Monday, September 17, 2012

An Ideal Wife--Reprise

Betty Debbie wrote a great review of this gem.  I particularly noted this phrase: "Scotland is enchanting..." which makes a Neels novel SO much better (I think you know my feelings of the dripping wet, asthmatic, Nissen-hut Scotland of Heaven is Gentle...).  Scotland can go so many directions.

Hope you're having a smashing Bettys-day/Month!
Love and fairy cakes,
Betty Keira 

Louisa meets her destiny at 6 o'clock in the morning. Someone is pounding on the door, then leaning on the doorbell. Someone with good looks and angry blue eyes. Mr. Angry Eyes is in need of a shave. Louisa wonders first if he is drunk then her second thought is that perhaps he is an escaped prisoner on the run. HA! If only. He's just there to inform her that her housekeeper has fainted in the front yard.

Louisa Howarth isn't a nurse...I think we've established that at this point in her career the Great Neels didn't cast nurses in starring roles, but just to keep her in the medical profession, Louisa is receptionist extraordinaire to Sir James. Sir James is taking on a part-time partner, Dr. Thomas Gifford. Guess what? He's Mr. Angry Eyes, only this time the eyes aren't angry, just cold. Cold as ice (which just gave me a Foreigner flash-back....). Those cold eyes don't miss the fact that although Louisa may be a big girl, she's light on her feet and beautiful to boot.

Percy the Pompous (is there any other kind of Percy?) is the kind of gentleman caller who can't take a hint. He will keep proposing and Louisa will keep turning him down. He's good looking - but a little shy when it comes to height. Louisa tops him by an inch.

Louisa lives at home with her stepmother, Felicity. Felicity is still youngish, pretty and charming - and although Louisa is nothing like Felicity, they get along okay. Louisa does help out with money some - but she doesn't give in to Felicity too much. Sure, she pays Biddy (the housekeeper), but that's about the only thing she feels compelled to help out with. In fact, she's coming into an inheritance on her next birthday - her 28th, so she plans on a little more freedom and independence for herself - she's going to get her own flat. which she does with the help of Biddy. Biddy's friend, Mrs. Watts has a flat available and doesn't require a lot of annoying paperwork. As she says, "I won't do the dirty on you." Which phrase you would never hear in polite society, but it works as well as spitting in their hands and shaking. The flat might be tiny, but it is an actual flat, complete with bedroom, living room and kitchen. Louisa's done all this without informing Felicity...but now that she's got the flat, it's time to break the news. Felicity tries on a little emotional blackmail, but Louisa cheerfully brushes it off (♥).

Wherein Sir James travels to 'The Middle East'...leaving Dr. Gifford in Charge.

Louisa as receptionist extraordinaire will now be required to spend one or two nights a week at Dr. Gifford's place. Sounds a little like La Neels didn't have a great grasp on the duties required of a receptionist. After his first day of filling in, Mrs. Grant (the office nurse) asks if 'he'll do'. Evidently he has a lovely bedside manner, but he doesn't waste any of it on Louisa. 'He looks over me, around me, through me, but hardly ever at me, and when he does it's like an icy draught.' Dr. Gifford not only has an icy gaze, but now he's emitting icy draughts. Brrrr. Louisa doesn't let it bother her much - in fact she cheerfully forgives Dr. Gifford with a saucy, 'you can't like everyone you meet.' Even if he doesn't like her, she finds a lot to like about him. His lovely Regency home, lush garden, dog named Bellow and housekeeper named Rosie. Yes, he's got a well run home. All he needs is a wife. Of course he has prospects there also. He's engaged to the lovely, beautiful, golden-haired, fashionably thin, no curves, Helena Thornfold. Helena may look lovely, but she senses a little competition and out come the claws. Catty remarks about Louisa's size are bandied about. At first Louisa silently fumes, but very soon feels sorry for Dr. Gifford. "Helena would make him a terrible wife..." Since Louisa is not particularly shy, she doesn't lose much time before telling Dr. Gifford what she thinks.
Her: She's all wrong for you, you know.
Him: Shall we consider that remark unsaid.
Her: That's always seemed a silly thing to say...(♥♥)
Louisa starts worrying about his future...then has an epiphany. Percy! Percy the Pompous would be just right for Helena. In the meantime Dr. Gifford thinks that Louisa deserves a good husband, but in contrast with Louisa's epiphany, Dr. Gifford can't think of anyone who would suit.
With Sir James still negotiating peace in the Middle East, Dr. Gifford and Louisa are still putting in long hours at the Louisa matter-of-factly invites Dr. Gifford round to her flat for dinner. Nothing fancy, just sandwiches. She takes advantage of the cosy surroundings to do a little fishing. Are you going to the Woodley's ball? After Dr. Gifford leaves, Louisa gives a whoop! The ball will be a perfect place to introduce Percy to Helena and get Helena off the doctor's back.
Sir James comes back from his super secret mission to The Middle no more to-ing and fro-ing for Louisa. Dr. Gifford wishes her a very casual goodbye. 'He doesn't deserve the trouble she was taking over him, but he would thank her later.'
Her next task is to make up to Percy and get him to take her to the ball. Which is as easy as pie. The ball is everything she could wish for. She introduces Percy to Helena with gratifying results. He is quite taken with the fair Helena. Dr. Gifford senses that she's up to something...'I ask myself why...' (as well he should). Why was Louisa so happy to introduce Percy to Helena? 'Percy isn't to think that I might free Helena if he should fancy her for his wife.'
Nothing like a spot of emergency obstetrics. Dr. Gifford ropes Louisa in as helper since there are no nurses at the ball. They take the young couple home - where her own doctor takes over. By now they've missed supper at the off to a late dinner at Dr. Gifford's (call me Thomas) place...where he invites her to make dinner - and then back to the ball. Percy is overbearing about her absence...he sounds like something from a Brontë novel. Louise goes off to borrow a bike to ride home from the her long ball gown...Thomas drives her home but icily turns down coffee. Oh dear, he seemed to be thawing and now he's icing up again. This does not change any of her resolve that Thomas mustn't marry Helena. Percy is the answer. Louisa just needs to come up with more opportunities for Percy and Helena to get together. She worries away at the problem like a dog with a bone. In the wee hours of the morning Louisa sits up in bed. A picnic! It would be ideal. She can invite all the mutual friends.
Louisa tells Felicity about it - it sounds lovely, as long as she doesn't have to do any of the preparations.
The picnic is not only a good opportunity for Helena and Percy to get together, but it's also a chance for a Dawning Realization. Whose? His. Yup, Thomas has completely thawed towards much so that the thought comes to him that he would like to have her for his wife. Only one's Helena. The picnic winds down before teatime. Helena would like to go out that evening, but Thomas cries off - citing work.
He might have had some work, but when he gets off early he makes a bee-line to Louisa's with a brief stop to pick up an abandoned kitten. The kitten is dirty and starving, and so is Thomas - except the dirty part. Their dinner is quite delightful - Louisa gives Thomas the peas to shuck and the table to set, she does the heavy culinary lifting, they share the washing up. It's all quite charming. Thomas does a bit of fishing of his own. He finds out that Louisa is leaving for her vacation quite soon. A trip to Aunt Kitty and Uncle Bob's in Scotland. She practically draws a map to Aunt Kitty's house before Thomas leaves. He leaves Louisa with a kiss on the cheek.
Coincidentally, Sir James had planned to go to Scotland for a conference, but unfortunately his wife is suffering from a severe attack of shingles. Sir James asks Thomas to take his place, which he is more than happy to do.
Meanwhile, Louisa has taken the train to Scotland and is daydreaming and wishing Thomas was there to share it.
Thomas drives himself up and brings his dog, Bellow. He has some actual business to take care of before dropping in on Louisa. He plans to get over his 'infatuation', which plan goes quite well for him...right up until he sees Louisa and realizes that what he is really suffering from is the real McCoy. Doesn't matter that she's wearing an old dress with strawberry stains down the front, she's simply The One.

Scotland is enchanting...hiking, picnic lunches, and an invitation from Thomas for Louisa to ride back to Salisbury in his great socking Bentley.

During the drive home, they cross through Gretna...then down to the family home in the Lake District. Of course the home is lovely - but Helena has never seen it - she's not fond of that part of England. Mum is more than happy to see Louisa, you can just tell that the thought of having Helena as a daughter-in-law has been less than thrilling. Mum reminds Thomas to make a few more stops during the rest of the journey. Editor's Note: If I've learned one thing from Neels, it's that girls need to stop on the road every hour or so. Men, never.Back home in Salisbury, Louise visits Felicity who shares the information that Percy and Helena have been keeping each other company. Louisa is starting to have some qualms about her plotting. She doesn't want Thomas to be unhappy and if he really wants Helena to be his wife, she'd better do some damage control. Her idea of problem solving is to make Helena look good. She ropes Percy into taking her to a wedding - at which she wears a truly awful dress a dress that clings in all the wrong places (this is done expressly to make Helena look good). Helena will love it. Percy is pompous and Victorian...he declares that he has given his heart to Helena.
Helena is just the same catty person as always...accusing Louisa of putting on weight eating 'all that good Scottish porridge'. Louisa had planned to stick to Percy like white on rice, but he sneaks off the minute she turns her back on him. Thomas is unconcerned - he tells Louisa that he figures Percy is with Helena and they're both fine. Doesn't worry him a bit.
Back at work Louisa runs into Thomas. Literally runs into him.
Her: Are you made of rock?
Him: No, Louisa. I'm flesh and blood.
Her: (Oh great, I've fallen in love...wait a mo'...I've been in love for a long time! Dang.)
Louisa runs into Helena who warns her off of Thomas...and Percy. Seems like Helena can't quite make up her mind. Louisa has little patience with her, 'what twaddle you talk'.

Wherein Biddy Tells a Secret
  • Biddy heard it from Mrs. Watts, whose sister works for the Thornfolds and who happened to be just outside the door while Percy and Helena planned a SECRET WEDDING!!! In Ebbesborne Wake. Louisa decides that she'd better put a spoke in it.
  • Thomas ditches Helena and stops by Louisa's place. He offers to make some coffee while Louisa gets on with her ironing. He then washes up. All while taking her mind off a thunderstorm (♥♥♥).
  • Ebbesborne Wake isn't the crow flies, but Louisa isn't a crow and the roads are narrow. Which all leads to the fact that she's too late to stop the wedding.
  • Thomas shows up - Louisa confesses all and apologizes. "I've ruined your love life and I don't know what to do about it!"
  • Thomas gets called away - he's a doctor - they always get called away at crucial moments...
  • Louisa finally breaks down and cries - while sitting on a tomb in the rain. She is so emotionally exhausted from all the drama that she falls asleep. On the tomb. In the rain.
  • Thomas is in a white-hot rage - he's been searching all over for really, he's scared. He offers to take her home but she can't even get up 'I've got pins and needles' - which she would from sleeping on a tomb.
  • Thomas takes her back to his home, she ties her hair back with a handy piece of string (you never know when a piece of string would come in handy). Rosie brings tea.
  • He tells Louisa that he's thrilled and delighted that Helena and Percy are married. He was worried that something might occur to prevent it.
  • I love you.
  • I love you.
  • Snogging.
  • We shall have an ideal marriage. We shall love each other and argue and quarrel and make it up again and delight in each other's company.
  • Snogging.
  • The end.
Rating: I really really really like this book. Really. Louisa is simply adorable. She is big, beautiful and has plenty of self-confidence. She is always speaking her mind in a very forthright manner. Thomas is pretty great himself. He starts out chilly but warms right up next to the burning flame that is Louisa. You can just tell they're going to have a great marriage. Queen of Puddings!
Food: While recovering from her migraine, Biddy makes soup that is too salty, lamb chops slightly charred and pudding that looked like it had been a deep frozen dessert. Locally cured ham, scones, watercress soup (twice), lamb (three or four times), toffee pudding!!! Kedgeree, Welsh rarebit, pork pie, rhubarb tart, lardy cake!! Bushels of bannocks, teacakes, toast with Marmite.
Fashion: Jersey skirt and top with a little jacket in oatmeal, wide cotton skirt and thin cotton T-shirt, cotton dress with strawberry stains down the front, denim skirt, pinnies, apricot crêpe dress for the ball, elegant Italian shoes, Helena wears a jade-green silk outfit with silver sequins, cut far too low over her regrettable lack of bosom.


  1. I love the picnic in this one -- she decides to end it before tea-time, as tea in a flask never tastes right. There are a lot of great little details like that in this one, including Biddy's burnt offerings on headache day, Louisa's perambulations 'round Salisbury as she furnishes her flat, and her maneuverings of Percy and her lazy stepmother.

    I do believe that telling a colleague (he wasn't yet a friend) that his fiancee is all wrong for him is more rude than forthright, and that bothers me about a few of the later-era novels, but Louisa mostly makes up for it with a kind heart. She and Thomas really do get to a very friendly footing that bodes well for a happy marriage.

    1. BN uses the "forthrightness" of some of her heroines to say things they "shouldn't" to the hero.

      I believe, that in romance literature, and especially in BNeelsdom, that "forthrightness" indicates that the heroine is very very comfortable with the hero and already feels akin to him, as if she had known him all her life.

      She used the same personality with that girl who knit during the long hours as night receptionist at a London hospital. Remember her?

      Betty Francesca

  2. I love love love this one too.

    It's one of my top faves because I always remember that picnic!!!

    I love that she made almost all the food for the picnic herself, from scratch.

    I love that she plans things, a la Sophy by Georgette Heyer.

    I love that she has money and uses it to make herself look pretty and lives a life that is even more feminine than before.

    I love her spirit and how she tries to conquer and fight the "evil" bad stuff going on in the relationships around her. And all with the right spirit. Very courageous of her.

    But most of all I love the plot of the picnic and using it all the time in all my little "stories".


    Betty Francesca

  3. I think that Betty Keira's opening shot against Heaven Is Gentle is pretty cheap considering that she manipulated the March Madness brackets into cheating it out of a slam-dunk win.


    1. but true! Scotland feels so dreary in that one!

  4. I am re-reading this one right now. I'm at the part where they are just leaving Scotland.

    Love all the characters in this one. So fresh.

    I love the aunt Kitty who married the first time in her late forties and was slender and elegant yet forsook it all for the love of her scottish bearded husband. so lovely. And poor hero looked "bleak" when he heard it and said what a lucky man her uncle was and how all men wished for a wife like that.

    so cool.

    Betty Francesca

  5. I thought BN hadn't written it!

    Why? Vocabularytoo low brow, too many references to romantics genres and works, Salisbury/answering machines/mobile phones at odds with Salisbury/unbelievably rich GPs/provincial medical men & Middle Eastern mystery clients . . .

  6. Should read:

    Vocabulary too low brow, too many references to romantic genres . . .


    1. An Ideal Wife – not written by TGB? I am afraid I cannot follow your reasoning.

      Salisbury/answering machines/mobile phones at odds with Salisbury/unbelievably rich GPs/provincial medical men & Middle Eastern mystery clients

      You lost me there. Perhaps a little too cryptic for me. Could you explain please?

      I am afraid all of the heroes are rich. (Old money, wisely invested, of course, + income.) According to Betty van den Betsy’s post Betty by the Numbers: Hero’s Jobs 15% of the heroes are GPs, by the way.

      In real life, some GPs are not just family doctors but specialize in some area as well. I remember mentioning a Dutch GP who specializes in tropical diseases, for example.