“Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor/Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief,” some children declaim, in an attempt to discern the profession of a future husband through the miracle of jump-rope or hand claps. Not Patience Charity Prudence, though! She chanted, “Anaesthesiologist, endocrinologist/Rich man, Dutch man, super-rich surgeon.” Or something like that. Make up your own, and maybe Betty Debbie will send you a prize. Or I will – I’ll wrap up a buttered crumpet and pop it in the post.
In some respects, Cressida Eulalia had limited material with which to work. If you are the heroine of a Betty Neels novel, odds are very high you’ll marry a doctor of some sort. The overwhelming majority, 129 of 135, of Betty’s heroes are in the medical profession – that’s 96% of them. And no, wise guy, none are respiratory therapists, x-ray technicians or pharmaceutical sales reps. They are 129 doctors, but they do have the grace to offer a variety of specialties, including bones and babies, hearts and guts and induced unconsciousness.
You know how Betty’s heroines are always finding out that the object of their affections is “a famous neurologist” or whatever? Quick, how many famous consulting surgeons can you name?
Before we go into detail on that, though, let’s get an important point straight. These are not just medical men, these are eminent medical men. Duert from Not Once but Twice (1981) is director of the Theophilus hospital in Den Haag, and Gideon van der Vorst (The Magic of Living, 1974) is medical director of his unnamed hospital in Doesburg. Additionally, 33% of our heroes are professors, and 30% are consultants – seven are specifically identified as holding both titles, from Coenraad in Sister Peters in Amsterdam (1969) through Sir Paul in The Right Kind of Girl (1995). (Actually, I suspect the vast majority of them are consultants, but I go by what Mrs. Neels actually wrote down in the book.)
Of course, we’re not impressed with fancy titles, are we? No more than we’re impressed by fancy cars, big houses and three-course lunches. So we’re perfectly delighted that 15% of our future husbands are plain-old GPs. That 15% is comprised of 15 doctors where we know for sure, and five I’m not certain about but they seem to be – you are welcome to tell me what it is, exactly, that Dr. Winter of Never Say Goodbye (1983) does.
I went to get a picture of Marcus Welby, MD (he was a GP, wasn’t he?), and got this guy instead. I like him.
For those of us who are willing to be impressed, 40 of our gentlemen, 30%, are surgeons, who are often considered, not least by themselves, to be hospital gods (and they can, actually, stop your heart and bring you back to life, so they maybe have kind of a point). A mere 17, or 13%, specialize in the more nuanced art of medicine, working their magic with subtle potions rather than vulgar scalpels.
The wealthy doctor is a notoriously child-loving breed, so it’s no surprise that the most common specialty is pediatrics, or paediatrics. Fourteen future husbands, 10% of the total, specialize in the ailments and injuries of youngsters, including Lucius van Someren (Three for a Wedding, 1973), with his sub-specialty in fibrocystitis, and Sam Gervis (Polly, 1984), whose full descriptor is “consultant professor in paediatric surgery,” though “superstar” would be quicker.
Their next favorite specialty is orthopedics. In the mid-Atlantic area of the US in the early years of the 21st century, orthopedics often seems to be the province of the former jock (athlete), which actually fits well with our hero’s tall, vast physique and occasional affection for rugby. As an aside, ardent fan though I am of dinner and dancing, I am wistfully imagining the scene The Great Betty might have written in which Staff Nurse Minimows cheers on Dr. Hart den Throob as he pushes evil stepbrothers’ and philandering housemen’s faces into the mud of the rugger field. Betty Barbara, who recently had a wrist broken, can tell us all about the orthos.
And after the game, they all take a bath together in a giant tub – true!
Back to work! Two specialties each won eleven, or 8%, of our heroes: anaesthetics and hearts or cardiology. I believe The One True Betty spent a good bit of time as a theatre sister, and I wonder if her anaesthesiologist heroes were a bit of cheerleading for an often-overlooked but vital area of expertise. My favorite anaesthesiologist is Jason Mourik van Nie – in A Small Slice of Summer (1975), he handles both patients in need of a little relief and recovery-room nurses in need of a little kindness with care and skill. The cardiac surgeon who stands out for me is Marc van der Kettener, who ensures The Fortunes of Francesca (1997) both by using his medical skill to save Aunt Nice, and his eminence (and vastness) to intimidate Uncle Nasty.
Assuming stomachs, abdominal surgery and gastro-intestinal systems are approximately the same thing, that’s our next most-popular niche, earning seven adherents, or 5% of our menfolk. I am reliably informed that a thoracic doc knows everything about both hearts and lungs; we’ve got six of them, 4% of heroes, and you are welcome to add them to the heart-men if you like. There are also six neurology experts. They only start to show up at the end of the 80s, as Mrs. Neels was moving away from nurse heroines, and we rarely get to see them strut their stuff. Well, their medical stuff, that is.
There are four endocrinologists, three haematologists, two each of pathologists and ENTs, and then one each specializing in radiology, pulmonology, arteries (is that a real specialty?), research, gynecology, tropical diseases, cancer and burns. There are no urologists. Hmm. The only plastic surgeon is a friend of a Veronica who drops by to help stir up trouble in a new marriage – I don’t remember which book, but he laughingly tells catty Veronica that our heroine needs none of his artistry, as she’s perfectly beautiful as she is.
Speaking of one each, there are six non-medical heroes, for 4% of the canon. They are Simon the uncivil engineer, professor of history Charles Cresswell, Oliver author of television plays including A Girl to Love, Jake the absentee factory-owner and board chairman, Lucius the near-silent partner and very part-time accountant, and professor of economics Gideon Beaufort. They show up in a cluster in 1981-1984, and Oliver is the only one we really see working – one suspects that perhaps Betty knew the writing life better than she did the infrastructure of bridge-building, academia or business management.
The Storseisundet Bridge on Norway’s Atlantic Road looks, from one much-photographed angle, like it’s incomplete – in fact it drops steeply and curves right where you can’t see it. It’s colloquially known as the drunk bridge.