Thursday, March 17, 2011

Esmeralda - 1976

Esmeralda is a pretty easy book for me to remember the basic plot.  Girl has gimpy foot, RDD fixes said foot,  HEA. Right? Sort of. 

Esmeralda Jones, 26 (but with an 18 year-old vibe), has had a crushed foot for 23 years. Despite coming from a loving family environment, Esmeralda has pretty low self-esteem. This low self-esteem, coupled with the fact that she is a minor heiress, makes her ripe for the picking. Leslie Chapman (aka Clever Boy), is a Registrar with Harley Street ambitions. He's willing to overlook Esmeralda's 'grotesque' foot in exchange for the wherewithal to make good sooner rather than later.
It's Bring a Friend to Work Day on the children's orthopaedic ward. Mr. Peters brings Mr. Bamstra to take a gander at Esmeralda. Mr. Peters asks her to walk the length of the ward...Mr. Bamstra watches her glide limp towards himself. Turns out he's a wizard with a hammer and the inventor of a new experimental procedure that might, just might, put her foot right. Will she agree to it? Sure, she's got some incentive...Clever Boy has been chatting her up and raising expectations. She'd like to become worthy of him. Ouch. Maybe Leslie will fall in love with her if she has two good feet? Her lack of experience - manwise, stands her in poor stead  - she doesn't know how to tell a toad from a prince. Too bad her nurse friends don't help her out. They know that Clever Boy is only after her money, but they don't feel it's their place to tell Esmeralda about what she's getting herself into. Yes, they've put her in The Cone O' Silence.
Clever Boy offers to take Esmeralda home for the weekend - it gives him an opportunity to case the joint meet her mother and Nanny. Mother is a gracious hostess, but Nanny is not taken in by Clever Boy. She's already met Esmeralda's Mr. Right - Mr. Bamstra! Yes, Nanny and Mother have met him. Like an oak tree in fall, Clever Boys drops clues as to his unsuitability.  Esmeralda is standing knee deep in Clever Boy's droppings(leaves, people, leaves!)...but she's got her lack of self-esteem blinders on. Unfortunately they're attached with super-glue...if she could take them off this is what she'd see:

Clever Boy:
  • bad driver
  • vulgar about money
  • doesn't like animals
  • insincere flatterer
  • Nanny doesn't like him
Mr. Right:
  • good driver
  • likes animals
  • Nanny likes him
Off to Holland for her operation. Mr. Bamstra is magician! With just one three-hour surgery he manages to fix her messed up metatarsals and make her foot pretty. When she wakes up in pain, who is it that comes to ease her pain? Mr. Bamstra.  He even goes so far as to bring Mrs. Jones and Nanny over for a post-op visit. They get to stay in his home...evidently to be initiated into the Cone O' Silence Club. Not one word is to be spoken about Mr. Bamstra's home, marital status, possible motive for helping Esmeralda...nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.
 Esmeralda does pine for Clever Boy - Why oh why doesn't he write or call or send flowers...wait!  He's here! Yes, Leslie drops by - with his new girlfriend. Ouch. Mr. Bamstra was the orchestrator of this event...not the girlfriend part, just the non-conjugal visit part. Mr. Bamstra practically throws Clever Boy out the door...after a few words in his own language.
Item: one foot, magically transformed.
As Esmeralda sobs, Mr. Bamstra takes advantage of the opportunity to hold her in his arms while she cries it out. 'I don't hold with all this dry-eyed courage - though mind you, you've become quite a watering pot. Whenever I come - the nurses will think that I beat me Thimo'.  The rest of the time spent recuperating in Holland involves physio, trips to visit Adam and Loveday de Wolff van Ozinga(yet MORE conspirators(Cruise to a Wedding)), saving possible drug overdosed women and their newborn babies tea with RDD's mum and temping for Thimo. Same ol', same ol'.
Her burning desire is to see Leslie one more time...wearing a beautiful gown, fancy shoes and dancing. No problem. Thimo can oblige. He's got tickets to a ball in London and would love to take her.

Oh Leslie, go away, do!
The Esmeralda and Thimo Mutual Appreciation Society (membership: 2) clean up real nice. Esmeralda is looking like an enchanting fairy princess...Thimo is equally stunning in white tie and tails. He examines her footwear of choice and approves - with the caveat that 'your foot will give you h*** before the night's out.'
Leslie has been dumped by his non-gimpy girlfriend and is delighted to see Esmeralda. He flashes his boyish charm and expects her to come running on her newly refurbished feet. Too bad for him that his charm is wasted...Esmeralda finally has a Dawning Realization -  and rushes off to find Thimo, the man she really loves. The end.

Rating: I love the idea that Esmeralda is handicapped (or whatever the politically correct term du jour is).  I wish she was a little more plucky about it. She overcomes her limp to the extent that she has an honest to goodness job, but for heavens sake girl, lighten up.  I would like her more if she had the teensiest bit of self confidence...and/or the ability to have a sense of humour about it.  We Hanna Bettys have 2 sisters with foot problems - one wears two different shoe sizes and has to have built up soles (and leg braces to boot!), the other one actually had an amputation...neither one is a beauty, both are married.  Self-pity never really flew in our family - there was always someone else who had it worse than you did.
Thimo wasn't too shabby...except for the Cone O' Silence. Why was it so important that Esmeralda know abso-blooming-lutely NOTHING about him? She doesn't know that he's single until page 113. That seems basic preliminary info - but no, she is not to know that he's available. Argh.
Mrs. Jones was a nicely independent mum. Nanny was outspoken and generous with her cowslip wine. They are conspirators in the Cone O' Silence. Joukvrow Bamstra was lovely (yet another conspiritor!)...all the family retainers were also lovely...Leslie was the only fly in the ointment - and I find I'm not that annoyed with him. Sure, he's a creep, and vulgar about money...but he's fairly consistent. I personally like an earlier dawning realization - rather than 3 pages from the end...however, as soon as girlfriend knows she's in love with Thimo she literally runs to him and tells him. For being an original voice in the canon...boeuf en croute.

 Fashion: Shoes with built-up sole, plaster cast, peignoirs galore. Pink slacks with pink checked blouse and pink hair bow.,  Thimo looking stunning in white tie and tails (and a mysterious medal ribbon around his neck), a lovely creamy Gina Fratini ballgown with green satin ribbons paired with elegant slippers.
Food: Kebabs, raised pie, potato salad, a leathery omelette, iced soup, cheese souffle, ice pudding with whipped cream, rusks and yoghurts, cheese sandwiches, blancmange, cold fish pâté (??), guinea fowl stuffed with foi gras, delicately flavoured sorbet.


  1. I loved this book more than I thought I would. Here's what I figure is going on: Esmeralda is slow -- in almost every sense of that word; did anyone else notice that she's a staff nurse at age 26, which seems really old not to have gotten a sister's post? -- but I think at some level she knows that Leslie's only interested in her for the money. I also think subconsciously, Esmeralda figures that's all she deserves.

    I figure Thimo gets that immediately -- and is quick enough to realize that he can't make Esmeralda have self-esteem enough to see that she deserves better. So he squashes everyone in the "Ooh, aren't they a great couple" gang, makes them all sign confidentiality agreements, and forces Leslie to do something for Esmeralda. When Thimo lets Esmeralda dance off with Leslie with that almost soundless sigh, I mist up a bit. He really really loves her.

    But the reason why I love this book and didn't love Off with the Old Love is that we see Esmeralda fall in love. Heck, everyone sees Esmeralda fall in love . . . except for Esmeralda. (Self-awareness is not her strong suit.) So, even though her dawning realization is on T-2 pages, I still think we get to see a lot more of her and Thimo's romance than we did with Rachel & Radmer (too bad they're not famous celebs -- they'd be Rachmer).

    I'll give this Queen of Puddings.

  2. So, this isn't one of my favorites (don't hate it or anything) and one of my reasons is that I think Betty Neels uses Esmeralda's disability to imply all sorts of things about her--that she's brave and plucky and has a stiff-upper-lip. It's shorthand for 'She is an amazing person'. And maybe this approach works for most readers but the Hanna Bettys have too much acquaintance with the principle of romanticizing handicapped people. We could cite plenty of cases wherein well-meaning folk gave more credit for a nice personality to a sibling than was ever warranted.

    But I don't hate this one...

  3. Betty Barbara here--
    Upset because the ether just ate my carefully crafted remarks. Inhale, exhale, I shall try to remember what I said.
    I did not believe the romance. Sorry, fellow Bettys. I think Esmeralda's love for Thimo was heavily weighted with gratitude. After all, he Fixed Her Foot! I was never sure if I was watching her fall in love or watching her with a good case of hero worship.
    I would have appreciated a story where she gets back on her feet, gets out into the real world, and then sorts out her feelings for Thimo.
    And what is it with our RDDs and their penchant for young women with really low self-esteem?

    I did enjoy Esmeralda's determination to get better quickly and dance--just so she can go 'nyah, nyah, nyah' in Leslie's face. Too bad her newly developed backbone wasn't strong enough to withstand the news that Leslie and Hippy Girl had broken up.

    I give it a Boeuf en Croute--but the beef is tough and the crust is soggy.

  4. This is Betty Megan's #1 Betty, so the rest of you BE KIND! ;-) lol
    I must have read it before, but could honestly not remember a thing about it when I started it. I really liked it this time. I see everything that Betty Keira and Betty Barb point out. But Betty's aren't real life, thank goodness. And face it, guys DO like women who depend on them. My professor has pretty modern sensibilities, but admits he loved the few times I was so sick he had to take care of me. And he used the word 'depend on me'. I wish I'd known this earlier. I would have definitely played the six pregnancies differently!!!

    And there is a difference between being selfless and having low self esteem. Being a spiritual person, I believe in selflessness, but my self worth comes from being loved by God.

    I think Esmeralda may be the kind of girl that my sister, my niece, and Betty Ariel are. I call it DGS (ditsy girl syndrome) and compare it to ADHD in boys. These are the girls that work really hard, and do okay, but never really 'get' it. They don't quite get the jokes, they take much of what you tell them literally, and life is better for them if they marry strong, kind men like Thimo . But usually they marry the Leslies.
    They are naturally selfless and sometimes due to constant 'kidding' about their naivete can lose the little confidence they have. And add any disability to that and it just gets worse. Betty Ariel had the advantage of having a mom (me) who watched her sister get pounded into putty by an overcritical mother and nuns with extreme expectations, and then marry a controller who was not kind.
    We tried to make sure all the kids understood that Ar was 'just as smart, she just learned differently'. And they all supported her. And now she's doing okay. She didn't marry a Thimo, but he's not a Leslie either. Actually it's early, the jury's still out. (shrugs)

    So, to me this story rings true, except for the miraculous healing foot. No way would she be dancing that fast!

  5. It's been a while ... and I just have to comment: I have this Betty! She was a bit "meh" for me. Perfect handicapped heroines may not be my fave cuppa.

    Changing the subject, my mum had/has a terrible drippy cold and devoured the two Bettys I left behind. Her comment... too short! Oh yes, I often think that.

  6. Am I alone in thinking that Esmeralda's prickly hedgehog nature was far from saintly. I get how one would hate the pitying looks, but she was just plain snippy with people who had genuinely kind things to say.

    Which, actually, is one of the reasons I liked her slow evolution from being All About the Foot to being aware of other things, like Thimo. *sigh* Thimo. Yeah, I can get behind someone fixing something as bad as a gamey foot.

  7. Betty Barbara here--
    With a few orthopaedic queries.
    Esmeralda walks with a limp--why? I am not being snarky here, I am genuinely curious. Limps usually come from a physical diseases (like CP),habit, pain or uncorrected leg-length differences. You wear a shoe with a lift to correct that dif so you don't limp. The bigger the difference, the clunkier the shoe. The story has Esmeralda's Foot being stepped on, so there shouldn't be a leg-length(hip to ankle) difference involved.
    Clunky shoes-a given, if her foot is really messed up and the bones fused into a wodge (which the story says they are.) The shoe for the bum foot will need to be specially fitted, cushioned etc. That would make the leg with the bum foot longer than her good leg. Did our Esmeralda fail to have a balancing lift put in her other shoe her so that she would have a smooth gait? Esmeralda has money-she should have state of the art shoes (even if they aren't pretty and dainty).
    Or is she limping because she got into the habit as a small child and never grew out of it?
    Or is she truly in constant pain?
    (Disclaimers: my son has a leg-length difference large enough to require a shoe with a lift so that he won't limp and throw his posture out of whack. I am currently limping and using a cane because my hip is so deteriorated that I am actually looking forward to surgery to put it right-and, yes, pain is involved.)
    Again, I am not being snarky and picking on our Esmeralda. But it is something that bothered me as I read the book. I suspect Betty added the limp because it accentuated the picture she was painting of our heroine, not because it was truly necessary.

  8. I wonder if it's because her foot doesn't roll the way an ordinary foot would. So, she'd have to hitch her leg up every time she took a step...

  9. I think the crushed foot would have changed her gait, so it might seem that she was limping.

    You would think an operation like that would be done in stages, but an RDD does not do surgery like a mortal man (doctor).

  10. Betty Barbara here--
    Bettys Keira and Caitlin-thank you for taking my question seriously. And you both came up with really good reasons that hadn't yet crossed my mind. Thank you.

  11. The metatarsals are the bones that make up the main part of the foot, not the toes themselves. (Think of a ladies' fan -- the metatarsals are the bits that you see splayed out in a wedge, not the individual sticks or rays that the fabric is attached to. Those bits would be more like the toes, aka tarsal bones.)

    So I imagine that they all fused together, which a) would have been painful and b) way less flexible. We instinctively compensate for chronic pain by using our body differently, so she'd be limping just to avoid stressing the tendons and muscles attached to a lump of bone.

    That's my thinking. The question I had was about the operation - I can understand the chiseling apart of the fused bones, but how do they avoid detaching the tendons? (Rhetorical question.)

    But I completely agree that while The Great Betty may have based her plot on her experience with a real patient who really had this operation back in the day, she definitely sped up A LOT the time it took to recover!

  12. The best part of this book for me is the back and forth routine by the Dutch Doctor Duo. (imagine a pair of men with great chemistry like John Wayne and Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn and Alan Hale , Rock Hudson and anybody, or Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby (but bigger))

    "Do you speak any Dutch at all Esmeralda", says Loveday. Then Esme says " About 40 words, blah, blah. Loveday says "The days of the week, the months, time, numbers....(here the guys break in)
    "Mr. Bamstra is out" (says Adam)
    "Mr. Bamstra is In", Thimo added helpfully.
    Then the girls giggle and Loveday scolds.

    It just humanizes these big, hulking, handsome dudes to see them joking around a bit.
    I'd love to see that scene done by good old fashion comic actors!

  13. I haven't read Cruise to a Wedding, but I want to because Adam and Loveday have some Serious Conjugal Chemistry going. In one scene, the breathing is so heavy one wonders if Betty will stop at the kissing at the dressing table. Whew!

    I agree that the friendship between Thimo (okay, I thought "Nemo" every time) and Adam was darling.

    Thimo is a doll; it's less clear, even though I am usually much less harsh than some Bettys (let's suggest hmmm Betty Magdalen) on heroines, why he is so enamored with Esmeralda. I don't mind bitterness from the--using an old-fashioned term--club foot, but she doesn't really commend herself elsewhere, even as a pediatric nurse. Her Sister on the pediatric ward is a darling old dragon and is better drawn in a couple of sentences than Esmeralda is in the whole book (e.g., she turns the whole ward upside-down--making the young doctors pitch in--because it brightens up the youngsters' lives). I bet Betty Magdalen will back me on this.

    On the other hand, I love Thimo so much that I don't care.

  14. Betty JoDee -- Yup, I'm with you. Now, because I liked Thimo, and I have nothing against Esmeralda, I choose to think that her condition (which isn't club foot and you can be glad about that -- do NOT click on that link if you've just eaten) made her cranky.

    The problem is that as wonderful as her surgery and recovery is, and as much as that will change her life, it fundamentally has nothing to do with Thimo. So they may fall madly in love and live happily ever after, but we didn't see much of it.

    Mind you, I like the medical stuff, so the book doesn't bother me. And, as you say, Thimo is nifty.

  15. Did anyone have difficulty with their patient/doctor relationship?

    1. Ummm, aren't almost ALL of her books about "playing doctor" nudge nudge wink wink say no more?

      B von S

      A nods as good as a wink to a blind bat.....

    2. I did wonder re The Cone of Silence if she might not be mistrustful and resentful when she finally realised how much she had been manipulated . . .

    3. She doesn't even BEGIN to rank in the manipulation stakes ... when I think of "The Little Dragon" ...

  16. This is the first Betty book that I read. I bought it from a used book store in the late 70's. I was probably around 16 or 17 when I first read it. Because of that it has a special place in my memory. I remember when I read it that I thought Esmeralda was such a beautiful name and planned to use it as a name for one of my future daughters. Thankfully I grew up and believe me my daughters are delighted that my tastes changed when I did.

  17. One thing I wondered about in this Betty. How did she get to be a nurse with a limp? Hereabouts you have to be fit as a Mallee Bull to get into nursing.