Monday, December 26, 2011

When May Follows - Reprise

Dear Betty,
I  do love a girl with confidence and Katrina Bennett shows herself to advantage...and so does Betty Keira!  This is a gem of a review. My favorite part of this book is the rescue at sea (or possibly the washing up scene), my favorite part of the review is the letter written to 'Teacher of Social Mores to Dutch Young Men'...
What's your favorite part?
Betty Debbie

When May Follows was chosen to be reviewed this week because it is May. That's the kind of judgment and wisdom it takes to be a Grand High Poobah Arbiter of Everything here at The Uncrushable Jersey Dress. That's why they pay us the big bucks.


Professor Baron Raf van Tellerinck, 38, is very lucky he has a short first name. That's what Alice Bennett must be thinking to herself as she meets him at her party. Like the skilled surgeon that she isn't, she wields a very blunt scalpel and hacks away at The Unnecessarys like a cancerous mole. ("I shall call you Raf.") Like another certain Mrs. Bennett, she flags down her three daughters to meet the dashing stranger. What a fine thing for our girls!
Two of them are short--cute, but short--but the third (and oldest) sister is an Amazon. "Five feet ten inches and what's known as a large lady, no one believes I'm one of the family..." I personally don't greet new people with my figures ("5'3", size 6 on a good day but 8 when I'm bloated.") but Katrina Bennett (27, Ward Sister on Men's Medical at Benedict's) can see Raf's faint surprise.
They chat for a bit about the weather and the seasons and he quotes a bit of poetry. Here is some of it:
O, To be in England Now that April 's there, And whoever wakes in England Sees, some morning, unaware, That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf, While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough In England—now! And after April, when May follows, And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!

It's a darling one of Browning's--stuffed with longing for spring in England--but actually not that relevant to the story. Bummer. Unless you read it as an allegory for all that is bright and wonderful about Kate getting even better when May follows in which case...Betty you magnificent genius!
Katrina returns to her hospital duties in London soon following. Here we see our splendid Amazon actually dress down a subordinate (quite rare in Neelsdom--but the girl deserved it), negotiate hospital beer rations (I will never get used to Betty allowing mythical patients to drink beer in hospital), and cope admirably with slipped ligatures. Well, not too admirably. She'd really like some help as the blood is pooling rather quickly out of the bandage...Enter Raf (rhymes with strafe or laugh?). He's a surgeon!
She meets him at Honorary Uncle Ben's and then (like our heroes always do) he asks her to attend The King and I in front of a benignly ignorant observer who takes her consent for granted and asks helpful questions like, "Going all tarted up?" (yes, he does!). She agrees--only to ask, with charming frankness, "Am I to come all tarted up?" (All this tarting tempts to say in a very Inigo Montoya fashion, "I do not think that means what you think it means.")
In the mean time, Katrina has accepted (in a moment she already bitterly regrets) a date with Jack "Brighton" Bentall. He's short (!), takes her to Chinese (!) food (if you can call it that!), and bores her into a stupor that she rouses out of like she's been splashed with cold water. Bettys, I give you the Jack "Brighton" Bentall: Anatomy of a Proposition:
Everybody else does it these days...
  • ...and getting married seems a bit silly...
  • ...until I've reached the top...
  • ...and you're not all that keen on it, are you?
  • You can't be--you must have had plenty of chances, but after all, you are twenty-seven.
I think he hit all the high points, class. He first isolates his test subject as a freak of nature, devalues cherished institutions and aspirations, peacocks about his career prospects, follows with a flourish of understanding as to the short-term nature of her interest and then...reminds her of her advanced age! That'll get them every time.
Instead of insulting his age, bald spot, lack of inches, pretensions to sophistication, choice of eatery for the grand seduction (and I like Chinese food), etc. etc., she tells him that she's just accepted a job...in The Gulf...she's resigning tomorrow...so sorry.
He's predictably sulky and moody and punitive--just the sort of man for whom sexual harassment legislation was created. Still, she said The Gulf and she's got to quit her job or be plagued by this small (and I do not refer to his size) man indefinitely.
Raf corners her in an office. "Would you consider marrying me?" Hmm. Sand storms and heat stroke or...a lifetime supply of pannekoeken? Class? (Bounces on seat. Raises hand. "Me, me, pick me!")
She dithers the merest bit and capitulates without ever knowing why. He hasn't said he loves her. He's been quite frank about needing companionship but has been 'Neels-explicit' ("...take our time getting to know each other...") about conjugal relations.

The engagement, while short, has a few interesting moments.
  • She gets the idea that he's not telling her something about his debt-to-asset ratio. If father were alive, he'd sit down with the RDD, ask some pointed questions about prospects and intentions and that would be that. Sure he runs a great, socking Bentley but what does that mean?
  • She's teasing him about his 'girlfriends' and when he agrees that he has had plenty, she frowningly takes the comb she had been putting into her hair out and jabs it in again anyhow. "That comb looked very nice where it was before, why didn't you leave it there?" He took it gently out again and slid it expertly into its original place, then bent to kiss her cheek...He's tipped his hand. This intimate little interplay is the Rich Dutch Doctor equivalent of putting his proposal on the Jumbo-tron at a Knicks game. He's in love with her and she doesn't know it.
  • He gives her her engagement (Government Issue Heirloom Sapphire/Diamond) ring in the hospital consultant's room and asks (with what I image to be very rehearsed casualness) if she'd like to seal the deal with a kiss. She flings her arms around his neck very spontaneously while he (the Kiss Solicitor!) is...terse and perfunctory. But don't judge the man. He was contracting a love-on-one-side marriage and was unprepared for the amount of self-control needed to persuade her that nobody loved anybody--especially when she kissed like that!
She is married in a leghorn hat (Foghorn Leghorn is in my head too) in a little chapel in the Abbey where her father worked. Jake (with Brittania of Brittania All At Sea) is the Best Man.
The honeymoon is when things start to go South (no North, as they are in Scotland) for Katrina. Raf is lecturing for the first week and she's a bit lonely and probably wondering why he wanted companionship so much when she never sees him. She asks if she might attend one of his lectures and he snubs her ("My dear girl, whatever for? You'll be bored to tears in half an hour."). And he's right. After all, it's not as though she has spent the bulk of her adult life in the medical field, treating those same conditions he would discuss..........erm. But give him a break. He is actually saying, "Darling, there is not a prayer that I could keep my mind on end-to-end anastomosis while you're in the room. I'd tell the fellows to use the wrong suture stitch and then hundreds would die all because of your legs."
She feels hurt out of all proportion and in a delightful bit of retaliation spends his money (she still doesn't know how much he has) on ugly shoes and the kind of trouser suit that women negotiate nuclear non-proliferation treaties in. Of course, real pay-back would have been to make him take her to dinner in them but she caves and tells him all about her revenge. Duly chastened, he promises to let her come to a lecture sometime. His eyes gleam.
They drive to Holland after spending the night in his London flat. (What? He has a London flat? Sheesh. Now you tell me.) He lives 'on the fringe' of a village. Surely that's specific enough. Well, actually, he probably owns half the village and lives in the baronial seat, past the high wrought iron gates and up the sanded drive.
"It can't be.."
"Yes, it is."
Dang it. He's probably stinking rich too...With time she adjusts herself admirably to this rather sudden reversal of fortune.
Nanny and Caspel (the butler) and his wife all belong to Raf's childhood escape from Nazis. He's an orphan, you see, and utterly without close relatives of any kind. (My maternal comfort-o-meter is off the charts.)
If things are a little distant between Raf and Katrina, they're still pleasant. She becomes accustomed to driving on the right because, if you'll forgive a little personal Betty Keira cultural imperialism, that's the way Providence intended people to drive.
He takes her out for the day by the sea when he spots a yacht heading dangerously for a channel. Nothing for it but to shuck the shoes and head into the drink. Thank heavens, Katrina can swim--not that she gets any thanks for it. His only response to her swimming hundreds of meters into choppy seas (in a gorgeous nautical number), providing traction while he splints a leg and comforting a wailing toddler is to say, "You're wet--it suits you." Let's not get into an argument about whether it was his job to thank her since they shared equally in the rescue (I am inclined to think that his opinion of women was quite high since he didn't automatically assume she would be useless in an emergency--gratitude might have been condescending about her abilities). But every general has to deal with troop morale and with some positive reinforcement she would happily have charged the hill again--especially as she has just had a dawning realization on the yacht deck!
Now Katrina has a goal--whereas before she was aimless about what constituted satisfactory happiness in her marriage.
But every Eden has its viper. Raf returns one day with Beyke (the Dutch equivalent of Tammy)--an old friend lately returned from the States (and quarantine, presumably, to get the America stink off her). Suddenly green-eyed jealousy makes for a very tempestuous home life. Faked headaches, real headaches, pettishness...Not Katrina's finest hour but Raf isn't helping out at all. On the night of her very first dinner party (in her new adopted country where she knows servants and only ONE other couple), he walks in barely on time with Beyke on his arm.
I know, I know, it's part of a grand plan he has to make her jealous but he's not really thought out how awful this is. First dinner party! Doesn't speak Dutch! Doesn't know anyone! Nerves stretched to infinity! Now is not the time to teach her that she loves you. And don't you dare laugh that she's getting tight on the whisky.
To top it off, he takes Beyke home (while Kate does the dishes and a horrified Caspel looks on), doesn't compliment her on her appearance and (when he shoos Caspel off and picks up a dishrag) tells her that there was no reason for the evening to be a failure since she's a 'capable girl and... had plenty of help'. Breathe deeply, my Bettys, while I compose a letter:

Dear Teacher of Social Mores to Dutch Young Men,
Sir, you have failed. There are few Commandments of Husbanding that are entirely unbreakable but the failure to bite when one's spouse is fishing for compliments is the foremost. This, and other rules such as Outfit Noticing, Wrinkle Non-noticing and Open-handedness, should be leading the curriculum. All else is gravy,
Sincerely,
Betty Keira

Grand High Poobah Arbiter of Everything
Happily, Raf responds with some pretty heated words of his own. Yes, I said happily.
When they go away for a weekend to his farm in Friesland (I tell you, getting a list of his properties is like wringing blood from a stone.) she is determined to have it out with him:

Why didn't you tell me about Beyke/Tammy!
Do you love me?
You probably have a tattoo of her on your chest!
No, seriously, do you love me even a little?
She doesn't stink like America too much anymore--we could divorce!
It would make all the difference in the world if you said you love me...
Well, I don't!

He actually is pretty persistent about getting her to be honest with him but she's afraid that if she is, he'll be a slave to duty and stick with her--even though his heart belongs to Tammy...er, Beyke.

Maybe his lectures in Austria will help him sort out...BAM!...a plane crash. (Don't mind the screams of the dead...) It's Raf's flight number and Katrina is frantic. She rushes to the airport and is nosed off the road by...his Bentley. This doesn't seem the time to bring up the obvious safety hazards of a great, socking Bentley pushing a teeny, tiny Mini off into the grass verge, but may I point out that airbags didn't become standard for luxury cars until 1987. A Mini is not a luxury car.
Raf you're not dead! I love you!
See, I told you that would fix everything!
The End

Rating: I can't say that the title rang a bell so I won't pretend that it's super memorable but I like it quite well (and, no, I am not damning with faint praise). It's not first tier material but a solid, solid boeuf en croute. It's got a plane crash and implied carnage, for pity's sake, that Betty doesn't let us dwell even a minute on. She wasn't the kind of author to waste precious ink on giving her gentle readers a brow pucker for the 100 or so strangers who have just perished on an Alpine pass just so that Raf and Kate could kiss in romantic dishevelment. And I love her for it.

Food: cheese sandwiches (not warmed over?), lots and lots of what I call 'Italics food' (wherein all potatoes are Pommes and all chicken is Poulet--for instance pommes de terre Berny and poulard Imperatrice) cavier, Welsh rarebit, apricot brulee

Fashion: Sapphire silk jersey dress, amber and brown organza with balloon sleeves (which only ever looks right on Amazons--us Aramintas had better watch how often we invite comparisons to balloons), a brown marabou stole (which seems fussy), Raynes shoes, a tawny cotton voile, her wedding outfit includes a leghorn hat and a thick slub silk dress (seeing slub silk before I die is now on my bucket list), and he wears a heavy signet ring just like pre-corpulent Marlon Brando!

16 comments:

  1. Betty Barbara here--

    Wonderful review! Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

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  2. Professor Raf (rhymes gruff) baron van Tellerinck.
    (Dutch spelling and placement of the title)
    Have to agree with Betty Barbara. Great review. Makes me want to read it again right away. Which I will when I get home tonight.
    Betty Anonymous

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  3. Betty van den BetsyDecember 26, 2011 at 7:16 PM

    Don't they have Welsh rarebit for dessert for one meal? That seems a very odd dessert -- much too heavy for after a full meal.

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  4. Started re-reading last night. And was shocked to see what I had missed during previous readings: "He turned to look at his companion, a tall man with broad shoulders but lean nonetheless, elegantly turned out too in a superbly ...".
    Lean!!! Are there any more RDDs/RBDs described as lean? I have to pay more attention to detail in the future.
    Betty Anonymous

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  5. Oliver Trentham, screenwriter(!!?), in A Girl to Love is described as lean. Not only lean, but "long and lean".

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  6. Very occasionally a hero has reason to mention his weight in one book or another, and I think it's usually been 14 or maybe 15 stone -- but may be misremembering. That'd be 196 to 210 pounds, which doesn't seem especially hefty for a man who's well over six feet. My dream man for a few months in adolescence was the school quarterback, and his stats (offered in the game program; I certainly didn't get close enough to measure) were 6'3" and 185; many years after the crush died its natural death, I realized that he was pretty scrawny.

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  7. Betty Barbara here--
    And yet, a number of our RDDs worry about collapsing the chairs in (take your pick)sister's office, tea shop, Aunt so&so's sitting room, etc.
    So I'm thinking closer to 250-275. (Which on a man of 6'3" or 6'4" and mature years wouldn't seem overly hefty).

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  8. I see. I get your point. Well, I guess I assumed they were all tall and large with it. The way they choose seats that are up to their weight or don't seem to be up to their weight. And lines like the following made me think they could not be lean.

    "Not quite her idea of a professor: immensely tall and large in his person, dark hair going grey, heavy brows above cold eyes and a nose high-bridged and patrician above a thin mouth. Better a friend than an enemy, thought Julia. ..." (An Independent Woman)

    "He came unhurriedly, very tall and large in a beautifully tailored suit, fair hair already silver at the edges and a handsome face with heavy-lidded eyes. ..." (A Christmas Wish)

    "...she choked on her temper, turned on her heel and crossed the hall, straight into the solid seventeen or eighteen stones of Doctor van Dresselhuys." (Cobweb Morning)

    Mr van der Eisler, a man of some seventeen stones in weight, sat down gingerly. (A Christmas Wish)

    "Probably the doctor danced badly; he must be all of fifteen stone" (The Siver Thaw)

    "Samantha would have liked to scream, but the doctor gave her no chance; he pushed her quite roughly against the wall and leaned against her, all fifteen stone of him, squeezing out her breath and shielding her completely." (Enchanting Samantha)

    "He must be all of fifteen stone, reflected Rosie and, being a practical young woman..." (A Kind of Magic)

    "...work at the hospital, his own practice, and staying up half the night with Henry. That there was something absurd in describing a large man of fifteen stone or thereabouts as being ..." (Roses for Christmas)

    "Celine found his vast person between them..." (Midsummer Star)

    "He took no notice, but when he reached a wall, he stood her up against it, took two glasses of champagne from a passing waiter and stationed himself in front of her so that she couldn't see anything or anyone, only his vast person, ..." (The Silver Thaw)

    "Mr van der Eisler spoke quietly as he turned to receive Nel's onslaught upon his vast person. 'Where's Mummy?'Nel asked suddenly." (A Christmas Wish)

    Once they were airborne she did as Jake suggested and closed her eyes, only to open them again as Mr Rijnma ter Salis eased his vast person into the seat beside her." (A Secret Infatuation)

    "A faint sound stopped her; Dr ter Feulen, his vast person stretched at ease in a leather armchair, his large feet, shod in the finest shoe leather, resting on a nearby coffee-table, was asleep and, without any loss of dignity, ..." (A Little Moonlight)

    "The Professor had joined them, his vast person unseen and unheard. He said pleasantly. 'Good evening, Mr Grant. Sister Downing has been working since two o'clock this morning with scarcely a break. She is tired. ..." (Off with the Old Love)

    "The doctor took his vast person silently away and ..." (A Valentine for Daisy)

    "She said yes happily, although his vast person had overflowed on to her. She would get cramped before long but she really didn't mind. She turned her head to look at the boys." (A Suitable Match)

    "Something she hadn't bargained for, but she got into the driver's seat, and since she was a big girl and he was an extremely large man the journey was a cramped one — indeed she found it rather unsettling. At Sir Colin' s request, ..." (A Suitable Match)

    "He was undoubtedly good-looking as well as being extremely large. Much, much larger than James, the eldest son of Dr Forbes, who had for some time now taken it for granted that she would marry him when he asked her . ..." (Hilltop Tryst)

    Betty Anonymous

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  9. Betty van den BetsyDecember 28, 2011 at 8:12 PM

    Yes! It is very confusing to me when she refers to a man as 'vast' and then says he's well over six feet and weighs about 15 stone (four 15-stoners in the above quotes), or 210 pounds. Here is a New England Patriots football player who's official stats show him as 6'1" and 215 pounds. Does he look 'vast' to you? He seems kinda lean (and quite adorable) to me. And at 6'1", he surely doesn't qualify as "immensely tall," does he?

    The basketball player Kobe Bryant is cited as 6'6" and 205 pounds on the LA Lakers website. He looks quite slender to me, especially in the legs.

    Two of Betty Anon's invaluable citations give the hero's weight as 17 or 18 stone, which is 238-252 pounds. This guy (back to the Pats) is 6'3" and 245 pounds, and is seems a lot closer to vast. If I were he, I still wouldn't worry about breaking the furniture, though.

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  10. I liked this book. Regarding the relevance of the title, I had thought that it was meant as a foreshadow of Raf and Katrina's marriage in a month's time, after their first meeting in April. Raf (who fell in love at first sight and knew it) might even have made a bet with himself. "By this time next month, this girl will become my wife."

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  11. Betty van den BetsyJanuary 4, 2012 at 1:01 PM

    Isn't it a lovely blog, Betty computer support? And how good of you to share with us the links to your clothing line. "Sophie Faroe" might actually be a good name for a Betty Neels heroine, and she might actually wear a long cardigan, though a pencil skirt seems less likely. Incidentally, growing up in England before the war, my mother always learned that one reason she and her friends were lucky to be little English children (though she was, technically, American) was that in Germany children had to wear clothes made of wood -- that's right, viscose/rayon. She could never wear the stuff due to the early-childhood propaganda.

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  12. Ha ha ha, Betty Debbie, get out your eraser,
    ...in accession capital to assert that I get in fact enjoyed account your blog posts...
    ...and even I achievement you access consistently quickly...

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  13. There are times when your reviews outdo the books -- and this is one of them. Not that I don't like the book, far from it. But you have a gift for comedy and I enjoy it very much!

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  14. 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 Jane'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.'

    ReplyDelete