Monday, November 12, 2012

Three for a Wedding - Reprise

The entire story line for Three for a Wedding is either fabulous or a hot mess...depending on your point of view.  I subscribe to the fabulousness of it...while kicking my conscience into a dark corner where it cowers under a lovely Regency table, snatching up crumbs of the story that I have to overlook in order for the book to work for me. Here's  a list of a few of the crumbs:
  • Little sister Sybil. Pretty much everything about her...except for the fact that it's through her immaturity that Phoebe meets the good doctor.
  • The lack of resolution re: Maureen the evil nanny. I'm not implying that I would have liked to see her drown in a canal or get struck by a speeding lorry...
  • Having  (nay, being practically forced) to immediately go listen to an apology from Paul when anyone could see Phoebe needed some 'me' time.
What I do enjoy is watching two mature adults (with totally acceptable age difference) fall in love.  I sort of dig the absentminded professor...especially when he turns out to be not so absentminded after all.  Maureen the evil nanny is a pleasure to despise (she gives Miss Murch (A Girl to Love) a run for the money as far as evilness goes) and finally, I like the fact that we get to see a fairly decent story arc for Paul. 

Lots to discuss in this book--many delightful bits but plenty to take issue with.

Gold Medals seem to run in the family. Phoebe Brook, 27, Medical Night Sister, was the leading light of her year and little sister Sybil has just garnered the top honors as well.
Even though the title of the book references Sybil's wedding and it is that same wedding that gets the ball rolling, Sybil is practically a cardboard figure--a hodgepodge of enthusiasms and tantrums ('I can't spend two whole months in Holland! I want to get married! Revolve around me!') and never really gets fleshed out.
Sybil wants to get married and a nurse-training scheme in Holland is getting in her way. So, instead of accepting responsibility for her own actions and telling the hospital authorities that Nick (we're supposed to believe that marriage with a 'Nick' will turn out well?) has proposed, she asks Phoebe to take her place and pretend to be her. Phoebe brings her considerable logic to bear on the situation but Sybil demonstrates her preparedness for marriage thus: 'Oh dear,' she wailed through her sobs, 'now I don't know what I'll do--at least, I do. I shall run away and hide until Nick goes to Southampton and we'll get married in one of those pokey register offices and n-no one will come to the w-wedding!'
Have I mentioned that she's 23?--not 12. And one must assume she won her Gold Medal with hard work and diligence--Well, that or her class was peopled with the criminally moronic, deaf-mutes and dope fiends...Hmm, there's a thought.
So Phoebe agrees.
Phoebe is told only that the doctor in charge is one of those catatonic fellows--sleepy and uninterested. He couldn't possibly remember Sybil from the one time he met her. But he does--at least enough to know that for him she was just another nurse. Phoebe (masquerading as Sybil) however, is, as he scribbles in his ubiquitous notebook, 'A darling English girl. I shall marry her.' Maybe it was the good deal of leg she was showing as she leaned out the window...
Editorial Note:
Mind you, he knows right away that she's not who she says she is and still falls headlong into love. I adore that he's nerdy enough to need a reminder.
But Dr. Lucius (I'm thinking of a chubby Southern boy circa 1952 with horn-rimmed glasses and an overbearing mother) van Someren, 34, is supposed to be married so despite finding him very attractive, Phoebe resigns herself to aesthetic appreciation and philosophical detachment. (Sybil's Nick (who probably, with a name like that, has a criminal record of some sort) told her he had a son so naturally...)
They settle down to a wonderful working relationship. She's a good deal more experienced than a recently-graduated student nurse has any right to be but he is unobservant, right?
The moment he gets her across the Channel and onto Dutch soil (where, conveniently it would be difficult for her to beat a hasty withdrawal) he calls her Phoebe.
Right. About that...
No harm, no foul. He's happy to have her anyway and will even arrange for her to go back to the wedding when her sister ties the knot.
That's a sticky plot morass cleared with almost unseemly haste. We may proceed.
On one of her solitary rambles about Delft she is roughed up by a group of 8-year-olds. Before you go calling her a pansy keep in mind that she was very likely in high heels and they were swinging book bags. (My daughter's could probably take an arm off if swung just so.) One of the young vandals, she was sure, was able to understand her English shouting. Curious.
Lucius, inviting her and another nurse, to coffee at his home (after some fibrocystitis-themed sight-seeing) where she is introduced to (Dum, dum, DUM) Paul--8-year-old hooligan by day, adopted son of Lucius by night! Phoebe offered a hand and smiled. Little boys were, after all, little boys and what was a rude gesture between friends? (Don't you just want to wrap her up and keep her in your pocket?)
She also meets Maureen Felman, a dishy and smug-faced governess. Their dislike is mutual, thorough and instantaneous. (Think Godzilla vs. Mothra) Of a later meeting it is said, 'Here was the enemy, although she wasn't quite sure why (no Dawning Realization yet)--and declaring war too.
But the doctor isn't married. That's the other disclosure of the day. Phoebe is thrilled--she isn't in love with him (well, she is but doesn't know it) but there's a rose-colored intermediary state where she admits to liking him an awful, awful lot.
She goes on night duty and her one compensation is that Lucius picks her up in the morning and they go swimming together in the North Sea. This is Betty Neels code for 'Delightful Post-Work Pick-Me-Up' and Betty Keira code for 'Are You Insane and Trying to Kill Me?' Paul and Maureen come sometimes which is just as fun as it gets with Paul staring at her with dead eyes and Maureen using her as a scratching post. Are there dueling dishy swimsuits? Heck yes.
Phoebe goes back to England for the wedding which I thought we already agreed was a next-to-useless detour. Oh, she gets to wear a pretty hat, find herself uninterested in an old boyfriend and then (finally, at last) unmuddle her way into a dawning realization.
Back in Holland she runs into Paul, unusually verbose and wanting to show her around the town. What's that expression? Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. Paul bolts her into an abandoned warehouse.
Let's just sit right there for a spell.
Paul. Locked. Her. In. A. Warehouse.
By the sheerest good luck, Lucius remembers a Squirrel-y Paul from lunchtime and manages to wring her location from him (but only after witnessing his governess lazing about with glossies and booze--not for the first time, mind you). Phoebe, meanwhile, has been amusing herself with morbid scenarios including tramps and hippies (yes, hippies and not the fun kind) and, when he arrives, bursts into tears on Lucius' waistcoat.
'Paul is at home, he will want to apologize to you.' 'Some other time--it surely doesn't matter....' 'Am I to infer that you have some reason for not wishing to meet Paul?' 'Of course not.'
Yeah, it's not like he locked her away and hoped she would starve to death or anything...Oh. Wait.
So she has to go (after such an ordeal) and smooth everyone's ruffled feelings which reminds me of those times when my toddlers have, through sheer carelessness, caused me bodily injury (usually by banging a toy into my head or something) and I've cried out only to find them so stricken by my reaction that they fall to pieces and I have to comfort them. Being a grown-up stinks.
Lucius is making steady progress though. He's kissing our sweet-in-the-face-of-uncertain-odds heroine and dating her often. During one meeting he asks what he should get Paul for his birthday. (See, he's trying to involve her in parenting decisions.) Some mice, she answers, or a dog. (Or boarding school or detention or a cruise around the world...)
Paul thaws considerably when presented with a new (new to him) puppy but Maureen isn't going to take that kind of broadside lying down. (She's been poisoning his mind all along against Phoebe and making threats.) Phoebe walks in on her beating the poor thing to death a few days later. He doesn't die and Maureen concocts some cock-and-bull story for Lucius about a door left ajar and an auto run-in. Phoebe does not contradict or correct her. She doesn't even put her finger on that bony chest and tell her where to get off.
The final act in this little melodrama is when Paul comes to Phoebe a few days later when his father is out of the country. Maureen has locked the dog...oh, heck. She's just evil.
The conspirators break the little dog out of Puppy Prison, flee to Lucius' old nanny's house in Amsterdam (yes, she takes a child away from his home and travels to another city without telling his father) and await The Great and Terrible Day of Judgment.
Maureen has poisoned the well. Lucius thinks Phoebe is a kidnapper. Impolitic words are exchanged. But then we get a swimmy denouement in front of the kitchenware display of De Bijenkorf department store.
I lost my temper--I don't often do that, Phoebe, but you see while I had been in England I had dreamed--oh, a great many dreams.
The End

Rating: I don't re-read this book very often and I thought it was because I didn't like it very much but I find that that's not entirely true. I love the meeting between the principles and accept the absurdity that a 27-year-old woman would let herself be talked into a plot device more worthy of a Disney film. I love the professor, whose working life we get to see more of than is normal--he cares deeply about his patients and is driven to cure them--and he's not as absent-minded as he lets Phoebe believe he is.
Phoebe comes off as a darling but way too closed-mouthed when it comes to the Assorted Evils of Maureen. What/who does she think she's helping by not ratting her out?
Also, I have a problem with Lucius' failure to connect the dots on Maureen--or maybe, I'm annoyed that The Great Betty brings up such weighty issues such as beating a dog to death, trapping a grown woman in an abandoned warehouse and the years long brain-washing and neglect of an innocent child without truly adequate wrap-up. I can't enjoy hating Maureen because I'm worried about all the fall-out.
On those grounds I give this a Madiera Cake.
That said, I adore how gradual and obvious Pheobe's love is for Lucius without her being aware of it and I love all those trips to the beach.

Food: Really not much to discuss. Oranges, ice cream, herring balls (gah!), oyster soup, duckling stuffed with apples, and Gateau St. Honore'.

Fashion: Again, there isn't as much here as in some Neels but The Great Betty uses it to contrast Phoebe and Maureen with a deft hand. Phoebe wears an uncrushable cotton dress and takes 2 swim suits to Holland, wears a delicious-sounding strawberry pink silk number, and she packs a 'pastel patterned party dress which could be rolled into a ball if necessary and still look perfection itself'--as 'a concession to a kindly fate'. She also buys a French silk scarf and laments that she could be wearing 'hot pants and a see-through top' for all the notice he's taking of her. Maureen wears a scarlet and white beach outfit, false eyelashes, and an artlessly simple white dress with gold sandals.


  1. Nice summary, Betty Debbie, and lovely fully-detailed review of this ambiguous book. I unhesitatingly nominate Maureen as the worst villainess ever in Neels - but then, unlike our reviewers, I like dogs. Heh heh. Miss Murch, despite her many failings, never exposed her charges to boozed-up playboys and go-go girls.

    I think I get the whole "don't sneak/squeal/tattle/narc/whatever" if you know someone's been up to naughtiness, or mischief. But several generations of English schoolboys, and doubtless some girls, were brought up to believe that whatever abuse they suffered at school or elsewhere (and very genuine, horrific physical and sexual abuse took place, both by teachers and by older boys who could order younger boys (fags) to do chores and worse for them) they just had to take, as it would make them stronger or no one wanted to hear about unpleasant things or something. However, this is crazy. Would Phoebe have told Lucius what was happening if she'd found Maureen beating Paul instead of the puppy? What if she'd found Maureen snorting cocaine instead of cocktails? If Paul had picked her pocket instead of hitting her with his schoolbag? If she witnessed a mugging, would she have refused to describe the attacker to the police on grounds that it's just not done? Feh. And double feh.

    That's the most deranged part of this story for me, although sister Sybil's apparent belief that it's possible for her to commit herself to indentured servitude in the 1970s is not terribly far behind. Lucius is probably the best part. He moves slowly but unstoppably toward the goal, and takes great care of Phoebe. I love those early morning swims!

    Since this is Veterans' Day, it occurs to me that the best ending for Maureen might have been enrollment in the military (which does require a two-year commitment, but even that has clear escape clauses). Jail would be fitting, but the military offers a better shot at turning her into a worthwhile human.

    1. The Women's Royal Army Corps was an option back in the day. I often wondered why former Army nurse Betty never used that in her stories?

    2. Perhaps because she did not have any up-to-date peace time experience?

      I agree with Betty van den Betsy, Maureen is the worst villainess in the Canon, she is by far the meanest, nastiest, most venomous creature throughout the tale. There were at least two really bad "other women" who put the children's lives at stake in At the End of the Rainbow and Damsel in Green, but Maureen takes first prize in meanness.

  2. You have to remember in BN's time (1930's or so), there were no laws against spankings/beatings against children or for cruelty to animals. Although, I don't know if there are any laws against cruelty to animals now either.

    So the law doesn't come into play for the BN heroines.

    The issues are moral decency to contrast the characters for the hero, so he would, hopefully, fall in love with the pure innocent one instead of the evillly evil character.

    Character issue was the issue.


  3. I do not remember this plot.

    Perhaps I permanently erased it from my memory after the horribleness of the some people! in it!

    I do remember the sister begging her to take her place, then after that...nada!


  4. Dear Betties,

    Why the title???

    Why 3??? for a wedding? I don't get it.


    1. I found the title to be pretty obscure also, but was able to find this doing a google search:

      "A traditional country proverb found in a variety of forms, which refers to the number of magpies seen on a particular occasion.

      During the journey four magpies rose‥and flew away. ‥I repeated‥the old saw, ‘one for sorrow, two for mirth, three for a wedding, and four for death.’
      [a 1846 B. Haydon Autobiography (1853) i. v.]

      One for sorrow: two for mirth: three for a wedding: four for a birth: five for silver: six for gold: seven for a secret, not to be told: eight for heaven: nine for hell: and ten for the devil's own sel [self].
      [1846 M. A. Denham Proverbs relating to Seasons, &c. 35]"

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Whoops -- I first heard this verse in Ireland, and my (hospital-trained nurse!) friend knew it as "One is for sorrow; two are for joy; three for a girl; and four for a boy." That's the rendition Counting Crows used in "A Murder of One", but they reference not magpies but crows. (I don't believe I've ever seen a magpie in the US. Do they live here?) Their full version runs: "One for sorrow, two for joy, three for girls, and four for boys, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret, never to be told."

    4. Thanks, guys.

      That's awesome!

      I never heard them before.

      I love how BN uses poetry etc in all her writings. Especially in the titles.



    5. The version in the book: 'Look three magpies, they must have been eavesdropping. What is it now? One for anger, two for mirth, three for a wedding...' They giggled happily and walked home arm-in-arm. By the time Phoebe returned to St Gideon's from her nights off ...

  5. Completely off the subject, do we have a Betty from Pirmasens now living in California, formerly (ages ago) in the Pawtucket/Providence RI area?

    1. Or does anybetty know a lady from Pirmasens now living in California, formerly (ages ago) in the Pawtucket/Providence RI area? Her ex was stationed in Europe when he was with the army.

  6. via email:
    Dear Betty,

    I always thought the 3 stood for Lucius, Phoebe and Paul.



  7. Also, off the subject.

    What do you guys think of the Dr. Martin series on PBS?

    It's sortof a very modern version of what our dear BN writes about:

    surgeon sent to Cornwall to be gp, helps lots of townfolk, meets girl.

    The cool part is watching him practice a la Betty in his house surgery and in the countryside.


  8. Lucius – Speak-Along (0:07) ... voetballer Theo Lucius...
    ÜH as in French du, long German ü-sound
    ü similar to ü in German Küste (coast), short German ü-sound

    Paul rhymes prowl

  9. Three for a Wedding, © 1973 - Betty A.’s Red Pen Having Fun

    ... we’d try Schevingenen everyone goes there. It's a kind of Dutch Brighton, and if you don't pay it at least one visit, no one will believe you've been to Holland. ...

    let’s have herring balls with our drinks and then oyster soup, duckling stuffed with apples, and finish with Gateau St Honore?' It sounded delicious, although she wasn't sure about the oysters; perhaps they would look different in soup ...

    Schevingenen = Scheveningen, audio file, where Phoebe and Lucius have dinner (herring balls etc.) at the Corvette Restaurant.
    La Corvette was the name of the restaurant of the Kurhaus (photo and history). The Kurhaus was closed in 1969. Renovations started in 1972 and the Kurhaus was reopened in 1979. (Three for a Wedding copyrighted in 1973.)

    The Corvette and/or the Kurhaus in An Old-Fashioned Girl / Grasp a Nettle / Dearest Love.

    The Steigenberger Kurhaus Hotel today. (Turn on the sound.)

    ... village Scherpenzel, such a funny name where in De Witte Hoelvoet, they had eaten their dinner, not one single item of which could she recall. ...

    Scherpenzel = Scherpenzeel, audio file
    Scherpenzeel in Britannia All at Sea / The Edge of Winter.

    De Witte Hoelvoet = De Witte Holevoet
    De Witte Holevoet in Britannia All at Sea.)

    De Witte Holevoet today.

    ... Oegsgeest, to de Beukenhof, an inn standing in its own garden and renowned for its cooking. They ate splendidly Boeuf Stroganoff and strawberries and cream and Rex, on his best behaviour, sat under Paul's chair. They went north after ...

    De Beukenhof in Tulips for Augusta.

    De Beukenhof today.

  10. Dutch Brighton

    Three for a Wedding – Discussion Thread, October 25, 2010
    "Schevingenen is referred to as a 'Dutch Brighton'. Except for a scene in The Chain of Destiny ... there are no other hints that it's 'that' kind of place. I imagine it's rather a more family friendly holiday spot."

    Not everybody – read: nobody but you, dearest Betty D.- ha ha ha, probably not true, but funny - has 'those'connotations when hearing the word Brighton.
    What Lucius means is that Scheveningen is without a doubt the most popular seaside resort in the Netherlands ( the same as Brighton is de populairste badplaats van Groot-Brittannië (Brighton is the most popular bathing resort of Great Britain.) (

  11. ... she was whisked across the Dam Square to look at the War Memorial, treading their way among hippies ...