets kind/sweet/maybe pretty, maybe not pretty heroine and is either instantly smitten, or instantly smitten but doesn't realize it. She's perhaps annoyed/intrigued but eventually falls in love.

    As the hero is close to omniscient, the challenge is to keep them apart for 180 pages. Poverty, unreasonable family demands, and misunderstandings are usually the grist for Betty Neels' mill in this regard.

    Neels gave Augusta more evidence of the hero's regard than most of her heroines get: more kissing (of a non-avuncular sort!), more wooing, and an outright proposal. My problem isn't with Constantijn -- he's no better or worse than other Neels heroes -- but with Augusta (or, to be really honest, Betty Neels's portrayal of Augusta). Where's the faith?

    This isn't "miscommunication" because Constantijn has communicated pretty well except for not explaining why he's not explaining Susan. But who accepts a proposal and almost immediately assumes that the hero's on the verge of breaking that proposal?

    Someone insecure, that's who. And I don't like the implications of an insecure heroine. She may not be comfortable with the idea that someone that wonderful is really in love with her, but she shouldn't assume herself to be unlovable and then manufacture "facts" to fit that conclusion.

    So I don't think a single conversation with Constantijn fixes everything. I think Augusta also needs to be sat down by her mother and told to grow up and get a grip. She's being immature and silly. He deserves to marry a grown-up.

  15. First of all, Mom, Dad, Brother Charlie AND Constantijn need to stop calling her Roly. Then I think her mom could sit her down and have a "talk" with her.

    Betty Keira doesn't have a computer this weekend, so she's making comments over my shoulder. She says "Augusta was VERY pointed asking C. about Susan. She asked more than once - and was not really given a satisfactory answer. He does say that he had toyed with the idea of marriage to Susan a year or so ago - but that was over. But then he doesn't go on to explain why he's spending so much emotionally fraught time with her now. The conversation that Augusta overhears does not sound vague at all. Perhaps she shouldn't have accepted before having it all spelled out, but she had a fair amount of fairly hurtful circumstantial evidence piled up in short order."

    Betty Keira goes on to say that she thinks Constantijn is distracted and harassed but, pretty awesome. Period.

  16. I'm with the Founding Bettys on this one. A man (for a man) can be flirting and courting and a young woman (remember she's not THAT old--and looking younger by the minute to me . . .), particularly from enormously different stations in life (she IS English, after all), and she doesn't quite believe what it going on. It wouldn't not be the first time rich guy plays with modest girl for jollies.

    I had been only friends with Professor van der Hertenzoon for a while before we had conversations (in abstract) that my Prince Charming would not only have to come after me but crash quite a few gates and scale quite a few walls before I was going to risk sticking my neck out. So before I was knew that he had a romance brewing, he was well aware of my risk-averse attitude and laid plans to siege the castle. (That's why I now laugh over the Jonkheer scaling the wall in "Henrietta's Own Castle.")

    Augusta asked him about Susan SEVERAL times. Tell her, you idiot! My guess is that he was still a bit unsure of Augusta and feeling embarrassed that Susan did this under his watch.
    It all hangs well for me. Insecurity need not be a general state of being but rather circumstantial depending on the subject--at least it has always been for me.

  17. Nope, not buying it. If she hadn't fallen in love, then sure, she can distrust his every move. But she knows he's interested in her. She knows Susan's his ward. It's entirely consistent with the Betty Neels Code of Morality that the hero is allowed to have secrets and not tell the heroine.

    Once a Betty Neels heroine falls in love, she's in love. She doesn't believe it's requited, but she knows the hero to be an honorable man.

    Once a Betty Neels hero proposes marriage, it's a real thing. It may be a marriage of convenience; he may have reasons not to declare his love or consummate the union, but he always explains what he intends. Constantijn proposes Real Marriage (the one-bedroom kind) to Augusta and she accepts.

    Her love + his proposal = enough trust to think "He must have a good reason not to tell me about Susan. He's a good man and he wouldn't betray me. I'll wait to see what's going on before I jump to stupid conclusions."

    By contrast -- and no, this isn't a competition; all the books are special and unique and lovable in their individual ways -- Sarah in Fate is Remarkable really hangs in there until even she can't take it any more. But she's NOT told "yes, I thought about marrying [the other girl] for a while but it's over now"; in fact, she's passively allowed to believe her hero's been carrying the torch for 15 years.

    She's also five years older, which makes a difference. So, for me, Augusta is a silly widgeon.

  18. Betty Keira here.

    I think this is where we agree to disagree(Think Everard) lest we create an unbreachable schism resulting in pro-Augusta factions and other...;0)

  19. I never denied that I was a silly widgeon (particularly in my youth), just that I identified with her. I would hate to think that the condition would put me out of the running for handsome Dutch doctors.

    However, in the spirit of the weenie if conciliatory comments by Betty Keira posing as Betty Debbie:
    "Let's hear it for Jim Hutton!" (could he have played Constantijn?--hmmm)

  20. "Weenie if conciliatory" will probably be on my headstone.

  21. BTW - the last comment in my name was actually Betty Keira.

  22. None of *us* is a silly widgeon, if only because none of us is 23. And I can assure all of you that I was a raving nutjob at age 23. At least Augusta was an accomplished nurse. (I was a "late summer flower" in so many way...)

    I think Constantijn is more in the Rutger Hauer/Ian Carmichael mode, with the brushed back pale blond hair... Jim Hutton was darker.

  23. Oooh, Rutger Hauer. Founding Bettys, can we have a Rutger Hauer picture, pleeze, pleeze, pretty pleeze?

  24. Betty JoDee -- It's not his best headshot, but they have posted one here. That's not to say we couldn't have more....

  25. Thanks, Betty Magdalen! How could I have missed it? I'm leaving now to spend more time on that page.

  26. Darn!

    This is one book I don't have!!!


  27. Oh, Betty Francesca (may I call you that?), you have to get this one.

  28. I just reread our discussion from last spring. Having re(re)(re)(re)(re)read Damsel in Green recently, I have to express my admiration for that book, specifically in the area of Hero With A Good Reason To Take It Slow and Heroine With A Good Reason To Assume The Worst.

    Admittedly, that book only works because Julius has all those cousins *and* the two houses, etc., but I would nominate it for a top five in Reasons It Takes So Many Pages To Sort It All Out.

    I Have To Stop With The Initial Caps Now.

  29. Re-visting Tulips For Augusta again. I like how this blogs makes me go back and see what I actually missed. :)

    I totally understand why Augusta doesn't really believe that Constantijn can love her. Being quite of a "Roly" myself when younger, one doesn't really get over it, in spite if the years are kinder after that. The fact that someone who is handsome and could have anyone else can & actually not want anybody else, is a great feeling. And it takes some time to get used to.

    Its hard to imagine how small senseless acts in childhood can affect us so, but in a way they do. The romance between them is lovely and C is totally awesome (And after those lyrics. *sigh)

    I think I prefer the books where there is wooing before the wedding than the MOC. It just seems so.. so right? Most MOCs (for me) seem so archaic? Was it really common in those time? I ask this as a curiosity being from the Gen Y.

  30. I love Neels! First and foremost, what is wrong with being well built? Child or adult, they are the ones who can put in a lot of physical work. Stop feeling conscious of being heavy (of course not morbidly obese), but be strong, fit and healthy, outwork your competition!

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