Monday, September 10, 2012

A Girl Named Rose - Reprise

 I was (re)watching an episode of Doctor Who this week, when I heard this quote:
You know when sometimes you meet someone so beautiful - and then you actually talk to them and five minutes later they're as dull as a brick; but then there's other people. And you meet them and you think, 'Not bad, they're okay,' and when you get to know them ... their face just, sort of, becomes them, like their personality's written all over it, and they just - they turn into something so beautiful. Rory's the most beautiful man I've ever met. (Amy Pond, in The Girl Who Waited , Doctor Who Season 6 episode 10)
 Substitute Rose Comely for Rory, and that quote could have come from Sybren Werdmer ter Sane. Forget the beautiful Sadie (oh, and Mies), Rose is the one who has what it takes to be truly beautiful.
-Betty Debbie

Dear Betty Neels, I just don't know if it can get any better than this. A Girl Named Rose is a delight and a treasure. I'm going to bury it in an old glass Mason jar in my backyard for future generations to dig up and discover. Or maybe I should rip up a copy and lovingly wallpaper my bathroom with the text--to be read several times a day by one and all while I have a captive audience. Sincerely yours (and prostrate in amazement), Betty Keira

I always think of Rose Comely as Gold Medalist Rose Comely. While all the other student nurses were being backed into the sluice room by flirtatious young housemen, Rose Comely, a plain and hard-working Martha, was conning for her tests. She would like to have been the one crowded into antiquated plumbing by a lusty doctor but chance is a fine thing.
She has a great many friends but, since the death of her parents and subsequent remarriage of a wicked step-mother, she only has Aunt Millicent and her faithful handmaiden Maggie to go home to.
While taking a package tour in Holland, she and Sadie (cute as a button and no moral compass) take shelter from a sudden storm by knocking on the door of a house at random. Mr. Sybren Werdmer ter Sane offers them tea, leers suggestively at Sadie (happily leering back) and gives Rose little jobs like pouring out and fading into the background.
The heavens stop raining and Sybren (I am not typing out that whole name even if Rose adheres to it rather rigorously.) helps Miss Fancy Britches on with her coat. Turning away from the vision of her loveliness to perform the same service for Rose (Whom, despite acting as mother for the tea party, it never entered his mind to help first.), he finds that she has helped herself.
This is nothing less than the summation of Rose, her personality and her lot in life.
Rose, acting as sort of the designated driver of the group of 6 nurses, returns home to England and St. Bride's wondering if Sybren is single--which is strangely muddled up with her desire to not be so plain and wishing she weren't quite so lonely.
Editorial Note: Which is not to say that she is unhappy. Rose is one of those Neels heroines who hoard their half loaf--making do with what they've got and being just the teensiest bit afraid of risking even that. Her plan is to stay in her proscribed little circle and make a heaven of it.
But then Sybren comes to St. Bride's. He's there to take Sadie back to Holland with him to nurse his godson. Little Duert has a skull fracture, his British mother Chrissy is due any day with her second child and frantic with worry, and maybe, Sybren thinks, a giggling and delightful (and hot) and most likely capable English-speaking nurse would take her mind off things.
But the SNO is having none of it. Sadie's alright but Rose is better. He'll have to take her or nothing.
But it seemed to me that she lacks a certain light-heartedness...
And Rose hears him say it.
She goes with him but she's wretched about it.
Sybren practically ignores her on the trip over and then has the effrontery to compliment her on her low-maintenance companionship. At the Dutch hospital she meets the Chrissy and Duert ter Brandt (Not Once But Twice) and little Duert and slips seamlessly into place--instantly becoming the prop that Chrissy needs in a way Sadie could not.
Rose is not the Gold Medalist because she spent all her time knowing the right answer to the theoretical questions, she is also an amazing nurse--caring for little Duert with a patience and doggedness that has more to do with her character than test scores.
And then one day she sees signs of life. Sybren is called and walks in on her singing Hey, Diddle, Diddle to the little fellow when he rouses enough to drowsily say, 'lickle dog'. She squeezes Sybren's hand resting on the cot.
Others are called and a stifled sort of excitement pervades the room. When everyone shuffles out again, Sybren hears the soft voice of Rose beginning Ride a Cock Horse. It is from this point that he starts to acknowledge that, try as he might, he can't seem to get her out of his mind.
When Little Duert is out of the woods Rose, who has had almost no free time and little outside contact, observes to Sybren that she's sorry that he got her when he wanted Sadie. She overheard him, she says. The blistering coldness that greets this statement is enough to freeze her bones.
Editorial Note: I'm not sure why she mentions it. I think by this time she might really like him enough to feel bad for him but maybe she just wants to underline the fact that her head hasn't been turned by him. For his part, he detests being reminded of his poor judgment.
When she is invited out by a doctor and his wife to spend an evening eating at their house and chatting over dinner, her simple delight at the prospect underlines her usually solitary days. She practically dances past Sybren on her way out and he is prompted to ask (after, no doubt, what he finds an annoying amount of thought given to it and to her) if she is not lonely.
She fibs. Of course she does. What did he expect to hear?
Yes, doctor, I am surrounded by dozens of people all day who wouldn't notice if I was hit by an articulated lorry as long as they had their temperature taken by someone in a starched cap. Yes, I'm lonely.
Unthinkable to say such a thing. Anyway, she saw him out on the town the night before and he couldn't possibly understand.
Little Duert is finally well enough to go home and Rose gets to go along for a few weeks until he's entirely fit. Before one of her very first days off Sybren asks her plans.
I'm going to Amsterdam. On a train. Because I want to. I like being by myself. I'd rather be by myself.
She's closed every loophole she can think of and even if he did sort of ask her on a date it was done in such a you-can't-be-trusted-to-sight-see-by-yourself sort of way that I can't blame her for misunderstanding. He wanted to be with her--maybe to blow away this lingering madness that makes him see her under his eyelids at night--and phrases it in a way that costs him nothing and risks none of his pride. She hears that she is just another dreary responsibility to be taken care of.
When he tells her that if she won't accept company to at least avoid lingering in Dam Square she has no other option than to start busking INXS cover songs or set up a kabob cart in the center of the aforementioned.
But would this be a Betty Neels book if she got away with it scot free?
Nope. No nope-y nope nope no.
Some Dutch hooligans form a circle around her and Sybren (conveniently driving past) throws his car into park, parts the Red Sea and plucks her out of danger. He is angry and in a mood to chew her out but, though he is entirely in the right, she refuses to come undone.
Thank you. Now I'm going to the Rijksmuseum... She took his hand gently from her arm. Goodbye, Mr. Werdmer ter Sane.
It's that 'gently' that probably makes him mutter Dutch oaths at her retreating back.
A few days later he stops in to see Little Duert and drops the anvil. The toddler is well again. You should leave.
But having come to exorcise her from his life once and for all, he finds himself saying (in a kind of lost manner), 'I suppose I shall always be Sir to you, Rose. I wish...' A telephone call from Mies the Merciless (your standard issue Dutch society miss with a penchant for long walks on the beach, crushing the dreams of a poor orphan girl and returning volleys with a really wicked backhand) has interrupted them...not for the last time.
Chrissy and Big Duert (who have totally read the situation correctly: Brit nurse is so in love with Dutch doc but doesn't know it yet) take her out for one last dinner where they spot Sybren and Mies at another table. Sybren is probably clenching and unclenching his hands at just how remarkable fate is.
Rose returns to England where she spends a few days with Aunt Millicent. It is on the last day, while pegging some laundry up that she hears a creak at the gate. She looks up and when she sees that it is not Sybren (whom she had no reason to expect) she also realizes the depth of her disappointment. Ah. So this is love.
Editorial Note: This dawning realization is one of the best in all of Neelsdom--triggered as it is by something so common as someone walking through a gate and knowing, at last, that it is the wrong someone. Bravo, Betty.
She returns to St. Bride's with a little less bounce in her step but she's determined (as Rose always is) to buck up and move along. She's doing fairly well, too, and then Sybren returns to St. Bride's. He's confused and irritated with himself for dropping everything so quickly when he's asked to come over for a consultation. He found himself nearly tripping over himself in his hurry to see Rose again even though he is still unable to admit to any feeling stronger than preoccupation and unhealthy obsession.
His greeting is tight-lipped and he throttles his first impulse to take her out on the town for dinner. But when he runs into her at the end of a long day (as she is fetching a bag of baked potatoes for a belated dinner--so much more humble than the one he would have taken her to or the one he subsequently enjoyed with a nubile young thing) he is almost shattered with a desire to scoop her up and shower his wealth on her person. Why he doesn't recognize this as love is beyond me--maybe he's got a peptic ulcer he can ascribe it to.
His consultation is successful and he afterwards asks Rose to come with him for high tea--lowering himself to coerce her by asking her to talk over the operation. High tea at a bourgeois eatery is...(Oh dear. Betty Keira, don't do it. I must!)...not his cup of tea but even he is shocked by how much he enjoyed it.
Some little time later, Rose comes to Holland to visit the ter Brandt family after refusing a lift from Sybren (if he's not interested in saving himself from her then she'll save him herself). They meet again and we find that the intervening time has cleared his mind.
She said with desperate chattiness, 'Are you on holiday too?'
'No.' He looked at her. 'I like your hair like that.' He sighed gently. 'I always thought of you as rather a plain girl, but I see that I was wrong.'

Sounds like someone has been dining on an exclusive diet of dawning realization...
He has to run off to make a dinner date with Mies (Noooooooooo!), but if Rose would be willing to meet him the following day...
She comes to his house--a return to the scene of their first meeting and what a difference a few months make. They have an enchanted day together. He takes her on The Home Tour of Undying Love and at its conclusion, when emotions are understandably running high (Think of all those William and Mary settees!), he proposes...ish.
Rose, what would you say if I were to tell you that I want to get married?
What sort of proposal-ish is that? A terrified and uncertain one, that's what.
Rose sits as still as a poker and it only needs the tiniest nudge to send her into his arms. Fate unkindly nudges her in the other direction with a phone call.
Sybren swears 'ferociously' (I'll bet.) and takes it. The upshot is that he must leave. On his way out the door he tosses a hand grenade over his shoulder. 'It's only fair to tell you that that was Mies.'
Rose is shaken but stays where he left her. Surely he will return to explain? Instead, she receives a phone call (Phone calls from Mies are like acid rain, falling on the innocent and guilty alike with alarming frequency.).
Mies: Sybren is so busy proposing marriage to me that he can't come to the phone and tell you that he wishes you'd just go home already. We're celebrating! I'm sure you'll agree that this behavior is not out of character at all...
Rose returns to the ter Brandt's alone and in a rare rage unalleviated by Sybren's remark (the next day) that he didn't get home until morning! Her fury at being used leads to some hasty words and she finds herself back in England without anything being cleared up. Poor Sybren had been called to operate on the fateful night and doesn't understand any of it.
St. Bride's looks more dire than usual and a blight by the name of Percy Pride (new houseman) has taken up residence. He chats Rose up out of boredom and ego inflation and she very kindly agrees to go on a date with him. Enter Sybren --all his travel can't be good for his carbon footprint ;0) . He takes Percy's number immediately, dangles an invitation to lunch in front of the poor Brit nurse's nose, and awaits catastrophe. After being marched through the mummy section of the British museum, given an inadequate snack, and propositioned (I have a key to a friend's flat which has a rip in the space-time continuum which will deposit us in Brighton!), seeing Sybren at the hospital is the last straw. It really is.
He kindly whisks her out to that fabulous meal that he referred to earlier. Her bonhomie is restored, her tummy is filled and then he goes and ruins it by reminding her that any other girl would have had enough experience with men to know that Percy was the kind to suck her into an inter-dimensional vortex.
And you have no need to remind me--haven't I been told since I was a teenager that I was plain--homely was the word my stepmother used and she was so right--men don't make passes at homely girls, only when there's no one else available I suppose...You should know that.
Being forgotten for Mies still rankles--will always rankle--and Rose has had a simply grotty day. He'll have to charge the hill tomorrow.
Tomorrow there's an explosion and her whole ward nearly collapses out from under her. But she's heroic, Percy's a worm and Sybren kicks some doors down to save the day. When she faints at the end of it he kicks through another door to get her to her bed.
Sybren gets a chance when all the chaos is cleared to ask Rose if she wants him to go away.
She is sent home on her off days and Sybren walks into her garden (like she hoped he would way back at the DR! He flipped a U-turn on the expressway and drove back to her).
Rose, do you really want me to go away?
He does but this time he's determined to run Mies to ground. What does she know and when did she know it?
Sybren comes to England once more, stuffs Rose into his Rolls and takes off for the motorway. Explanations and declarations.
Where is a lay-by when you need one!!
The End

Rating: You already know that this is a lashings of whipped cream for me. Rose isn't even trying to reach for the moon and does her best to let Sybren go ahead with the Misadventure of Mies. Sybren's slow-growing affection is such a charming thing to watch. He meets her and vaguely pities her in an off-hand way. Another meeting and it's shifted to annoyance. Still more and we watch him struggle with grudging admiration and then he can't get her out of his head (and you know he's trying). Before he knows it he's swimming upstream against the current of delight at everything she does and desperately attempting to maintain his dignity when what he wants to do is throw her over his shoulder and marry her out of hand.
Even the wrenches (Mies and Percy) are fun to read and there aren't so many of them that it becomes silly.
It is also super fun to meet the ter Brandt family again and Betty fleshes them out very nicely considering they're not primary characters and act as mere catalysts.

Food: Chips, shepherd's pie, milk pudding, asparagus salad with shrimp, roast partridge, meringue tartlets, chicken a' la King, spinach tartlets, lardy cake, hot baked potatoes, high tea, Dundee cake (Maggie's love language is 'cooking'), boiled eggs, ham broodjes, lager, potted shrimp, potato staws, orange ice cream and bread and butter pudding. On the Day of the Great Concatenation of Awfulness she is offered beans on toast, sponge cake and tea by Percy Pride and then taken out for mushrooms in cream sauce and lobster thermidor by the good doctor.

Fashion: Our heroine wears a cotton jersey, a plain blue linen dress--she wears and wears and wears a soft pink crepe calf-length number with a lower bosom and long sleeves. A printed lawn dress with a shawl collar comes streaking out of the mid-80s sky to ruin any pretense of timelessness. Rose also buys a few pastel T shirts (!) and a pleated cream skirt and cardigan set.
Mies the Brat wears an asymetrical red dress that I'm thinking belongs in Dynasty.
Chrissy ter Brandt wears luxurious housecoats (post-natal outfit de rigueur) and then shows up (astonishingly soon after delivery) in a silk dress that I must only assume has an elastic waistband and a stretchy bustline.


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  2. Having seen that you were going to reprise A Girl Named Rose, I decided to reread it. The first time I read it (only about a month ago as part of my quest to read every Betty Neels) I had personally given it a Boeuf en Croute. I hadn't really Sybren at first; I loved Rose but I got a little tired of her telling him to go away. The Percy Pride episode was funny, with the awful day out in the British Museum and the invitation to Brighton. But on the whole, I was not as enamoured as your reviewer. However, on second reading I have had to agree with you, definitely lashings of whipped cream. This time, I could see what was happening to Sybren, every step of the way. The first read I could only see his snotty remarks and the way he hurt Rose; on second reading I could see how skilfully Betty had documented his downfall. Thanks to your excellent analysis!

  3. There is somebody online from Andover. Knew I had read the name of that town in Neels.

  4. Love this book, and love your review of it. I can always count on you to lift my spirits. :)

  5. "Chrissy ter Brandt wears luxurious housecoats (post-natal outfit de rigueur) and then shows up (astonishingly soon after delivery) in a silk dress that I must only assume has an elastic waistband and a stretchy bustline."

    Guffawed loudly. Betty Keira, I hope you have saved all your stretchy bustlines...

  6. "You are a stubborn girl, aren't you, Rose? Never mind, but oblige me by not going to the Dam Square and loitering there. It's the gathering place of any number of strange types these days."
    A Girl Named Rose (1986)

    Dam Square - LIVE streaming WebCam
    loitering - March 7, 1980
    gathering place - 1972
    strange types - August 27, 1970

  7. I loved this one. And I love when Rose shows up in The Doubtful Marriage, brandishing a baby in a carry-cot, to chase away the Veronica. She has "come into her own," as they say, secure in the true, true love of her Sybren.

  8. I was just at Dam Square last week and found the famous War Memorial, complete with steps but lacking any ruffians. It is very phallc, though.

  9. I would have liked this book if it hadn’t been for the grenade. Why oh why would he say that, other than to up TGB‘s page count? Much worse than the donkey comment. Senseless carnage.