Monday, June 18, 2012

The Vicar's Daughter - Reprise

Since Betty Keira is on vacation this week, I volunteered to post the reprise of the week - which I am totally happy to do.  

I love The Vicar's Daughter - in spite of the tragic death of two of The Least Deserving of Dying in a Tragic Motor Fatality parents in Neeldom.  There are so many other candidates in the canon that I would rather have suffer a vehicular fatality - but I guess that's why I'm not an author, I would have a hard time dishing out the angst.  

Betty Debbie

Yay! I get to review a book that I really enjoy! The Vicar's Daughter might very well make it onto my top ten Neels list.
Professor Gijs van Kessel
is enjoying a relaxing drive in the country late one evening, when suddenly a girl pops out in front of him and flags him down. Margo Pearson, 28 year-old parson's daughter, is helping with the delivery of a baby - after all, she's got her First Aid merit badge or something. Gijs grabs his doctor bag and crawls into the tent with Margo and the laboring girl. Non-squeamish Margo is actually very helpful - including following the "put your hand here and keep it steady" post-partum instructions.
Margo Pearson is the epitome of my favorite Neels heroine. Plucky, pragmatic, resourceful, sensible...I love her. A lot. I also love Gijs. He's kind, thoughtful, handy to have around in an emergency, and pretty darn direct.
Margo is an only child. Her father is the vicar (maybe you already guessed that from the title?), Margo and her mum are his able assistants. Margo has been drifting into potential marriage with pig farmer George Merridew. George has been courting her cautiously with a view to eventual marriage with the grudging blessing of his overbearing mother. Mrs. Merridew thinks that as a vicar's daughter, Margo would be a suitable wife for her boy - after some moulding. Unfortunately for George, Margo is not a girl to be moulded. And frankly, after seeing Gijs, Margo knows that prosaic, pig-farming George is not the man for her. She doesn't have any illusions about her looks, or rather, lack of them, but she does wish she had looks that would make men look twice and remember her. Professor van Kessel does remember a small girl without fear, sensible and bossy. Ouch. That's not what Margo has in mind.
Sir William, local bigwig, asks Margo if she will take his granddaughter to London. No problemo. Margo takes Imogen to her aunts house...Imogen's young cousin is being seen by a paediatric specialist...none other than Professor van Kessel. Professor RDD offers to take Margo home in an hour. During which hour, Margo is ignored by the household staff and practically starves to death. The Prof. offers to buy her some lunch, since he missed his too (he's fibbing - he just had lamb cutlets and some substantial apple tart at the hospital - see, I told you he was kind). Margo endears herself to the doctor by just ordering an omelette and salad.
Back at the vicarage in time for a substantial tea, Professor Doctor Gijs van Kessel endears himself to me by inviting the Pearson family to just call him Gijs. Editor's Note: I really like the fact that Margo doesn't have to spend 185 pages calling the RDD "Professor van Kessel" - and not just because it's a pain to type.During tea, Margo gets to thinking about what Gijs' home life might be like and wonders whether he is married. Margo, being Margo, it was no sooner said than done. "Are you married?" Embarrassment klaxons are blaring...but Gijs is adorable...and described by Betty as "either a man with the kindest heart imaginable or was prone to deafness."
Despite the burgeoning friendship with Gijs, Margo goes over to the Merridew farm to help George's mum preserve plums. While stoning plums, girlfriend has an epiphany that she can't possibly marry George the pig-farmer. Upon returning home, she tells her own mum that although she's fond of George, she just doesn't love him. She would like to be cosseted and spoilt and loved very much. Frankly I think it's the thought of living with George's mum that really has her put off the idea. She'd rather stay single than marry George and have to live with his mum.
George takes the news the next morning with a disturbing lack of concern...which was a very lowering thought to a girl...
In order to take a breather and "clear the decks", Margo heads off to visit Aunt archdeacon's widow with a sharp nose, a sharp tongue and a warm heart. While taking a walk, Margo spots a toddler lying unconscious in the creek. She recognizes the little girl as the granddaughter of Lady Trueman, and marches her back to the manor in the pouring rain, losing a shoe in the process. A paediatric specialist is called other than our Gijs. We've got to stop meeting like seems that we are destined to only meet in emergencies. He drives her back to Aunt Flo's house where Margo discovers that "the peculiar feeling she had been experiencing for the last hour or so wasn't a cold in the head, it was love!" Margo is bundled off to bed while Aunt Flo and Gijs chat about her over a cup of coffee. Gijs reflects to himself that besides being surprised at seeing Margo again, he was also pleased. Hmmm. Pleased and surprised? Nice.

Pleased enough to stop by Margo's stall at the church bazaar. Margo is in charge of the "Good-As-New" clothes...and steps out of character to remark, "do people really buy other people's clothes?" Editor's Note: I would think that a vicar's daughter would know better than that. At twenty-eight years old she's probably been to at least a couple dozen bazaars or jumble sales...which probably had used clothing stalls. But I digress. Gijs stops by to dispense a little fashion advice to the customers and invite Margo out to dinner - getting to know each other without an imminent medical emergency.

Dinner is lovely (even if her clothes aren't), and the two carry on a refreshingly two-sided conversation. Good-byes are said, Margo assumes that's the last she'll get to see of Gijs. Which it is, until time for her to head back home. When Gijs shows up at the door, Aunt Flo tells her that it must have slipped her mind, but Gijs is going to drive her home. Another last good-by? He reminds her of a promise he had made to arrange a hospital tour for her. He'll pick her up next Tuesday.
Gijs really does admire Margo - she would make a splendid wife and mother, so hey, maybe while he's at it he can find a way for her to meet one of the younger doctors, however, when he does see her with Houseman Alec he forgets his idea - he finds no pleasure in the sight of her with the younger man. Hmmm.
Meanwhile, Margo is not too happy with Gijs. In fact, she's boiling with rage. What? Mild-mannered Margo is ticked off? Why for? Gijs is mystified at her coolness towards himself during the drive home. He makes Margo stay in the car until she tells him. Tell him what?
Her: "You said I was a sensible girl with no silly ideas. Alec thought I sounded like a schoolteacher. If that's what you think of me I don't want to see you again, ever."
Him: But you are a sensible girl with a refreshing lack of silly ideas...
Her: See what I mean? It's call damning with faint praise. I'd rather have none of that.
Margo bitterly regrets her words.

One week later. Mom and Dad are out for the day running errands and doing a spot of early Christmas shopping. Oh, and dying in a motor accident.

Margo calls Aunt Flo. Who finds Gijs at her doorstep. Who offers to drive her to Margo. Who cries on his shoulder. Who swallowed the spider who ate the fly...I don't know why...

Gijs is so sweet...he would take her grief on his shoulders if he could, he even goes so far as to tell Margo. I'm going to use this to excuse some future bad behaviour. Gijs proceeds to help with all the formalities associated with the funeral and comforting Margo.
Aunt Flo is distressed about Margo - what will happen to her now? I shall marry her. Oh heck, I'm in love. He takes Margo for a walk to the place where they met, gives her a hanky while she sobs and snivels, then proceeds to propose in a rather delightful way. It might be a marriage of convenience...but it's very friendly and open.
Margo is a little worried about marrying him - but Aunt Flo has no such qualms..."you're marrying him because you love him, so of course you're doing the right thing." Wow. Even Margo's ecclesiastical aunt can tell.
In preparation for the wedding, some judicious shopping is engaged in - including a new house for the newlyweds. Yup, they jump right into buying real estate together. Which is surprisingly easy for them...unlike the months Dr. van der Stevejinck and I took to find our current residence.
On the way to the wedding ceremony Margo considers the fact that since Gijs isn't in love with anyone else, she may as well have a go at helping him to fall in love with her. It might take years, but it would be totally worth it.
The wedding is lovely - the whole village turns out for it. Cross-over characters Gijs and Beatrice van der Eekerk (Wedding Bells for Beatrice) are in attendance also. Note: Gijs has got to be the most commonly used RDD name in Neeldom, which does lead to some confusion on my part. Sir William throws a lovely reception for the happy couple before they head off for the requisite trip to Holland. On the drive through the countryside Gijs promises to get Margo a car so that she can be independent..."She had no wish to be independent - she would like to stick to him like a leech."
The house of van Kessel is awfully big and fancy...Margo has her suspicions that Gijs might actually be a millionaire. Which he happens to be.

Her: I dare say I'll get used to it..
Him: If you can't bear to live here, we'll close it up and live in a cottage. (see - he's nice!)It's very close to Christmas - so Margo and Gijs go  Christmas shopping for all of Gijs family (who Margo hasn't yet met) and the servants (who she has). Christmas is a lovely family occasion - all of Gijs siblings, their spouses and children are there. And everyone likes her. After Christmas the extra family leaves, and it's down to Gijs and Margo (and the servants). It's pretty quiet - and so Margo goes for a walk. Unfortunately it starts snowing and she gets lost. Of course Gijs saves the day - but he's breathing pretty hard by the time he does - and it's not altogether because he had been running.
Gijs takes Margo furniture shopping (for their new house) in the attic of his house in Holland. Amongst the detritus of past decorating styles, Margo spots a cradle. Turns out all the van Kessel offspring spend their first month or so in it. Which begs the question...Gijs wanted a wife, but does he want children????
Back to London and the new house - it's coming along swimmingly when Gijs announces that his younger sister, Corinne the Corrupter, is coming to visit. Even though Corinne the Playing Fast and Loose with Her Marriage Vows is Gijs' sister, she is no role model for future Neels heroines. She carries on a secret 'Brightonless' (we hope) affair with the dastardly Jerome...secret until she fesses up to Margo, then vows her to secrecy. Corinne the Terminally Stupid gets into trouble with Jerome - he wants her to 'go to Brighton'. Corinne the Too Stupid to be Allowed sheds some tears in front of Margo and begs her to get rid of Jerome for her...when Margo shows doubts about helping her, Corinne plays the "I'm going to have a baby" card (don't worry, it's her husband's child...not Jerome's) and Margo agrees to help. This leads to some BIG TROUBLE with Gijs...because he sees Margo and Jerome having an intense conversation on the steps of the National Gallery - and Margo won't explain (remember - vow of silence). Since Margo won't say anything, Gijs ships her off to Aunt Flo's for a week - which doesn't help. When Margo gets back, Gijs announces that he's going to Holland for a couple of weeks. Alone. Margo sticks it out for about a week and a half then follows him to have it out. She offers to have the marriage annulled...Gijs tells girlfriend that he loves her too much to see her unhappy...Whatever shall I do, she wails. Gijs drives up to Friesland for the night - then goes straight to his office in the morning. Corinne the I'm Pregnant So I Should Get Away With It shows up and confesses all (her husband is making her do it) and ends her confession with tears and baby news. Gijs is way the heck too nice to her - but he does beg her never to ask Margo to make any more promises - because she was brought up to keep them. At all costs.
Gijs races back to the house - Margo hasn't left for her flight yet. He finally finds her in the attic, sobbing over the cradle. I love you's all round...then some implied future conjugal relations - "The cradle will need a good polish." The End.
Rating: I love this book. A lot. Margo is my favorite kind of Neels heroine: plucky, resourceful and cheerful. Gijs is adorable. He's nice even before he falls in love - no hooded eyes for him! The age difference is not that great - 28/35. The only fly in the marital ointment is baby sister. If I could change one thing about this book, it would be that Corinne got a little more closely acquainted with consequences, but that's not how The Great Neels rolled...I give this one a queen of puddings!
Food: I'm guessing Betty penned this in the fall, because we have apple crumble (twice), apple tart AND Dutch apple tart. Not only that, but we also have a couple of casseroles, bacon sandwiches, toffee pudding, treacle tart, jam roly-poly pudding, roast pheasant , almond tart with lashings of whipped cream - all these things sound very fall/winter comfort food kind of dishes.
Fashion: at the used clothing stall there is a dress of puce nylon with a pattern of startling green leaves, draped to disguise the wearer's curves. Wow. Margo buys a new wardrobe consisting of a velvet skirt, elaborate top in delicate apricot, blue dress and jacket to be married in, brown jersey dress, blue cashmere dress, brown cashmere coat, and two party dresses, including a dark green velvet with a very immodest neckline.