Monday, September 27, 2010

Ring in a Teacup - Discussion Thread

"I expect your pride's hurt, but it doesn't need to be; everyone thought you were smashing, and I would have gone to sleep even if you'd been Michael Caine or Kojak." I might have stayed awake for Michael Caine (I love his voice), but frankly, Kojak never appealed very much to me. He's sort of a poor girl's Yul Brenner.

Doctor de Groot is a very aggressive driver, turning into a speed demon as soon as he gets behind the wheel, 'slightly more maniacal' on his native soil--'driving like a demented Jehu'. I had to look this one up. Had. To. Thanks to Google, I was able to search for "Jehu" and found the following:
1. (Christian Religious Writings / Bible) Old Testament the king of Israel (?842-?815 bc); the slayer of Jezebel (II Kings 9:11-30)
2. a fast driver, esp one who is reckless (from the phrase to drive like Jehu. II Kings 9:20)
II Kings 9:20 And the watchman told, saying, He came even unto them, and cometh not again: and the driving is like the driving of Jehu the son of Nimshi; for he driveth furiously.
I shall now endeavor to find a way to use "driving like a demented Jehu" in casual conversation.

When Lucy saves the kitten she runs toward a street looking for someone with a pocketknife. Sadly, Betty Neels tells us, the street is full of women. (Naturally they wouldn't carry one?). I took a minute to think about whether I had ever carried a pocketknife in my purse. Sadly I must report that no, I have never intentionally carried a pocketknife in my purse. I now feel the need to go and purchase one. The kind that has a gadget for taking stones out of horses hooves (like the one carried by Haughty Harry in Nurse Harriet Goes to Holland).

Dr. de Groot waltzes her to a rather spirited Rumba. The 'rumba' mostly reminds me of the kind of tights I used to buy my daughter when she was a baby, back in the early 80's. You know the kind, they had rows of ruffles stitched onto the backside.
When Lucy gets back home, she mentions to her mother that most of the woman at the Dutch hospital ball 'could not have been wearing anything under the bodice...they were cut so low there just wasn't room.' If they were busy dancing the rumba, I guess I can see why...most of the costumes for Latin type dances seem to be held up mainly by a thread and prayer.

Fraam asks Lucy if she can milk a goat and she replies, 'Of course.' She probably learned how to as a Girl Guide. When this Betty was young (six to sevenish) our family owned a cow named Bossy. I was terrified of that big animal, but I did attempt to milk it once or twice. Totally grossed me out. I hated fresh milk - couldn't stand the flecks of cream that floated on it. I did like the butter that we hand churned, but that was the only thing about that cow that I liked. In looking up 'goat milking' (there's an example of due diligence!) I find that goats are considered much easier to milk than cows.

Fraam finally gets to the bottom of things and refers to it as 'the nigger in the woodpile' Eek. I've run across that phrase a time or two in reading. Agatha Christie used it in more than one of her books. I am surprised that Betty Neels used it as late as 1978 - as it would have been considered very offensive to use the term 'nigger'. Maybe the phrase wasn't quite as offensive in Britain at the time. I don't know. Here's what I found on Wikipedia about the phrase:

A nigger in the woodpile (or fence) is an English figure of speech formerly commonly used in the United States and elsewhere. It means "some fact of considerable importance that is not disclosed – something suspicious or wrong"...

Both the 'fence' and 'woodpile' variants developed about the same time in the period of 1840–50 when the Underground Railroad was flourishing successfully, and although the evidence is slight, it is presumed that they derived from actual instances of the concealment of fugitive slaves in their flight north under piles of firewood or within hiding places in stone fences.


  1. Yes, that does seem shocking, although I suspect if we'd had this discussion in 1978, we'd have been dismayed more than shocked. And if we'd been British and had this discussion about someone of Betty Neels's generation? (I've got a call in to Betty Henry to see what he says; we were both 22 that year, and he had two grandmothers who, while older than Betty, would have still provided some context.)

    Does anyone know if this phrase got changed in later reprintings?

  2. It did not. My copy is a 'Best of' and it's there. I think the editors just hoped that context and our vast love of Betty Neels would carry the day...

  3. Also, I wonder if the 'N'word translates the same to Brit ears. I have no problem saying 'bugger' (not that I do) because even though it has been explained that that's a bad word and I know its meaning and I too am an English speaker, I just can't get fussed over something I had no visceral upbringing with...Not so the 'N' word.

  4. According to the Brit Hubs (whom I had hoped would respond themselves, and they still might), it's not so bad, and it really wouldn't have seemed bad to a woman of Neels' generation.

    A bit like all the authors of Regency & historical romances who thinks it's dashing to have the heroine use the word "bloody" -- a Very Bad Word indeed as recently as 40 years ago. You'll never ever see a Neels character use *that* word!

  5. A man is not a man without a pocketknife. (I feel confident that Clint Walker carries one--thank you, thank you, Bettys!).

    The n-word racial epithet used as a colloquial phrase would not have raised many eyebrows this side of the Atlantic in 1978--certainly even fewer in Britain. Sometimes simply because a white person would unthinkingly invoke it as part of a longer term, e.g., n-knocking, with no consideration of ever using it by itself and directed at an individual. (Denial can be powerful--my mother still insists that there is no profanity in "DamnYankee" because it is all one word.) My guess is that in a reissue, a publisher would hesitate to change (or even prohibited by contract) such a substantive part of the text of a deceased author--as opposed to "phonograph" to "CD"--there are issues about tampering with literature--even if offensive or archaic.

  6. I just wanted to comment that I own the original Harlequin Romance paperback edition (copyright 1978) of "Ring in a Teacup" and the phrase in question is not included in it.

    It simply has Fraam saying,"Ah, now we are getting to the heart of the matter, the er..." And the sentence ends there.

    It strikes me as strange that Harlequin would have edited it out of their very first paperback edition, but then include it in the "Best of" edition.