Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Help!

via email:

Hello!

My name is Daria and while I have a great love for Betty Neels, I only have a few of her books. My Mom has all of her books and when I am visiting I read as many as I can during my time there. There is one that I have that I would like to reread but I can never find it. I think it is a Betty Neels but I may be wrong. As I recall it is a marriage of convenience and she gets a whole new wardrobe. There is a dinner party and she says she feels unwell and doesn't go. The have a bit of an argument as he thinks she is faking but she ends up being ill. I know they are in Holland. I am sure he is a doctor and very likely a Baron or some such. Do you recall that one?
Thanks

Dear Betty Daria,
You've pretty much described half of the books written by The Great Betty.  I'm going to throw the question out there for input from the general pool of Bettys - I'm drawing a blank and I don't have my usual resources to fall back on. Anyone?
Love and lardy cakes,
Betty Debbie

My 'usual resources' went on vacation with me - around 100 of my BN books
are on loan to Betty Marcy and Betty Iris (Betty Marcy's 84 year-old mother-in-law).


Extra Copies!

Hello, Bettys (Betties?),


I have some extra copies of La Neels's books, and wondered if you still post titles for sharing. (Alas, due to the demands of Off-Line Life I have not been a frequent visitor in the past few months. And I can see I'm going to need to set aside some time to catch up.) I am happy to mail any of the following to a happy home in the USA (due to postage costs, I cannot mail worldwide...sorry.) All titles are (I believe) from first printings...no "Best of" or other matching collections covers.

The Chain of Destiny
A Happy Meeting
The Girl with Green Eyes
Romantic Encounter
Off with the Old Love
When Two Ways Meet
An Old-Fashioned Girl

If you no longer post titles to share, I'll simply donate them somewhere...they won't be wasted!


Thanks,
Betty Maria

Dear Betty Maria,

As you can see, we are still more than willing to post titles to share...

Love and lardy cakes,
The Founding Bettys

If there is anyone who needs one of these titles, send us an email here at TUJD and I'll forward it on to Betty Maria.

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, September 5th.
Henrietta's Own Castle

Breadmaking in a tin oven, Henrietta is practically a bona fide spinster,  airplane disaster.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Oil-stained shorts...

...thanks to Betty Mary who sent us this prime example of oil-stained shorts.  I'll never imagine Marius any other way now.
Wow.
 

Tabitha in Moonlight - Reprise

I really like Tabitha in Moonlight even though it gives off a slightly Gone With the Wind-ish vibe (Tara Chidlake...Tara Chidlake...) - only with a lot more bare skin involved. Tabitha in a white bikini (instead of curtains), Marius clad in only an pair of oil-stained shorts (instead of...well, whatever Rhett wore)...wow, is it getting hot in here?  Enjoy a great end-of-summer read!
Tabitha in Moonlight was always one of my favorite Bettys because of the cover art. Pert nose? Check. White bikini? Swimming trunks and implied bare chest-ness? Double check. Lab coats? Check. Pelvic x-rays? Check. Eyes that say Take-me-I'm-yours-but-only-until-the-fractured-femur-from-Cas-is-ready-for-Theater? Oh. Check. (Can I get this blown-up and mounted over my loo?) It took Betty chipwyn (which name we can amend at any time) behaving with becoming glee about the upcoming review to make me pay extra and entirely warranted attention to this awesome awesome book.


Cinderella:
Tabitha Crawley is 25, Ward sister of Mens Orthopaedic at the "aggressively Victorian" St. Martin's, orphaned but with those tiresome 'steps', that The Great Betty so maligned, mucking up the view. Step-mother is Mrs. Crawley. She doesn't appear to have a first name. Step-sister is a...we'll call her Hurricane Lilith. Tabitha has an obsession with her childhood home, a devoted nanny-cum-housekeeper (Meg), a bad hair-do (of which much is made), beautiful legs (thank you, Betty) and the nicest description of short, straight eye lashes that I've ever read. (I am quite reconciled to my own as never before.)

Prince Marius van Beek is not a real prince but for the purposes of the book...He's 38, craggy handsome and "looked casual to the point of laziness" and "incapable of tying his own shoelaces". He smokes a pipe which seems to be the only kind of smoking The Venerable Neels approved. He has a butler named Hans whose wife died during an Actual Verifiable Historical Event.

Plot:
Tabitha is plain--well, hasn't she been told so a thousand times?! She runs a tight ship over in Men's Orthopaedic and is kept on her toes by surgeon Mr. Raynard--a peppery gentleman with a matchmaking gleam in his eye. Why else, when he falls in his garden and breaks bones, would he call Standard Requisition Issue Hot Dutch Doctor to replace him and say (under sedation) that that she'd been "given the best birthday present of [her] life"?
Tabitha is instantly attracted (I'll say. Have you seen the cover art?), laments her plain face, feels delightfully excited (I'll say.) and takes him on the ward rounds.
There they meet old Mr. Bow--Knotty--longtime (but lost) friend of Marius. Tabitha has already been given an opportunity to prove her sterling qualities by un-paid, off-duty cat rescue when she stops by Mr. Bow's apartment the previous day. There she finds him living in tidy squalor with an irrational attachment to priceless objects.
She has to go to CHIDLAKE (her childhood home which she has an obsession about) for the 18th birthday of the odious Hurricane Lilith. She only goes because she loves, loves, loves her home. They only invite her because "What would people say?" if they didn't. Obviously, no love is lost and if Tabitha were found murdered it would be a case of Lilith with the Dagger in the Library.
Despite thinking that she's plain beyond redemption Tabitha brings a cute little blue-green number. Hurricane Lilith becomes whipped into a fury about clashing in the receiving line (is this a particularly 70s thing?), step-mother piles on and Tabitha makes nice by agreeing to wear what sounds like gray and white striped banquet hall bunting. Still, when Marius makes a surprise showing later on in the evening he notices "Tabitha in moonlight."
She meets him the next morning when she goes off for a Heroine-Authorized Early Morning Ramble. Salubrious chit chat follows. He says the words idee fixe for a second time and it's starting to annoy me but I remember the cover art and all is forgiven. He recommends that she change her hairstyle and when asked why replies, "to prove to yourself that you aren't plain." If I were him I would say, "Are you new here? Have you not seen the cover art?" She runs away in anger.
When he swings by her house to deliver chocolates from Hurricane Lilith ( Yes, he was with her so again, no one thinks to say, "Have you noticed the 20 year age gap?") the dawning realization hits the fan. What's a girl to do?
Typically, our Neels heroines would be scanning Nursing Today for another job in far-flung Bora Bora at the first hint that their feelings toward Mijneer Doctor van der Plotz ter Brinkma are verging on Torrid Partiality. Instead, Tabitha gets out the Vogue, finds her case of unused cosmetics, furrows her brow and goes to work. She's going to turn that sow's ear into a silk purse or die trying.
Semi-serious Editorial Note: I adore the scene when she goes onto the ward for the first time with new hair and make-up. Shyness, terror, sensitivity...My husband changed schools in high school and immediately began wearing a hat. Evidently he'd always wanted to wear a hat but hadn't the nerve to try it in front of friends who were sure to comment. Everybody feels like this. Neels writes this excellently. "Does it look awful?" she asks.
Tabitha is sure that Marius is Lilith's for the asking but being in love has made her want to be better than she had been--which I don't think our admonishing Second-wave feminist sisters would approve. Maybe Tabitha should have realized her self-worth all on her own but this feels real and it works. Okay, back to our regular programing...
Marius finally comments on her hair, "I'm glad to see that you've stopped playing Cinderella." He keeps prodding her to confront her self-martyrdom (horrible steps, loss of CHIDLAKE, deliberate frumpiness). She hates it and they fight about it but he's right and she's wrong.
Mr. Bow and Mr. Raynard, like all invalids, want to go on a sailing trip in Veere--Marius' home. Nothing says safety like leg plasters and open water. Tabitha is press-ganged into going (and you all know who they'll sue if someone falls off a boat and sinks into the briny deep).
We know how Marius feels about her as soon as they get to his house. First, her room is, like, the best one there (a bath and a shower!). Second, he shows her around the house with particular reference to the nurseries and if that doesn't say, "Open up the vault and get the family sapphires" then I don't know what does. Tabitha works up the courage to wear her bikini (I myself lack such and after four children I think I deserve the thanks of a grateful nation) and thus begin the Utopian days of daisies and buttercups clouding her vision and candy falling from the sky.
But, what's that I see? There. looming on the horizon Is that a weather system? Swirling black clouds portending doom. Is that a hurricane?
That's right. Evidently, if you're a 18-year-old blue eyed blond then nobody thinks to slap a restraining order on you for stalking. Certainly the good doctor doesn't. There she is, in the front room of the doctor's house and Tabitha stands there feeling as though, "Lilith is sucking her dry." (She's a hurricane, girlfriend. That's what they do.)
Marius spends a lot of time with the natural disaster and her mother (who Mr. Raynard earlier describes as a "terrifying woman, always smiling") while Tabitha's castles are crumbling. She's hanging in there but just. It's fairy godmothers Bow and Raynard, who gamely step forward with faked leg complaints and manufactured headaches, that save Tabitha from further insults and crowing from her horrible steps.
But they can't do everything. Before you know it Lilith has invited herself for a sail (Don't sail in hurricanes!). A fine day was enjoyed, a little light flirting between the principles and all was set to sail back to Veere. But Lilith has a headache and would Tabitha go find her sunglasses that she left on a clump of grass somewhere. (Don't do it! Hurricanes don't have headaches!) So she's ditched (accidentally by most) on the island and has to wait a long long while before Marius's yacht comes chugging back to port. He says, "Lilith was upset..." Huh. Lilith. Was. Upset.
You know I love The Neels. And this is an awesome book but he says, "Lilith was upset." Here I felt in harmony with a certain Nancy Kerrigan of Olympic fame when, upon being clubbed in the shin by the infamous Jeff Gillooly (for the purpose of the metaphor, here, The Neels), wailed "Why!" Oh Betty. Why the senseless tragedy? I took another look at the cover art. It was fortifying.
He assures her that he is angry too but the gash in my shin is already there, right? Still, Betty must have known that she'd tripped perilously close to the edge. She also must have run out of white-out or broken her type writer eraser so instead of deleting the "Lilith was upset" tossed us a treat of epic proportions. Marius shows up in the kitchen in the morning wearing "nothing more than a pair of oil-stained shorts." Which I think is the most scanty Neels ever gets (except for the one about the girl who split her pants in the quarry). It occasions no comment from our plucky heroine, however. Rather, it was like La Neels chiseled out the Venus De Milo and then stitched some Victorian knickers to go on it.
Hurricane Lilith lingers like a tropical depression, Tabitha overhears some Bow/Raynard/van Beek plotting, misunderstandings abound. Finally the hurricane and her mother leave Veere and Tabitha is left with a message that they won't be around CHIDLAKE very much in the coming months (so don't come) and that they will very likely be going to Paris. Thelma and Louise, there, may as well be driving off a cliff as go to Paris. Don't they know that nothing good ever happens in Paris?
Anyway, all this drama manages to be prologue to the much bigger event of Tabitha wearing a trouser suit! She is very "with it". She looks great in it. Everyone approves. The evening is a success! Betty never lets a heroine get near a trouser suit ever again. Riddle me that.
Back at St. Martin's things get back to normal. Tabitha wants to visit CHIDLAKE while the Steps have made their bed in Paris. Marius instead asks her to come on a day out. (Of course she says yes. Have you seen the cover art?) He takes her to visit a distant relation/patient--a woman described "an extremely fat old lady with a round face and beady black eyes...several chins...a high clear voice like a little girl's". After examining Tabitha closely she offers reassurance about her looks saying, "Time is kind to our sort." Our. Sort. (Eyes triple chin) Uh, thanks but no thanks.
Tabitha is devastated to find out that CHIDLAKE has been sold and goes to Marius for a loan. He refuses but offers to arrange a meeting. I wonder where this will lead.
She finds him in her beloved CHIDLAKE with the explanation that he'd loved her all along and only put her through such a spotty courtship because he wanted to get her the house. Implied future-tense conjugal relations are mentioned. Kissing! The end.

Rating:
Solid Queen of Puddings. I had remembered this book from the first reading differently than this. I had thought that the hero was more inconstant and that Tabitha more brangling. This time I thought that except for the unforgivable "Lilith was upset" all of his actions made sense. Also, though they do argue and fight a bunch, I remembered him being more gratuitously unkind to her but (thanks to the boosterism of Betty chipwyn) I took the time to notice that he was prodding her out of her complacency because he wasn't interested in having a martyr for a wife. That I can admire. Mr. Bow and Mr. Raynard are so adorable. The whole book is worth it if just for them. The Steps are pretty much cardboard cut outs of real people but the dialogue is fantastic (After telling her that Dom Deluise in drag might have loathed her on sight, spunky Tabitha replies dryly, " How friendly of you to expose me to such a possibility.") Tabitha is one of Betty's most believable heroines--flawed but redeemable, courageous in some aspects and shrinking in others, she grows and changes. A fun, fun read.
Fashion:  green and blue shot silk dress (that she totally caves into not wearing), blue jersey dress (a girl's best friend), last year's grey and white striped dress (if Lilith likes it on you, take it off), oyster silk dress and a pink floppy hat (that he tells her to wear well back as he wants to see her face. Woot!), bikini (take that! Hurricane Lilith), pink denim pants with pink and white checked shirt (I am thankful to have been born when people embraced more sensible fashions like acid-washed jeans and over-sized tank tops), a dashing and with it trouser suit, oil-stained shorts (Thank you, Betty)
Food:  the merits of fish and chips sans newspaper and with are discussed, seedcake, creme brulee, wedding food: sausages on sticks and "little rolls dangerously oozing mustard", a "dessert of fresh pineapple filled with a delicious concoction of almonds and bananas and whipped cream, lavishly awash in rum" (I pass.)
Maths:  At one point she discloses her entire monetary portfolio. 500 British Pounds yearly in her nursing position, a 250 pound annuity from her mother and an elderly Fiat 500--all to secure a 20,000 pound loan. I ran those numbers through a highly scientific and entirely incontrovertible 1972 era conversion chart from pounds to dollars and then tabulated the inflation rate into 2010 money. Conclusion: She was hoping to buy a nice little Georgian manor on a cliff with a sea view (in great condition) for $41,511.63. The same amount might--might--bag you this little sweetie in a not-so-nice part of the greater Portland metro area. I wonder if you can see the sea from there?

Of course her salary totaled $1,036 and the annuity, $518 so maybe the ratios weren't as bad as they sounded. Either way it makes it seem like she's one step away from patting down her patients for loose change. That or I've muddled my sums...

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Vandalism In the Age Before the Internet

My copy of Joyce Dingwell's "Inland Paradise"
One of the ways I use to navigate the rocky shoals of vintage Harlequin-ness is to put on my Indiana Jones hat and decipher codes, signs and symbols left by previous owners.  You know the ones I'm talking about.  Open the front cover of any book and there you will find initials (Nice to know these ladies liked to mark their territory like a lioness roaming the Savannah.) and various other indications that this book was beloved (they never seem to mark the crap ones).

The writing is always the same (like some romantic-minded Joan Appleseed was working her way through the entire print production) but that's because old-time teachers were fascists somehow able to manage to stamp out 1950s era 12-year-old girl bubble writing.

There are plus signs, double plus signs, stars, exclamation points, words...These are very handy when you don't have ready access to an internet review.

So, do you mark them up?  And, if not, how do you keep track?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, August 29th.
Tabitha in Moonlight

An RDD in shorts,
marooned on an island,
experiments with cosmetics!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Always and Forever--Reprise


 
I get a little frustrated with this one.  One one hand (Canadian dog-kicking baddies!  Ffreaking awesome surnames!) it's a unique set-up, on the other hand (Always and Forever?  Bland, bland, bland), The Great Betty didn't really smack it out of the park.  Which is all a bummer as I was all set to enjoy the withering blast of Neels' ire raining down on our Canadian friends to the North for once. 
Enjoy the bit you get,
Betty Keira

Half-orphan child of widowed mother.
Widowed mother is rather weak.
Mother marries again.
Step-father is harsh and cruel.
Half-orphan runs away to Great-Aunt, traveling quite a distance in some duress.

No, this isn't a review of David Copperfield, but the above list does bear a striking similarity to the opening scenes of it.

Amabel Parsons (Amabel...so close to amiable, and yet....yuck). Age 26ish, Araminta from top to bottom. Her widow mother has left her in charge of their B & B while she is in CANADA visiting Amabel's unnamed sister who has recently had an unnamed baby. Sooo. That leaves Amabel in a lonely, somewhat isolated farmhouse, welcoming strangers in to sleep in the bedrooms. During a brief break in the middle of a raging thunder and lightning storm, "The lull was shattered by a peal on the doorbell.". (cue scary slasher movie music). Enter....

Dr. Oliver Fforde (yes, two "f"'s and an "e" -which he would be required to drop if the Fforde Ffamily ever immigrates to America) and his mother. Thus begins our story. Amabel and Oliver (she doesn't have to call him Dr. Fforde) are Ffriends at once, they enjoy each other's company. He worries a bit about her being alone, he visits periodically. Then comes the day....Amabel gets a letter from CANADA....this does not bode well for our heroine. Her absentee mother gives her the Ffabulous news that she is going to stay a little longer in Canada and Get Married!!! and then Mommy dearest concludes with this lovely parting shot "You're such a sensible girl, and I'm sure you're enjoying your independence. Probably when we get back you will want to start a career on your own." This is code for: Since I now have a man in my life, I won't need you. Amabel sits down and assesses her accomplishments. "She could cook - not quite cordon bleu...she could housekeep, change plugs, cope with basic plumbing....tend a garden...Her pen faltered. There was nothing else." It goes on to say that she had her A levels. As far as I can tell, having her A levels would mean that she could go to University. Right? Why do Neels heroines never take advantage of that? I know, you're going to say..."But Betty Debbie, I read a Neels wherein the heroine has gone to university." To that, I say, "Yes, she may have started, but she dropped out...probably so her younger brother or sister could go instead, or to take care of her sick/aging a)mother, b) grandmother, c) aunt, d) second cousin once removed, e) all of the above...." Do they not have scholarships and college grants in the UK? This lack of education keeps coming back to haunt Amabel...

Mummy and new Step-Daddy Keith(why couldn't Betty have named him Edward as in Murdstone??? That would have been so much fun) come home. Step-Daddy immediately plows up the beautiful but old apple orchard so that he can build a big ugly greenhouse Ffor his profitable market garden. Amabel can stay and be unpaid labor, thus saving Step-Daddy a boatload of expense. That might have been okay...but Step-Daddy has an even darker side. In one sentence we Ffind him hitting the old dog Cyril and kicking the old cat Oscar. He then goes on to say that dear old Cyril and Oscar won't be alive much longer, if he has anything to say about it. That tears it. The very next day Amabel throws her bonnet over the windmill with a vengeance. She hauls herself, her luggage AND Cyril and Oscar cross-country to York. Oops, she Fforgot to call Aunt Betsey, I mean Thisbe. (I so identified the beginning of this book with David Copperfield that I thought Aunt Thisbe's name was Aunt Betsey - until I reread the book). Aunt Thisbe bears a striking resemblance, personality-wise to Betsey Trotwood. Aunt T is happy to welcome Amabel, and just as happy, later on, to welcome visiting Dr. Oliver Fforde. Amabel and Oliver have a lovely day together - taking their dogs for walks on the beach at Flamborough (in November or December...on the North Sea). Amabel confides to Oliver that she needs to get a job just as soon as she can, because she found out that Great Aunt Thisbe was supposed to go on holiday in Italy, and Amabel just has to find a job, where she can live in AND take Cyril and Oscar, her Ffurry millstones.

Oliver hears of a possible job through the evil villainess, Miriam Potter-Stokes, an elegant young widow who wants to get her fingers into the Fforde pie (I am sad to report that "Miriam" is also the name of my only granddaughter). Miriam has an old school chum, Delores who just so happens to own a little shoppe in The Shambles and needs a shop assistant. Oliver gives Amabel(that name just doesn't get any better) the heads up about the job, and Amabel is all set. A job (at sweatshop wages), a room behind the shop to live in with Cyril and Oscar, and a sink and a toilet. What?? No shower or bath? That's okay, once a week she goes back to Aunt Thisbe's and takes a bath. Whether she needs it or not. The scenes in York are actually my favorite part of Always and Fforever. Amabel and Oliver walk around town seeing the sights...(I love York - I spent a day there once), then head out to spend the next morning at the sea again. In December. Yeah. Dolores figures out that Amabel's Oliver is the same as Miriam's Oliver, and so gives Miriam a call. Miriam fakes tears and begs Dolores to give Amabel the sack. Which she does. This makes Amabel and her Ffurry millstones homeless. Aunt T is still in Italy, her household helpers are away for 10 days...so Amabel uses up her money for lodging and finally takes sanctuary (great shades of Victor Hugo!) in a little church. Oliver just so happens to show up and takes her to his Great-Aunt Lady Haleford, who is recovering from a mild stroke and is a bit peevish and irascible. Aramintas are great at this sort of thing - companion to the elderlies (British word alert!). She realizes finally that she is in love with Oliver (Oh NO, I Must Not Let It Show). Miriam Potter-Stokes finds out that Oliver is still seeing her, so she sneaks up to Lady Haleford's and tells Amabel that Oliver is a great one for helping lame dogs over styles, but nevertheless, Oliver is Marrying Miriam. This, by the way, is completely and utterly Ffalse. Oliver has never particularly liked Miriam - they went on a few dates and saw each other at parties held by mutual acquaintances. Amabel of course does not know this and is somewhat relieved to be called home to nurse her mother through a bout of pneumonia. Turns out, her mother is practically well - it's just cheaper to have Amabel there than to pay a housekeeper. Oliver finds out what Miriam has done and sort of tells her off "I need a wife who loves me and whom I love", then, after a few days he goes to Ffetch her from her mother. But not without first collecting Great Aunt T (now returned from her Italian sojourn) and installing her at his home to act as chaperon...until the wedding because "Oliver is a stickler for conventions"(which I always think sounds like he hands out campaign buttons at political rallies).

Food: omelettes, egg custard, pork pies, mushrooms in garlic sauce, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, lemon mousse, hot buttered parkin, chicken a la king, lemon tart swimming in cream, prawns, ceasar salad, grilled sole.

Fashion: a jersey dress in a pleasing shade of cranberry red! When Amabel splashes out on a new dress for Christmas she buys....a silvery GREY dress.

Rating: Alas poor Yorick, I mean York, I wish I could rate you well. The best I can rate the names in Always and Forever - beans on toast. Evil Canadian dog-kicking stepfather named Keith - beans on toast. Mother...tinned soup. Great Aunt Thisbe - queen of puddings (she is kind of awesome), plot similarities to David Copperfield - boeuf en croute (I wish Betty had kept going in that vein), the arc of Amabel and Olivers friendship/love - boeuf en croute (like at first sight that turns to love). I suppose if you add it all together, divide by the common denominater, take the square root of Miriam Potter-Stokes, the answer would be somewhere in the neighborhood of treacle tart (with a little lashings of whipped cream for York).

Friday, August 19, 2011

Betty on the Subject of Houseguests

Here at Huis van der Stevejinck we've had a boatload of extra people (for the past 6ish weeks). They were all welcome...four adult children, two spouses and four grandchildren. For the most part it's been great, but ten plus three... (Dr. van der Stevejinck, me and youngest son)...well, we've pretty much been filled to the rafters. And maybe a little bit over. My oldest son was only here for a week - he left over a week ago, my daughter and her family flew back to South Carolina this morning, so we're down to only three extras - those will be leaving in a couple of weeks.

All of my guests this summer have been welcome - very welcome - but I have had some less welcome guests at one time or another (I'm not naming names here).


There are several examples of unwelcome guests in The Canon (most notably Marcia from The Fifth Day of Christmas, although technically she might not be considered a guest since she was recovering from a slight case of polio).

So, here are my questions: How long is too long for guests? How many is too many?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Betty Neels in Academia

I found this lovely jewel in our inbox, it's from Betty Shilpa:

Dear Bettys

I have been lurking around your blog for over a year now and have thoroughly enjoyed reading all the reviews and the recent reprises. My interest in Betty Neels started after I read An Unlikely Romance and then I just had to read all of her works. My favourites are Caroline’s Waterloo and Saturday’s Child.

I am a PhD student at the University of Tasmania and currently doing my thesis in romance novels and their consumption in India. I always had a love-hate relationship with romance novels and that in some manner drove me towards my research.

Romance Goes Tenting?
Seriously, how awesome is
that for a title?

While reading hundreds and tons of books on romance, I came across Passion’s Fortune: The story of Mills & Boon by Joseph McAleer. As always, I first jumped to the index searching for Neels’ name have got some interesting results. After publishing her first novel, she explained her reasons behind writing and I quote:

“There are lots of older women like me who don’t want to be shocked or horrified in their reading. I admire Mills & Boon for sticking to their principles and not allowing sordid details. Some of the books I object to are awfully clever and well written, but I think there should be a self-imposed limit on pornography. After all, life is rather romantic.” (122)

On choosing Hospitals for settings she said:

“The hospital world is a bit of mystery to most people – dramatic and exciting. Members of the medical profession are indispensable and for the most part are splendid men and women, modest about their skill, and working for and with them, a nurse realises that, although she may not feel romantic about it, others do.” (122)

In 1972 a M&B manuscript editor disagreed with Neels over the passage in Uncertain Summer. Originally, it appears, Neels had planned Gijs and Serena to have a large family with at least four boys and four girls. The editor wanted it to shorten the four to two. Neels’ reply to this was:

“a large family is a marvellous thing (You’ve noted that my heroes are always well-heeled!). ...for purely selfish reasons....I find it just as unforgivable for a couple to decide on a second car instead of a baby...I also feel that if birth control is pushed too far, the coming generations are going to lose their sense of responsibility and family life, as such, will disappear.” (266)

However, as we know she did edit the last few lines of Gijs and Serena’s implied conjugal relations.

Later apparently, she was asked to include “sex in her books but she firmly declined, dismissing the current Mills & Boon romances as ‘gynaecological training manuals’”. (289)

After reading these fascinating titbits, I knew I just had to share it with you. Hope you enjoy it. :)

Love
Shilpa


Dear Betty Shilpa,

Enjoy it? You're my hero.

Love and lemon tarts,
Betty Debbie

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, August 22nd.
Always and Forever.
Evil Canadian stepfather!
York!
Bed and Breakfast!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sun and Candlelight - Reprise

You've got to love the book that gave us 'Brighton' as a catchphrase...and Hamburg...and possibly the only RDD with a still living ex-wife, but sadly, I can't bring myself to that point (even with Betty Keira's awesome pictures).  My real sticking point is the bad parenting that goes on...and on. Sure, it's tough to raise twins as a single parent - but maybe if Sarre spent some time with the not-so-little nippers he would have spotted their homicidal tendencies a bit sooner. I just spent a week with Betty Keira who happens to have her own eleven year-old - thankfully without a penchant for murder. 
I love thee to the level of everyday's most quiet need, by sun and candle light...I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears of all my life. --Elizabeth Barrett Browning ..........Well, Mijneer Doctor van Dutch-stein, I don't mind if you do.
So that's where the name comes from and from a woman who wrote books titled, A Dream Came True, The Course of True Love, and Marrying Mary, this is a stretch and a welcome one.

Alethea Thomas (Do we say it Uh-lee-thee-uh or Al-thee-uh?) is 27 dark, lovely (she can't be old and plain, can she?), and a cracking good nurse as Theobald's Orthopaedic Ward Sister. She has a penchant for shady characters and oily housemen and that's really a shame because...

Sarre van Diederijk is neither. He's 39 and divorced. Divorced. Divorced. Divorced. His ex-wife is not dead either which is the only instance I can think of where a Neels hero is so encumbered. She (the ex!) was happy to abandon her one-year-old children though and sail off into the Peruvian sunset with a man who is doubtless named Armando and wears solid gold pinky rings. So Sarre has two kids, a orthopaedic practice in Groningen and a Cockney houseman named Al who drops his 'aitches and was collected in much the same way as a canal puppy or an abandoned kitten. (It is surprising that he doesn't just call him Moses or Flotsam.)

Plot:
Alethea is having the single worst night of her life. There she is in her fine black voile patterned with flowers, expecting a ring and a declaration of undying love from a man named Nick. Instead of wedded bliss she is asked to contemplate the age-old human question: But will you love me tomorrow? If she were any judge of character she would have watched Nick doing his round at the hospital as Seducer of young ladies/orthopaedic houseman, taken one look at his name tag and made an about face. Nicks are not to be trusted.

They'd been dating for months and this was not enough time to uncover the fact that Nick was only softening her up for "a weekend in Brighton"--which, while one step up from a proposition for "tea at a friend's flat", still amounts to the same thing.
Editorial note: Months? It took this couple months to discover that she was "the most unsporting girl for miles around" and that he was a lout of elephantine proportions? As I might be tempted to say, "That's a lotta curry dinners."

If Nick was not firmly established as a worm already, he makes some intensely lame excuse about not being able to afford a wife yet (Mijneer Nathan van Voorhees and I first set up housekeeping in a palatial basement apartment with a gusty shower and half an oven. Too poor to marry? Please. Sell it somewhere else. ) Anyway, he takes her ladylike refusal poorly. And by 'poorly' I mean that he stands up from his table at the 'nice enough to convince Alethea that seduction is a highbrow affair' restaurant and beats it. So there she is, stuck with the check, a dwindling cup of coffee and the mortification of knowing that her patterned voile was all for naught.

But Sarre comes to the rescue, paying the bill and speaking loudly enough for the patrons to understand that He. Is. Not. Picking. Her. Up. He's not the kind to make invitations to Brighton, we see. In these less romantic times, Alethea would have had a debit card with her and then taken Nick to small claims court for the balance of the bill. So, for the sake of the story, we can be thankful that the banks are closed and she was only carrying small change.

Of course she bursts into tears when they finally get out the door and I could kiss The Venerable Neels and dance around her like a maypole for allowing Dastardly Nick to catch a glimpse of his unwilling maiden and a tall stranger headed to the Nurses' Home at the end of the night. "Yes!" shouts the Neels, spiking her ball and celebrating in the end zone, "Take that, you Defiler of Innocents!"

Sarre ends up being a consultant for Alethea's ward and saves her from several nasty cracks that the Dastardly Nick is willing to let fall. (who is already dating an only child of a successful grocer! Which reminds me of Margaret Thatcher, btw.) So, though Nick would like to make Alethea suffer for being so unsporting, he can't quite land a blow.

Sarre is quick to seize an opening, whisking a half-hearted Alethea off for dinners in outfits she manages to look gorgeous in even though she is a bit of a drip. ("Nick, Nick. Nick, moan, moan, moan...ad infinitum). Still, she makes a rather deep observation that if Nick wanted her back she would probably go and would never forgive herself for it. I, on the other hand, am willing to forgive a girl a good deal for such honest dealings with herself.

Sarre proposes. It comes a touch out of nowhere but the juicy bit is that he hasn't bothered to prepare her for the fact that he has 11-year-old twins until he's popped the question. In my limited (married at 21) experience there are several things a couple gets out of the way on the first date:

  1. Will you ever, never, or possibly go to Brighton? Under what circumstances? How many curry dinners will it take?
  2. Do you have small humans living under your care that I shall have to care for, arrange visitation with, or support? Will we be required to be on a first name basis and will I have to teach him to pee in a potty?
She is given a few days to mull step-motherhood. Fully intending to say "no", she says "yes". (Isn't that just like a woman.) But Sarre is a babe so I will overlook her spinelessness.
They offer him sandwiches and beer.
Editorial note: Okay, so in the land of Neels, lady's don't drink beer and Alethea is at her grandmother's house with a female housekeeper as well. That's three ladies and they happen to have a beer. Do they keep it in food storage? Is it beer they keep in the fall-out bunker? Is it Dharma Initiative beer? Does beer even keep? "Namaste, Sarre. Have a beer."And now I will post a picture of Sawyer because it seems to be a moral imperative.

The engagement goes like this:
  • Hey, since I'm divorced you don't get a church wedding. Crossing my fingers that that doesn't matter to you!
  • Hey, let me slow down the gunmetal grey Jaguar XJ-5 with pearl grey leather upholstery on the M11 and chuck you the ring box filled with Standard Dutch Issue Family Heirloom Sapphire and Diamond Engagement Ring. I'm chucking it at you instead of turning into a lay by because my ex-wife killed me inside. Oh look. It fits!
  • Hey, come meet my kids. No, no, Sarel and Jacomina always look like that...
  • We'll be in Holland and I'll refuse to show you around the awesome house not once, but twice, because I know that showing someone around your ancestral home is code for "I *heart* you--and I wouldn't want you to get that idea.
  • Hey, meet my totally intimidating semi-hot co-worker.

They get married in a registrar's office and are able to arrange a Service of Blessing. One Church of England parish website says this:
The Service of Blessing after a Civil Marriage has no restrictions around it. It is used by those who may not qualify for marriage in [the church] for...legal reasons, or who prefer to keep the religious and legal parts separate. Both are profound and beautiful services and enable you to enter into your marriage in the church.
To skip the bother of having to explain this detail ever again, The Great Neels cheerfully killed off straying brides of our long-suffering heroes for the next twenty years, leaving behind her a bloody path of destruction littered with car accidents and plane crashes. Many South American men were casualties of this policy as well.

They get to Groningen and Sarel and Jacomina look at her with "hate". She is "frightened" that they will never like her. She should have been frightened that they would put strychnine in the Earl Grey but her imagination was sadly lacking. Unforgivable things they do to her:

  • Pet mouse in the bed.
  • Ruination of a smashing lavender evening gown by intentionally upending a vase of flowers on it. The Soulless Nanny stares on unmoved.
  • Verbal insubordination. The Soulless Nanny stares on...
  • Vandalism of personal objects
  • Potential man-slaughter (but let's save that for later)
Nanny (who is middle-aged and not some old person who might be excused for thinking she will get tossed out on her ear) is like some malevolent Iago and Sarel and Jacomina look like something from Children of the Corn. The plagues of Egypt are raining down on Alethea and Sarre remains oblivious. It doesn't help that she thinks snitching is a no-no. But life with Sarre is nice ("If only it were Nick...") and when she is taken to see the marriage settlements (like a post-nup?) she feels a warm glow. Sarre is loaded. I'd feel a warm glow too...

Not long after this she has her moment of realization. "It's Sarre not what's-his-name!" There follows one of the nicest moments of realization in any Neels novel. She thinks (for no reason other than his haggard and sad expression) that he loves Anna. It does not, however, lead to kissing so let us not pursue it.

Sarre takes her to Romantic Hamburg! (I'm trying here to cast a pink lamp glow on Hamburg. No snickering from the peanut gallery.) There he buys her a really expensive antique music box because he forgot the cardinal rule of kids. (In unison now!) "Children Ruin Everything." (Seriously, I'm going to cross-stitch that into a sampler.)

When she gets back they...um...step on it several times on purpose. Her distress is obvious and Sarre is heartened that she cares so much about something he bought for her. A magician restores it perfectly--in one day.

They have a spat about Anna (who doesn't matter and never matters) and then her grandmother comes to visit. Grandma listens to her story about her nice little life and then cuts to the chase, "Yes, dear, now supposing you tell me all about it." Granny wins.

Sarel and Jacomina stretch their credibility by being able to sustain such a long and sustained loathing of Alethea. (Real children don't have the attention span for this.) They lure her to an abandoned house and hope to lock her inside for a bit. Instead, they finally get their just desserts by falling down a hole. Alethea shows her devotion to them by hopping in after them and playing "Three down a hole!"

Sarre rescues them by making her lift two 11-year-olds above her head (ouch!) and then sends everyone off for a hot bath which leaves me in slack-jawed admiration of his water heater.

But they're not done mis-communicating and he gives her tickets to go back home.

Meanwhile the Children of the Corn have been replaced with The. Best. Kids. Ever. No, really. It's as though there was an alien abduction down in the hole. As bad as they were they are that good now. I'm a sucker for their contrition so it sort of works for me. Nanny, however, gets a pass on all the subversive, frowny-faced behavior. I would trust the woman to hoover the ground floor of my house and I'd still shake her down for the family silver at the end of the day. But they're going to trust her with the kiddos again. (I'd set up a teddy bear-cam. Just saying.)

Sarre is sending Alethea away so she gets ready to go but not before having a go at the brandy bottle and running Sarre to ground. "He must be told," she thinks to herself tipsily. She bursts into the board room as only an Olivia can and has her say in his office.

Public kissing!
The End

Food: Soup with garlic (why does this sound awful?), zabaglione (?), Rice Crispies (I'll make those!), rhubarb pie (well sugared), pork pie, Dundee cakes, apple pie and ginger cake

Fashion: Sarre's brother's first girlfriend wears frizzed hair and a dress that looks like a silver tissue tent so of course they break up.

Rating: This is a bit of a Curate's Egg--excellent in parts. I'll give it a mince pie even though sections of it are really quite good and original because Nanny and the kids get off waaaaaaay to easily for my peace of mind and for the health of the republic.

Point of order: The Betty doesn't usually bring up the sexual revolution. In her later novels she just skated over any question of that and this is among the reasons her books are called anachronistic and old fashioned. A girl wandering around in clothing from the 1940s is old fashioned. Owning a collection of Neil Diamond records (ahem...whistling) is old fashioned. Drying your clothes on a clothesline is old fashioned. Ladies that choose not to go to Brighton should never be called old fashioned. Also, you've got to admire Betty for not succumbing to an icky double standard where her heroes are concerned. They weren't having any visits to Brighton either.

Okay, now I'll get off the soapbox.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Betty Manga

Via email from Betty van den Betsy:
Oh, ye jigs and juleps -- look what just landed in my mailbox, thanks to a completist brother-in-law.

This "Harlequin Ginger Blossom - Harlequin Pink" version of A Girl in a Million is credited as "written by Betty Neels" on the cover and copyright page, but the title page admits it is "Based on the original novel by Betty Neels." I can't find any mention of who adapted it to this format, and s/he did a lot of adapting. The artwork is by Kako Itoh. The pix attached give some idea...

The story begins, as in the novel, with Caroline delivering a book to her nursing colleague Corina's cousin Marius Van Houben whilst on a vacation in Amsterdam, falling on his steps and being succored by Marius and his butler Fram. Back in London, she specials Marius's injured nephew, thinking it's his son. However, there's a dramatic back-story of Marius having been engaged to his now sister-in-law, but losing her to his brother when Marius chose to go into medicine rather than the family corporation where he'd have been wealthier.

HEA for sure, though, with white wedding.
I hope you enjoy these pix 1/10 as much as I enjoyed this wacky little book!

All the best,
Betty van den Betsy
Sorry this is on its side...

...and so is this.

Does it have English captions?

I'm kind of digging it...

...in spite of the fact that the couple look to be teenagers...

...they do have a HEA.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Betty Birthdays

While no velvet Elvis, Betty Kylene's plunger was a fitting Bettysday tribute...
The Founding Bettys are celebrating the birthday of their mother and their eldest (and wisest and loveliest) sister today.  (Yes.  The very same day.  A fate worse than death, to my mind--carry a child nine whole months and the little so-and-so arrives just in time to filch every cake choice for the next twenty years!  Thank heavens we love Betty Marcy regardless...) And that got us thinking about the up and coming Bettysday.  We'll be celebrating 101 years of the Great Betty on September 15th and we wanted to give our Sister Bettys a heads up so that you can plan and plan and plan.

So slap together a tea party, stage a read-in, poetry-slam some commemorative haiku
(...Let's see:
RDD waits but (5)
Little English nurse can't see (7)

his burning passion (5)

...hop a bus, drive a lorry, queue for a train...But whatever you do, take a picture and send it to us!  (Whomever paints a Betty-themed piece of velvet art wins.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Life After Betty

via email from Betty Barbara:

My Friend the Professor by Lucilla Andrews c 1960

171 pages of tiny type.



Yes, that’s the copy I read, published 1967 . (Betty Debbie here - sorry, I couldn't open the picture she sent - I'm visiting Betty Keira this week and don't have my 'tech support' here...he had to stay home - I substituted this less than awesome picture from Amazon.com).


Before we begin:
How to tell you are not reading a book by Betty Neels:
The book is told in first person, from the point of Frances Dorland, our nominal heroine.
There are almost no clothing descriptions.
There is no food. Wait, that’s not quite true. There are no glowing descriptions of food. I vaguely remember sandwiches being mentioned.
There is no Veronica.
There is no socking great Bentley.
There are no critters: no dogs, no cats
There are no Jollys

On to the story:

Our tale opens with the introduction of Frances Dorland, 19, on her way to start her nurse’s training at Martha’s Hospital. Well, actually at the training school that’s attached to the Hospital’s country annexe. Our Frances is no raving beauty, but fairly attractive and has great legs. We learn that Frances is no contender for the Gold Medal(like dear Rose Comely). She can be a bit dense, but she has a good heart.

Several other young ladies are also introduced:

Hannah More, who has her children’s qualification, but wants more. She exists(plot wise) as a way to introduce her personable medical student cousin Bart More.

Estelle Dexter, also 19, who is a newbie like Frances. Estelle is blonde, chic, the granddaughter (and sole heir) of Sir Hamilton Dexter. She has her own car and wears Dior when she‘s not wearing a uniform. As we go along we learn that she’s shy and smart. We like Estelle.

Preliminary Training School
P.T.S. is really Boot Camp. There’s the Sister in charge, who looks like an old battleaxe and her #2, Staff Nurse Nayler, who is always smiling. The girls quickly learn that Nayler’s smiles meant “only that she was showing her very good teeth”. Nurse Nayler is the villain of the PTS episode.
At PTS, the girls learn to make beds(the Martha’s way), wrap bandages, give injections, cook egg custard and make linseed poultices. They also learn basic anatomy-names and locations of bones, muscles and so on.
Late one Saturday afternoon Frances heads up the hill behind the campus. It starts with the thunder and lightening show and our Frances(who, very Neels like, hates storms) barely makes it to the top of the hill and the small shelter before it becomes really nasty.
And Lo and Behold the shelter is already occupied by the man we come to know as The Professor. Frances describes him as tall(check), thin(what?), of her parents’ generation(oh no!). While waiting out the storm they do the idle chit-chat thing, without exchanging names. He (and his binoculars) reveal that he’s a birdwatcher. She reveals that her father is a Turkey Farmer(!!!), gets hints on how not to curdle her egg custard. As often happens in these kind of conversations, she tells him more than she thinks she does.
While Frances is on the hillside meeting The Prof, Hannah and Estelle are in the village closest to the PTS, meeting Bart. Bart is a medical student at Martha’s, currently assigned to the country annexe. He’s about 25 and cute. Could Estelle be smitten?
Confidences are exchanged that evening. The girls speculate like crazy about who The Professor could be.
Estelle: “Are you positive he wasn’t one of our men?”
Frances: “If I thought I had unburdened myself to a senior member of Martha’s I’d walk our here and now.” And besides, she adds, “he’s not my type.”
Okay--it is obvious that what we have here is the first big hint and the first ‘famous last words’.

The Letters
She gets a letter from him (big surprise--how did he know her name?), with an exclusive London Club as a return address and a signature that says he’s J.S.Slane. Very impersonal letter--here’s some bird pictures. Frances answers with an equally impersonal-do you know anything about linseed poultices. And thus a correspondence begins. He writes one week, she answers the next and so on. Frances stars looking forward to the letters and daydreaming about the Prof (though she invests him with a Mrs. Prof and a number of little Profs.). Somewhere over this time he goes from being a lot older to “not very much” older. In other words, our Frances is building castles in the sand. The daydreaming gets Frances in trouble with Sister Tutor. Her neck is saved by info from her ‘homework hotline’ aka The Prof. who gets the answer for her with some help from a pathologist he knows(Hint, hint)

The Waters Are Muddied
Bart comes up to the school to visit Hannah, Estelle and meets Frances. Hannah thinks that Bart and Frances should get together, but Bart seems more interested in Estelle (who is doing her best to ignore him).

London Here We Come
Our intrepid trio has successfully graduated from PTS and are now assigned to Martha’s in London. It appears to be situated on the river. It is an old hospital with a new wing under construction. It has NO air conditioning.
Frances and Estelle’s first assignment is Josephine Ward, or Women’s Medical. As student nurses, they catch all the grunt work, like cleaning bed pans and arranging flowers (what?). Frances develops a nice relationship with several of the long-term patients, especially young Lily Ellis. Bart starts spending a lot of time in Josephine Ward. Frances treats him like a brother, Estelle keeps giving him the cold shoulder.

The Fateful Trip to the Path Lab, part one
The Path Lab is the domain of the reclusive Dr Sir Marcus Eversley. He’s smart, he’s really rich, he’s a Baronet, he comes just this side of walking on water, he’s a bachelor, and appears to be married to the job. He does not show up in the gossip columns. He is not to be bothered by mere student nurses.
One fine day Frances is sent off to the Path lab to deliver a blood sample, stat! Of course our Frances gets lost on the way but finally makes it and delivers it into the hands of the man in the director’s office. He’s bald, plump, absentmindedly friendly. Frances believes she has met the elusive Sir Marcus. But the clever Bettys among us have our doubts, don’t we ladies?
Frances is definitely developing a one-track mind where the Prof his concerned, spending way too much time daydreaming about him and mooning over his letters. And then she gets The Phone Call of Shock. It’s the Prof, calling to tell her he’s met her parents, had a nice chat about bird watching with her father. He makes meeting them sound so natural and logical. She finally gets up enough nerve to ask him what he does and he vaguely replies that he’s “one of the many variant types of Civil Servants” and then complains about the paperwork.
Frances goes home on one of her days off, to consult with Mum. Alas, her timing is bad and her parents are busy de-beaking the turkeys. (No, I didn’t look it up. I didn’t want to know). So no help from Mum.
Back in Josephine Ward, young Mrs Lily Ellis dies, late one night, with Frances at her side. Frances is shook up(her first patient death), and goes seeking some fresh air and a place to cry in private. And runs into the Prof on an outside staircase (a short cut from the car park). He whisks her away for a drive. (No we don’t learn what kind of car he drives). He feeds her sandwiches (found in a pocket of his mac), chocolate and whisky. Gotta love a man who keeps chocolate bars and a flask of whisky in his glove compartment. Frances sobs (but not on his shoulder) and mops up with one of his hankies. He returns her to the Nurses’ Home All seems well.

The Waters Are Further Muddied
Bart and Frances run into each other on an afternoon off and spend some time sitting on a park bench, feeding the ducks (or is it pigeons or squirrels--never mind). The air is cleared. Frances says she can see he’s interested in Estelle, so why isn’t he pushing it? Bart does the whole “woe is me, I’m poor. What do I have to offer the granddaughter of the richest man in England?” and so on and so forth. As they’re sitting there, heads together, Bart notices Sir Marcus walking by, but Frances doesn’t seen him.

It’s time to switch assignments:
Frances is now in Out Patients and encounters the hostility of one Nurse Vickers. What is up with that?
Frances has an afternoon off and heads out to sit on the terrace. When who should appear but the Prof!! Where did he spring from? He offers another packet of sandwiches. They should have been his lunch, but he forgot to eat. Frances reads him the riot act over living on coffee and tobacco. Mrs. Prof should take better care of him. Hmmmm, there is no Mrs Prof. During the chat Frances mentions that she had met Sir Marcus. Did the Prof perhaps know him? Funny, the Prof spends a lot of time fiddling with his pipe and not looking at Frances. Frances then asks his advice (now he’s Dear Abby) on how to help Bart and Estelle, but she fails to mention Estelle’s name. At the end of that conversation, the Prof says “good-bye” and makes it sound final, puzzling Frances no end.
And then, no more letters, no more phone calls.
Two months pass in one sentence
(Picture pages being torn from a daily calendar and floating off like blown leaves).

Crisis

Scarlet fever outbreak among the nurses and Estelle falls seriously ill. She might not make it. She’s moved from Martha’s to another hospital that specializes in fever cases.
In the midst of this crisis there’s a phone call from the Prof. He’s just making sure she’s okay. Frances can’t really worry about the Prof right now, she’s too busy kicking Bart out of his despair by telling him that Estelle loves him! And he needs to let Estelle (sick though she is)know how much he loves her. Write her a letter, you dolt!
Ahhh, Estelle survives (did we doubt it?), thanks to modern miracle drugs.

The Fateful Trip to the Path Lab, part two
Frances, now working nights in Men’s Surgical, is sent up to the Path lab with a blood sample for Sir Marcus. She is to give it to him and come right back. She knows where is office is, knocks on his door, walks in and sees (drum roll) The Prof!! Surprise, surprise. She has no time to stick around for explanations.

Frances has a good deal of time to try and figure out why he hid his identity from her. All those snide “teacher’s pet” sort of comments now make sense. He doesn’t try to see her, merely writes her a nice letter of apology.

Back to the Beginning
Frances is loaned to the country annexe. And on her day off climbs the hill to the shelter where the Prof is waiting for her. The Great Misunderstanding about Bart is finally cleared up. The Great Deception is discussed. The air is cleared. She declares that he’s not too old (42); he decides that she’s not too young(19). “I love you”s are exchanged.

Big kisses. The end.

Thoughts from Betty Barbara:

I never really bought the romance between Sir Marcus and Frances. He is obviously smitten by the fresh, young woman he meets on the hill. He goes to a lot of trouble to learn her name, engineer a meeting with her family and so on. And (or is it ‘But’), he never lets his interest show . His letters are always impersonal as are his phone calls.
So this brings us to Frances. She builds this vast romance in her head from the flimsiest of evidence. When the letters and phone calls stop she isn’t really surprised--she always figured he would lose interest in her someday. Her feelings always struck me as more schoolgirl crush than true love.
They have only a handful of face to face meetings in the whole book, and an equally small number of phone calls. We never get a glimpse of what was said in the letters. but we are given to understand that the contents are innocuous.
I was never given enough evidence to let me believe that grand finale.
All of the emotional oomph of the book goes to Bart and Estelle. They have the believable romance and get the happy ending that they deserve. Thank goodness for Bart and Estelle.

This book shows its age much more than the Betty’s do. The medical practices and day to day hospital life are detailed more than in the Neels books. We get pages of how awful it is in the non-air-conditioned wards, for example. And all that detail ties the story to the date it was written.

I’d give this a Treacle Tart or maybe, Mince Pies.

For my fellow Bettys:
If, after all this, you are interested in reading this book I will gladly mail you my copy, no charge.
Warning: This copy is yellow and brittle with age. The cover is held on with strapping tape, The glue is failing and the last pages have come loose. Thus the rubber band to make sure that no pages get lost.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Upcoming Reprise

Yes, I know, I'm way behind today...but in my defense, I'm on vacation.  Tune in tomorrow for a "Life After Betty" reader submission, with special thanks to Betty Barbara.

Monday, August 15th.
Sun and Candlelight
Brighton! Smashed antiques repaired flawlessly on a moment's notice! Twins!

The Prosecution of The Hasty Marriage

via email from Betty JoDee (with my apologies - I couldn't open the pictures she included, so I had to troll google images for substitues - Betty Debbie):

Top Ten Reasons to Dislike The Nasty [sic] Marriage, or Reilof Is a Rat, Run!


10. Ugly cover. If that’s Limp Laura on the cover, it must be her good sense haunting her.


I rest my case:



9. Nasty Reilof has no sense of humor. None. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Niet. Limp Laura has no sense of humor. None. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Niet.

Reilof in a Good Mood

8. “Providential head of celery”—impossible; no celery is from Providence; (whispering) it comes from vegetable (looking down ominously and grimacing) somewhere else….serious lack of judgment by Limp Laura right out of the bag (so to speak).

 
7. Nasty Reilof is never Nice Reilof. Never, Betty JoDee? No, never, Fellow Bettys (I’m channeling Betty Keira). Self-serving posturing is not niceness. He didn’t even look at her coming down the aisle. Ugh.

6. After he has his Dawning Realization over a Fiat (again, questionable judgment!), he rushes to her all hot and bothered and desperately in love, supposedly mad because of his fear for her safety (see Betty Magdalen’s spirited—though the jury is still out—defense of Angry Alexander in A Star Looks Down. He doesn’t even ask or check to see if she is hurt until she’s so ticked that she begs off with a headache. Bah!
See what I mean about his judgment?
5. RDDs don’t agree to Marriages of Convenience when he has reason to believe the other (particularly of a lesser social standing) partner is in love with him when he is not in love with her—not cricket. When RDDs are engaged to Vapid Veronicas they are both playing by the same set of upper-crust rules—using each other for each one’s purposes--bloodless but time-honored and common.

4. Smart-mouthed repartee is only fun when both sides are playing equally, even if not social or economic equals. See Everard and Charity in The Gemel Ring, Araminta and Crispin in The Edge of Winter, Marnix and Henrietta, etc. Even little Hannah spits back against the mighty Uncle Valentijn from the start (you go, girl!). Blind Benedict is huffy with Chatty Cassandra, but she is trespassing while nosing about plus she chucks it back as fast as he can hurl it. Nasty Reilof spews forth venom against a hapless Limp Laura. She doesn’t fire back until well into the book, already demonstrating that Nasty Reilof does not practice fair play; it’s shooting bitterballen in a fryer.

3. Nasty Reilof only likes Jet-Set Joyce for her looks. Irritating but expected in twenty-one-year-old males; unforgivably shallow and immature at his age, especially since he already demonstrated his appalling judgment with Expired Esme. Jet-Set Joyce has nothing else to recommend her to a real man. Nothing. Zippo. Zilch. Nada. Niets.

2. RDDs should notice the unnoticed. The elder sister who hangs out the wash when all the boys are playing football. The staff nurse who catches the brunt of Surly Sister during the night shift. The knitting switchboard operator with an unusual name who treats him as a regular guy. The guardian of small orphaned boys who works in the flower shop through lunch to make ends meet. The Not Pretty but Not Plain Nurses who are the only ones to cook, clean, work, be competent, or even pleasant. Nasty Reilof falls head over dim-brain for Jet-Set Joyce instead—not just for some time-killing dates or even mutually-using-each-other engagements but In Love! Double Ugh.

1. Turbans.


Only Known Example in the History of World Civilization of an Attractive Turban:

HRH Princess Maxima of the Netherlands



Ten Reasons to Read The Nasty [sic] Marriage Anyway

10. It’s a Betty.

9. Limp Laura’s lacy brown dress with low neckline. (Even Betty knew that Nasty Reilof only thought of One Thing, thus if Limp Laura has any chance at all….) Still a rare sighting in Neelsdom.

Limp Laura finally speaks Reilof’s Language



8. It’s a Betty.

7. Got nothing.

6. It’s a Betty.

5. Still working on it.

4. Uh….

3. Did I mention that Betty Neels wrote it?

2. One of the longest declarations of love in The Canon—almost five pages. (Of course, Betty knew she was gonna have to sell this piece of dubious reconciliation with more effort than usual.)



Nice try but no cigar, Mrs. Neels



1. Larry the American!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Dearest Mary Jane--Reprise

Hello, Darling Bettys!  I'm back from The Backpacking Trip of Doom, scratching madly at a wide array of mosquito bites.  And what a lovely book to find in my queue.  I enjoy this one tons but the part that gets me every time is when he buys the little mice she's spent so much entrepreneurial sweat on.  He can't just hand her a fiver to tide her over so he finds a hitherto unknown spot in the corner of his brain that always yearned for fabric rodents.  (I imagine him going mining for that spot with a pick ax.)  
Betty Keira

Dearest Mary Jane doesn't qualify as my favorite favorite...but it's definitely in my top ten. Or twenty. It's a fairly gentle story...no big drama, just a series of scenes that make up a charming story.

Mary Jane Seymour...a thin Ariminta about 25 years old. With violet eyes, natch. Parents dead, natch. She has inherited a small cottage in a small village and is trying to make a living running a tea room. Mary Jane is one of the few examples of entrepreneurship in Neeldom. Sure one or two girls briefly work in shops...but I don't think any of them actually own their own business... there is a book with a failed attempt at a knitting shop, and another one who wants to start her own catering business...but doesn't. Mary Jane will never make it big in the Tea Shoppe business. You know what they say, "location, location, location"...evidently her small village is not the perfect location - it's a bit off the beaten track. She ekes out a fairly grim existence. She dreams of a new winter coat and boots. It would seem like she would be a bit of a wet rag...but she's not shy about speaking her mind plus she's got a good pitching arm. I forgot, she's got a cat named Brimble.

Enter Sir Thomas Latimer. Dr. Sir Thomas Latimer. An orthopaedist. My favorite kind of specialist. Orthopaedists fairly litter the Neels landscape. He starts out being an unlikely friend. He likes being with Mary Jane. We occasionally get a glimpse into his thoughts. He drives a dark blue Rolls and has a dog named Watson.

The Story: Mary Jane is closing up the Tea Shoppe, when in walks.....wait for it....Dr. Sir Thomas Latimer, plus one. The "plus one" is a petulant beauty (in her 30's). She would like her Earl Grey right now. Frankly, we can forget about her - she never makes another appearance. She has served her purpose...to achieve First Contact between the protagonists. Their next contact comes just a week later. Mary Jane is accompanying timid Miss Potter to the see the specialist in Cheltenham about some hip surgery. Yes, the specialist is Dr. Sir. Second Contact. Mary Jane gets "a look from icy blue eyes in which there was no hint of recollection." But now that he's seen her, he will see more of her. Miss Potter gets a letter informing her of her surgery date, with a request that "in view of Miss Mabel's nervous disposition, that the young lady who had accompanied her," blah, blah, blah...yes, Mary Jane will have to close the Tea Shoppe and possibly lose a chance to make a little much needed money. Third Contact - checking Miss Potter into hospital. Fourth Contact...Dr. Sir engineers a "chance meeting" while MJ is visiting Miss Potter, then he proceeds to give her a lift home. He begins to be intrigued...she is not like any girl that he's known. Duh. She runs a Tea Shoppe. Enter Evil Cousin Oliver. He wants MJ to take his wife, Margaret, to London, to see a specialist (he is wealthy...and yet he wants Mary Jane to close up shop and lose revenue...clearly not plugged into the financial realities of her life)...yeah, it's Dr. Sir again. It seems that fate just keeps throwing them together. Dr. Sir comes to the Tea Shoppe to tell MJ something, when in walks (cue dark sinister music)....Older Evil Sister Felicity...who is not felicitous. She is a successful model. In Neels terms that is tantamount to being a Spawn of Satan. She sees Dr. Sir and immediately asks him to come see her at A Dress Show in Cheltenham and then dinner...he graciously declines, but ..... ""The fool", thought Mary Jane fiercely. She had seen the [Spawn of Satan] capture a man's attention a dozen times....for some reason she had thought that HE was different." Spawn of Satan not so subtly pumps Dr. Sir to find out if he's making millions. MJ sends him away...without hearing him out. We never find out what he wanted to talk to Mary Jane about. Ever. Cousin Oliver drops by to ask for an undeserved favor. "...go away, Oliver, before I hit you over the head with my rolling pin." That's a lovely bit of spunk. Dr. Sir happens to be driving by, and comes in - not to her rescue - Mary Jane is no Damsel in Distress. She doesn't need any rescuing from Cousin Oliver. Dr. Sir begs some breakfast, then invites MJ to spend the day with him in Oxford. Dr. Sir enjoys the day...but feels a vague pity for Mary Jane..."He must remember to mention her funny little tea room to his family and friends, drum up some customers for her so that she would have some money to spend on herself. A new hat for a start. No rain hat was becoming but at least it need not be quite as awful as the one she had been wearing all day." Let's take a moment here. This is a recurring theme in this book - wherein the Doctor is more concerned with the girl looking better than the girl herself is. Not that he looks down on her, it's just that she doesn't seem to even try. We'll get back to this...

Thomas stops by to visit MJ at the Tea Shoppe and finds it locked up tight - but faithful cat Brimble is looking worried...as only a cat with no litter box and a raging gale outside can. Thomas breaks in the kitchen window with the aid of his handy penknife and finds that MJ is delirious with the flu. He bundles her up and takes her to his mother's house. At mum's house he proceeds to play doctor, I mean, give her an exam. Don't worry, the housekeeper is there to keep things kosher. Thomas then proceeds to give Mary Jane a shot...in the backside. As a person that has had more than my fair share of backside shots I can sympathize with Mary Jane's startled yelp. I'd yelp too. Spawn of Satan uses MJ's illness to visit...she dresses in a sheath of vivid green (only evil women in Neeldom wear vivid colors on purpose, the hussies). The dress is short as to skirt, and low as to neckline. Mrs. Latimer considers it immodest.

Back in the Tea Shoppe after her bout with the flu, Mrs. Latimer stops by, with an old family friend...hmmm. Dr. Sir in a delightful bit of strategem, manages to get an old family friend who happens to be a mutual aquaintance to invite them both to a party. This party is the money scene. But I have a tough time with Mary Jane's outfit. That she puts together ON PURPOSE. Not only ON PURPOSE, but she sews the dress herself. The dress is dove-gray silk "a simple dress with a full skirt, a modest neckline and elbow length sleeves." She then adds insult to injury and purchases matching stocking AND shoes. This is her idea of a party outfit???I can't conjure up any flattering image...the whole concept seems very off-putting to me. Quite bleak. As Mame said "how bleak was my puberty in Buffalo" or, in Mary Jane's case, "how bleak were my twenties in an unnamed village close to Stow-on-the-Wold." And she did this ON PURPOSE. (I could see her on a future episode of What Not to Wear)Nevermind, here's the good stuff. Sir Thomas...considered her dress suited her very well, although he surprised himself by wondering what she would look like in something pink and cut to show rather more of her person....a pearl choker would look exactly right around her little neck... Sounds like Thomas is more than a bit smitten. The best part is from his mother. "How pretty you look, my dear, and what a charming dress - I have never seen so many exposed bosoms in all my life and many of them need covering....I don't think your bosom needs to be concealed; you have a pretty figure, my dear." Oh dear! Sir Thomas stifles a laugh. "His mother, a gentle soul by nature, could at times be quite outrageous." I'm wondering how old you need to be to get away with statements like that.

Misunderstandings ensue, Spawn of Satan implies that Thomas is spending time with her - which is only partly true...she kind of stalks him. Cousin Oliver muddies the waters further, Mary Jane is told point blank by him that Sir Thomas is marrying Felicity (in return, Mary Jane throws a handful of LARD at him), Felicity also says she's getting married. What's a girl to think? MJ reads Sir Thomas the riot act, he gives her a look of icy rage....and then they both figure it out. Spawn of Satan is getting her just desserts by marrying a rich American...who wears horn-rimmed glasses and a wide-brimmed hat. Thomas comes in, they kiss while the scones almost burn.

Why I like this book:
The girls in this book rock. Mary Jane is not only able to speak her mind and threatens her cousin with a rolling pin, she also kicks a biker who is part of a gang trashing her Tea Shoppe. You just know that Mrs. Latimer will be the perfect mother-in-law. After all she has her own place and seems more than capable of baby-sitting the brats when they come along. Evil Older Sister Felicity swans around in very outre couture fashion AND marries an American. The boys (few though there are) are fun too. Dr. Sir Thomas isn't smitten at first sight, there is a fairly natural progression here for both parties...Cousin Oliver is not a one scene character - Mary Jane gets three or four scenes in which to verbally and lardily spar with him.

Food: tea cakes, sausage rolls, beans on toast, shepherd's pie, "something fishy on a lettuce leaf", castle pudding, "cheese is good for the digestion" (really? I didn't know that.)

Fashion: Jersey dress, grim grey party dress, old winter coat, hideous rain hat.

Rating: Despite the grim grey party dress, I give this dress a queen of puddings...on the strength of Mary Jane's handy arm with the lard.