Monday, April 9, 2012

An Innocent Bride - Reprise

I have such a hard time with book titles that not only don't give you a clue as to what's on the inside, but are also so vague as to be a hazyfogshroudedoutoffocusblur. You read the title and 2 seconds later you can't remember which book it is. That pretty much sums up the title of An Innocent Bride.  You could argue that EVERY book in the canon features an innocent bride (in at least one sense of the word) - so that's no help.  The cover features a white wedding, which could narrow it down a bit...but still leaves a pretty open field...there's even more than one Aunt Thirza in the canon! My vote for the title on this one is The Moss Rose - because although Aunt Thirza Who Died of Leukemia Not Anaemia would tell me in an instant which book this is, it seems a bit long.

I do love the bits wherein Katrina rolls up her sleeves and works in the fields - it takes me back to my youth. For some reason Springfield, Oregon hadn't heard of migrant workers back we kids between the ages of about 8-16 picked beans and strawberries for a pittance.  Picking strawberries was horrible backbreaking work out in full sun. Beans were much more lucrative - and shadier (the pole beans were in rows about 2-ish feet apart and about 5 or 6 feet tall). I know now why my parents encouraged us to work in the fields: Work ethics! Earning money for our own school clothes! Free babysitting! The not so Great Outdoors!
Betty Debbie

First the title. An Innocent Bride. Ho hum. A total throw-away. Harlequin clearly didn't know what to do with Betty Neels at this point and was trying to signal readers with semaphore flags, neon signs and traffic cones that this book wouldn't have anybody mucking about in Brighton. But it makes our heroine sound a simp...which she is not. No, the book should have been titled The Moss Rose or Aunt Thirza's Legacy or Love and Leukaemia...

Katrina Gibbs, 24 with masses of dark hair, is sprawling across the country road in all her splendid glory. A motorcyclist driving on the wrong side of the road (Horrid American? But I repeat myself...) has knocked her over and smashed her bike.
Enter the great socking Bentley.
Professor Simon Glenville, 'knocking 40' (39), haematologist at St. Aldrick's and rescuer of fair, young maidens happens upon her, plucks her up and carries her back to Rose Cottage where she lives with her aunt Miss Thirza Gibbs--a retired girl's school headmistress and a woman of prickly disposition and rigid principles who never heard a 'Ms.' in her life and would have given it a frigid stare if she had.
Katrina and Simon and Aunt Thirza get off to such a rough start that it's as though they, all three of them, were hapless British bicycles and Fate an ill-mannered American motorcycle.
When Aunt Thirza (an actual Hebrew name meaning pleasantness and delight...instead of ironclad and unchangeable) is referred to a doctor is it really any surprise that her condition needs the leading haematologist in the history of the British realm?
Naturally, she is going to die. And naturally, no one tells her so. Instead of telling the grown woman that she might die of lymphatic leukaemia at any time they tell her she has Anaemia--a universal catch-all disease that will mask the symptoms of her failing health without alarming her in any way. They don't send you to medical school for years on end to tell the naked truth, evidently.
This gives Katrina and Simon an excuse to meet again and for her to weep (again--the American motorcyclist was upsetting) all over his cloth hankies (which she promises to launder and give back).
Simon brings Aunt Thirza, whom he has decided he rather likes, a moss rose for her garden that is already in bud even though it isn't the season to transplant that sort of thing. Dear me. Plants and fatal diseases. If you're thinking of O. Henry's The Last Leaf, well then, so am I. But we don't have to wait until the last blossom withers on the bush for Aunt Thirza to shuffle off her mortal coil. She passes on in idyllic tranquility, possibly thinking that those iron pills were woefully inadequate and intending to pen a stern letter of rebuke to the head of the NHS.
Simon is off on a lecture tour and Katrina finds that during the funeral hubbub she misses his presence most. A head scratcher.
When he does finally find out he hares off to Rose Cottage in time for tears and mucked up lawn hankerchiefs (with attendant and inevitable promises of laundering). He has sensibly brought a meal from (prepare yourself for the best homehelp name ever) Mrs. Peach. He is unable to pin Katrina down on her future plans and as he leaves his parthian shot is to tell her not to marry a fortune hunter.
Fortune hunter. (Snort.) That would require a fortune at the very least, no? Katrina has a few hundred pounds, Rose Cottage, the extensive kitchen garden and...and a fat lot of good it does her. Aunt Thirza, though lovely enough to provide a home for the orphaned 12-year-old (a plane crash carried off the poor parents. Possibly the plane also carried a oily South American gigolo and a run-away Dutch wife needing to be offed for a future Neels novel?), did not exactly launch her wee chick out of the nest with bankable skills.
In a sensible manner, Katrina decides to become a field laborer by day and a respectable lady of leisure by late-afternoon. Aunt Thirza, mindful of proprieties, would have approved. Simon does not.
Coming upon Katrina while dropping Maureen (oh, have I not mentioned that bit of under-rock ooze? Just wait.) at the manor, he grasps one of her work-roughened hands and presents his findings. '...working on a farm, Katrina?...Grubbing potatoes, picking peas and strawberries?' Oh for the love of...What is he, Sherlock Holmes?
And now for Maureen--bright as a penny and twice as cheap. She is a doctor on his medical team--recently joined--and has sights set on Simon. Any actual meddling she does is fairly incidental. A wee spot of water muddying is all. But, in An Innocent Bride, we are privy to the Machinations of Maureen wherein the villainess plots to annex the dear doctor with false displays of keenness, sympathy, helplessness, charity, distress, unreliable cars and an unbelievable cluelessness about the world of public transport. Neither Simon nor Katrina are ever over-vexed by them (though Katrina does think that Maureen is a front-runner for the hand of Fair Simon due to his willingness to shuttle her about) but it is very entertaining to watch her try so hard.
Maureen meets Katrina (always the correct niece of Miss Thirza) running the bottle stall at the village fete. Of course Maureen wins something. 'I always win.' Well, dust off your cosmic irony, kitten. When this hits the fan, Katrina is going to get the most delightful case of schadenfreude ever.
In the mean time, Simon cooks up a plot. He has a little patient with leukaemia (not the same kind as Aunt Thirza) who needs a rest in the country and he also has Katrina desperately in need of agricultural-grade hand cream and a good manicure. As quick as Bob's your uncle he's got little Tracy (with mother Molly) living with Katrina all financed by the lightening fast and flexible bureaucracy of the NHS!
Seriously, she swallows it. Two birds, one stone.
Tracy gives Simon just the reason he needs to keep visiting. (He's always hiding behind cancer victims to do his courting but just go with it.) He does get her alone for a date at Stourhead and a spot of canoodling but this is a rarity.
Instead, the village grapevine pairs Maureen and Simon. 'But he needs a wife like me!' thinks Katrina. Will you look at that. Imagine leaving a dawning realization lying about where just anyone can trip over it...
Little Tracy is deemed 'well enough' to move out. Katrina finds a job as a part-time librarian/seller of home-grown produce. Things settle.
And then Simon tells her that he's in love with her and...shhhhhh, baby, baby, shhhhhhhh...he'd just like to drop in now and then. Shhhhhhh. 'No, don't say anything, just bear it in mind.'
Don't mess things up by thinking she should have set him straight right then and there. There's another 30 pages to go before the contract is fulfilled.
A fire at the manor more firmly roots Katrina's awesomeness and Maureen's deviousness in our imaginations.
A storm occurs in which Katrina is the teensiest bit weenie.
Simon carries her off to his parents' house (He has parents?!) where he introduces her as their future daughter-in-law.
Proposal. (Ahem. The bit about the cart and the horse applies, methinks.)
A rather nice wedding follows wherein she carries a bouquet of moss roses (awww, Aunt Thirza) and Maureen is banished to India.
The End.

Rating: As a whole this book is just somewhere in the middle. The best bits revolved around the horrid Maureen. It's as though La Neels is finally giving us chapter and verse on How Shallow, Awful Girl Nabs Rich Kind Doctor thus filling in the back-story on almost all Engaged RDD plots. Why would a nice well-to-do doctor get himself caught by the Vapid Undead? Refer to the Maureen template and footnotes.
Aunt Thirza's death is handled beautifully. When I die, I'd like to go that way.
The theme is also a winner. Katrina, brought up rigidly by a circumspect spinster, is bound by Aunt Thirza's formality to express her love in a sort of Remains of the Day repressed smolder.
So, I give it a Treacle Tart. It's not brilliant but it does have some unique touches.

Food: eggs, potted shrimps, rack of lamb, rhubarb fool (how can you turn down a rhubarb fool?), almond buscuits, farmhouse cake, orangeade, lemonade, bacon and egg pie, cheese straws, fish cakes, smoked salmon, tiny pancakes with chopped chicken, cold meat and salad, bad sherry, good wine, cucumber and orange salad.

Fashion: Dateless beige coat, jersey dress (!), his cashmere sweater (The Great Neels fails to sell me on the idea of our heroes in sweaters), cream and amber crepe, a positively life-saving rose-patterned frock.


  1. This one, for me, is a bit (more than usual for Betty) like reading from translation or books from very different time periods, because I keep wondering if I'm missing something because of my limited understanding of the setting. Is driving with a gentleman in a laundelet more scandalous than a barouche? Should a character not have used the word "bathroom"? Is a fedora the wrong hat to wear in the morning?

    With Betty there are often actions or ideas that don't make sense to me, but maybe would to a middle- or upper-middle class Englishwoman with a 1930s mentality. Katrina can't admit Aunt Thirza was broke, because... pride? Seriously? Where is the shame in having to work for a living? Where is the shame in making use of the social safety net for six months while you get a certificate in basic computer skills so you can get a real job etc.? Is this real stuff, or is Betty just throwing it in for plot convenience or out of crotchety old novelist crotchets?

    The leukemia/anemia lie is deeply bothersome in this book. We saw it before in The Edge of Winter, but in 1976 it's believable -- the debate was still raging as to whether mortally ill people ought to know the extent of their ailments. By 1999, no responsible medical professional would have hidden that information from a patient.

    Humph. Still, I love a good manor fire and heroine bravely covering herself in smuts to save the kitchen lad and the Regency chairs with tapestry covers. And I'm awfully fond of Simon, who barely notices Maureen's wiles, though I'd love him if he just allowed Katrina to say how she feels about him. Is that another translation thing? I'm pretty sure there's not a man on the planet who could keep me from saying how I feel when he tells me how he feels. If that's innocence, give me guilt.

  2. Congratulations founding Bettys on 100,000 hits. If only everyone knew how funny and wonderful you both are, and what a wonderful community of Bettys has gathered here - there would be 1 million hits.
    I am toasting you with my Earl Grey as I write....

    Betty von Susie

  3. "I keep wondering if I'm missing something because of my limited understanding of the setting. Is driving with a gentleman in a laundelet more scandalous than a barouche? Should a character not have used the word "bathroom"? Is a fedora the wrong hat to wear in the morning?
    With Betty there are often actions or ideas that don't make sense to me, but maybe would to a middle- or upper-middle class Englishwoman with a 1930s mentality."

    This is my problem when watching foreign films. Costumes and cultural references...all are calculated to communicate and I know I'm missing things.

    And Betty Debbie...My crop was blueberries. Shady and yummy.

  4. Poor Aunt Thirza, she was proud. She was educated. And perhaps of a class that should have been better taken care of by her elder male relatives. Hence the pride. Or downfall. Darling Katrina was certainly loyal to dear A. T's memory in the eyes of the village world. She had to be. She couldn't allow people to talk. The gossip would have been horrible and catty, etc. Perhaps. Or they might have been sweet and nice. But Katrina wouldn't take the chance. I think it was very generous of AT to take in the niece considering she had no income and was essentially cash poor. But having a large plot of lad for gardening never left you hungry.

    Betty Francesca

  5. Whoever wrote this review is a fabulous writer. You should write (BN) type harlequin novels for all of us. Packed with humor in an Oregon village. Haha! :)

    Betty Francesca

    1. Yeah, good idea. With a Rich Pennsylvania Dutch Doctor (though, unfortunately, they don't speak Dutch, not even Fries).
      Betty Anonymous

  6. You know, the medical anachronisms never bother me. Back when she started, I suspect The Great Betty still knew her forceps from a retractor, but even then she didn't believe in the word "cancer" (it was "CA" for "carcinoma") and you just didn't tell people they were dying.

    I have no trouble imagining her in her 90s saying querulously, "I don't believe it does anything to improve one's final days. Let them die believing there's hope," or some such bromide.

    Well, you know, I think that's of a muchness with the hard line she drew on trips to Brighton. Things were done differently in her day, and she wasn't inclined to change with the times.

    Medicine? Pre-marital relations? What's the diff?

    1. Betty Magdalen, when I read your comment I could not remember reading the word cancer in the Neels œuvre ever, either. But I have. Many times, in fact. At least, as many times as I have read Not Once But Twice (published 1981), one of my favourites. Last night, I was reading a few random pages and Duert said to Christina, "Mijnheer Beek has cancer of the lung..."
      Betty Anonymous

    2. Yes, but I believe if you go back to the early books, it's CA with no secondary reference to the word "cancer."

      But, hey, my memory is as likely to be wrong as right. :-)

    3. Betty Magdalen, I am sure you are right. Had I not found Duert saying it, I would not have believed that the word had ever been uttered in the entire œuvre.
      Betty Anonymous

  7. Besides, I kinda like it.

    Remember the one where the family friend who was so wonderful and lived in Holland with a great husband and horrible son?

    I think hiding it from your female family members was sort of a protective thing to do. It gave them less to worry about. You know how some of us our when we worry too much!!!
    It allowed the (ill) females a chance to just carry on and do what they loved best until they plopped in their chair and never woke up. It's a fabulous way to go. Much better than being attached to tubes and machines in a cold clinical very oogly hospital for days and weeks. I liked that the heroine helped her to do things she liked, made her fave dishes, etc. Much more humane, noble and memorable.

    I know of one elderly lady in Oz land who worked in her garden, felt tired, went to sit down inside and never woke up. A lovely peaceful way to go.

    Betty Francesca

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. I'm not sure hiding a diagnosis would fly today, but I don't mind it for the time and genre. However, if my family starts cosseting me, making my favorite foods and agreeing with my every wish, I'm going to start asking questions!!

  10. Bettys Debbie & Kiera,
    SPRINGFIELD OREGON! The secret is out. So did you ever work at the nuclear power plant?

    On a serious note:
    I am equally appalled at the 'don't tell the person who'd dying that she will be' for personal reasons. Think of the POV of the person who has to lie to the afflicted one. My mom was put in this position by the 'top' stomach doctors in 1960. They thought dad had an ulcer, opened him up to operate, found a creeping form of cancer on the lining of everything from his bowl to his throat. They closed him up and left him to die. It goes from very sad to almost criminal. The doctor tells my mom that he's not going to tell this 51 y.old man with 10 children that he's dying, so here's the STORY (BIG LIE). "We operated, cut out the ulcer tissue, reattached this thingie to that thingie (actually drawing fake pictures for dad.) If you follow our instructions and don't take nourishment by mouth, you'll get better". Poor Dad lived the whole first week without blood because they didn't want to waste it on a dying man. My mom had to go in every day pretending he was going to get better. He wouldn't even let her put ice chips in his mouth because he was determined to get better. She said his tongue was like leather. She went to our pastor to beg him to asks the doctors to give dad blood. He told her the doctors know best. When dad kept living, they did give him blood. My mom and older sibs were praying for a miracle. And since no prayers are wasted I'm sure there was one. Dad lived from the surgery on Good Friday until June 1st. Mom never told him he was dying, but she was sure he knew.
    I don't hate the doctors, but I think they were weak men. My mom was the only hero in this story. She was 45 at the time, and I was 4. It amazes me what she lived through. She passed away last August, one month shy of 96. We made sure she knew when & where she was going, and she was ready to continue living in a much better place. I only wish she could have done the same for Dad.

    1. I've actually never watched an episode of The Simpsons...but I'm assuming that has to do with "the secret" that's out. The Springfield, Oregon that I grew up in was basically a mill town: lumber and paper. On foggy mornings you could smell the Weyerhauser plant - an aroma that I shall never forget.

      I'm so impressed with your mother and what she went through. Watching her husband die and then raising 10 children on her own. Wow. Do you have any memories of your dad?

    2. Betty Barbara here--
      Betty Debbie--you are soooo right about paper mill aroma! It is one of a kind: once smelled, never forgotten!

      Betty Mary--thanks for sharing the story. Your mom was indeed a hero.

    3. I have two memories I call my own, and many formed for me by my mom and older sisters.
      Mine #1: Dad is 'sleeping' on the couch. I take his hand and stack his fingers (he had huge hands). I look up and look back and his fingers are flat again. (How did that happen?) Here's the Group circa 1955

      Mine #2: Big Brother (5 1/2) is chasing me through the living room. Dad catches us, Mark gets a swat and I don't. ;-)

      From Mom: Dad is sitting reading the paper while bedlam is happening around the dining table. Mom and Sisters are getting dinner ready. Mom pokes head into room and says "Maurie, say something to those kids!." Dad moves paper down, says "Hi Kids", goes back to reading. What a guy!
      Here I'm the adorabubble 4 year old on my sister lap.

    4. Ooops, this the photo that goes with
      What a guy!

      The other one is me in my curtain summer short outfit!

    5. Your dad was handsome. Freddie Something...not so much!

    6. Betty Mary, thanks for sharing your story and photos. Your poor mom. My eyes are watering for her and also for your dad.

      Betty AnoninTX

    7. Betty Mary, I'm so sad to hear about what your parents went through. But I'm glad that your mother lived a long life.

    8. Oh my, how very sad for your family, and how strong your mother must have been.

  11. Your dad WAS handsome which is probably why he got away with the "Hi Kids" incident..I'll bet she didn't even mutter a beastly Dutch oath at him....

  12. What a sad story. But what an "adorabubble" bunch! I love the memories you have of your dad. And I love your curtain summer short outfit! Thank you for sharing this with us.
    Betty Anonymous

  13. Thanks guys. I loved 'em both. Mom got very strong with the adversity but it changed her more care free nature. She became very exacting and hard to please as she got older. She wasn't a roll with the punches sort. In her older years she could have given Aunt Thirza a run for her English pounds. Mom was born in England of poor Irish parents, so her nature and nurture warred with each other! They came to the states when she was 12. Grandpa Lynch was disfigured in the war, and suffered the WWI version of PTSD and was told to move to American. My grandma sewed to keep the family going, so we often wore outfits made of extra curtain or slipcover material!
    Dad was the carefree youngest son of a rich South Bend family with one ancestor who came here in 1640 and another grandparent who immigrated from Ireland.
    I'm sure Mom uddered the odd oath (English or Gaelic) but yeah, from what I'm told, Dad was a charmer!

  14. I think I said this before (but I can't recall which book I was commenting on). My mom had AMML and the doctor didn't tell her how serious it was, but at least she didn't pawn off the "anemia" story -- although at that point it would have been tough, due to Mom's symptoms. This was in the 80s.

    Her motivation, as explained to my sister and I was that if she knew how bad it was, she might have given up and she needed all the positive energy she could muster to fight. (If you have any medical training, Mom was admitted with a WBC of over 150k.)

    Mom did wind up in remission which lasted for two years.