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?


  1. The Gemel Ring is my second (or perhaps third right after my beloved Hannah) favorite.
    The FBs don't like Everard because they don't "get" Everard. *sticking my tongue out
    Since I don't like whipped cream, I award it my coveted Fruit Scone with Clotted Cream Award.

  2. I suspect, Betty JoDee, that you'd like British whipped cream. Their high-fat dairy products are unsurpassed.

    Thank you, Betty van der Betsy! This is a wonderful essay. Maybe the Founding Bettys (who definitely deserve this Hip-Hip-Hooray! from us all) can have a tab for the books in order of their rankings, particularly useful for people trying out The Canon and wondering what to read next.

  3. I nominate Cobweb Morning for tinned soup heated on the gas ring.

    Hooray to the FBs, and thanks to BvdB for this awesome walk through Ratings Lane.

  4. A Small Slice of Summer & Not Once But Twice are two of my FAVOURITES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Roses Have Thorns is my mental comfort food.

    B von S

    1. Dear portly Charles!

      Betty AnoninTX

  6. I give Fate Is Remarkable and Once for All Time my highest rating of Wild Blueberry Pancakes with real butter and a drizzle of blueberry syrup. Guess what I had for wonderful, delicious breakfast?

    Betty AnoninTX

    1. All this talk of food and especially blueberry pancakes tells me my stomach hasn't seen food since lunchtime and its now almost 9 pm. Yes a big thank you to the Betty's for their book review and every other thing printed on this site. Love them all, and regardless of which books you liked or loathed, they were written by the great BN and in my eyes everyone's a winner in their own special way.

  7. A resounding HOOAH to the Founding Bettys and to Betty van den Betsy for this fabulous and entertaining statistical analysis. I love statistics!

    I do agree with Betty Anonymous. A Small Slice of Summer is one of my new favorites primarily because of Georgina. And the low-rated Two Weeks to Remember will always be in my top 10 because it was my very first Betty. Read in the USO hangar at Sarajevo Airport.

    And A Secret Infatuation has to rank #1 for me because of -- Bosnia!

  8. If I could go back and do it again, I would be unreserved about giving The Promise of Happiness (or Becky and the Baron, the Hot, Hot Baron) a lashings of whipped cream. Also, though it is a sentimental favorite of mine (and will be beloved forever and ever by myself) I think I'd rate Winter Wedding as a Queen of Puddings. It's not without flaws and I find I pick others up more often.

    I'm afraid, I still am immovable on The Gemel Ring and the horrid one with Jake which ends in Italy.

  9. Had to go and forgot to save my comment. (Cannot even blame Blogger this time.) This Betty by the Numbers post came as a wonderful surprise. I found it very interesting to see how some of my favourites were rated and how a lot of the books compared in the rating system. Love your explanations/comments! Don’t know why the Founding Bettys put tinned soup at the bottom of the list. Tinned soup can be quite lovely in taste. Ok, can be, but mostly isn’t. I own I am partial to Campbell's cream of mushroom and cream of chicken, and there are some chicken noodle soups (not Cambell's) that taste almost like home-made, with plenty of chicken and vegetables in them.

    The soup was excellent; Cassandra, who was a born cook, caught the flavour of sherry and the smoothness of cream—this was something out of a very expensive tin indeed, and she felt guiltier than ever. They were busy with second helpings ...
    Cassandra by Chance

    Hey, that looks like our white CorningWare dish Betty Kylene is carrying! That I carried on board an airplane across the Atlantic. (Actually, it was in one of my suitcases. Oh, for the time when you could take extra baggage without extra charge.)

    She went to the kitchen and started on dinner—avocado pears with a hot cheese sauce, trout caught locally, cooked with almonds, and a summer pudding. After dinner, Sir William came into the kitchen and told her how much he had enjoyed ...
    A Gentle Awakening

    I read your comment in the heaping helping link. I have recipes for summer pudding as well, one of them in a very slim booklet by Anne Wilson, Englische Küche (English Cooking). I like her books. I have Irische Küche (Irish Cooking) as well. These booklets were published in several languages.

  10. I just realized I was deranged not to have graphed the ratings, so I did that, and now I am sane again.

  11. I'd just like to say that as a huge BN fan, this website is the Queen of Puddings, with lashings of whipped cream :)

    But I've read very few and it'd be great if you could give me suggestions as to which BN to pick up next.
    Thanks in advance!

  12. This site has been such a fun discovery. I first discovered Betty back in the 90s, as book-loving junior high or high school student. Thence began several years of collecting Harlequin paperbacks from the used bookstores in Phoneix. Shortly before the start of college, though, I sold all but four of five of my personal "best ofs" (among them A Kind of Magic and The Most Marvellous Summer). For the most part, I didn't reread them until a massive Neels binge that began this summer. It's so strange rediscovering her this time around, thanks to copious library ebooks (very dangerous for one's binge-reading) and a whole world of Goodreads and blog reviews to complement the experience. Strange, but really fun. Your blog and this summer's binge-read have helped raise my opinion of that much younger self's taste in romance novels.

  13. I love this! So fun to see how widely opinions vary, both on favorites and not-so-favorites (and the horrid one with Jake that ends in Italy is the dreaded “All Else Confusion”, which is possibly my most unfavorite) I would love to see a list in order of when you reviewed them, and how you decided the order. I am glad Kiera saw the light on Becky and the (hot, hot) Baron-definitely worth some lashings and, along with Caroline’s Waterloo and The Magic of Living, my Top Three.