Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Star Looks Down - 1975

Once upon a time, in the kingdom of Langton Magna, there was an enchanted princess. 
Her name was Elizabeth Partridge.  Elizabeth Partridge of Chifney House.  At her christening an evil fairy cursed her with Plainness of Face - the curse was quite effective, but it couldn't diminish her violet eyes and titian hair.  The curse could only be broken by True Love

After the death of their father, the king, her evil stepbrother Philip assumed the throne and exiled Princess Beth and Prince William, her brother, to the Dark Abyss of London.

Prince William is left just enough money to finish uni and take a medical course. Beth is left much less...she becomes a nurse to supplement the tiny annuity that was given her.  The two exiles share digs which means that Beth usually covers the rent and the groceries and the cooking and the cleaning.  Prince William is diligent in his studies, but often borrows a fiver from the princess for dates or new clothes - never realizing that the plain little princess might want a new pair of court shoes herself - after all, she is quite plain.

On her way to the hospital one day, Princess Beth runs into a mighty wizard from a far country.  A mighty wizard with a keen sense of sight - he can see past The Curse of Plainness. The wizard is not only powerful, he's also hot.

My favorite wizard.
The wizard has a sister who is under a spell...a cruel spell that necessitates an appendectomy. Mevrouw Thorbecke (wizard's sister) needs an indentured servant to take care of her 4 little horrors.  Prince William has a man-crush on the wizard, and blithely volunteers Princess Beth. He sees no problem with her forgoing her upcoming vacation to be a temporary nanny. What does she need with a vacation anyway? It's not like she was going to have any fun.  Much better for Beth to work and make a bit of lolly(I♥Betty) that  she can share with him. Beth is tempted to turn down the job, but Prince William is right, Beth really didn't have anything better in the offing...and there is that hot, hot wizard.
The wizard stops by the digs and is treated to a meal of macaroni cheese and orange squash while giving Beth a description of the children, ages 5 to 10.  Mind you, he's a bit misleading - Beth has no idea she'll soon be minding The Bad Seed. More on that later.

Princess Beth takes care of the children for a week in Darkest London.  They all get along just fine, and Beth enjoys the late night chats with the wizard.  He's really a bit of a poppet.  On her morning off, she makes a bee-line back to her shared digs, where she spends the morning cooking and cleaning.  During one of those late night chats, Princess Beth tells the wizard about her childhood home, her old pony Sugar and her horse named Beauty.  They were left in the hands of the evil stepbro, Philip.  Hmmm.
Princess Beth's leave is extended (she has been 'lent' by the hospital) so she can spend a couple of weeks in the country!

Thank you for saving my horse.
You really are a wizard!
The wizard, whose real name is Professor Alexander van Zeust, takes the whole party - Mevrouw Thorbecke, the 4 little horrors and Princess Elizabeth down to his country home.Three of the children are just fine - but the eldest is another story.  More on that later...yes, yes, we'll get to it soon.
The wizard has a surprise for her...he takes her for a ride one day - right up to the palace of the evil stepbro. The wizard casts a spell or two and manages to flatten Philip and save Sugar and Beauty from the knackers. Professor Wizard is some kind of wonderful.  He even invites Beth to go riding with him - of course she knows how- what with being a princess and all.  He also tells Beth what his idea of a good marriage is.
Him: I want fun, fights and a love to toss me to the skies.
Her: You should marry a beautiful princess who wears beautiful gowns and runs your wizard castle beautifully and is a  super hostess too.
Him: That sounds like a dead bore to me.

Mevrouw Thorbecke has recovered enough to go for a ride with Professor Wizard, Princess Beth and the kids.  A journey to Cheddar Gorge!  The mevrouw stays in the car while Beth and the Wiz shepherd the kiddies around. It's all good fun...right up until the Wiz leaves Beth alone with the kids in the canyon (so as to take the mevrouw out for tea). The Bad Seed scampers up the cliff despite repeated entreaties not to. Princess Beth has to climb up and join him. Of course she can't get him down...but the Wizard comes to the rescue. Up until this point, Dirk (The Bad Seed) has been a fairly normal boy of 10 - but he comes out of the Wizard's study a changed boy.  From here on out he is sullen, moody, full of rage, dislike and contempt.  He's loaded his emotional M-16 and pointed it directly at Princess Beth.  It's too bad she doesn't own a bullet-proof vest.

Because Mevrouw Thorbecke suffers from SSoRDD Syndrome (spoiled sister of rich Dutch doctor), she needs Princess Beth for MORE time (so far Mevrouw is at least 3 weeks post-op) arrangements are made for Princess Beth to accompany the troupe to Holland. A quick stop off in London - just enough time to cash her cheque, cook and clean for Prince William and leave him part of her hard earned wages (grrr...), and they're off to the continent and the Thorbecke's hometown of Willemstad! Not before a little foreshadowing in the form of an enigmatic incantation from the Wizard, "I'm waiting...."

Willemstad is a lovely little town, right smack on the waterfront. This is important.

Princess Beth has an incredible Dawning Realization.  Instead of  the usual "I love him and now must hide my love away"....she says the 'L' word right out loud! "Oh, my goodness, I love you...sorry.  I promise I won't bother you a bit - I'm quite sensible." It seems like her curse is broken.  Or is it?  She has accidentally spilled her emotional beans. In spite of all the clues we have that the Wizard is in love with Princess Beth, he fumbles the ball here.  Epic Fail!  She has declared her love and pretty much laid bare her soul, but for whatever unfathomable reason, Alexander the Wizard doesn't bother to seal the deal right then and there.
Her: harm done.  I may not have ever been in love before, but I promise not to moon around.  You're so hot and rich, I'm sure you can forget all about me with anyone you fancy - all you need do is lift a finger and they'll come running.
Him: I am not in the habit of chatting up the birds.
Her: Let's just forget this conversation.
Him: I have a retentive memory.
Sure, it sounds okay, and I'm a big fan of Beth right now - she isn't pretending that she's not in love - and she's woman enough to say it.  I am irritated with the all-knowing all-seeing Wizard.  As far as I can tell, the only reason he doesn't put a ring on it, is that she doesn't think she's his ideal wife.  Instead of words of encouragement, Beth is packed off to bed.

Lovely House Tour O' Love...with some even lovelier snogging.  Princess Beth kisses right back, 'may as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb', thinks she. 'Call me Alexander', says he. He dances around the subject of outright, she's fobbed off with 'Next Time we'll talk about love'. (grrrrr...teeth grinding).  You just know that something will happen...Alexander was tempting the fates when he left her hanging like that. 
The Revenge of Moby Moody Dirk!!!
Ten year old thug Dirk decides it's time to make Princess Beth pay for her alleged crimes.  He nicks a small sailboat and bundles his other three siblings in - they will all go sailing! Beth sees them and tries to stop the young felon.  Since he won't stop, she sheds her shoes and swims out to the boat.  Now they're all in trouble.  Bad weather is coming, Moody Dirk is all talk and no trousers - he doesn't know how to sail.  Princess Beth may ride horses but she's hopeless at water sports...the other three kids are just ballast. By dint of working together, Moody Dirk and Princess Beth (mostly Beth) manage to finally make it into a harbour and off the boat.  Alexander is in a white hot rage, Mevrouw Thorbecke has roused herself enough to be mildly put out that Beth would endanger her children.  Yes, Moody Dirk has managed to shift the blame to Princess Beth.  Everyone, it seems, is mad at Princess Beth and ready to blame her for the entire nautical debacle.  She's suddenly tired of the whole business, so instead of explaining, she leaves.  Leaves Holland and takes the next boat to England. It seems she's back under the curse again.

Moody Dirk confesses his sins to Uncle...the little toe rag finally feels remorse for his transgressions. Alexander catches up with Beth at the train station in London. A final few kisses to break the curse, proposal of marriage...
...and they lived happily ever after.  
Epilogue: Beth kept a wary eye on their children...she had to be sure that the taint of Moody Dirk was not hereditary. All the right fairy godmothers were invited to every christening to help ward off the whiff of Bad Seed-i-ness.

Fancy waistcoat?
Rating: Gosh, there's a lot of fun here, but it's a real curate's egg for me. I have a tough time with Beth being such a doormat for Brother William.  I don't mind that they share digs, I don't mind that she does the lion's share of the cooking and cleaning (some people are just like that).  What I do mind is that she constantly sacrifices her wages so that Willy Boy can go on dates and wear fancy waistcoats - that behaviour just strikes me as beyond the pale. I also have a problem with the dear professor.  He works just fine for me right up until the point Beth has her dawning realization and blurts out her love.  She's adorable...really, really adorable - but he's a bit of a prat.  Although it's never stated, it's pretty obvious that he fell in love at first sight, and now that the girl confesses her love...he fumbles the ball. Moody Dirk leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  I don't have a problem with his first foray into disobedience - it really only affects himself...and it is something a naughty ten year old would do (thus speaks a woman who has had 5 ten year old boys of her own, and dozens of 10 year old cub scouts.  I know what I'm talking about here).  The entire scene where he takes his younger siblings (including 5 year old sister) on a boat ride is frankly disturbing. That and the fact that he would hold a grudge and act on it. Ew.  I really can't do better than Mince Pies on this one, but if someone can give me a really good reason for a) giving money to brother William for dates and fancy waistcoats and b) why Alexander doesn't get off the dime sooner, I'll be willing to reconsider.
Food: Sandwiches and yoghurt from the canteen, macaroni cheese and orange squash, anchovy toast, rich chocolate cake, beef olives Provenḉal (which strangely enough, don't have any olives...), apple pie and cream at least twice, pâté of cod's roe, Sole bonne Femme, bread and butter pudding, ratatouille, fillet steak, cake batter licked from the bowl.
Fashion: Brown tweed skirt and sweater, William has a taste for wildly expensive waistcoats, suede jerkin, leaf green jersey dress, Irish tweed suit, uninteresting brown woollen dress, deep mauve jersey dress, Alexander wears proper riding gear while Beth wears slacks and borrowed wellies, quaker grey jersey dress.


  1. The sacrificing for the brother thing is hard to defend -- the best I can do is say that Beth knows it's temporary. In theory, he's hard working (36-hours-on-call sort of thing), and she's a soft touch. In reality I don't think The Great Betty had a brother, so she tended to romanticize the relationship while emasculating the brother. William and Martina are both cast from the "thinks only of themselves" mold of sibling...

    As for Alexander, I think I could mount a more vigorous defense for him. Let's assume he'd possessed his soul in patience, and just found out that Beth loves him (not that he doubted it, but still...). I'd applaud him for wanting to wait until she wasn't being paid by him before proposing. Is that what's on the page? No, I can't say that The Great Betty seemed terribly concerned about sexual harassment in the workplace. But I personally think it's better to end the boss - underling relationship before going for something more equal.

    But I can get behind Dirk's lunacy. He's got a spoilt mum and an absent dad. Oom Alexander's a bit distracted (those violet eyes...) and Dirk has to share Beth's attentions with the younger tykes. He wants to stand out, and he wants to prove himself a leader. It's stupid but it's not impossible.

    What *is* impossible is Beth being able to swim -- fully dressed -- and catch up with a boat under sail in bad weather. Let's draw a veil over the implausibilities in that scene, as well as all the scenes in the boat (they don't crash into anything? really? and why weren't they all wearing life vests?), and admit it: it's all to provide some much needed angst. Which it did.

    I would say mince pies, or treacle tart, whichever is better...

  2. I don't know that I buy the separation of love life/paid employee scenario. As you say, La Neels seldom seemed overly fussed about sexual harassment - not only that, but you could argue that Beth wasn't actually working for him - she was working for his sister.

    You're spot on about the improbability of Beth being about to catch up with the sailboat. Beth is a horrible swimmer under good circumstances - which these aren't. Betty does mention that the current helped her catch up...but wouldn't that same current be pushing the boat?

  3. Betty Barbara here--
    Curate's Egg indeed. I loved Beth, I really did. And I think my favorite scene in the whole book is the 'saving the equines from the evil stepbrother' one.
    However, if Alexander had called Beth "little Beth" or "little Partridge" one more time, I would have thrown up. Endearments that sound condescending are not real endearments!
    And then you come to the whole book killer bit for me--the infamous boat episode. Gah! And I cheerfully swallowed all the improbabilities of the scenario--that wasn't the problem, nor was the whole angsty 'everyone blame Beth' bit. When Dirk finally confesses (after the damage has been done)Alexander praises the boy, telling him it takes "pluck" to 'fess up. Erm, no--Pluck would have been Dirk fessing up at the get-go and not letting Beth get blamed at all! That would have been real pluck!!!
    And the reason dear old Dirk nearly killed his sisters?? It was to get back at Beth, because he believed she had 'sneaked' on him to Oom Alexander re: the cliff incident!!!
    Madeira Cake is the best I can do.

  4. Ladies! I've missed you all so much! Just caught up on 3 weeks of reading your posts. No comments on the books because I haven't touched my stack (all right, a large plastic bin with a cover) of Betty books in over a month, probably two. Please, please tell me that this blog will continue after the books are all reviewed. I love this place so much. Work (how come part-time work feels so full-time lately?), kids (and their sports and music lessons), company, holidays have kept me so busy; I couldn't wait to hop on here this AM and catch up on all your doings. Recently, my 5th grade son had to read 20 hours of non-fiction and do a non-fiction project for school. He, like me, tends to only read fiction, but his complaining spurred me to a New Year's resolution I think I can keep. And I don't do New Year's resolutions (I hate failing at diet and exercise and organization projects), but this is more of a self-improvement project that is meant to show a good example for my kids. I found a list of non-fiction books recommended for college & high school students and I have committed to reading 50 this year. That's a book a week, and while I am quite capable of reading more than a book a week of fiction, we are talking about books on war, physics, philosophy, etc., that will require lots of dictionary and encyclopedia research by me. I don't intend to read only the non-fiction; it will be broken up with lots of Betty and Betty-like stuff, I hope (thanks for the referral to Frances Hodgson Burnett's non-children's books, Betty Magdelan!). Once again, ladies, I love reading you and thank you, so much, for creating this lovely little blog!

  5. It may not be sexual harrassment, but there must've been some kind of unwritten law about employers carrying on with employees because Betty had to make sure in many of her novels, that the girls were no longer working for the RDDS before the doctors declared themselves.

    Too bad about this book on the whole though. I did rather like that Alexander wanted the kind of love that would "Toss him to the skies" and that Beth wore her heart on her sleeve. The way she ogled him in his black tie and his riding kit was delicious!

  6. All I can say is, there are books in The Canon that really bug me, but this is not one of them.

  7. Sometimes the RDD has no such scruples and I manage to get over it. (The one I'm reading for next week, the RDD doesn't hire her but waits until she and her mother are installed in his country cottage and he has the right to come and go as he likes--a fairly interesting balance of power, I think. Anywho, like Betty Magdalen, I have ones I like more than A Star Looks Down but I certainly don't hate it.

  8. Oh, and to answer an earlier point, Alexander's her boss from an ethical perspective: he hired her, she answers to him, and when she gets a check for services rendered, it comes from him. Was the check drawn on his bank? I say, who cares. The money is literally coming from him, even if the funds are from someone else. (Say, for example, that the check is drawn on Martina's account -- d'you think for a minute that he didn't tell her to write it out and sign it?)

    There are other, more clear-cut situations, e.g., George in The Damsel in Green -- where Julius knows he's hiring her, knows he's in love with her, has his (not too bad) reasons for doing it this way, but has her wear her uniform even at dinner so that he doesn't goof and treat her like his love. (It's still hard...which I love about him.)

    And there are definitely some less clear situations. In the one I'm reading now, The Most Marvelous Summer, James has his grandparents hire Matilda, but there it's much clearer that she works for the grandparents even if he acted as a go-between.

    I feel strongly about this because people tend to overlook the au pair or hired help when considering the ethics of a situation. I was in an email loop about 10 years ago when someone posed the following question: Bob and his wife were visiting another couple with young kids. Bob got up to go to the bathroom (down the hall) and saw his host coming down the stairs from the third floor. The only person sleeping up there was the Swedish au pair. Bob's question for the group was: What should he have done? Told the host he saw him? Told his own wife, so she could decide if she wanted to tell her best friend (hostess) about the host? Or do nothing?

    I was the only person who responded to this question by suggesting that the rights and interests of the au pair really counted here. She's in an invidious position: Assuming the host is doing anything inappropriate (there's a range of possibilities, as you might imagine), the au pair can't easily negotiate the situation without risking her employment situation. And she's thousands of miles away from her home? Frankly, I don't care if she was the hoochiest of hoochy mamas, she's an employee!

    I stopped participating in that email loop...

  9. Completely agree about the "employment" stuff - and obviously Mrs Neels did, too, as she used that gambit more than once, as mentioned.

    Magdalen, that story about the au pair,I often wondered how a wife could not know something like that. While not precisely the same situation, when I was 15 and I became involved with the (19 year old) friend of the family who was boarding with us, my mother certainly knew almost before I did. ;-) Of course, it was her job to be on the alert where I was concerned, but isn't a wife to be just as alert with a "sweet young thing," in the household?

    In the interest of full disclosure, my mother was sure that her Cindy would never put herself at risk of pregnancy, despite warnings from my married older sisters.



  10. Betty Cindy -- Alas, people often refuse to step up and acknowledge the painful truths. The stories about mothers who simply don't want to believe their daughters' claim that Stepdad is molesting them -- those aren't just hyped-up made-for-TV-movie fodder.

    My guess is that the wife simply didn't want to know what her husband was doing, so she didn't know.

  11. Hey Bettys--Founding and Otherwise--get your collective heads out of the treacle tarts! None of this is why this book may be one of the most frustrating in Neelsdom. (I won't even venture into my heavily-trod field of "How can one be plain with titian hair and VIOLET eyes?")

    I can live Self-centered and spoilt William--every family has one.

    I can live with What-A-Brat Dirk who does a life-threatening stunt (he's ten--not a great age for judgment--and his mother is a charming nitwit).

    I don't mind diminutive endearments--Prof. van der Hertenzoon kisses the top of my head and refers to me as Baby Doeee all the time--the issue is if your love treats you like an idiot.

    The scene to reclaim the animals is stunningly wonderful, causing us all to fall in love with Alexander right then ourselves.

    The line of "I may as well as be hanged for a sheep as a lamb" occupies one of the top rungs of the Neels quotation ladders. (I employ it myself frequently).

    BUT, here's the deal breaker:
    He's mad at BETH when he has to pick them up at the wharf. Really, really mad--BEFORE he even hears Dirk's story--read the part again--BEFORE. Then he believes an incredibly stupid story from a ten-year-old. He asks her for her side, but she refuses. Good for her! You and the horse you rode in on, buddy.

    The nitwit sister, who has entrusted the care of her children to Beth FOR WEEKS, suddenly blames her out of hand. That part is actually quite believable--you'd be surprised how modern parents (even ones who should know better like sisters) take the side of the their lying, bratty kids over an adult.

    So while the story is plausible that blood relatives take the word of their children over that of the babysitter, he jolly well better not if he loves me--if he's that much of an idiot, count me out.

    In short, this book would be way at the top of my favorites (don't you love how he tells his sister that the Recovery nurse--Beth--has violet eyes?), and Alexander is such a doll UNTIL the end. Ugh. More like lashings with a wet noodle.

    Okay, you can go back to your tarts....

  12. Okay, I will confess this has never happened to me, either as the giver or the recipient, but isn't it a fairly well accepted cliché that when you see the person you love more than anything (with all children being equally so loved) in harm's way and then safe, you get angry at them? Later, when you can breathe once more, you hug them & love them & cosset them, but in the grip of the fear that you might have lost them, don't you yourself lose it?

    As I say, that's never happened to me (thankfully) but I've never actually distrusted it as a plausible occurrence.

    Does Alexander wait too long to get to the loving & hugging & cosseting part? Yes. Does the fatal flaw of the RDD, namely icy ill humour, play too much of a role in the ending? Yes. But I've seen RDDs do much worse, and I'm pretty sure Beth will find lots of ways to repay him for that lunacy over the years.

    Women have long memories -- and not exclusively women, but we're very good at reciting chapter & verse years, even decades, later...

    Plus, I can't say I think The Great Betty was at her best when she laid down Thou Shalt Not Snitch as the Eleventh Commandment.

  13. Um... well... as a mom who's fished several children out of dangerous situations, I tend to do the opposite... hugs kisses and cossets come first, and about half an hour later, I start to simmer, "Just WHAT were you doing in that situation young man?!"

  14. No dice, Betty Magadalen. Troop upstairs and drag out the tome in question again. Alexander blames her and holds her responsible before he gets there and knows anything about anything that happened. Furious. Even worried the police. His default was that she did it. That’s the crux. To compound his sin he then believed the already-known-to-be-squishy-with-the-truth-when-he-gets-in-a-spot ten-year-old.

    Waldo in The End of the Rainbow gets thisclose to crossing the same line, but remember that he had the heretofore trusted adult of Evil Elisabeth who deliberately lied about Olympia’s actions and who had been whispering seditions against her for some time. His realization at the perfidy of his long-time pal and his disloyalty to Olympia is priceless, “I deserve to be shot.” Yes, he does, but he did not deserve to be dumped. Alexander does. Run, girl, run. The love of my life believes me, no matter what—sometimes in a marriage the “no matter what” becomes extremely important.

    The no-snitching business doesn’t bother me in this one because of the old babysitter/church teacher maxim that parents don’t really want to hear anything negative about their little rugrats so one just fudges something about “oh, angels” unless it is VERY serious. Beth lets him off on the first one, thinking that he learned his lesson. She is clearly prepared to report on him this time until Alexander comes loaded for Beth bear. She’s understandably hurt and furious. Wild horses couldn’t drag it out etc.

    In the story, the scene is very jarring because Alexander was pretty darn lovable and admiring of Beth’s abilities till then. Suddenly, he assumes she puts four small children’s lives in danger on a selfish stunt. Ruins the book. I pick up this book periodically over the years and re-readit because I keep hoping against hope that somehow this time the ending will be different because I LOVE the rest of the book. Hasn’t happened yet.

    Now…if a professional romance writer were to pen a couple of pages that I could insert in as a substitute for the ruinous scene….

  15. Betty Barbara here--
    And he doesn't grovel enough when he comes to fetch her at the station. As a matter of fact, I don't think he grovels at all!! Bad form, Alexander, because you did deserve to be shot!

  16. Okay, I clearly have got the job of defending the dratted man.

    Here's what happens:

    Alexander has to leave a critical patient to deal with a) the police, b) a boat he has no hope of stopping, c) that has on it 4 children age ten or less and 1 adult, all of whom he loves more than life itself. Even if the adult didn't maliciously (i.e., with intent) take the boat out, the adult is prima facie negligent for being on a boat with four children under the age of eleven. The improbability that the sole adult managed to join the boat after it had been launched by the 10-year-old didn't occur to Alexander. And, frankly, why should it? It's craziness to get a call from the police (or from his sister and then he talks to the police) to the effect that the boat is gone with four children who are under the care of the one adult, who's also missing, and not think either she's negligent for losing them or negligent or worse for thinking it was sensible to get on a boat with them.

    He gets to the police station white-hot with fury. The defense is willing to stipulate that Beth is within her romantic rights to ignore his accusation, which is based entirely on the 10-year-old's version of events. (Although it does occur to me that holding up Betty Kylene's "Lies, Wicked Lies" sampler would be sensible, but I digress...)

    But then Alexander gives her a second chance:
    He took her cold hands in his and said gently, "Beth, will you not tell us what happened? You had some reason..."
    She confirms Dirk's story -- without having a clear idea what Dirk's story had been, as she can't speak Dutch -- and even though she would appear to have a third chance to explain to Alexander, she leaves despite his express instruction to stay.

    From his perspective: she has twice declined to contradict Dirk's version, and she leaves without taking the third chance to explain herself. Frankly, when four children are in a vessel none of them can handle, and an adult is with them, we blame the adult. We just do. All of you -- if you found YOUR four children with an adult in a dangerous situation -- would blame the adult. You just would.

    But, being fair people, you would ask the adult for her version of events. If she declined to give them while you were angry, you would ask again when you were less angry. If she again says, in effect, that the only version of events you already have is accurate and won't take a third opportunity to explain, why are YOU still in the wrong?

    Oh, and why don't the other three kids grass on Dirk? Hmmm?

    So, to recap: five people have all explicitly, or implicitly, said that this adult YOU trusted betrayed that trust.

    I submit to you, ladies of the jury, that Alexander van Zeust is not guilty of the crime of being unworthy of the HEA. I further submit that he has no reason to grovel.

  17. Brilliant defense, Betty Magdalen. Brilliant.

  18. Thank you, Betty Debbie. I try...

  19. I was with you right up until the grovel bit. He needs to grovel. Even if he didn't know he was wrong, it was a slap in the face and monstrously unfair and she's within her rights to be seethingly furious. Still, I'll allow that if it happens just before some implied conjugal relations that would be fine too.

  20. Well, why doesn't Beth grovel? "Oh, Alexander, I should have explained what Dirk did. I let you believe the most monstrous, wicked lies about me and that wasn't fair to you or to our love..."

    Either they both grovel (because they both made mistakes that risked their mutual happiness) or neither does and they chalk it up to being a bad business all around.

    That's my proposed plea agreement. But the implied conjugal relations will work fine too...

    (Personally, I say Dirk owes them a whopping wedding present that uses his pocket money for months to come...)(And no way is Dirk ever asked to babysit for the products of their implied conjugal relations.)

  21. Betty Barbara here--
    When Beth is asked the second time, she looks over and sees Dirk's face, pleading with her not to dob him in. She doesn't,muttering something to herself about 'not hiding behind a 10 year old boy' and so on and so on. Beth obviously doesn't feel equal in this relationship. So, she tells the truth--now what?? Do we get Alexander's apology for losing it? Or do we get his disdain-she's blaming a kid, after all. What kind of person blames a kid? So she's got a 50-50 chance at a happy outcome, if she tells her version.
    And I still think Alexander should have groveled, or groveled first. He needs to be the first to say "I'm sorry". He was the one who accused her of gross negligence.
    As to why the other 3 didn't reveal Dirk's responsibility--we are back to dear Betty and her "Thou Shalt Not Snitch".

  22. Betty Barbara -- She's not blaming a kid, she's telling the truth. (And, incidentally, the business with not wanting to hide behind a 10 year old boy happens the first time he asks her, when he's furious with her. The second time, Dirk's not around and Alexander is no longer furious. But all he gets is her wooden voice.)

    Beth thinks, Why were they so sure it was her fault, and why was Alexander so cruelly angry with her? But I think Beth's missing Alexander's perspective, that he'd left four young children in her charge and come back to find them at risk of drowning.

    Incidentally, not that I was hired to vilify Beth, but did anyone else notice that when she goes after Dirk and the others, she allows herself to be kept in conversation with the dominee for FIVE minutes while the kids are at the other end of the harbor? Why didn't she say, "So sorry, I must dash?" Because she was hired to look after the kids, not chat with the dominee. If she does, she gets to the boat before Dirk can cast off...

    Yes, it's true she couldn't have imagined that Dirk would do such a dumb thing. But Alexander couldn't have imagined it either, so why's he guilty for failing to consider the outrageous and unlikely alternative to the evidence while Beth's not guilty for failing to tell the story she knows to be true?

    Sure, she wants him to believe her. But what's she given him to believe? Nothing. If she tells the truth and he then believes Dirk, boil him in oil. But until that time, my sympathies are with him.

    Okay, so my point is this: She's the responsible adult. She was supposed to keep the kids safe. She didn't do that. I think there's ample evidence to support the accusation of gross negligence. You all think that he's a meanie for getting mad at her, but the only person who can and should be telling the truth is all pouty and has hurt feelings. Suck it up, Beth, and tell the truth. Not because it "hides behind" a little boy but because it's the truth and you've been asked twice.

    (You know, if we keep this up, I'll start disliking this book for having a TSTL (Too Stupid to Live) heroine...)

  23. Okay, second snow day with four kids--no sledding 'cause it's ice--a rowboat with a crappy sail and cranky engine to shove off with four kids in it is sounding pretty good right now.

    Long-time 24-year-old babysitter came by in the midst of the online "discussion". I explained the controversy (and believe me, Betty Magdalen, I want to be convinced 'cause I really love this book until...). She answered, "Are you kidding? Haven't they ever been around kids? Of course, it was the kids' fault. Duh." However (and this may be the key), she observed that had it been a teenager in charge it changes the whole dynamic. Default setting automatically goes with the adult (certainly one with whom one is in love). However, the assumption is that the teenager was negligent.

    Might it say something about Alexander's image of Beth?

    In defense of the younger three rugrats, it's not clear that they had any inkling of the stories being tossed about (there is also two languages in play here as well).

    If I were in the circumstances and he accused me out of hand to start with, I wouldn't tell him squat either sticking my tongue out. Plus, remember that she has humiliatingly declared her love to him to no avail. No reason for her to stick the ol' neck out twice.

  24. Okay, so now we have testimony from a babysitter defending Beth's role as a babysitter. I'd like a chance to cross-examine this witness, Your Honor!

    As the only non-parent here, I'm still stunned at the notion that you show up to find your four beloved children (Alexander's love for his nieces and nephews can't be considered less than the love one has for one's own children, surely) in a dangerous situation with an adult present, and you have the following choices:

    1. She was hired to watch the kids, and here they are with all of their lives at risk, but there must be an explanation that absolves her of all blame if only I could think of one.

    2) She screwed up. And incidentally, I'm the one who hired her, so maybe I screwed up.

    So you ask, and she sticks her tongue out at you. There are children involved. Who the &%$@#*?/ thinks that the proper response there is, "Oh, my darling, I've misjudged you. Of course you must be innocent because I love you and (frankly) for no other reason because you've given me no other reasons."

    Nope -- he's innocent. And to suggest anything different would require Alexander to put his love for Beth ahead of his sense of responsibility and love for those children. It's not a question of whether he believes them over her -- Betty JoDee would have me think him a cad for not preferring Beth to the children. And we're now totally in Ayelet Waldman territory, where she happily admits she loves her husband more than her kids and then wonders why people are shocked.

    So sue me, I'm shocked.

  25. Without stepping into the fray too deeply...I have to say, I love my husband more than I love my kids. I dearly love my children, but Dr. van der Stevejinck means even more.

  26. Betty Magdalen is right. Beth was a pouty brat for not explaining, especially the second time.

    And yes, that crazed yelling thing when you're so filled with fear and relief and indignation and so many other things because people you love have been endangered from such a silly stunt, yeah, I do that. My kid ran out in front of a car and I whooped him. Right there. Not my normal parenting MO at all, but that moment, that time, I did. I had to ask his forgiveness later for losing my cool, but only after I'd made him understand why I'd behaved like a lunatic.

    As for the loving your husband best thing - as believers, we're called to love only the Lord more than we love our spouses. Kids are wonderful, treasures, blessings (and burdens at times!) but they are not the ones who keep me warm at night, who worry about how my health insurance is going to get paid now that he's unemployed and here I am with a chronic illness. And when they look at me they see an overweight woman with dark circles under her eyes and gray hair. He sees the girl he married 35 years ago.

    Sorry - I love him more.



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  28. As interesting as the last two comments are, the question is not whom you love more, but in whom you place your trust more--the love of your life who has heretofore been a paragon or the already-been-caught dangerously misbehaving child. His default setting should have never been that Beth put the children in danger (nor does the default have to be the eldest child--it could have been a stranger who kidnapped them and plopped them into a boat). Remember he was furious with her BEFORE he knew anything.

    However, I am trying to swallow the Salvage Alexander At All Costs Campaign because I so desperately want to. (Now I am nervous as Betty Barbara in using "swallow" and "Alexander" in the same sentence, but I think it makes it.)

  29. If Beth had been knocked unconscious by the boom, say, and was lying on the dock unable to say anything, then I think Alexander owes her sufficient faith and trust to think Dirk's version of events is suspect. But Beth's awake, conscious, and coherent. (I think the medical term is AA&Ox4, which stands for Awake, Alert, and Oriented to Person, Place, Time, and Events.) Her refusal to add anything, or to provide her own version, becomes a de facto version of its own.

    And isn't she a nurse? Aren't they trained to provide a coherent, unemotional account of what happened?

    So again -- seriously -- why does she get a free pass?

    This reminds me of that joke about the guy who's caught in a flood. He's a devout [insert the religion of your preference], so he prays for God to rescue him. Someone comes by in a rowboat, but the man says, "No, I have prayed to God. He will rescue me." The waters rise, the man goes up to the second floor. Another rescuer arrives in a power boat, but the man refuses and says, "God will rescue me." Finally, he's on the roof and a helicopter comes by, but still the man won't leave. He dies, of course, and is angry at God for not rescuing him. God's confused. "But I sent you a rowboat, a power boat and a helicopter..."

    I know that Beth would like Alexander to believe in her without her having to explain herself, but she's overlooking a) how things look to him and b) how little she's contributed to Alexander's understanding of the situation. Love is nice, but facts would have helped here too.

    So, while I admit Alexander has a duty of faith and trust in Beth, and while I admit that he failed that duty in the first instance (when he's toweringly mad), he didn't fail it in the second instance when he's calmer, or in the third instance which gets delayed because of his patient.

    Beth had a duty as well. She had a duty to keep those children safe, and I'm not convinced (because of the 5-minute conversation with the dominee) that she hasn't breached that duty. But she absolutely had a duty to answer Alexander the second time, and not merely with a sullen, "What Dirk told you is right," either. She's a smart woman, so she could (and should) have figured out a way to explain that the children found themselves on the boat, she swam out, and she and Dirk managed to get it into the harbor. No snitching, who cares if it contradicts Dirk's version (which she doesn't know because it's been proffered in Dutch), and it's very nearly the truth (albeit not the whole truth).

    Final thought (then I really will shut up on this topic): You're all blinded by the complication of the obnoxious kid. Yes, how horrible it must have felt for Beth to know that Alexander was prepared to believe Dirk over her. Beth's not angry at Alexander for believing Dirk over her; she's angry at him for believing Dirk at all. But she doesn't know that for 9.75 years, Dirk's been a model kid and only while Papa has been out of town and Mama has been in the hospital has Dirk acted up. You're imagining Damian in The Omen when maybe Dirk's more like one of the kids in The Sound of Music.

    And I can't understand a moral code that consists of the following tenets:
    - Thou Shalt Not Snitch
    - Thou Shalt Always Believe The Person You Love Innocent (only applies to other adults, never children)
    - Thou Need Not Explain Anything to Your Beloved When He is Angry
    - Thou Art Entitled to Stick Your Tongue Out at Anyone Who Fails to Believe Your Innocence Despite Evidence to the Contrary
    - Thou Art Under No Obligation to Explain Yourself, Ever

    It just seems very lopsided, with all the obligation to behave in an exemplary fashion on Alexander's side, and the privilege to be a sullen adolescent on Beth's side. Is that fair? I don't think so.

  30. I put the scenario to Professor van der Hertenzoon last night at bedtime. He said that it is obvious that Betty Magdalen and the guy have no children because children lie like dogs.

    I pointed out that he would never assume that I had endangered the children's lives. Well, he reminded me that once when The Heir was a tiny baby and the Professor was changing him on a changing table in the bathroom, said professor turned his back for half-a-second and, sure enough, the baby bounced onto the floor. He promptly turned to me, who had just happened to innocently walk into the bathroom at the precise moment, and yelled at me that it was my fault. He abjectly corrected himself within seconds, but his point is well taken....

    I think all this has helped. I'll give it a couple of weeks, read the book again with a new eye (without blaming Beth, Betty Magdalen), and hope Alexander comes off better this time ('cause I do really like him and have been so disappointed for so long).

    My real guess is that in truth if someone looks up at you, male or female, with violet eyes you would forgive them murder.

  31. Betty Barbara here--
    With her final thoughts on this book.
    We have a first class winner here!! Betty may have written better books, but look at how passionately we reacted to this one! She created characters we care about, even when we want to whomp them upside the head with the Clue-by-4.
    And secondly, if I'm ever arrested for anything, I want Betty Magdalen for my lawyer!

  32. I think we're missing Beth's angle. She has been through a harrowing event and a traumatic hour only to be ripped apart by the man she loves and his awful sister. Sure, everyone cools down but maybe she doesn't say anything because she isn't sure anymore that she can trust them to make her happy.

  33. I've solved Betty JoDee's problem. As I understand it, she loves Alexander, but when he appears to believe Dirk and not the implicit truth that Beth could never ever have put the children at risk, she assumes that Alexander doesn't trust Beth.

    But that's to commit the very crime we accuse him of committing. Betty JoDee loves Alexander, right? Why not trust that Alexander HAS rejected Dirk's story? Yes, he's furiously angry at first, but he's gentle the second time.

    And -- here's the key bit of information even I've been ignoring! -- the children's mother is standing there when Alexander asks Beth the second time. He doesn't know that she swam to get on to the boat, but he does know that Dirk was lying. He can't say that in front of Dirk's mother; it would only make the situation worse. She's not in love with Beth, and Alexander knows she HAS to take Dirk's side in a he said - she said dispute.

    So Alexander tries to communicate to Beth (using that famous "I'm getting married soon and you must surely see I mean you" telepathy that works oh so well for the RDDs, REWs, and now RSD -- not!) that he believes her but she needs to explain in front of the mother. She doesn't.

    Now, how do you know that was what Alexander was thinking? Because you love him, and you have faith in him.

    And if you still think he's guilty, they you're guilty of what you accuse him of: You've assumed facts simply because he hasn't told you anything different.

    I explain it a bit better over at Promantica.

  34. Betty Barbara -- May I steal the phrase "Clue-by-4"? I ♥ it!

    (My contribution: [he needs to be or I have just been] "slapped in the face by the reality fish.")

    (If I practiced criminal law, you could have me on permanent retainer. Alas, I never did. But you can always call for practical advice...)

  35. Have enjoyed and been challenged by the thoughtful and lively discussion on this thread!
    This is not my favorite, in part because of the response to the sailboat/Dirk situation, but not solely for that reason. A poor shadow to Damsel in Green, which I enjoyed much more.
    Alexander overreacted, and when he calmed down and tried again, Beth made a poor decision to cut her losses and rum. Dirk doesn't get a pass from me in this situation either, not Alexander's "man up" response to him. They all needed to be hit with a "Clue-by-4."
    Not my least favorite (Little Dragon soon?), but not one I come back to very often.

  36. Enjoyed this discussion -- I come in on Alexander's side, because I am one of those "scream first, hug later" types when it comes to seeing someone I love in danger and because Beth, like a fair number of other Neels' heroines, make me want to whomp 'er with the Clue-by-4 (love the phrase! :) ). I realize if they (or sometimes the hero) behaved with a little more common sense, the story would end too soon, but still...

    Incidentally, I thought I would check to see what a house like the RDD's in London (on a cul-de-sac off Sloane Square) would be like. After I was revived with smelling salts, I took a second look. A 4BR terraced house as aforedescribed is presently listed at £3.96M... I suppose all the UK Bettys would understand the price, but here in little old Cleveland, you could buy a mansion in Bratenahl or Gates Mills for about that... :)

  37. Perhaps this may be a couple of years too late for this discussion, but here is something that may not been pointed out: by the time Alexander arrives at the police station, his knowledge of the events had been based on second-hand information from Dirk's story.

    The first policeman (the non-English speaking policeman) is the one who got Dirk's version of events.

    The first policeman is the one who related Dirk's events to the second (English-speaking) policeman.

    The above conversations were spoken in Dutch.

    The second policeman is the one who called Alexander. Presumably in Dutch, but that's probably of no importance -- in any case, the phone conversation not held in Beth's presence.

    From a remark made by the second policeman to Beth, it's obvious that he assumes she knows how to sail.

    Alexander knows where the boat was docked.

    Alexander knows where the boat ended up.

    Alexander knows the current bad stormy weather.

    Alexander therefore knows how long and how far they had travelled in the boat and under what weather conditions. He has been told a version of the events, based on Dirk's story. Sailing may have never been a topic of conversation between Alexander and Beth, so he may be assuming at this point, based on the policeman's phone call, that Beth has had some sailing experience. And he has had some time, while driving to the police station, to get into his "while hot rage" about all his loved ones and their almost disastrous outcome.

    So, a little more leeway for Alexander? Or not?

  38. Yes, you are right, a little more leeway for Alexander. Also because, in a way, it is equally Beth's fault for not speaking up when she could have.

    It was only after a short conversation with the two policemen, and the briefest of colloquies with Dirk, that he spoke to her. They were leaving the building, the three elder children in front, Alberdina between them, when he said in a low, furious voice: 'You little idiot, Elizabeth, endangering all your lives in a such a foolhardy fashion! What was your purpose—what did you hope to gain from such a hare-brained scheme? And why tell Dirk that you could handle a boat and persuade him...' She could think of nothing to say and she couldn't take refuge behind a ten-year-old boy, even though he was wholly to blame. She looked stonily ahead of her and didn't say a word, and neither, after his outburst, did the professor.

    Excuse me? "Couldn't take refuge?" Betty A. always gets in a white hot rage when she reads that. Now, in Beth's place, Betty A. might have been speechless for a moment and looked at him unbelievingly but then she would have said, "What?!!", followed by "Dirk!..." Of course, the little liar might have stuck to his version... And then Alexander might have believed him over her? Let's not go there.

    So, yes, a little more leeway for Alexander. (Which anonymous are you, do you have a name? So we know whom to address when writing an answer to your comment.)

    1. Forgot. You are absolutely right. Alexander only had Dirk's version of the story. That's an important point. In his place, we all would have blamed Beth.

    2. Betty Sue. I usually forget to put my name at the bottom.

      -Betty Sue

  39. Can I just say that I have read all the comments and I thank all of you very much for making them. I too loved this book until the scene with Alexander blaming Beth for putting the kids in danger, which made me angry on her behalf and turned me right off. However, for the first time EVER, after reading all the back and forth discussion, I can finally understand his feelings (scared, angry, furious which is the initial reaction to something like that and yes, you would automatically blame the adult), see that Beth's attitude was ridiculously childish (poking out her tongue and refusing to say anything) even after he calms down and asks twice more. THANK YOU for discussing this so well. I will re-read this book now (I never have read it again after the first time) and this time will be able to see past the automatic hurt feelings of Beth, who should have opened her mouth and spoken the truth, despite the kid pleading with puppy eyes. All this keeping stupid secrets forever and ever in Neelsdom frustrates me no end especially when it ALWAYS happens after the girl has fallen in love with the guy (or vice versa) yet is willing to jeopardise both their happiness for a selfish cousin / sister / pet doge etc.

  40. Oh, fellow Bettys, this review and all the hubbub in reaction (however delayed my own response!) brought about so many feelings I ditched trying to consolidate them in a comment here and wrote my own blog post.

    Such good thoughts and reasonings here, on both sides. Betty Magdalen presents a worthy case! Even before reading the comments I was more Team Alexander than Team Beth, but I'm not exactly either. I'm actually Team Blame Betty *gasp*.

    I've loved being able to visit here and have Betty-In-Waiting as I've been on my Betty Neels rereading jaunt. Thank you!

    (If anyone is interested in the post, it's here: )

  41. I was really expecting Alexander—or somebody, anybody—to notice that Beth was barefoot. Failing that, why didn’t she ask him to swing by and pick her shoes up from the river bank, well downstream from where the boat started out? Hmm, how did they get there? After all, she really couldn’t afford to leave a good pair of shoes behind since all her money was being spent on “fancy waistcoats” (or should I say “what a waste” coats?)

    I’m really not a fan of the “don’t sneak” (or tell or tattle or break your promise) rule under the typical Betty scenario wherein the other involved party involved is generally blatantly lying or has already broken their own promise. It makes no sense to me. It’s right up there with giving her the third degree about her life and then refusing to answer any questions about himself. Least favorite of all is “I’m getting married soon/have recently met the woman I plan to marry (pssst read my mind, it’s you).

    By the way, how on earth did all these RDDs get to be pushing 40 and single when they are so anxious to snap up those special licenses and get married ASAP?

    Having said that, I liked this one. He knew right away that she was the one, and even told his sister about her unusual eyes. No scheming girlfriends or beautiful but nasty sisters to muddy the waters. Boeuf en Croute.

    1. Well, a few of the RDDs did get married when they were younger - to the Veronica type...