Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Betty by the Numbers: The Founding Bettys’ Ratings

Shall we begin with several rousing cheers for Betty Debbie and Betty Keira, the Founding Bettys, who so assiduously worked and worried and read and dreamed and finally brought us the marvelous wonderment that is, a/k/a The Uncrushable Jersey Dress.  What a joy and a treasure they have unloosed upon the world, however misguided Betty D. may be about The Fortunes of Francesca (1997) or ditto Betty K. in the matter of Heaven is Gentle (1974).  So here’s to the Founding Bettys, who read 135 books with care and attention, and rated each of them with a magnificently-imagined scale-of-Betty-food (except Betty Magdalen reviewed Fate is Remarkable).  Hip, hip, hooray!  Hip, hip, HOORAY!  Hip, hip, hippety HOORAY-O-RAMA!!!

Betty Debbie's T reads, “You encourage me to fend off the encroaching years;" Betty Keira's reads, "Emily took instant exception to his pink frilled shirt."

Ithe Founding Bettys.  Now, about those ratings...
Almost two-thirds of the Neels oeuvre warrants, in the FBs view, a boeuf en croute or better.  One suspects a smidgeon of partisanship.  Zero, that’s right, zero, rate a tinned soup or digestive biscuits, and only 6% rate a cheese board or below.  The average score is something like a small serving of boeuf en croute with a large mince pie for afters (7.75).  The median score is boeuf en croute (8).
Time out for a quick reminder on the rating system:
The best books warrant a lashings of whipped cream rating, which equates to ten points out of ten.  A handful get lashings-plus.  Then, in descending order, we have:
queen of puddings
delightfully named, but really just super-custardy bread pudding with jam underneath and meringue on top
boeuf en croute
most excellent if you like beef...
mince pies
if genuine mince, with suet and organ meats and other disgusting yuk, I’d rather have tinned soup; if just nice fruits and booze and minimal citron, I may take seconds
treacle tart
madeira cake
tasty, but too often dry
the cheese board
gosh, I love a good cheese board, but I suppose if you’re comparing it to a confection of meringue, almonds, cream and chocolate, it may lack something
beans on toast
DELICIOUS served hot with cheese melted on top, but quite unpalatable if allowed to get soggy
digestive biscuits
actually quite tasty, but unfortunately named
tinned soup
typically very salty, and no real flavor of whatever it’s supposed to be – especially sad with things like asparagus

So, here we go:  four books, or 3%, warrant lashings-plus:  Blow Hot, Blow Cold/Surgeon from Holland/Visiting Consultant (1969) – lashings of whipped cream with cherries on top; Winter Wedding (1979) – mountains of lashings of whipped cream; Caroline’s Waterloo (1980) – lashings of whipped cream with a cherry on top; and A Christmas Romance (1999) – lashings and lashings of whipped cream.  Note the broad range of publication dates; note too that we have 75% nurses, 75% Dutchmen, 25% MOCs, average heroine age of 24 and average hero age of 38, all of which are reasonably representative of the broader canon.  There’s 50% barons represented here, which is a bit high, but probably not to an expert on statistics.
The unadorned, regular-sized lashings go to 13 books, from 1970’s Fate is Remarkable to 2001’s An Ordinary Girl.  That’s 10% of the total.  After the lashings, the curve starts to go a bit top-heavy, as 24% of the books, 32 in total, get the coveted Queen of Puddings rating.  Two, in fact, get a bit higher, as Cassandra by Chance (1973) warrants Queen of Puds with a dollop of whipped cream, and Roses Have Thorns (1990) gets the pudding with a full serving of cream.  

Betty Kylene dishing up a heaping helping of Hannah, or maybe An Ideal Wife.

Down a rung we go, but still up on the top-third of the scale, and we get 36 books, or 27%, earning boeuf en croute or slightly better.  Both the beginning Betty, Sister Peters in Amsterdam (1969), and the final one, Emma’s Wedding (2001), win 8’s from our judges.  Six books win ratings like the “boeuf en croute with dollop of queen of puddings” awarded to Heaven Around the Corner (1981), although I vote “tinned dog-meat soup with a scummy crust” for that one.  Cheerfully and respectfully, I vote “tinned dog-meat soup with a scummy crust.”  And non-fat sour cream with chokecherries for afters.  But I’m on board with most of the others.
So we have covered 63% of our novels, or 85 books, as we descend unto the mince pies.  There are 16 books, or 12% of the total, in or near this category.  There’s some confusion with the volumes No Need to Say Goodbye (1989) and The Awakened Heart (1993), as the former is rated treacle tart for the first half and Queen of Puddings for the second, and the latter rated just the opposite.  Turning up my hem to tot up some maths, I get an average of 7.5, or mince-pies-plus, for each.  Grasp a Nettle (1977) was a bit simpler, as it rated halfway between pies and beef.
Now we arrive at the quarter of the novels that rate the lowest, with 34 books remaining.  Eighteen of those, or 13% of the oeuvre, are in the treacle-tart segment.  These range all the way from 1971’s Tangled Autumn (but I love Sappha!  the causeway!) to 2001’s Always and Forever.  They also include two 6.75 scores, for Last April Fair (1980), “almost mince pies,” and The Right Kind of Girl (1995), “mince pie that’s been dropped on the ground.”    Did I mention Ithe Founding Bettys?

There are just seven madeira cakes (5%) and five cheese boards (4%).  The cheese-board scores include the unfortunate The Edge of Winter, which was headed for a boeuf en croute, but sadly detoured into a tinned-soup ending, resulting in a score of... hand me that apron and a pencil, please... 4.5.  The cheese boards are all from the mid-1970s (1973-1976).

A mere three books warrant beans on toast:  Winter of Change/Surgeon in Charge (1973), A Small Slice of Summer (1975) (WHAAAAT?!? so wrong!), and Not Once but Twice (1981).  They are followed by the sad and lonely The Gemel Ring (1974) in last place at a 2.5, or midway between beans on toast and digestive biscuits.  You can sense Betty Debbie’s more-in-sorrow as she wields her pen on this one:  I honestly don't know what rating to give this book. I could never work up any liking or sympathy for Everard.  He was rude, insulting, hyper-critical, irritable and cranky...when he wasn't being mocking and supercilious.  The best things about him are things (cars, Gemel Rings, good looks)...but none of those really add up to any kind of real reason to fall in love with him.  His one redeeming feature is that he operates a rest home (which is all well and good, but Charity didn't know that when she fell in love).  The character of Charity was lovely - as long as we ignore the 600-pound gorilla in the room.  Why would a smart, talented, good looking Olivia fall for such a putz? There was no saucy flippancy to her remarks...she comes off sounding a wee bit desperate.  I did love Mr. and Mrs. Boekercheck (very awesome) and Corrie Blom was a brief, but fun, interlude.  Granny was also fun, she's got one of the best lines in Neeldom (speaking of a girl that Everard had dated)...’she's only half alive and the live half isn't at all to my liking.’
“I think I will have to resort to doing maths again.  Mr. and Mrs. Boekerchek get a queen of puddings, Corrie - boeuf en croute, Granny - lashings of whipped cream, Charity - treacle tart (I would have rated her higher if I thought she would be happy with Everard) and Everard - a great big ‘tinned soup.’  Overall it lands somewhere between digestive biscuits and beans on toast (for me...).”

Let’s have it, Bettys – where do you uncover the coagulated aroma of tinned soup in the oeuvre?  How many of the Novels Neels earn mountains of lashings with cherries and berries and chocolate shavings from you?