Monday, August 1, 2011

The Hasty Marriage - Reprise

Betty Keira is off backpacking in the wilds of Oregon for the week - I'm nearly sure she'll survive.  Nearly.

There are those who love The Hasty Marriage and those who loathe it.  Betty Magdalen referred to it as 'emoporn'...with some justification - there's a whole lotta angstiness going on here.  I fall into the 'love it' camp - but only when I'm in the mood.  I really like Laura - I don't see her as wimpy - she's got her very own brand of grit - which enables her to suggest marriage to the man she loves (perhaps the only Neels heroine to do so???).  Reilof(f) is a bit thick (Great Wall of China thick, Dagwood sandwich thick), but I like to think he spends the next 40 years or so paying off his debt to Laura (he owes her BIG TIME for saving him from The Zombie Bride). Here's a handy link for the accompanying discussion thread (complete with awesome illustrations).

  
This week Betty Debbie and I chose two of our favorites to review. No this isn't my favorite favorite but, as I'm fond of telling her, I won't be able to review that one (Winter Wedding) until I've been to the mountain, so to speak.

Betty Neels wrote 130-odd novels and among them there are only a few outliers--sticking out like a cactus at a flower show. The Hasty Marriage is one such. It's dark, near-tragic and fraught with moments that (as silly as I feel doing it) make my throat thick with the sorrow of surrogate mortification. War and Peace it isn't, but don't let that stop us.

Laura Standish is 29--looking thirty in the face (what an expression!)--a Ward Sister at St. Anne's on Men's Surgical. She's clever, wonderful at her job, gets on well with pets and children, is a good little housekeeper/cook, has a pretty voice, is liked by everyone, is not pretty but is not plain either. She might be an Araminta and long in the tooth but her sterling qualities could have landed her a staid fellow named George with a flat and an elderly Morris some time ago. But she's not in love with a George with a flat and a Morris so she won't marry one. Laura is my daughter's name. I love it and I love her.

Reilof van Meerum is 38. He's 6'3" and has dark eyes and hair (silvered at the temples in much the same manner as Minjeer Nathan van Voorhees, I think). He drives an Aston Martin which I take as a sign of an impulsive nature and emotional instability. But he also drives a silver grey Rolls-Royce which means that he'll settle down like the Rock of Gibraltar in the end. He was once married to a girl named Esme who died of leukemia. Don't feel too bad though. He recognized long before her death that they were ill-suited. She was a gay young thing that liked dancing and parties. And he was a doctor.

Plot:
Laura has the rotten luck of falling in love with Reilof at first sight. There he is, the man of her dreams, standing in her sitting room...captivated by her sister. Hey wait! That's not how it's supposed to go. Betty Neels writes our heroes as indifferent or skeptical or secretly in love with the heroine but never, ever does she let them be genuinely bowled out by another woman.
Joyce is 20 and blond and blue-eyed and a gay young thing that likes dancing and parties...stop me when this starts sounding familiar. She's like Zombie Esme raised from the grave. Only now she has a moral black hole where her heart's supposed to be and it's sucking Reilof into it. Instead of employing his warp drive to blast off in the opposite direction, Captain Reilof is piloting his Good Ship Smitten into the heart of darkness. All engines go, full steam ahead! You can imagine him elbowing Laura down in his haste to get to Joyce's side as though he's learned nothing in the dozen or so years since his first disastrous marriage.
Joyce, who never does anything when Laura is around to pick up the slack, makes a decent show of being human...for a zombie bride. She offers to do the dishes and, er...that's it. That's the entire foundation for Reilof's good regard.
Laura, however, has to cook meals and entertain two old men (her father and godfather), as well as rescue a puppy and assist in putting the dog's legs in plaster (using her connections in the Casualty area of her hospital shamelessly) for Reilof to even acknowledge her existence. Ponder the unfairness of life.


Here Laura suffers the pangs of the damned. That's her traveling the digestive track of a demon...

What follows is a really sad chronicle of our fearless heroine making up reasons to avoid going home if there's a chance that Reilof might be there. (And I'm not kidding. It makes me feel sad.) If she does go home, no one will bother to meet her at the station or be at home and she'll feel duty bound not to make Joyce look like a heel (because she's gone off with her Dutch boyfriend and left cold soup on the stove and dismissed the daily help for the day) in front of Reilof so will say something like, "So sorry I popped home without telling anyone..." All along she has to watch the man she loves looking like "he won the pools" over her silly twit of a Gucci-scarf-stealing sister. Ponder the inscrutability of love.

And then the day comes, as Joyce predicted it would, when hard-working Laura gets the call she's been dreading. If this were written today, Laura would have received this text:


It's worse when Reilof hops on the phone and asks for congratulations and then sounds bored with her when she summons the courage to give them.

I know what you're thinking. He's awful. He's a putz. He doesn't deserve her. Well, true enough but it's hard not to feel for the guy when you know what's coming. His relationship with Joyce is...er...unsustainable. He bought her a solitaire in a modern setting and if that isn't a recipe for a failed relationship in the land of Neels then nothing is. Also, he's been pretty stand-up throughout--treating Laura with unfailing, if casual, kindness. He's a jerk but he doesn't know he's being one.
Then it all blows up. Laura comes home early (to avoid seeing Reilof with Joyce) and finds the zombie bride packing. At first, Laura assumes that they want to elope and then Joyce utters the irrevocable curse: American. (Sound of screeching tires)
Larry the American (an invective comparable to "Ivan the Terrible" or "Vlad the Impaler") is young, short, plump and wears heavy glasses (don't worry Larry, you can get that fixed in a couple more decades!) so of course she throws Reilof over for him. See, being American, you can already assume several things about him. He'll be garish and splashy and talk too much about his wealth. He'll also stoop to dirty tricks like snatching a corpse bride from the well-cared-for hands of a Dutch doctor.
Zombie Joyce leaves Laura with a letter for Reilof explaining that he was old...blah, blah, blah...old-y, old, van old-stein. What she really meant to say was:
Dear Reilof,
I am the un-dead. I walk the earth prowling for rich men, hoping to steal their souls. Larry is always talking about how rich he is and as far as I know you might only have that one good suit and an Aston Martin. Your discretion worries me. Anyway, you know what they say, better the devil you know... Regards, Joyce
In walks Reilof on the shattered Laura who hands him the note, withstands his very personal nastiness and, before anyone knows what happened, is offering him a tentative proposal. That's right, she has to sort of propose to him because (and this is genuinely difficult to read) he says, "...she wouldn't need to be pretty; anyone will do after Joyce, there couldn't be another like her...I might just as well marry you." Seriously, that's how big a hole he's digging for himself and I give her a lot of credit for not chucking the side table at him and storming off to Mexico where the Minjeer van Voorhees are thick on the ground and they know how to appreciate mousy-haired short girls.
But I digress...
At their wedding she wears a turban which I don't even know how to forgive The Great Neels for. But it's a cheerful affair even though her headgear does its level best to damper things.
They vacation at Corfe Castle near The Blue Pool which is supposed to be lovely and at which she says something about how if she ever wanted to run away from anything really dreadful that this is where she would go. This is called "The Clue". Now, I've never been to the actual Blue Pool but here's a picture. I have been to the Canadian Rockies though and if I say anything about this picture it would be damning with faint praise.
In Holland she meets Reilof's partner Jan who is slightly younger than Laura. Reilof didn't bother to tell Laura much of anything about his house or his work or his life or his finances or his taste in herbaceous boarders...She gets it. She isn't Zombie Joyce. He didn't care enough. But Jan is nice in a My-relationship-with-him-will-be-totally-misunderstood sort of way.
Still, Laura is not one to mope. Even though Reilof is totally neglecting her (she takes up petit point--need I say more?) and being cruelly nasty ("A new Fiat? For me? You must love me, Reilof!" "Think nothing of it as I should probably have gotten one for the cook and the under-gardener out of common decency.") she swallows a lot of pride and becomes a success with his family and his friends and running his home.
But when he leaves for Brussels he is a bit high-handed in telling her not to drive the new car. So, like any normal woman, she stews about it for three days and then hops in the Fiat and heads downtown. Of course he sees her driving by (where happily he finally falls in love with her--the dingus), she saves a victim of a car smash, he finds her on the side of the road slitting open a trouser leg with a pen knife and is furious. A lovely row (British word alert!) follows in which he is almost certainly in the wrong and she is almost certainly in the right. (My favorite!) They agree to start over and things settle down for a time.
But dead zombies always come back from the dead and one day when Laura is thankfully fortified with a "not-off-the-peg" denim dress, in walks Joyce--which is the biggest leap of logic Betty asks us to take. Laura is supposed to feel glad that a denim dress, circa 1977, is making her look her best.
Joyce is a tad dismayed to see that Reilof is loaded and that Laura has him. Forgive the particularly American analogy, but Joyce was like the Number 1 Contestant in the Showcase Showdown of The Price is Right, viewing the showcases (read: men) with the privilege of first refusal. True, she had gambled on the fact that she was passing on the lesser showcase in favor of the car and the 7-day trip to Europe but after Larry turned out to be merely a pudgy millionaire she wanted what Laura had. Nastiness ensues.
Reilof comes home and Joyce runs to kiss him. Laura looks away but, here I have recreated what she was unable to describe.
Waters are muddied (mostly by zombies). Reilof thinks Laura has a thing with Jan and Laura thinks that Joyce has her hooks into Reilof. In an act of desperation, Laura buys a ticket to England and leaves her husband with a letter. Bridges are burned and she runs to The Blue Pool...because he'll never find her there. When he does (almost a week later) we get one of the most lengthy and satisfying of all Neels conclusions. Implied future-tense conjugal relations are hinted at. After what we've been through, we deserve it. I like to think that they will vow never to let zombie's ever visit them again.

Rating:
Lashings of whipped cream. I haven't bestowed this signal honor on any other book thus far but this one deserved it, I felt. It isn't the happiest or most romantic of La Neels' canon but if you're in a particular frame of mind (feeling put-upon or under appreciated) this would be a lovely book to sit down with and wallow. It is a dark subject matter for Betty but it could be worse. In the hands of a Brontë sister, for instance, Laura would have been suicidal throughout and Reilof would have found her body floating lifeless in The Blue Pool at the end.
It says much for our heroine that she is handed such a lorryload of lemons and keeps churning out lemonade. That's the reason I love this. With all the reason in the world to moan and whine and weep, Laura puts her shoulder to the wheel and pushes on.
Food:
"A providential head of celery" is found when Reilof comes unexpectedly to dinner which might mark the first time in history that celery has ever been referred to as providential, cheese souffle, sole au gratin and macaroons.

Fashion:

Joyce snatches Laura's Gucci scarf, the wedding outfit is a clotted cream crepe suit with a turban(!!!boo!), Charles Jourdan sandals, she wears a pearl-grey chiffon with a high bodice and a low neckline to meet her sister at a restaurant (that's what I call fortifying), she wears a blue shirtwaister to run away from Reilof.

24 comments:

  1. Yeah, yeah, yeah! I'm back just in time for Nasty Reilof! I'll hurry and re-read it (somehow between unexpected family invaders oops guests and summer chaos).

    The Van der Hertenzoons have been out-of-town for weeks on end only to find the internet down for our otherwise charming village since early June! We have been out-of-town or hosting people since early May and then NO INTERNET! AAAHHH! I'm SOOO far behind I'll never catch up--I missed all the Bettys so much.

    The village internet is still spotty, but I'll be rid of housepests/guests in a few days (how ungracious of me--y'all Bettys are still always welcome). Can you tell I'm giddy to be back (if somewhat off-and-on)? Too bad Betty Keira is not available for a few rounds on Nasty Reilof!

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  2. Betty van den BetsyAugust 1, 2011 at 7:44 PM

    I understand that substantial Suspension of Disbelief is a necessity for a happy visit in Neelsland, but I find it much easier with amazing coincidence ("Gracious, the handsome stranger with whom I rescued an old man, urchin and lame dog in a Cotswolds village last week just happens to be visiting my London hospital from his home in the Netherlands -- and he specializes in whatever I do!") than with outright stupidity ("Despite my impressive degrees and wonderful family role models of happy marriage, I think I'll propose to a nasty, bone-idle, vapid twit who hates my servants, furniture, family, pets and profession."). Either he's a hero, or he's an idiot; it's a bit much to ask me to believe he's both.

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  3. Oh goody! The controversy returns. Sadly, I STILL have not read this book because I haven't got a copy and can't decide whether to lay out the big bucks for it. Depends on who I'm channeling. :-) Welcome back, Betty JoDee. I missed you, too!

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  4. Welcome back Betty JoDee! We missed you too. So glad you're back in time for this one.
    I'm almost done reading it. Would have been tonight, but Streetcar named Desire was on Robert Osborne and I've never watched it. So now I have.

    Was anyone else (probably all the Americans) lost with the reference to brown bread and the dog's name, Hovis? Now that I've googled it, I get it.

    Well, Betty van den Betsy, why can't he be both. Don't you know those wonderfully nice guys that fall for the most awful harridans. I can name 3 I know personally off the top of my head. I just want to knock the guys in the head and say "What can she possibly do that makes living with this shrew worthwhile?" Unfortunately for these guys, their zombie brides never found their Larrys. But they seem to survive and almost need the protection these women provide.
    I'm always impressed on how wise Betty was about people and relationships. She saved Reilof, but in real life, guys often marry the nasty Joyces, and stay with them.

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  5. I've enjoyed reading the discussion thread from last year. I belong in the "love it" camp, not because I adore Laura (because I don't) but mainly because this book evokes so many strong emotions and contains characters we love to hate or, at least, have little sympathy for: the (goody-two-shoes) Good, the (blonde-haired, blue-eyed) Bad, the (American) Ugly, and the (should've-gotten-his-just-deserts) Clueless. Let's talk about Laura. Yes, I agree she's annoyingly doormaty and martyrly when it comes to Joyce. But with Reilof, she's plucky and passive-aggressive. She vowed that he would eat his words (I loved that illustration of Reilof eating his words!) She rebels against his order not to drive her blue Fiat (which she wanted to pick up and fling at him when she discovered it wasn't really a gift of love). One of my favorite fight scenes in Neelsdom occurs in this book. Loosely quoting: "Talking about the pot calling the kettle black! If I had a pot, I'd throw it at you this minute!" I give it boeuf en croute.

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  6. Betty Mary and Betty van den Betsy, I think both your points of view can be congruent. He starts out being an idiot and then falls in love with the good girl, thus becoming a hero.

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  7. Betty AnHK
    Mixed feelings about this book, but thoroughly enjoyed the second half when Laura got gumption and gave Reilof well-deserved payback. Just wish he made him pay with 4 months of searching, about the same time as his courtship of the sisterblister.
    Betty van Betsy - yes, agree
    Betty Cyndi - Probably have missed this discussion post, and I realise books are special and to be treasured, but obviously you can download any book of Betty as most file share programs have them up all over the net. (betty's online united) But perhaps true betty's prefer to read actual print, to honour Betty Neels and, er, the support of the book industry...
    Alternatively if any one is really desperate I could just email them a pdf or word doc of any book, I was totally giddy to get them so easily online. Best thing ever for a e-reader, to take on a holiday.

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  8. The first time I read this book I cringed on nearley every single page on laura's behalf!

    But after...yeah about 10 years between reads I actually enjoed it. Laura gets what she wants most! something she went all guns out to get! Reilofs love. Yes he is a complete fool but he suffers for that in the end.

    Laura didnt just run away - she left her husband and that must have taken alot!

    I thought the ending was awesome (dont think scottish people can pull of saying awesome!). I now love it. But....I will have to be in a certain type of mood to read it!

    Caroline

    p.s. - not getting the brown bread hovis refrence lol!

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  9. Betty AnHK - Unfortunately, if you're reading a digital copy of The Hasty Marriage, you're reading a pirated copy of The Hasty Marriage. Harlequin is doing a good job of releasing her books, but there are still only 40 or so that are available as ebooks, and The Hasty Marriage isn't among them.

    Now, everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion about downloading pirated material, but you speculate on whether "true bettys" prefer to read the books in print. I actually intend to own them all in print and in ebook, but I won't just download in violation of Betty Neels' estate's copyright.

    Betty Lulu: I love your comment "He starts out being an idiot and then falls in love with the good girl, thus becoming a hero," because it raises the fascinating question of whether the quality of a Neels hero can be learned or adopted. I don't like Reilof because he's not even being a good Neels hero when he falls, rather shallowly, for Joyce (which is "one of those names" rather the way Larry is). I have more sympathy for those Neels heroes who fall for the superficial appeal of a woman who then cheats, leaves & dies (or goes to South America - same diff.) and has years to distrust women. Reilof seems not to care about women one way or the other. I still think Laura could have done better.

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  10. Betty Barbara here--
    Aha!! I knew this post would bring Betty JoDee out of hiding(*g*). Glad to hear from you!!
    I re-read this for this outing and found it, once again, full of angsty goodness. Reilof is a rat, but he's the rat that Laura wants and she goes after him and gets him.
    However, I did notice this time around, that Reilof seemed to be stuck in a rut. He fell for his first wife because she was young, pretty and flighty. Marriage was failing when Wife#1 developed leukemia(which no one told her about!!! typical Neels)--but he indulges her last months by taking her dancing etc etc etc!!
    So who does he fall for(multiple years later) but clone of Wife#1!!! The man learned NOTHING in those approx 15 years. NOTHING!!!
    Now Betty Magdalen may feel cheated that Reilof did not have to drive through a raging blizzard(and hitch a ride on a snow plow) to track down Laura, but I am happy with the level of effort he had to put out to track her down.
    This one is on my keeper shelf.

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  11. Betty Barbara --

    It's not the degree of effort that Hugo puts in that earns my respect (although he *is* absolutely exhausted when he gets to the croft -- points for determination and desperation) it's that he wins the award (if I'm the only one voting) for most devoted Neels hero ever. He has earned his happy ending (and implied conjugal relations) six ways to Sunday.

    Reilof, not so much.

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  12. ...and I just want to know who that other woman is on the cover... JOYCE???

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  13. Betty Illana, the ghost on the cover is the least of the book's problems....(You do think it is the ghost of the first wife, don't ya?--'cause I would certainly come back to haunt Nasty Reilof if I had had to put up with him in a marriage!)

    Plus, my second reading last night (under the sheets with a booklight--I kid you not--unexpected extended stay guests meant three children in the room with me--but not Prof. van der Hertenzoon who is desperate enough to escape the chaos by tenting in the scout woods with The Spare this week) yielded even more reasons to deem Nasty Reilof as Unworthy of Neelsdom.

    When I can shake free of laundry and dishes I'll start enumerating.

    (Hey, anyone notice that we don't have to type in weird words anymore? And, what happened to Grandmother Nurse Hellen?)

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  14. Dear Betty JoDee,
    I streamlined the process a bit by taking out the funky security words...so far we haven't been hit by spam comments, so I think I'll leave it.

    As far as Grandma Hellen - you're the first to notice her gone(it's been at least a couple of months).

    You probably deserve a reward for your keen observational skills...but it sounds like you've got all the reward you can handle!

    Love and lardy cakes,
    Betty Debbie

    p.s. I too am suffering from a surfiet of guests right now - 10 extra people in my modest size home. In the words of Fredric(Pirates of Penzance): Individually, I love you all with affection unspeakable; but, collectively, I look upon you with a disgust that amounts to absolute detestation.

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  15. Betty Debbie -- I admit, I had missed that I wasn't seeing Betty Hellen regularly. Bring her back, please? She's our guiding spirit -- and I'm sure she's chatting with The Great Betty in a celestial hospital canteen somewhere!

    What I really really really miss is the Recent Comments widget, which is there but empty. Please fill it back up? I rely on it to tell me where people have been chatting about older posts.

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  16. Betty Barbara here--
    With another vote for bringing back the "Recent Comments". How are we to know who talking about what?
    Pretty Please with Lardy Cakes

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  17. I just thought my lousy internet connection was responsible for the absence of "Recent Comments." Plus, I'm not sure that we will behave ourselves without Grandmother Nurse Hellen keeping an eye on us.

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  18. Betty Barbara here--

    Yay!!!(picture Kermit waving his arms). The Recent Comments are back! Grandmother Betty Hellen is back!! All is well at TUJD.
    Thank you, Betty Debbie.

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  19. I always considered The Hasty Marriage as one of Betty's first "reversal" stories -- in this one, the roles are reversed. She falls in love with him at first sight, and he's the one who falls for the obviously unsuitable person.

    A lot of the situations as well as comments and behavior from Reilof sound suspiciously like many of other Neels' novels where it's the heroine who falls for the obnoxious jerk and it's the hero who falls in love at first sight. Similar stories as many BN novels are, only the characters are flipped around. I assume this was deliberate on the part of the Venerable Betty.

    There's some other stories with "reversal" aspects, although the only one I can think of now is the one where the heroine is half Dutch and can speak and write fluently in Dutch, whereas the hero (an Englishman, probably Sir Someone) may or may not even be able to cobble together a few words in Dutch. Not exactly in the same category as The Hasty Marriage, but the roles are reversed somewhat as compared to most BN novels.

    -Betty Sue

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    Replies
    1. Betty Sue, the half-Dutch heroine is Florina of A Gentle Awakening (one of my favorites). You've inspired me to toddle off and re-read The Hasty Marriage. Hence you are to blame for that second-hand armchair never getting tacked back together, which was supposed to be this afternoon's project. Humph.

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    2. Oh, Betty van den Betsy, tacking an armchair back together, that sounds like a Betty Heroine Project.

      How about a new Betty by the Numbers? "Reversed roles", where she knows first that she loves him, as opposed to the stories where he knows first that she's the one for him.

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    3. Yes, Florina is who I was thinking of, thanks. She even has a Dutch (or at least to me, Dutch-sounding ??) name too -- another reversal.

      You know, an electric nail gun will whip that fabric back on to the chair toot sweet, and then you can test it out by settling into it and re-reading The Hasty Marriage or one of the other 134 tales...

      -Betty Sue

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  20. Replies
    1. Another case of SPAM ON THE BLOG!
      from
      Holbrook House
      Wincanton, Somerset
      England, BA9 8BS

      Holbrook House is 2 hours from Central London,
      1 hour from Bristol and 1 hour from Bournemouth.

      This is funny! Because they chose the wrong novel! Betty mentioned Holbrook House in When May Follows

      But before she could think about it he said in an ordinary voice: 'I wondered if we might dine out this evening—all of us; Ruth's fiancé and J ane's current boy-friend and your mother, naturally.'
      'That would be fun. Where?'
      'Sir Benjamin told me of a good place at Wincanton—Holbrook House.' 'Oh, lovely! We've been there once or twice—birthdays and that sort of thing.'

      Delete