Monday, October 24, 2011

Tulips for Augusta - Reprise

As a child, I was nicknamed "Chubby Checkers" - Betty Marcy was "Boney Maroney".  I know, I know, that totally dates us as ancient, but the point is, I completely identify with Augusta and the pain of being called "Roly". I really enjoy this book - except for the bit about Constantijn not explaining about Cold Sore Susan.  That bit really bugs me, but not enough to put me off the rest of the fun.  
-Betty Debbie 
Tulips For Augusta. Boy did I love this one. Sometimes when you hit the used book store and pick up three or four Neels that you've never read before (as used to happen to me *tears*), you have a tendency to whip through them pretty quickly, lost in a Betty fog. Both Betty Debbie and I are finding that even with taking copious notes and a going at a plodding pace, these Neels books are holding their own and some of them (Tulips For Augusta, Grasp a Nettle, I'm looking at you...) are better (way better) then remembered.

Augusta Brown, 23, Staff Nurse at St. Jude's is in a bit of a snit. She's been summarily ordered to tend the patients of the private wing. Her steady date, Archie Dukes, won't get to see her as often (which is for the best as those with names like 'Archie Dukes' are, like Communism and Fascism, doomed to litter the ash heaps of history). And she'll have to consort with Private Patients--those who The Venerable Betty must have had only the scantiest affection for. These include, like the cast of a mystery who-done-it:
  • Spoiled child and ineffectual mother. "Stop crying Marlene."
  • An old man with a young wife--too young, sister observed darkly
  • A film starlet Dawn Dewey (or is she Miss Scarlet?)--discontented and a little vapid
  • a chronic alcoholic with a pretty, weak face and a gushing manner--we'll call her Mrs. Peacock
  • The Brigadier (Colonel Mustard)--he and his leg will part ways in the morning. This reminds me of Benedict Arnold. In serving in the American Revolution, Arnold injures his leg but goes on to fight for 'the dastardly Tories'. Arnold's question, "What will the Americans do with me if they catch me?" A plucky officer replied, "They will cut off the leg which was wounded when you were fighting so gloriously for the cause of liberty, and bury it with the honors of war, and hang the rest of your body on a gibbet." Which story I find ghoulishly delightful.
  • Lady Belway--fractured femur, lace nightcap and a marabou (!) cape
Mr. Boddy has been found whacked over the head with a wrench in the sluice room and fingers are pointing everywhere.
No, of course, I jest. La Neels only kills off inoffensive parents in order to cast our heroines adrift.
Lady Belway has the most interesting visitors. A tall man (a giant really) with straw hair and Miss Susan Belsize (a character like a cold sore--disfiguring but ultimately treatable. Also, she spends a lot of time in Paris--that's how you know she's rotten) who dazzles the work-a-day nurses with her up-to-the-minute fashion. Augusta just wants to pop in and grab the chart when the blonde giant's eye is caught by her carroty hair. Yes, he calls it carroty but you forgive him because it's as plain as the tip-tilted nose on your face that he's just lost his heart to a certain Staff Nurse.
Is he chatting her up is he merely curious? Augusta is puzzled and annoyed but not so off her head that she isn't glad to be wearing her new elegant slingbacks as she passes him in the forecourt. This somehow compensated for the fact that he drove a Rolls-Royce.
On a particularly hairy day she receives tulips from The Man. He catches her on the stair and says, "You make me feel so welcome. There's an old song; something about a lady sweet and...kind." The Venerable Betty expects us to be geniuses, I expect, and know to what he was referring. I offer the rest of the song which is from Thomas Ford's Music of Sundry Kinds:

There is a lady sweet and kind,
Was never a face so pleased my mind;
I did but see her passing by,
And yet, I'll love her till I die.

Her gesture, motion, and her smiles,
Her wit, her voice my heart beguiles,
Beguiles my heart, I know not why,
And yet, I'll love her till I die.

Cupid is winged and he doth range,
Her country, so, my love doth change;
But change she earth, or change she sky,
Yet, I will love her till I die.

Well that just about sums up The Man's feelings about his dear Miss Brown. You love him too, right?
Before you can say boo to a goose, Augusta is off to Holland for her holiday with two great-aunts. She's a quarter Dutch and speaks a fluent if verb-mangled tongue. While there she meets your standard-issue Dutch fink/fashion photographer Piet who tells her that she's too short for a midi-length dress. Okay, that's it, buster. Gloves are off. The Union Jack didn't come to fly over half the known world by taking petty jabs from fishy Dutchmen lying down.
"How dare you tell me what to wear and--and criticize my legs? Keep your shallow-brained remarks for the bird-witted creatures you purport to photograph."
"Perhaps you don't know that I have a very good knowledge of English?" he queried stiffly.
"Why I counted on that."
I fully expected Dutch fink to show up later for retribution. Neels baddies have such a way of repeating on one. But evidently Augusta planted him a facer that kept him belly down on the canvas--consorting with snakes and other low-bellied vermin in his natural milieu. Hm. I pity the fool.
One of the aunts has an angina attack in the middle of the night and Augusta rushes to call the doctor. Hey, but what about The Man? If a doctor shows up he'll be bound to steal Augusta's heart and upset the balance of the Force! The Karmic wheel solves that knotty problem by making The Doctor and The Man one and the same (Remarkable Fate!). Showing no surprise that it is Augusta who answers the door, Doctor Constantijn van Lindemann (33 and with a brother named Huib--please get me a Dutch pronunciation guide for this name! I'm reading it 'Heeb'.) calmly tells her that he recognized her the moment he heard her. I should know your voice anywhere... Hot Dutch Doctor to Fuddled Brit Girl translation:
Darling, the solicitors have been notified and will be bringing the marriage settlement papers over in the morning.
The rest of Holland is just awesome--chock-a-block with his endearments to her. (And one of the best kisses ever.) But she is still wary of him. See, her brother and family still call her Roly (Brit for 'tubby') and then there's the Chanel No5 malodorousness of Susan Belsize. What does she mean to him? Why won't he discuss it? Has he got a homeless graveyard in the backyard?
So she hangs onto a shred of her dignity and doesn't tell him where she lives. Well, she does say something like, "In the shadow of the everlasting hills, by the banks of a mighty river..."
Back in England she goes back to work but manages to get a weekend off. Remember, her last vacation was a barrel of laughs--what with the angina and the sleeplessness and the Dutch fink. This one's got a quarry accident! Little Timmy, whose mother lets her six children (I expect a comment Betty Debbie) roam the countryside at will, has fallen into the abandoned quarry and Augusta slides down the shingles to the rescue, rips her petticoats (so much more romantic than cotton slacks and top) and shouts for rescue.
What to her wondering eyes does appear...? Constantijn! How did he come to be there?
"I wrote asking [the doctor] if he knew of a vet by the name of Brown who lived on the Somerset-Dorset border and owned a donkey named Bottom."
And if you're not in love with him yet you're past praying for. But then it gets even better than that! He follows her the next day to a jumble sale. Again, too many wonderful details to pick just one. But if I had to narrow it down (skipping, most regretfully, the spot of snogging in the vicarage kitchen) I'll mention the truly hideous-sounding fairings that he must have tracked down and bought (from the cold, dead hands of just the kind of parsimonious elderlies to frequent jumbles and buy ugly fairings) just because she'd off-handedly said she wanted them.
So we've got the second proof in as many days that he's paying scrupulous attention to everything she says (first the description of her home and then the knick-knacks). And now, the minor irritation of Susan Belsize erupts like a cold sore on a wedding day. Augusta is in love with Constantijn and someone--anyone--needs to explain the bubble-head taking up all the air in his life. But no one does.
Actually, that's not quite true. In a fit of misguided candor, Constantijn admits that she is his ward and that he had thought of marrying Susan about a year ago but it came to nothing...
Editorial Note: Girlfriend is pretty firm about needing to know about Cold Sore Susan but keeps getting headed off or, worse, snubbed. Of all the things to let fall about the highly decorative darling while you're wooing a once tubby sensible type this is not it.
But he not-quite saves things by calling her Roly and carroty and saying, "You know that I've fallen more than a little in love with you."--which phrase, no matter how nice, reminds me of Rocky Balboa proposing to Adrian (I was wondering if you wouldn't mind marryin' me.)
A hospital emergency disrupts her off-duty and when Constantijn collects her for tea the warden says, "He's yer young man, cos he said so." Now that's more like it.
She asks him again more particularly about Susan (which should clue him in to Susan's importance in Augusta's mind) and is told that he doesn't want to talk about it. (Well, make time, Buddy.) She tells him that she loves him (on a hammock--so put that cozy picture in your delighted brain) and is invited to Cold Sore Susan's 21st birthday party.
On the way back to London from a weekend at home, Constantijn proposes but she's trying desperately not to be disappointed at it's anti-climactic air. He did it in a half-filled restaurant! He didn't say he loved her! What does it all mean?
The pieces seem to fall into place with a sick little thud as she overhears an hysterical Susan tell Constantijn that she's in love too and hears Constantijn reply that he won't see 'this other girl' get hurt in any way.
That's the answer. It makes perfect sense. Roly (she has to think of herself as an unattractive alternative to Susan now) was just a diversion and Constantijn will feel duty-bound to marry her if she doesn't break it off. In a rage, Augusta fibs (poorly) about off-duty and free weekends. She must have time to think.
Constantijn is finally confronted with Augusta. Tears, heartache, recrimination! But he hardly says a word--just lets her get back into the car and drive off. It is up to Lady Belway and Mrs. Brown to sort out Augusta:
Cold Sore Susan was really Homewrecker Susan who wanted to steal Constantijn's best friend away from his sweet wife. Constantijn prevented it--but if a man can be captivated by a girl who might regularly don a white midi with a tapestry belt and T-strap lizard shoes (and handbag) then I give the marriage five years...tops.
Back Augusta goes to apologize and be kissed. A marriage is in the offing.

Rating: So totally a lashings of whipped cream that I don't know where to start. With the heroes' unabashed pursuit of his Darling Miss Brown? With The Venerable Neels particularly descriptive and delightful prose? With the quarry, torn clothing episode? With the nickname Roly?! I couldn't put a fifth of all the wonderfulness herein contained. Constantijn, unlike your more run-of-the-mill Neels hero, has zero problem letting everyone know that Miss Brown is the gal for him. The only part I don't care for is the very very end--I thought Augusta was justified in being in a rage and Constantijn has to let her sort it out herself? No helping? Thumbs down. But, then, if that was absolutely perfect then this novel would have earned itself right off the chart and we can't have that. Also, for reasons I can't figure out, I hate the name Augusta Brown. (Both fine without the other but together bug me.)
Food: Alkmaarse Jongens (a Dutch buscuit), Marquise Montmorency (a pudding that doesn't really float my boat), Mirabeau steak, lemon custard (and so help me you must try this, Betty Debbie sometime when I'm around) and a dry martini (since when does The Betty have heroines drink martinis?).

Fashion: Augusta's slacks (torn) and cotton shirt (also torn), a mid-length yellow lawn dress with long ballooning sleeves (that she wears for his proposal), a Terlenka pantsuit with a white tunic top, a blue and aubergine organza evening dress (that she wears to Susan's 21st).


  1. I was re-reading my prose and stumbled across an inappropriately apostrophe-ed 'its'. Let me put your fevered minds to rest, Sister Bettys. I know that in the possessive case the apostrophe is persona non grata...

  2. Huib
    h - as in English
    ui - similar to eui in French feuille, but with your mouth openend a little wider

    b - like p (but without aspiration)

    Found a lovely example for the ui-sound for you in the word "ruit".
    Click on the blue button to hear the pronunciation.
    Hope this will help. Oh, right, meant to mention this. Huib also does sound similar to a very, very British pronunciation of the word "hope".(Mr. Darcy / Mark Darcy (Bridget Jones)alias Colin Firth comes to mind.)

    And I will definitely reread Tulips for Augusta!
    Betty Anonymous

  3. Ooh, I hope this is the same Betty Anonymous that commented over at Promantica, because she helped me clarify something I'd written yonks ago (Brit speak for a long time) without being very clear.

    I'd written that The Great Betty wasn't big on nicknames, and Betty Anonymous very sensibly pointed out that Euphemia is called Phemie, etc. And Betty Anonymous is absolutely right.

    What I'd been thinking of is how The Great Betty, in writing Euphemia's story, always refers to her as Euphemia. In other words, virtually the entire book is in Euphemia's POV and as such she's always "Euphemia." Others may call her Phemie, but the narrative never does.

    I did a quick check of other books in the Canon, and Fate Takes a Hand is illustrative because Eulalia is universally called "Lally" or "Miss Lally" but the book is *about* Eulalia. And there's a name crying out for a nickname! (By contrast -- and perhaps there's some class distinction here -- the long-suffering family retainer is Trottie, presumably from Miss Trott, but she's never called anything but Trottie.)

    Thank you, Betty Anonymous -- that was VERY helpful.

    I can definitely sympathize with "Roly" - my brothers called me "Queen Chub" and "Ten-Ton-Twinkletoes" when I was a baby. And people wonder why I'm neurotic...

  4. Ermentrude (Mistletoe Kiss--one of my favorites) was more often referred to as Emmy by others.

    Betty Anonymous, the Dutch "ui" always reminds me of the way eastern Canadians pronounce their "ou," as in "house" and "out." Not quite as exaggerated as the Dutch, but once you start listening for it, it's pretty glaring.

  5. I agree with Betty Debbie about Constantijn not dispelling the mystery surrounding Susan. His excuse was pretty flimsy. "I had no right to involve you--I hadn't even asked you to marry me yet."

  6. Nothing to add to the pronunciation or the derivative names for this book and others, but this review is really interesting after reading the last comments in the older review.

    Whatever the protagonist's intention or intent, I think the perspective of the heroine and the reader is greatly confused by his usual on-going ambivalent reaction and behaviour. Quite of a few of the hero's actions seem to occur because because of fate, which is in direct comparison to his overt calculation while dangling/dating the other woman in his life especially in front of the heroine.
    Tulips was a bit confusing, he enticed her with flowers but than left it to fate to bring her over to The Netherlands. Finally he confused love with offhand compliments, while making comparisons to the other woman, way to make a girl feel cherished!
    Bett AnHK

  7. Betty Lulu,
    now you mention it...
    -the way eastern Canadians pronounce their "ou," as in "house" and "out."-
    I had some Scots living next door for a while...
    Betty Anonymous

  8. So, does the brother's name kinda sound like Hugh with a p on the end?

  9. No, Betty Mary, it does not sound like Hugh. It sounds similar to the word "hope". Listen for it in this video I found just for you on youtube.
    You only have to watch and listen for 1 minute and you'll hear the name Huib enunciated 4 times!
    I've added the times in brackets.
    Welkom bij in gesprek met
    en vandaag is mijn gast (0:32)Huib van Olden de wethouder van onder anderen sociale zaken en sport.Welkom ,eh, (0:37)Huib..., (0:55)Huib, vertel ons iets over de historie van - van (0:58)Huib zelf
    And if you listen for just another 15 seconds you will hear Huib mention Den Haag, where he was born and several of our heroines went, Castricum, where he moved at the age of 18 months and where one of our heroines found a baby in a shopping bag in the dunes during a storm(Megan, The Quiet Professor), and Alkmaar, where quite a few of our heroines went(cheese market, witch's scale???I don't quite remember).
    I hope this video is available where you live.
    Betty Anonymous

  10. Thanks Betty Anon. Great instructions on when to listen for the name! I watched the video and it's totally weird thinking this is how the RDD's sound when not talking to the Arami-livia's.
    So, now I'm saying it HEE-OOOp. Saying it fast and just barely closing my mouth on the p and absolutely no lip touching PA!
    Personally it sounds nothing like hope to me, but I speak good old mid-western, plain vanilla unAccented American English. HOE-Pa.

  11. Oops!Found a couple of spelling mistakes in my comment, it should be "vertel eens" and "witches' scales". Correct me if I've got it wrong again.
    I had finished writing my comment and then before posting it I wanted to look at something else on the page and then one little mouse click later...All gone.
    Last night I looked at one of my favourite webcams, Oxford Street, London, England, three different views, and you see lots and lots of the famous red double-decker buses, and most importantly, to the left, Marks&Spencer, the Marble Arch store, where some of heroines went shopping. The gorgeous building with all those lovely columns is Selfridges, another large department store that must have been mentioned somewhere in Neeldom, it has "the world’s largest shoe department".Anyway, last night they were testing the Christmas lights in front of Selfridges. Lovely.The lights will be switched on from 5 pm 1st Nov 2011.
    Betty Anonymous

  12. Magdalen,
    Yes, it is I.
    And I get your point.
    In "The Promise of Happiness" Becky is always called Becky. In the beginning she says everone calls her Becky. Only her wicked step-mother and the unspeakable Basil call her Rebecca. So it makes sense that la Neels calls her Becky throughout the story because that is how Becky thinks of herself. Right?
    As for Trixie...A Rose by any other name...
    She is nice, whatever her name.
    Betty Anonymous

  13. Ah, Betty Anonymous, you raise a very thorny set of questions that touch on nuances of how writers write. There are tons of variations. I think that The Great Betty had brought to her writing both her own self-image as a young, working nurse, and her experiences with her daughter, Charlotte.

    There's formality, to be sure, but there's also a protective quality. Eulalia is Eulalia throughout the narrative of Fate Takes a Hand not because she thought of herself as Eulalia as much as The Great Betty thought of her as Eulalia - old fashioned, unusual, a bit buttoned-up perhaps. She *could* have been "Lally" from the beginning, and that's probably how she sees herself, but not how The Great Betty sees her.

    Incidentally, the hero is Mr.van Linssen for a very, very long time. Perhaps it's for the best - when they finally get to his first name it's Fenno.

  14. Magdalen,
    Thank you for the explanation. Perhaps, somebody should write the Great Betty's story. Or, a novel based on her life. The parts of it that I read about sound like straight out of a black and white movie.
    Betty Anonymous

  15. Betty van den BetsyOctober 31, 2011 at 11:21 AM

    I wanted to write, "What is a fairing???" but of course as soon as I type the second question mark I know the answer is, "look it up." So I did. For anyone else for whom this was the second-most perplexing element of this book (the first being why he doesn't just say, "She's my ward, and I have no romantic interest in her as she's too young, too irritating, and interested in someone else."), fairings are "mall porcelain ornaments, often incorporating figures, ranging from about three inches (7.5 cm) to about five inches (12.5 cm) in height, and depict a variety of scenes, humorous, political or domestic. The ornament almost always incorporates a base and many fairings have a caption describing the scene or making some point inscribed on that base. Although the majority of fairings are simply decorative, they were occasionally made in the form of pinboxes, matchstrikers or holders for watches or small mirrors. Some fairings were made in pairs, for example, "Grandpapa - Grandma", two separate statuettes of a small boy and girl, each dressed in adults' clothing.

    China fairings are so named because they were given away as prizes at fairs in the Victorian era, in much the same way that we would win a coconut at a fair today, although some were manufactured simply for sale. They first started appearing in the middle of the nineteenth century and remained popular until the start of the First World War.

    Genuine fairings are now keenly sought by serious collectors. In the United Kingdom they can range in price from a few pounds for the more common ones (such as "Last in bed to put out the light") to several hundred pounds for the rarer ones, the most keenly sought being the five fairings the Vienna series (uncaptioned, but characterised by a gold band around the base). As with any antique, the value of a fairing depends on its condition - they are particularly delicate and damage of any sort can seriously reduce their value - and, in the case of fairings that are paired, whether they are offered singly or with their partners.

    Most fairings were manufactured in Germany by Conta and Boehme. This company developed a mass production method that no other company could match, thereby achieving an advantage over other firms."

  16. Betty van den BetsyOctober 31, 2011 at 11:26 AM

    That's per Wikipedia, of course, and gives rise to the question, "Who is the 'we' in 'they were given away as prizes at fairs in the Victorian era, in much the same way that we would win a coconut at a fair today'? The fairs of New England offer plastic or plush-like toys with a slightly off odor.

  17. I dimly recalled a character in some British book I read talk about taking a "shy at a coconut". Therefore, hey! presto, I Googled the phrase and found:

    Sounds like an Anglicism. Interesting -- in the U.S., gentlemen perform (or attempt to) feats at fair booths to win stuffed animals for their fair ladies (put not intended). I wonder how the coconuts go over? :)

    1. Excellent, Betty Janet AOh! Did some Dosenwerfen as a kid. Plastic toys or plushy stuff - no coconuts.