Monday, January 7, 2013

Winter of Change - Reprise

This is a tough one for me.  I really don't like Winter of Change.  Really.  If I had a list of least favorite Neels,this would be at the top...er...bottom (??) of that list.  Let me list the reasons why:
  1. Fabian is about 18 years older than Mary Jane.  I might be wrong, but I think that's about the largest age difference in the cannon.  And Mary Jane often acts/sounds younger than her age. 
  2. Winter just seems to go on and on...sort of like Groundhog Day, but with more dying.
  3. Cousin Mervyn from Winnipeg.  We're supposed to dislike him, which is fine...but for me, he tinges the air with a slight whiff of Gothic romance.I actually think it's pretty funny that he's from Winnipeg...as if that would make him sinister.  It's Winnipeg, for goodness sake.
  4. Fabian. Not of fan of the Fabian (especially his brand of grief management).
Is there anyone out there that likes Winter of Change?  I do kind of dig the cover - I could see that couple getting together...too bad the girl is nothing like I imagine Mary Jane to be like.
-Betty Debbie
 

Betty Barbara here--again--- Just finished a re-read of Winter of Change. Hrumph--I shall save my comments until we reach the review. I will say it is one of the few Betty books that I have hurled across the room.

This was exactly how I felt about it the first time I read it. No hard feelings, Betty. I still love you. Still, I should probably prepare you for a slightly more favorable re-read on my part. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I worked mightily to root out every kernel of charm planted therein. Let's see if that gets us anywhere...

Mary Jane Pettigrew, 22, is plain, has 'rabbity' teeth and supports herself on her own meagre earnings. She is a 'good' nurse--the kind who makes patients comfortable and pettily tyrannical Ward Sisters grind their teeth.
Upon receiving an urgent phone call, she rushes home to her grandfather--her only living relative. He's dying. It says much for the state of their relationship that she wasn't notified of his illness or his plans for her inheritance and is told summarily that she is to get a guardian (at her age!) along with the house and his fortune.
Grandfather is one of those throw-backs who scouted high and low for a near-ish male relative (his cousin or cousin's son or cousin's grandson...if they could find him anywhere) to leave the family estate to but finally settles everything on Mary Jane with the legal rider that, quote, (let's see...paragraph 3, section 7, addendum 14) 'She isn't to worry her pretty little head...' (I kid--but only a very little.)
Professor Jonkheer Fabian van der Blocq, 40 (40! Four-oh.), sweeps up to the family home. Upon his arrival he is greeted happily by Grandfather (clearly a relationship of long standing) and his presence underlines in every way that Mary Jane is not, nor has ever been, a substantive part of Grandfather's life.
Editorial Note:
It's really sad. They love each other but being around Grandfather is like warmly hugging a block of granite. Sure you can do it, but why would you want to?
Oh, and have I mentioned that everyone kindly points out at every possible moment that Mary Jane is tiresome and/or as plain as a pikestaff?
For his part, Fabian is really terrible--he's patronizing and (usually the kiss of death for a Neels character) POMPOUS and has no patience for a young girl who is losing her last relative. As for accepting the guardianship? I was only a few pages into this arrangement before I was mentally composing a 'Do-you-want-to-know-where-you-can-stick-this-inheritance?' speech. I kept hoping she would do it. (She's a State Certified Nurse! The world is her oyster!)
And then Grandfather dies. Fabian arranges the funeral and hugs Mary Jane. Wow. I am overwhelmed with his consideration and warmth.
Then, in fulfillment of the promise she made to her grandfather, she travels to Holland to nurse his old friend (Fabian's (gah, that is a flesh-crawling name) uncle). Will Uncle What'shisname survive? No, he's also destined for the boneyard and at this point I am considering questioning the wisdom of The Great Betty in making death such a central plot point. (Take a romantic cruise on the River Styx!)
Fabian pretty much drops her off with his irascible uncle and melodramatic cousin and pops in a week later (when Mary Jane has them all firmly in hand) to discover that no one is giving her time off!
Editorial Note:
(I know, there are a lot of them in this review.) This is actually an important part of the book for me. Fabian gets a lot of credit for putting himself out as her guardian but Mary Jane is doing some very skilled and long-term work for his family. This puts things on a more equitable footing --it mitigates some of the age difference and tells us why he falls for her. And fall he does...
Uncle dies.
Fabian tells us at the end that this is when he realizes he loves Mary Jane and though they haven't spent much time together in Holland he did get to see her dog and pony show of sterling qualities.
As he deposits her back in England they discuss substantively the administrative duties of guardianship:
Her: I think I shall buy a horse.
Him: Over my dead body.
With that sort of impasse (and Mary Jane still unaware that she is anything less than a festering boil on Fabian's backside) is it any wonder that when long lost Cousin Mervyn (he of the too-close eyes who might have inherited the estate if hide or hair of him had been found) arrives from Canada he finds a girl ripe for the love con?
The gentle rain of his endless compliments is balm to her wounded spirit. And soon enough she entertains thoughts of marriage and foolishly writes him a blank check (maybe to stave off monetary deflation?) so that he can purchase a murder weapon. Okay, Prince (the wild-eyed and limping horse) isn't a murder weapon yet but tally him with the Special License Mervyn has in his pocket and the insurance policy he recommends she take out and it creates a fetid stew.
Fabian arrives just in time. He essentially throws Mervyn out on his ear and breaks Mary Jane's heart like a bull in a china shop.
Editorial Note:
So if you blinked and missed his dawning realization, all this comes over very differently. There's that scene in the Olivia de Havilland movie (The Heiress) when the plain Jane is being told by her father that smoking hot Montgomery Clift was playing her for a fool and was only after her filthy lucre. Daddy isn't gently imparting the news--he's gloating. And, if you don't feel sympathetic to Fabian for having to break up the wedding of the girl he loves than it sort of comes off that way. He doesn't quite say 'What other reason, besides your fortune, would a man have for wanting you?' but she might feel it is implied. I mean, he calls her an easy mark! That's not going to translate well any way you slice it.
She yells her head off at him which he doesn't deserve as he's just been to Winnipeg and back (Winnipeg! Betty Keira expects a all from the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce in 3...2...1...) but he's the only one to vent her considerably bruised feelings on.
They part--he to Holland and she to part-time nursing back in London (which is as near to ripping up the will that she ever gets)--but he returns, asking her to nurse his cousin.
I like this interlude in Holland. She realizes that she loves him and then in a tiny little interchange we get a peek of their future life together. They're out skating on the ice and she nearly cannons into him. 'Whoops!' said Mary Jane, breathless. 'I thought I was going to knock you over--you should have moved.'
He was still holding her. 'No need. I weigh fifteen stone or thereabouts, and I doubt if you're much more than eight.' He laughed down at her. 'You show a fine turn of speed, though I don't think much of your style.'
'Oh, style--I enjoy myself.'

Won't they make a darling pair? I wish we'd seen more of that.
She goes back to England soon after and misses him terribly. When it gets too much she takes long walks and returning to the house, cold and tired, she allows herself an 'Oh, Fabian.' He answers.
The End

Rating: This one is going to take a bit more explaining than an ordinary Neels. The first half is Fabian's Nasty Sojourn and the second half is The Many Mistakes of Mary Jane. But there are parts to like in both (Mary Jane being human and diligent in part 1 and Fabian being trustworthy and yearning in part 2). So, here's my Wish List for Winter of Change:
  • I wish she'd called it Summer of Change and added more yellow bikinis. The somber and chilly mood of death and thick sweaters makes this seem extra depressing.
  • I wish that her country home had a little more life in it--local friends popping in and out for drinks, really chummy staff (Mrs. Body, though kind enough, strikes me as someone who likes her domain in the kitchens and will be happy when a man takes up the reins of management), and a pet that is not the elderly left-over animal of her dead grandfather.
  • Even though he tells her at the end the moment he fell in love with her, I wish that La Neels had made Fabian's Dawning Realization more clear in the moment it happens. I noticed it on the second read (which radically changed how I viewed the second act) and I had a lot more sympathy for him thereafter.
  • Fabian. Here are 10 streaming consciousness names that I guarantee will all be better than Fabian: Frank, Tom Mark, George, Gus, Scott, Tiberius (My daughter is watching Star Trek), Harold, Nathan, and Carl...Okay, maybe it's better than Carl.
There are enough witty observations and charming turns of phrase to make this a darling book but Fabian's gratuitously cruel and chilling remarks to Mary Jane when her grandfather is dying sour the soup--no, no, they drop radioactive isotopes into the soup. We don't have any reason to root for him for many, many long pages.
I had remembered that Mary Jane was more of a simp than she really was. Sure, she doesn't like Fabian right off but he really earns her enmity and she's a bit off balance (what with her only living relative popping off in that fashion). She is enormously helpful and sensible when she nurses Fabian's uncle and babysits his cousin. And her only mistake is following Mervyn's trail of breadcrumbs into his Enchanted Cottage of Bull Pucky. That she needs time to be rude and disillusioned (particularly as Fabian made zero attempt to break things to her gently) and to lick her wounds doesn't fuss me.
This earns a Beans on Toast because Fabian is truly awful and that's a hole that the Great Betty doesn't quite manage to dig him out of. Still, the writing is quite good and Mary Jane is a flawed but generally sensible character. But it's a sad book and that more than anything is why I don't recommend it very highly.

Food: Bacon, eggs and scones, beef, baked apples and cream (which sounds yummy but I have serious doubts). Fillet of beef in shirtsleeves, Robert's Chocolate Fancy, Kentish roast duckling, erwtensoup, quenelles of sole, salmon with asparagus tips and chocolate gateau....mmmmmm.

Fashion: Grey dress, brown tweeds, felt hat, a 'nice' evening dress of blue and green organza with a pie-frill collar. A velvet beret that he fails to notice. A dark green pinafore dress with a crepe blouse (I think I grew up after the era in which grown women could wear pinafores without looking like mutton dressed as lamb), a gorgeous sounding burgundy red coat, dress and cap that sounds like something Jackie O might have worn and (because it is the bleak, cold winter) a sheepskin jacket and knitted mitts.

19 comments:

  1. Oh, Betty Keira -- your cause is just and your case is sound, and your diligence in seeking out the pluses is admirable. Maybe I shall read this one again someday. Maybe.

    (romantic cruise on the River Styx - snerk!)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Having been shamed by Betty Anonymous into downloading and reading this one... at least it was a relatively inexpensive download...I find myself again in awe of Betty Debbie's accuracy and brilliant turn of phrase. Fabian is awful, but if you pick up on his very subtle Dawning Realization, he's not totally vile, even though he doesn't dig himself out of the hole TGB put him in. The whole book is all a little off, reminds me of my tour in Korea (back in the 80s, I've been told things have changed), which we called The Land of the Not-Quite-Right (Why? Take their ski resort....6 colors coding their ski slopes, and not ONE of them is black, blue, or green). Korea was pleasant, lovely and welcoming people, and I'd visit again in a heartbeat, but it's not somewhere I would want to live, or even own a timeshare. Because if you DO attempt to ski in Korea, after crashing down a pale pink ski slope (the equivalent of a double black diamond, it turns out, at least in Dragon Valley), if you attempt to console yourself by trying some little peanut-shaped cakes that resemble Twinkies, you will find that the little peanut-shaped cakes only appear to be peanutty Twinkies and do NOT have cream filling.....the filling is a nugget of DRIED CUTTLEFISH. Not. Quite. Right.

    Winter of Change is like Korea in the 80s.....pleasant-ish, revisitable on occasion but not a standby comfort read, and overall Not Quite Right.

    Perhaps TGB wrote this during a miserably cold and wet winter while nursing a lingering cold she could not shake?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Read this one right after Christmas this year. It may have been my first read. Y'all may think I'm nuts, but I thought it was a GOOD READ! It's a BETTY - A young nurse and a middle age doctor who's mean to her in the beginning and then warms up and pursues her.
    You are going to quibble about a few years? Really? Most of the Betty's heros are late 30's and the gals are in there early twenties. So what makes it icky? That he's her guardian? We don't have those much these days, but to me it would be like her falling in love with her older brother's friend or a helpful attorney her granddad asked to give her financial advise.
    It may be helpful to know that my In-laws (who were a doctor and a nurse) were 43 and almost 21 when they married. So without the age difference Prof VdeP and all his 5 sibs and and 20+ other progeny would not exist. Thus explaining my POV. And I liked the dialog. I thought all the dead guys fit the season. I wouldn't have given it any cream lashings, but a few chocolate covered Digestive Biscuits would be appropriate.

    It's been a Winter of Change for me. Over the Christmas break I applied for and got a different job in the same room. The former classroom aide got accepted to NURSING SCHOOL (Betty reference) and now I have her job and my more challenging student is being cared for by a young man who just finished teacher training (He's got a degree, not me). A much better situation for us both, believe me. When the other female aide in the room told me at lunch that she knew things were better because I was smiling all morning, it woke me up to how stressful working with that student was for me. And all day I've been saying "Thanks be to God!"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Betty Mary. I was afraid I was the only one who liked this book. Re-reading it, I thought how typically Neels it is. Fabian - speak after me, class, FAH-bee-yahn - is no worse than any other hero, who seems cold at first. And in the middle - and towards the end of the story. I felt for the poor man when he came to spend Christmas with Mary Jane and was not only not invited but had to see how relieved she was when he said he was not staying.
      Betty Anonymous

      Delete
    2. Congrats, Betty Mary! It sounds like a better spot at school.

      Betty AnoninTX

      Delete
    3. The thing is, Betty Mary, he's so mean, and while her only relative is dying. There is no other hero in the canon who is that mean.

      I am delighted for your Year's Happy Ending (or Beginning). Enjoying your work is, I believe, one of the greatest blessings life offers. And I love your in-laws' story! I nonetheless remain squeamish about all the age differences in the Betty books -- even the lowest, which is seven years, and especially this 18-year difference, and especially when the heroine seems younger than her years. We marry our fathers, I know, but we're not supposed to do so literally. ;-)

      Delete
    4. The thing is, Betty van den Betsy, I think it is she who is mean. She is the one telling him they don't get on more than once, which in my opinion translates to I don't like you. It is she who makes it plain he is not wanted - from the first. How often does she give words to her hope that they won't have to see each other any more. She is rude, inhospitable, and if anyone is inimical it is she. Mary Jane's behaviour towards Fabian is quite appalling, at times. And yet, I do find myself liking her. She is small, naive and starry eyed as far as her fortune-hunting cousin Mervyn is concerned - in an aside: Why Winnipeg? In her other stories Canada has always been a Betty-approved country. - but otherwise she is sensible, she has a lot of spunk and she is not a quitter. Regarding Fabian, personally, I don't even think that he was mean when they first met, nor when Mary Jane's grandfather died. They were complete strangers. Was he supposed to pretend to warmer feelings, display false bonhomie? He acts in a way one might expect a solicitor to act, and that is fine, as far as I am concerned. He is to be her guardian, but since she is of age I see his duties more like those of a - what do you call a person who manages your finances? And he is not the first RDD/RBD either to brush off the heroine's thanks - hurting her feelings in the process. I am sure that in his case this was quite unintentional. Perhaps he just did not want to be thanked for something he saw as a matter of course. Anyway, as always, this is, of course, just my opinion.
      The person who truly gets on my nerves in this novel is Freule Drama Queen Emma van der Theatrical Blocq.

      Delete
    5. Dear Betty van den Betsy, I entreat you, please read the book again, s l o w l y, so you won't miss all the scenes when Fabian is being nice to Mary Jane. Smiling, even. And then she says or does something and the poor man ...

      Delete
  4. Winter of Change, © 1973
    page 56

    Only when they were driving through London's northern suburbs did he remark: 'We'll go to Carrier's, it's an easy run to Pope's from there.'

    Betty A. picked up her guidebook – no Carrier’s listed. So she picked up her book again and read on.

    The restaurant was down a passage, double-fronted and modern, and Mary Jane, by now famished, chose fillet of beef in shirtsleeves, because it sounded quaint and filling at the same time. She was given a dry sherry to drink before they ate;...
    It surprised her when he suggested, after she had disposed of the beef in its shirtsleeves and he had eaten his carpet bag steak, that she might like to sample Robert's Chocolate Fancy.

    Betty A. exclaimed, "Robert Carrier!", and after a minute or two scrambled off the divan in her poky bedsitter, no, wait, make that a flatlet, and walked over to the bookshelf in her kitchen to take a heavy tome off the top shelf.

    ROBERT CARRIER GREAT DISHES OF THE WORLD
    Ha!
    And on page 161, the recipe for Mary Jane’s entrée, fillet of beef in shirtsleeves, en chemise in French. Double Ha!

    FILLET OF BEEF "EN CHEMISE"

    1 fillet of beef, approximately 2 ½ lbs.
    cognac
    ¼ lb. mushrooms, finely chopped
    ½ Spanish onion, finely chopped
    softened butter
    salt and freshly ground black pepper
    4 tbs. pâté de foie gras
    Puff Pastry (see page 348)
    1 egg yolk, slightly beaten


    1. Brush fillet of beef with cognac; trim neatly, removing ends, and let stand at room temperature for atleast 30 minutes.
    2. Preheat oven to moderate (375° F.).
    3. Meanwhile, sauté finely chopped mushrooms and onion in 2 tbs. butter until soft. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste, and reserve.
    4. Roast in preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until half cooked. Allow beef to cool slightly. Increase oven temperature to hot (450° F.).
    5. Mix together foie gras and 4 tbs. softened butter and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.
    6. Spread with pâté mixture and then with mushroom and onion mixture.
    7. Roll out Puff Pastry into a thin sheet and wrap beef in it, securing it neatly. Place on a baking sheet, brush pastry with cold water and bake in preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes. Finally, brush pastry with slightly beaten egg yolk and continue baking until the crust is evenly browned.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Her inhospitality was pretty unforgivable. Downright rude for a supposed Neels heroine. There is no excuse for such bad manners.

    B von S
    And now I am wanting some choccy bickies thanks to BettyMary.....

    ReplyDelete
  6. B von S: Could not agree more. Civility is one of the reasons to love TGB, and these characters were remarkably ill-mannered. Only bony blonde members of the Adel with their hooks in RDDs are supposed to behave so poorly (perhaps because they're hungry?). Glad I did not expend valuable shelf space on a physical book and got the electronic variety.

    Beef En Chemise looks identical to Beef Wellington....works with mushroom pate' for those who are not fans of foie gras. And frozen puff pastry rocks!

    Betty A, I have that same cookbook and would NEVER have made the connection. You are nothing short of brilliant!

    ReplyDelete
  7. It had good bits, but I didn't care for this read. I'm almost sorry to see that this isn't a favorite for many. I want them all to be adored and revered. But, perhaps we need one like this to make us appreciate TGB all the more.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It has such good bits in it -- I love the Cumberland setting, and I love Mary Jane's evolving understanding of Mervyn. I even quite like and respect Mary Jane. (Hands up who never, ever became infatuated with a cad.) And maybe they'll be HEA. I just suspect that if they are, it's because Mary Jane never gets to grow up. Give me 6' Sister Maggy any day, thanks; though only 24, she's entirely capable of and willing to run her own life.

      Delete
  8. Today, I saw a lady with rabbity teeth! Twuly wabbity teeth. The two top incisors in the middle stood out and seemed about 2 cm /a scant inch long. Suited her features! Kind of funny, but in a nice way, if you see what I mean.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I think I liked this book.

    I even started a "California" version of it; I replaced the BN name places with areas in CA. It was fun to write.

    I liked the story. I liked the places he drove. I liked his staff.
    I liked the wintery scenes. The cold. The house. I liked her house. Which is why I re-wrote it in CA!!! :)

    The Betty who found the recipe: wow!

    Betty Francesca

    ReplyDelete
  10. In 1982, the Hotel – Restaurant De Breedenburg was nearly completely distroyed during a fire. The Breedenburg was re-built in the same style, and re-opened in 1992, but not as a hotel. The company owning it used it for holding conferences. The building was not open to the public. I don’t know if this is the present status quo.

    Winter of Change, © 1973

    'A very nice place. Of course he really prefers the Hotel at Warffrum—Borg de Breedenburg—but that is for his more romantic outings.' She smiled at Mary Jane. 'He has girl-friends, as you can imagine—I wonder why he didn't take you there?' ...

    She had her chance the very next day, as it turned out, for when Doctor Trouw called he brought his son with him. A pleasant young man in his twenties, he had recently qualified and was about to join his father's practice. Over coffee he remarked, 'You are stranger here, I don't suppose you go out very much. I should like to take you out to dinner one evening.' Mary Jane accepted with alacrity, and when, to her delight, he suggested that he should take her to Hotel Borg de Breedenborg on the following evening, she agreed with flattering speed. She spent the intervening time imagining herself ...

    The Promise of Happiness, © 1979

    The Baron had possessed himself of Mevrouw Botte's telephone and when Willem answered he had given instant and crisp directions: Willem was to cancel the table the Baron had booked for that evening at the exclusive hotel Borg de Breedenburg and ask Sutske to come to the telephone at once. ...

    And on the second occasion he had suggested, vaguely, she had to admit, that he would take her to dine at a famous castle hotel—Borg de Breedenburg, which was at Warffum, a village about fifteen miles north of Groningen. On the strength of his suggestion she had gone out the very next day and bought a dress, a pretty flowered cotton voile which cost a good deal more than she could afford, telling herself that she was a fool to have taken him seriously. ...

    ReplyDelete
  11. Pictures of the Breedenburg:

    Postcard, drawing , http://lh5.ggpht.com/-TDTeqmuqxIg/TQ-6CKUFdqI/AAAAAAAAAmE/SStjbRPOGPc/NL-507595.jpg
    Postcard, photo, http://www.postcardsfrom.nl/148/nl148432.jpg
    Breedenborg te Warffum, pictures of the re-built borg , part of the building’s history (in Dutch), http://home.hccnet.nl/d.nienoord/breedenburg.html

    Don’t be disturbed by the vowel changes in Breedenburg/Breedenborg.

    borg is Gronings
    Tangled Autumn: Sappha and Rolf visit the Menkemaborg in Uithuizen

    burg
    The End of the Rainbow: Waldo and Olivia live in Middelburg, audio

    burcht is Dutch
    The Burcht in Leiden in the Neels Œuvre

    ReplyDelete
  12. Photostream on flickr.com by The Dutchlady containing a few pictures taken in Uithuizen, Aug 8, 2009.
    Nice view from the reefing stage (= balcony, walkway) of the Windmill De Liefde.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Did someone say Uithuizen?

      B von S

      Delete