Monday, November 14, 2011

The Promise of Happiness - Reprise

I adore The Promise of Happiness.  It's the kind of book I like to curl up with on a rainy day (plenty of those to be had around here lately)...well wrapped up in a fuzzy blanket.  It might have something to do with the opening ambiance...
There's something about the name Becky.  The Founding Bettys have two sisters (yes, two - we've talked about it before) named Becky, I have a sister-in-law called Becci and a daughter-in-law Rebekah.
Baroness Becky shows up again in Caroline's Waterloo...(one of my top one or two...maybe three... Neels).  It's fitting that we get to see that Becky's promise (of happiness) was fulfilled.  The circle is complete.  
Enjoy!
- Betty Debbie

"Oh, I'll do The Promise of Happiness," I said to Betty Debbie, my head cocked to the right, holding the phone between my ear and my shoulder. My brow puckered. The Promise of Happiness...which one was that? The fabulous one, that's what.

Becky (only-my-evil-relations-call-me-Rebecca) Saunders is nothing less than the bravest woman in Neelsdom. The. Bravest. At first glance she's nothing much to look at. Her elderly raincoat and scarf are sopping wet, she's carrying a mangy looking cat in a plastic sack (recycling!), Bertie the dog is trotting alongside with a lead. She's been walking briskly along this desolate stretch of road for miles in the dim light of a summer morning and she's thin--almost emaciated, really. She's got no home, no family, two pets, just the clothes she's standing up in, a comb and 30 Pounds and sixty pence, scrimped into a tiny nest egg for two years. Due to her lack of food, I loathe saying this, has probably got salt-cellars for bosoms.
But she's out there in a horrible rainstorm because it's the right thing to do. In short, she's Amelia, freaking, Earhart.
Up whispers a silver-grey Rolls Royce Corniche. The very handsome man who climbs out of the car says good morning and proceeds to introduce himself, "My name's Raukema van den Eck--Tiele Raukema van den Eck." (Are you sure it's not Bond, James Bond?) It's Baron Tiele Raukema van den Eck, in point of fact.
I've seen this one before. Honey, when Richard Gere slows down to offer roadside lifts, don't demur about ruining his seats with your pets. Just hop in and you'll be at the Beverly Wiltshire in no time. But, whatever you do, don't kiss him. Kissing just anybody makes you trampy.
Tiele takes her into Newcastle where he offers her breakfast. She's explained by this time that she's a nurse but that she's been forced to keep house for her step-brother Basil (no relation to the herb), and her step-mother.
Editorial Comment: My own step-mother is much beloved which is why I know she has a given name. Becky evidently didn't get to the exchanging-of-Christian-names part of their relationship which is why she is only ever referred to as step-mother.
Basil was going to kill the pets the next day (because his sociopathic rage is more of a low-simmer variety) so Becky, who'd been stuck there for years, ups and offs--in the rain, with the pets, with 30 Pounds and sixty pence.
Tiele feels a bit of a heel letting her go out in the rain again but she is free and over 21...
Out in the lobby Becky comes to the aid of an old woman in a wheel chair. Her quick thinking and kindness are appreciated and after she leaves the hotel is chased down by Tiele once more.
Hey, that was my mother you helped...She just fired her nurse...How would you treat ulcerative protocolitis?...No she doesn't have it...I'm quizzing you...Oh, yes, I am a doctor--Why else would I be so hot?...Why don't you give up this dream of homelessness and penury and further starvation to go on a fabulous cruise?!...Your pets can come to Holland with me.
And that's that. She's hired, is given an hour and a stipend to buy some plain uniforms and undies (!--Will someone explain The Great Neels' fascination with knickers?), and finds herself in fabulous luxury with a congenial patient, lovingly folding her silk undies (!).
I am mildly surprised that the Baron would hand over his frail invalid mother to someone who may or may not smother her in her sleep. Becky could be a congenital liar with handy props for all he knows. Happily she is not.
The Baroness has a fractured tib and fib that has taken some time to knit. Betty Debbie is practically an expert on wheel chairs and cruise ships and bones that take a long time to knit so I expect a robust discussion thread on these topics.
The cruise. We get to hear about Becky making "a sincere effort not to be thin anymore" (oh I just love her), extravagant shore trips, and, best of all, occasional calls from the Baron--whose rapport with Becky is mildly condescending but she gives as good as she gets. The Baroness is happy to feign sleep just to listen in on the conversations. She will be a delightful mother-in-law and probably volunteer to take their children for afternoons and send them back sugared-up just because she can.
Trondheim, Norway. The Baron shows up unexpectedly one morning with a pretty blonde named Tialda. Oh it's just his sister. Whew. Keeping with Raukema van den Eck family tradition, she makes personal remarks, "You said she was plain...a half-starved mouse." Maybe Tialda had also been told that Becky was a deaf-mute as well.
Becky flashes back after enduring the burning light of the Baron's microscope for some uncomfortable moments, "If you have finished discussing me, I'll tell the Baroness that you're here. Such manners!"
It is then that Tialda has her Dawning Realization. Here is the girl who will lay her brother low at last. A fat lot of good a sister's recognition of budding true love is...
Unfortunately, Trondheim also contains an episode wherein our hero (whom I promise we will learn to love as Becky does) tells his mother (Becky overhears!) that thin mice are not his cup of tea. I was so mad I almost didn't forgive him when he says he wants to see more of The Obvious Brunette who replaces Becky for her short holiday in Molde.
In Molde, the Baron is surprised to learn that Becky swims really well (yay! Take that you supercilious tea drinker!) and she is sad to think that all he sees is "a dowdy girl who wore cheap clothes and didn't know how to make the best of herself--and she wasn't really like that...it was difficult to splash out...and he was so secure himself that he would never have known the insecurity that not having money brought with it." Which puts me in mind of those stories you hear about people who lived through the Great Depression--hoarding every sliver of soap and burying money in Mason jars in the backyard.
Tialda comments to her brother that Becky will make someone a splendid wife and the Baron frowns. The thin end of the wedge...
Back in Holland, the Baron walks his mother, sister and Nurse Becky into his house to find a stunning blonde with an fashionably untidy mop of hair. All is forgotten (mother, Becky, dinner, Bertie and Pooch) while Nina van Doorn is entertained. The Baron will live to regret his thoughtlessness for decades to come, I am sure.
He finds Becky a job and a tiny attic flat. Forgive me for skipping great swaths of fabulousness but there's too much of it. All you need to know is that he begins to see that the Insidious van Doorn takes a lotta maintenance to stay fashionably untidy and that Little Becky is holding her own in their undeclared battle of wills.
He asks her to call him Doctor (because she's been 'Baron'-ing him all over the place) and she answers, "Just as you wish, Doctor." "I sometimes suspect that you are laughing at me," he observed blandly.
See what I mean? She's knocked him off his Rich Dutch Doctor pedestal and he's attempting to clutch his dignity to himself like a maiden aunt wearing her best hat in a windstorm.
At the hospital she continues her Reign of Awesomeness (picturing a galloping Mongol horde in my head) and keeps impinging on his consciousness enough so that he asks her out. I don't know what his reasoning was--maybe a mixture of pity and curiosity or perhaps he's trying to pin down why the thought of her making some houseman a splendid wife makes him frown--but by the end of the picnic he's found that he enjoyed every second with her, appreciates that she is one of the happiest people he knows (to contrast with a certain sulky and whiny character---rhymes with thorn, born, shorn, forlorn (as Shakespeare might say, "an unhappy rhyme")) and realizes...something. He's not sure what yet. But it's enough to swoop in and kiss her.
Her Dawning Realization follows and I can't really blame her. It was a shattering kiss. Her bones have turned to jelly but she's in her right mind enough to know that retreat is impossible. Quarantine fees, you know. She'll have to apply herself to those Dutch verbs and hope to find another hospital in six months or so. But I'm sure that first night of study was no good:

  • Nina van Doorn is een bedorven rotkind. (NvD is a spoiled brat.)
  • Mijn liefde voor de Baron is hopeloos. (My love for the Baron is hopeless.)
  • Bertie en Hond zullen de dood van mij zijn. (Bertie and Pooch will be the death of me.---FYI, even the online translator read 'Pooch' as Hond--dog--even though she's the cat.)
Bertie will really be the death of her. That dumb dog (don't blame him, he has a cat name) escapes in a thunder storm, half drowns himself in a canal and requires Becky and the Baron (sounds like a Nancy Drew mystery) to shuck their Burberrys and swim in.
Muzzy on 'peculiar' tasting Napoleon brandy in the aftermath, Becky indiscreetly tells him that Nina is no good for him and that he should marry someone kind and good for him. This is one of those oopsie-daisy cross-cultural courtship mishaps that crop up from time to time in every relationship. When Brit girl says, "You should think about marrying someone who is not a merciless block of statuary," the Dutch-boy translation is "I've just keyed your Rolls Royce Corniche because I could and killed a man just to watch him die." Oopsie.
Tiele, making one last bid to recapture his spot on the Rich Dutch Doctor pedestal, lashes out, "...should she be a skinny creature with no conversation--such as yourself, Rececca?" Did you notice how he calls her Rebecca? That should put her firmly in her place.
It does. She spends the next few days in a fever of dread that she will have to see him and making PSA announcements about the dangers of drinking and talking. How he spends the next few days isn't explicitly spelled out in the book but I argue that this is when he has his own, final Dawning Realization. He runs out of Becky's flat without shutting the door and positively gallops down the stairs. What's he running from? Himself, that's what. A skinny, plain little creature--who does she think she is? It must have been a horribly uncomfortable thing to abandon the pedestal once and for all and to admit that a girl he had no intention of loving, not to mention noticing, is the sun the moon and the whole enchilada. I think of him sleeping very poorly once he realizes he just called his future wife a skinny creature with no conversation...to her face.
So, after plucking up his courage and girding up his loins, he corners her in a nurses' corridor and asks her to come to lunch with his mother and sister. That's right. He's reduced to conducting his courtship behind his womenfolk's skirts. Oh how the mighty have fallen.
Naturally he shows up at the end to give her a lift back--with Garden Statuary Nina (she keeps inviting herself to things).
"You'll be late on duty,"
"I prefer to be that than--than...I suppose you think it's funny to watch her snubbing me."
Becky may be thin and small but when she fell in love she didn't lose her backbone. (Team Becky!)
But then one day the doctor goes completely off the rails. Becky accepted a date with a houseman-- Wim the Worthy--because his girlfriend was busy. The doctor's prescription for the predicament is to drag Nina (who keeps inserting herself into his life anyway) off to a te-de-ious chamber music concert where he plants himself in an expensive seat and stares, with a scowl on his face, at the back of Becky's head. The. Entire. Night.
He manages to rid himself of Nina and cut Wim out of the picture and then tells Becky that he only went to the concert "because you did"!
He didn't just walk away from his aloof Rich Dutch Doctor pedestal. He's chopped it down, dragged it to a clearing and built a bon fire.
One more location to go! Becky helps nurse the Baroness as she goes to England. Lots of darling things happen, Basil the Bad makes one last ditch effort to turn Becky into Rebecca and our hero carries her off to an Olde Worlde Tea Shoppe where, on the strength of his feelings, makes her eat with one hand. (He won't let go of the other one!!!) Kisses!

Rating: I loved this--just loved it--from the first vision of her whistling her way down a wet English road to the very last second outside the Tea Shoppe. Becky was brave and plucky and honest. Tiele was so mixed-up and turned around and then really, really let himself go when he'd finally diagnosed the problem. I bestow the most joyful queen of puddings. The only thing that makes it anything less than a lashings of whipped cream (which I'm already regretting not giving it) is that when I picked it up I could hardly remember which one it was. I think that has something to do with the title. The Promise of Happiness just didn't leap...zzzzzzzzzzzzz. They need to rename this Becky and the Baron (the hot, hot Baron).
Food: Iced celery soup (Why on earth?), cold chicken-tangerine-apple salad, peach royale, chilled strawberry soup (I want some!), blueberry pie and (for The Picnic of Dawning Realization) chicken legs wrapped in foil, tiny pork pies, minute sausages, crisp rolls filled with ham and dishes of salad and ice cream in a container as well as coffee in a thermos jug and Moselle (which she likes and he tolerates for her sake).
Fashion: An old-fashioned rain coat and sopping scarf to start, later a worthy-looking dark blue nurse's uniforms and cardigan, and then (in one shopping trip when she gets to splash a bit--see left) 2 cotton dresses and cardigan, blue slacks, cotton tops, flat sandals, sensible slippers, a flowered cotton skirt with a lace-trimmed blouse. The Baroness pronounces everything to be in the best of taste. After that a knit set in old rose (Betty did like her old rose, didn't she?) and in anticipation of going on a date with him a pretty flowered cotton voile and a grey skirt (with pink roses) with a pale pink crepe blouse for the theatre.

18 comments:

  1. Well done! Hadn’t read it the first time around. I have just been re-reading this book. Parts of it over and over again over the past few days. And then, today, I "go to" TUJD and voilà! It's one of my absolute favourites!
    Re.: Will someone explain The Great Neels' fascination with knickers?
    I always wondered about that, too.

    Food: You forgot the spekpannenkoek met stroop! - the pancake with bacon and dark treacle that Tiele and Becky had the "day the doctor goes completely off the rails", after the concert, when he had disposed of young Wim and Nina. Lovely food. Wouldn't mind having one right now.
    Well, I think I will just read about it once more when I get home in a little while.
    Oh, and the quote,

    "Beauty is nothing other than the promise of happiness"

    and Tiele doesn't remember who said that - it's from Stendhal. Thanks to Google/Wiki and, in a way, you Bettys from TUJD I learned that today.Thank you for improving my mind.
    Betty Anonymous

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  2. Betty Debbie, I agree with a less than creamy rating. I really liked this, but not quite loved it. But not because of the title. It was the few chapters between Trondheim and Holland and the car trip with Tialda. BORING... And Hey, what's with that - Tiele (Teal-u) and Tialda. They're not twins, for heaven's sake!

    Betty Anon, I noticed the same things today while reading the last chapter in the car while Betty Megan drove. (Yes, I trust a 15 y.old to drive while I read. She passed her road test Saturday with flying colors. YooHoo, Betty Megan!)
    That quote holds so much wisdom. Beauty only holds the promise, but it could also be a trap.
    I plan to do a little mind improving, too. I have no data recall on Stendhal. Must look it up.

    I'm sorry, Betty Anon, can't agree with you on the Flapjacks and black strap. Yuck! I beg your pardon, I wasn't raised to make comments on others food choices. TEHO...

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  3. Oh, dear me! Betty Mary, Flapjacks and blackstrap? If you had those then you did not have a spekpannekoek met stroop. The pancakes are large, "a foot across", and flat, although not as flat as a crêpe.Their size and shape are, of course, not the issue. What makes the difference is the stroop/syrup/treacle which does not taste like black strap at all. If you like pancakes with maple syrup then chances are you might like the Dutch version. I found a picture for you so you can appreciate (haha) their size and see the colour of the stroop.

    http://gijswarbroek.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/spekpannekoek-met-stroop.jpg

    As for Stendhal, here are a number of his quotes.

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Stendhal

    And although I don't care for the second one, to say the least, his views are quite interesting.
    Betty Anonymous

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  4. Oh oh oh oh, been waiting for this reprise simply to swoon because is its one of my beloved Neels. This could possibly be because it was the first Betty book I ever read, but as we all have our peccadillo’s, the combination of feisty Cinder Becky, befuddled Baron and the good pacing makes this a go to dribbly teary favourite especially with a wine glass or, in reference to canal dunking, a swig of brandy.
    My argument for the creamy rating is that while-flirting-with Van–Nincompoop the Baron somehow got himself wrapped around our heroines plainly brave little finger literally ending with not wanting to let go of her hand. There are just so many sweetly played moments. Evocative gestures like the way Becky sparkled when she smiled, or that he haunted the nurse’s door until he could wrangle her into a trip with his mother, or stalked her through blueberry bushes and concerts. Changing his plans and taking her for picnics, avoiding telling her its his property while drinking detested sweet wines another of the many times he can’t help to pleasing her despite himself. Or that he glowered when she wanted to defer to her nurse role and not join then for a family lunch.
    It the most Pride and Prejuidicy (sorry) in the casting. Tiele is arrogant; cold yet really very helpful while Becky is disadvantaged, forthright/forlorn and intelligent. Keeping his full attention on her charms mid-way until the end. The scene where the tea dragon wipes away a sentimental tear at their embrace is just a lovely final note.
    Okay, there is much silliness. It is a bit of a hoary joke that three animals (starved mouse, dog, cat) can go from walking in the rain to traveling by Rolls to the Savoy/Ritz/insert fancy hotel brand.
    But all in all, its worth stomaching a Dutch foot long dripping sticky lard pancake and getting stuck with a name like Becky van den Eck because you just know he’s going to be good at Brighton. He has to pay back all those cruel comments about her size and looks! Luckily a lifetime of hot groveling is suggested in Caroline’s Waterloo by the ‘get my sausage roll now Brighton serving boy’ scene.
    Betty AnHK

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  5. "...Brighton serving boy..." oh, dear, I always manage to get things like that stuck in my head (just ask my own 'Brighton serving boy' aka Doctor van der Stevejinck).

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  6. How appropriate. My own BSB, Prof Vue der Plane, heated up some ABC ribs, made a salad, and brought me wine tonight while I scratched off lottery tickets that my sis and SIL buy me every year on my birthday! I felt absolutely decadent. Thanks for the new acronym!

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  7. Top notch book--one of Betty's best! Becky brought out such a welter of changing emotions in her RDD -- he was practically punch drunk with feelings towards the last round.

    I loved Cinderella-the-strong from start to finish, but especially watching Prince-soon-to-be-charmed finally fall.

    Great review. Fun website!

    Betty Undercover

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    Replies
    1. Betty Barbara here--
      Woot! a new Betty.
      Welcome Betty Undercover!

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  8. Betty Undercover, who are you? Where are you from? How long have you been reading TUJD?

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  9. Undercover BettyJune 25, 2012 at 8:07 PM

    I'm me, undercover Betty! I'm from Wisconsin, but have lived in California for 20 years. Just found your website today, but have been reading Neels for years.

    Great site ya got here!

    Where do I find a ranking of the books, from BEST to ...uhm...not the best?

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    Replies
    1. Undercover Betty, you can check out all the books, in chronological order, in The Undefinitive Neels Canon, at the upper-right side of the homepage/mainpage here. Find a book you like, loathe, haven't read yet or can't remember and click on it to link to the review.

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    2. And of course you can see the voting in the March/April/May/June madness brackets in the Blog Archive on the right-hand nav pane.

      Delete
    3. Betty UndercoverJune 26, 2012 at 5:55 PM

      Tanks! Yes, I had found the Neels Canon. I thought I had read nearly every blessed Betty, but NOT SO!

      Will check out the voting madness next.

      Ps. I enjoy reading the reviews as much as the books. Maybe more!

      Delete
  10. Howdy! I don't believe there is such a ranking of books. There is a rating given at the end of the review. If you look at the top of the page, there is a link for the book ratings.

    I, for example, give Fate Is Remarkable LASHINGS and LASHINGS of whipped cream, and I also give The Nasty Marriage cans and cans of tinned soup. >evil look at some of you people<

    Betty AnoninTX

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    Replies
    1. You're getting evil looks from at least one of us people. Ha!
      Betty Anonymous

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  11. Undercover BettyJune 25, 2012 at 9:46 PM

    Thanks Betty Anon. I will read your reviews.

    Undercover ( and now, under the covers) Betty

    er...Betty Undercover

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  12. Oh heavens! I don't write the reviews. Betty Debbie and Betty Keira do all the hard work. I just hang around to read their work and comment too frequently. I found this blog when I was googling Betty Neels one night. I used the search function to help me figure out which book snippet in my head belonged to which book. I read all 135 titles in a row, then I went back to re-read my favorites. I hung around for a long time before I ever commented. There are some very intelligent and funny women who come here. I'm just glad to have found some people who love Betty as much as I do.

    Betty AnoninTX

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    Replies
    1. Betty UndercoverJune 26, 2012 at 6:02 PM

      Ok, understood. I will watch for your comments, then!

      Ps. I agree that the two lead authors are super savvy and wickedly witty, but do not accept the suggestion that your own cleverocity is lacking. :-)

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