Monday, February 18, 2013

The Edge of Winter - Reprise

I am firmly on Team Betty Keira when it comes to Tante Maybella.  I looked back at my notes for the discussion thread of The Edge of Winter, and found this bit:

I personally wouldn't last a week with the Tante Maybella. After a couple of days I would be using every excuse I could think of to get out of the house so as not to explode...or implode. I am speaking from experience. I don't have anything against older relations living with younger relations, but I can't abide high sweet voices like hers. I think Araminta has a few options available for ridding herself of this human parasite(keep in mind that I would never advocate anything illegal or harmful to another living, breathing human being...but since this is fiction, I think a little creative license might be allowed).

1. Invite Louisa from Winter Wedding to visit for a week or two and leave an unsecured bottle of Seconal laying about.
2. Rescue every filthy animal in sight and give each and every one to Tante. After two or three unhousebroken pets, she might prefer her own place. This route is pretty chancy, especially for the poor animals.
3. Take Tante on daily walks in the teeth of mighty gales (itis 'the edge of winter' after all). Perhaps a little over-exposure to some sub-zero temperatures might bring on a case of pneumonia?
4. Go Christmas shopping with Tante Dearest in Amsterdam...chose a busy street that borders a canal and...oops!
5. Invite little Paul from Three for a Wedding and give him the keys to an abandoned warehouse...
6. Go yachting with Lilith from Tabitha in Moonlight, and send Tante back for the sunglasses...
7. Foggy moors...numerous possibilities....
8. Accidentally leave her behind the Iron Curtain with an arthritic nanny.
9. Get lost in a Scottish snowstorm - see Heaven is Gentle for pointers.
10. Tunnel accident in Norway...this is a little problematical, especially since it's unlikely that Tante Maybella drives.
11. Book her on back to back world cruises, but don't tell her about it until you've got her settled in her stateroom.
12. Crispin has three other siblings...let them have their share of Tante Maybella. On the surface this looks like the best option...but you just know that at least one (or more) or the siblings won't pull their weight.

One last note.  I adore the cover on this one - alas, this is not the edition that I own.
-Betty Debbie

I was fifty pages into this book before I realized which one it was. My heart, sailing gaily along, wafted on the updrafts of delightful banter and sizzling chemistry, thudded to the pit of my stomach. Ugh. This is the one with the worst ending in Neelsdom.

Araminta Shaw, 25, is, like any good Lorelei, hailing sailors to a watery doom. Having found a lost child at the ocean's edge, she splints a broken leg, dismisses the possibility of cliff-climbing with all that dead weight on her back and looks through the darkening night for help.
Professor Crispin Van Sibbelt, nudging 40, points his little rubber dinghy inland and fetches up before her. 'You silly little fool. Don't you know those cliffs are dangerous?' 
Scathing remarks follow acid-laced observations as they maneuver the little girl aboard his yacht and our heroine (who did, after all, follow first aid protocols with ingenuity) is grinding her teeth. Araminta wonders, who put his knickers in such a bunch?
Araminta returns to her nursing job (she was on a very dreary-sounding vacation with auntie and father--the kind of death-to-a-social-life lolling at the inn vacation) and opens the door of her modest semi-basement flat to the vast and handsome yacht-owner. Having a yacht is not its own calling-card for respectability, evidently, and she only draws the chain back when she is reassured that he was sent by her auntie. 'I wanted to see you again.'
Thereafter, he pops in and out of her life, bringing delicious food, a persistent manner (a must since she constantly tells him she's not sure she likes him very much (in much the same way as a 12-year-old girl, when asked if she liked a certain classmate, would blush furiously, swear she didn't like him and wish him death for good measure)) and offers of help around the house.
This is, by far, the best part of the book with little moments that make you laugh aloud. He is sort of pursuing her and she is sort of resisting. ...she told herself that she couldn't bear him at any price--she would make that quite clear the next time they met.
Araminta is asked to nurse her Cousin Thomas' failing wife Holland. So, she hies off to Amsterdam and lands herself in a domestic imbroglio. Thomas is a pinchpenny who can barely rouse enough feeling for his dying wife beyond a niggling suspicion that all this is costing him money. Thelma is a dear and set to die anytime from incurable leukemia. She is relieved that Araminta is there so that she can die in peace instead of being asked about the laundry status. And if it takes crossing swords with Thomas every stinking day, Araminta is going to see that things are different for Thelma. Champangne, new dresses, enticing eats...the lot. Thomas turns puce at the expense. (Though, to be fair, he sounds like someone with a liver complaint.)
Naturally, Crispin is the specialist who sees Thelma.
Thelma dies.
Crispin, not one to waste any opportunity, whisks Araminta away from her pre-funeral housekeeping as often as possible and, at one point, brings her back to his home to spend the night.
Never fear! He has a chaperon! Tante Maybella! (Are all these exclamation points convincing you that she is a good idea? Me neither.) Ah, the good Tante. She's all my least favorite feminine affectations wadded into a cozy knit cardigan. Sweet, high-voiced, doll-like, back-biting, vicious...Crispin seems oblivious that Tante Maybella (who has TWO homes of her own that she doesn't want to live in--TWO!) is leaking toxic waste all over Araminta like a rusty 70s era industrial drum.
But, despite the prospect of infelicitous in-law relations, Araminta tosses her bonnet over the windmill for Crispin. He would probably be a difficult husband, but she saw no reason why she couldn't manage him. Oh, I quite like her.
But back to Tante Maybella. Crispin notices some chilliness but offers the pointless (if interesting) bromide: She can't help but love you in time, but she has to get used to you--the idea of you. Kiss!
Before heading back to England, Crispin makes some not-so-very-vague suggestions about a possible joint merger of their assets. 'Don't say anything. When you're back in England, whatever you feel now, you will probably forget me.'
Editorial Note: Okay, I take considerable issue with this. He does this cheesy boy band ballad thing (I'm imagining Boyz II Men: 'Baby, baby, hush now. You and me, girl, don't need to talk...') a few times and implies that she's a 'green girl'. Um, Professor, she's a babe. Moreover, she has probably been chatted up by every houseman, registrar, junior banker, bachelor clergyman and married anesthesiologist within fifty miles. If she's prepared to say that she loves you, shut-up, gracefully accept and then get down on your knees and thank the good Lord for your blessings. 
Crispin sends her roses with a message that needs the decoder ring treatment. (What does it all mean?)
She is asked to attend a friend's engagement party. While dolled up and waiting in the hospital lobby with her ride (her young male ride), Crispin stalks in. Words are flung, naked jealousy is displayed, love's young dream is crushed.
So she quits.
Oh my heck this is so satisfying. Crispin is totally in the wrong here and she's just ripped up her mortgage papers and tossed the lighted match into the dining room. And then he's back (to her father's house this time) for a full-fledged, honest to goodness grovel. (Enjoy the delicacy. La Neels is famously parsimonious with them.)
He asks her to come back to Holland to stay with him and get to know him and, '...hush, baby, I don't want to know what your feelings are...' Okay I made that last bit up...a teeny bit.
She stays with Crispin and Tante Maybella and Tante Maybella's 'naked fear' (so awkward when people don't wear a towel to the loo...). And then one day, Tante Maybella (whose very name is beginning to drive me around the bend) tells Araminta that she's so 'suitable'. Picture a five-year-old at a birthday party with a handful of balloons. Now picture someone popping them all. That's pretty much Tante Maybella. A Balloon Popper.
Not done with her evil machinations, Tante goes on to tell Araminta that she's so much more suitable than Nelissa (whose name sounds both flat-chested and made up) whom Crispin really loves and would marry but for his awkward engagement (oh, yeah, they got engaged in there) with Araminta.
Of course she bolts.
She takes barely any money, no passport and has no destination. She tries hitchhiking but is too well dressed. Crispin finds her curled up in the stairwell of a tiny roadside stone castle (Visit Amazing Europe!) and pours his anxiety/anger/confusion on her head. To which she replies with inspired aplomb:
Don't you swear your beastly Dutch oaths at me!
And there she is--from affianced wife of well-off physician to hot ghetto mess all in one easy day. He drags her home (after much 'No, baby, we'll talk after dinner/breakfast/bath/lunch'-ness) and gets Tante Maybella in the same room. And then, to steal a quote from the Iron Lady, it all goes wobbly. Here's why I hate it:
  • He never did say he loved her and should have.
  • Tante Maybella never capitulates until she gets lifelong residence under their roof (remember she has two others of her own), the satisfaction of teaching Araminta 'household management' and about all the treasures of the old house. (At this rate, Araminta will be lucky to consider herself a long-term guest in her own home.)
  • Araminta has to cast aside the venom that drove her to run away from Crispin and offer instant forgiveness and reassurance.
Anyway, by this time, I'm disgruntled and ready to bean him over the head. But he's got a special license and I guess they can go off and live happily ever after with the cankerous old woman.
The End

Rating: I really, really enjoyed this book before Araminta's dawning realization. She loathes Crispin but, as she glowers at his retreating back, she is probably checking out his bum. Their interplay is excellent and it crackles with energy (death surrounding her, notwithstanding!). And then she realizes that she loves him and a little wind is taken out of the sails (not much wind but all that 'Baby, baby, please don't say anything' stuff is a little dampening). And then there's the sticky bit at the end. Ugh. The end. It wasn't quite as uniformly bad as I remembered: The Great Betty makes running away interesting and funny and tragic all at once so I can't quibble with the writing.
But the last four pages...(shudder)...In a just world, that old lady would have been kicked out on her ear and probably incarcerated in a Home for the Criminally Insane. Seriously. Would you let that woman near your children?
So, though I hate giving mixed reviews, the beginning and middle (and most of the end) earn a boeuf en croute for me, while the last two pages are the thin gruel of tinned soup--probably that succotash tin in the back of your pantry that's been sitting there for ages. The lima beans have probably turned gray and there are little floaty bits of fat...
But if you can mentally write a satisfactory conversation that can make living with a psychopath okay ('Darling, she's got an incurable brain tumor and will be gone by morning anyway...') then this book is well worth your time.

Food: Shrimp bisque, lemon chicken, crisps, artichoke salad, kaas broodje, french onion soup, poached turbot with lobster sauce, Charlotte Russe (the sound of which makes me think of Russian ballerina tartlets for whatever reason), roast beef, baked potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and sprouts. When she runs away her best meal is chips from a paper bag and because the last of her change is bumped from her hand (into the watery deep) she is denied a roll. Brandy warms her up (a myth?) and she eats echte soup and gehakt balletjes on the way to his home again. The servants (possibly saying 'I'm sorry the old bat almost drove you to your death') make vacherin, her favorite dessert.

Fashion: Russet brown suit, Thelma buys a last dress (blue) before she pops off, Araminta buys a russet velvet pinafore dress with a chiffon blouse, a very promisinghigh-necked dark honey crepe with tiny pleats that sounds a beast to dry clean (I have four years experience working in a dry clean/laundry and know whereof I speak), a sage green silk jersey with yet another chiffon bow beneath her chin, and a blue velvet evening gown which sounds a dream to wear.


  1. I was writing a comment, but I have erased it all again. I am feeling too cross. The very thought of Tante Maybella... Arrrgh!
    And does she get told off? — NO!!! Her name is not Louisa, she is not a pretty eighteen-year-old model-to-be. So why doesn't she get told off??? Huh?
    Araminta casting herself down on her knees beside the old drag- er lady. Crispin all kind and smiling. Doesn't work for me. I would want the nasty tante out of the house.

  2. Hi,

    I am a new subscriber to your blog and let me just say first off that I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the entries I've read in the past several weeks. I am a very long time fan of Betty Neels, having started reading her books during the 1970s when I was a teenager. Over the years I have owned each and every book of hers but have let them get away from me here and there and am now trying to rebuild a small collection of my very favorites. Thank you for such an entertaining site!

    You mentioned that you adore the cover on "The Edge of Winter." Well, this has probably been mentioned here before but just in case I'll mention it again. So many of the earlier Harlequin Romance titles, especially the 1600 - 1900 number series (and those include many Betty Neels books of course) used well-known models and other famous women of the time as the basis for the illustration on their covers. The woman's face on the cover of "The Edge of Winter" is well-known model and actress, Susan Blakely. She was very popular in the seventies and eighties.

    Two more examples for Betty Neels: The illustration of the woman on the cover of "Stars Through the Mist" is based on Cybill Shepherd (as she looked back in the seventies) and the illustration of the woman on the cover of "Stormy Springtime" is Princess Diana! :)

    I always enjoy running across some of these earlier Harlequin Romance covers and recognizing a famous face from the past!

    Betty Bernadette

    1. I want pics and comparisons!!!

      B. Francesca

    2. Interesting comment, if the female on the cover were based on famous ladies who were the Doctors based on? Were there famous men involved? This would make for interesting discussion.
      All these winter stories are not helping me cool off while we swelter through 30 degree temperatures downunder, but I love them just the same.

    3. Wow!

      That is remarkable!

      Thank you, B. A.

      B. F.

    4. I wonder if the cover-model preference is why Betty included a sprinkling of blondes in her books in the 70s. She had one every year or two from 1970 through 1982, and then Claribel in 1988, and then solid red-heads and brown-heads ever after.

    5. For Betty Francesca, part II

      Stormy Springtime, cover (I suggest you open this in a window of its own, then you can minimize it for easier comparison with the following links.)

      Princess Diana, 1989

      Diana, the two pics at the top
      Diana, the famous skirt picture, 1980

      Diana – Fashion Galleries

      Photo Gallery of Princess Diana's Style, 33 photos. Hats, ladies, hats!

      Another great fashion gallery, with a certain similarity to the girl in the Stormy Springtime cover in picture #3:
      Photo Gallery of Princess Diana's Style on, 75 pictures.
      Silk and sequins. Matching shoes and purses. Dresses "with not a lot of top to it". A trouser suit ( picture #33: Cute little dog on Queen Sofia’s lap!). A muff, mitts for skiing & three pairs of gloves (#31, #35, #54).

      Thank you for the information, Betty Bernadette. Without you we'd never have known about this!

    6. Betty van den Betsy, what was Betty's hair colour when she was young, do we know?

    7. Thank you, B.A.

      I never thought of Stormy Springtime as Princess Di because of the hair, but you are right, the look is the same!



    8. You're very welcome! :)

      Betty Bernadette

    9. Oh, good, I'm not the only one who saw that ... (Stormy Springtime cover = Diana.)

  3. argh


    I hated the beginning where he yells at her unnecessarily. meannie.

    I like the part where she goes to help her cousin in law. She was so good with her--a sweet woman. And a tearjearker. I love how she was so fierce with her selfish disgusting cousin and told him off constantly. And the boy too. Was there a son? I like that she did all those positive last minute feminine enjoyments/spendings for the wife. Such a wonderful idea.

    As for Tante...

    My plan if I were in our Araminta's shoes:

    Get up off my knees after hugging "sweet" Tante, tell 'darling' fiance, "Now that that is settled, I will go back to England to my family."
    He will get furious. Perhaps hide his anger and say, "why?"
    Araminta can say with sangfroid, "As you know, there can only be one woman to run your household, dear. When you are ready, call me." She turns to Tante, kisses her gently on the cheek, and says, "I'm glad you're happy now." And walks out of their lives.
    Many BN days later, he comes to fetch her from her family home, tells her he would like to set a date, the home is empty, and he wants to fill it up with lots of little children. Tante has hired a full-time companion from one of his indigent older female relatives who is tough as nails, and they are holidaying in the alps. huh!
    She smiles at him. They kiss. The end.

    B. Francesca

    1. Oh my yes. I want to write a 2000 word ending to that effect and glue it into the book before the offending pages. Araminta was just too saintly to be believed and Tante will probably poison her in the end.

      But then, this month I have been on the receiving end of some very Tante Maybella horridness (unjustified, I promise!) and I've learned to walk warily around ladies of this type. I certainly wouldn't live with one--sunshine and lollipops all day long until you crossed them and find that there's a catty underbelly.

      Yes, if I were Araminta, I would lock up all the cleaning supplies and count out my Seconal tablets just to be sure...

    2. Exactly.

      Then Poirot will have to come and prove that darling Araminta
      i didn't
      kill her!!!



    3. Am I the only one who sees a scared, insecure old lady who behaves badly, and not Cruella DeVille?

    4. Betty Janet AOh

      No, you are not alone...I too saw Tante Maybella as old and scared. I got a little irritated with Araminta for being so very ready to believe Tante Maybella's tale. And if I forgive Araminta because Crispin never said he loved her, then I am left being irritated at Crispin for being besotted but not saying so until after Araminta ran away. (And I kept waiting for her to get her head together but she just kept moping around in the rain being homeless and hungry and waiting to be rescued!)

      This story kind of reminded me of the first time I traveled to see my long distance lover. He was living with his mother after she had an artificial heart valve replacement. When I got there, she was very sweet to me. After an hour, I heard her calling from the kitchen. "Who's Sara?" I asked. My lover had to explain that Sara was his first wife. They'd been divorced for years but his mother still stayed in touch with her. And apparently I looked like her. Ick!!! I have to say I considered running away and spending a homeless night in the rain!!! But I let Mr. Miller explain and forgave his mother for being an old lady who sometimes got confused.

      I spent the first three years of my marriage living with Mom Miller. It wasn't always easy but it was the right thing to do. And several decades later, I am still glad I didn't run away that first night... :)

      Betty Miller

    5. You sound like a very gracious person. :)

  4. I've had issues with living-in ladies related to the husband... So I cannot understand how Neels could ever have thought it would be fine to have that Aunt living in forever and ever. It's not even as if she's one of the nicer oldies. Even though Araminta is a much better and nicer person than I am.

    1. In this case, Betty Janet, I don't see a scared, insecure old lady. She's got a large and loving family and substantial financial resources. Certainly it's no fun to experience the failing eyesight and painful joints and erratic memory lapses and bizarrely sprouting hairs (TMI? okay, TMI) and similar consequences of aging, but that is life. And life, regardless of how alarming it can be at times, is no reason to behave unkindly to others who are young, scared and insecure.

      Betty Fife, I do think Betty was mostly an advocate for young marrieds having a home free of elder relatives -- but she was perfectly happy to throw a retired nanny into the in-law suite. I suppose Nanny knows her place in a way blood relations do not.

      A friend has her 101-year old maternal grandmother living with her part time. Grandma lives the rest of the time with her son's son. Grandma is a lovely person, and they love having her, but she does make it clear that son's son is a far more important personage than daughter's daughter.

      So: she's old, so no one says, "What the heck-o-rama, gram?" And in Betty-ville, no one ever speaks forthrightly about relationships or emotions to start with. As a brash American (other factors apply as well), I find that painfully irritating.

    2. I know, and which is why I read Neels sometimes, so I have vicariously enjoy either wise and sensible and independent in laws, or nasty ones done away with discreetly.

  5. I'd much prefer the ending like ... well, I can't recall which right now, but the heroine breaks her engagement and won't tell him why. After taking her to the airport, hero goes back home to grill Tante, finds out what she's done (nasty rumors about the other woman, or something), immeditely kicks her to the curb (bought her a small house, I think), brings the heroine back, and says of Tante, "maybe we'll be friends again one day." MUCH better ending.

    BTW, I have this cover. :D

    1. Could be Tante Wilhelmina in Wish with the Candles, not sure. I don't think they were engaged in that story.

    2. It's Tante Wilhelmina who gets the small house, in The Hague.
      Tante Lia has her own house (in den Haag) to which Walle banishes her. After giving her dinner, of course ;)

  6. A propos of nothing, I looked at the "globe thingy" (Hi, there, B v S! I "see" you.) earlier today and I saw Scarborough; Ontario, and I said, "Hey, I’ve been there!" A couple of times, shopping or just window shopping at Scarborough Town Centre. A bit later, I saw Scarborough, Ont., and Edmonton, Alberta, both at the same time, and I said, "Hey, I’ve been there!" One day at West Edmonton Mall – which is not nearly enough to see it all. They had an indoor pool, which you could see from the mall, and an indoor scating rink, an indoor amusement park, you could play miniature golf and there was a "real" sailing ship inside the mall, the Santa Maria. And then there were a gazillion stores to explore... There just wasn’t enough time...

    1. Sigh.I will never live down the "globe thingy" comment. Hi Betty Anon.

      B von S

    2. You said that before - which is why I remember. I think it's cute. But I will stop using the expression if it bothers you.
      Betty van den Cheshire Cat Grin Anonymous

  7. Such a pity we don't know 'what happened next' ...
    I suspect Tante Maybella gets the heave ho, or ends up spending more and more time in her room as the house fills up with children!!
    The story was a bit dull in places but still one I'd read again. Mince Pie for me :)

  8. Yesterday, I saw her again – and was reminded of some on the comments on dear, old Tante Wilhelmina – high, sweet voice, sunshine and lollipops all day...
    Picture a frail, bent old lady, always smiling, always soft-voiced, always friendly and polite – and almost always being difficult, albeit in a small, harmless way. Sometimes just asking redundant questions – with a false smile on her face (or am I getting paranoid?). And you know they are redundant because she answers them herself. And by the way she answers them, by her gestures, you know that she knew the answers beforehand. Since she appears to be as sharp as a needle, I suspect her of being bothersome on purpose.

  9. The Library Tour of Love

    They were housed in the library, a vast apartment, its walls lined with books, its polished floor covered with a Persian carpet. There were comfortable chairs arranged in groups round mahogany tables, and a brightfire burning below the magnificently carved chimney piece. They went slowlyfrom one display cabinet to the next, while the doctor explained about Tiger ware, of which he had several specimens, and then pointed out the beauties of the nef which took pride of place in his collection – it was a salt, made in the shape of a ship, and was, he declared, early sixteenth century. Araminta admired it dutifully, although she very much preferred a George the Second shell pattern sugar box, which, while neither so old nor so rare, she considered to be a great deal prettier. The glass was exquisite, too, housed in a great bow-fronted cabinet lined with blue velvet, and she pored long minutes over a goblet by Verzelini before enquiring how it came into the doctor's hands. 'Elizabethan, isn't it?' she essayed. 'Were the English and Dutch friendly then?' 'On and off. One of my ancestors married an Englishwoman and that was part of her dowry. One of the daughters of the marriage married an Englishman in her turn and their son gave my family the diamond-pinched roemer just behind the goblet. Personally, I like the Beilby goblets – and there's that truly priceless doppelpokal on the top shelf. I feel guilty every time I see it because I dislike it so much.'Araminta laughed. 'You ought to be bloated with the pride of possession,'she told him as they crossed the room to a smaller cabinet housing a collection of dainty china – a hand-painted teaset, violets on the thinnest of porcelain. Araminta exclaimed: 'I like this best of all…' 'My father gave it to my mother when they were first married. He had it specially made for her because she loved violets. I like it too.'

    1. The Tiger ware is stunning. I had no idea what it was. The goblets are beautiful too.

      Betty AnoninTX

  10. Today, I saw the split screen video version of Call Me Maybe, Miami Dolphins Cheersleaders vs. US Marines, on tv and was looking for the video on YouTube – and when I finally found it I couldn’t watch it because "GEMA has not granted the respective music publishing rights". Duh.
    Well, I still had some fun while looking for it:

    'Call Me Maybe' Spoofed by U.S. Marines Courtesy: 'By the US Military'. Note the girls very neat Betty hairstyles.

    The Hottest @Abercrombie & Fitch Guys, "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen

    A British Boy School Version
    Call Me Mobro (Call Me Maybe Parody) - Bedford School's Movember Campaign
    Boarding and Day School for boys aged 7-14 years

    Call me maybe – wersja butelkowa = Bottle version. Well-tuned beer bottles. Ha ha!

    1. Typo: Boarding and Day School for boys aged 7-18 years.

  11. It was bugging me, when they're going around the house, Crispin took great pride in a "Nef" -- I had no idea what that was, but bless Google, I tracked a 16th century salt nef down -- here.