Monday, March 4, 2013

The Mistletoe Kiss - Reprise

I worked on this reprise three weeks ago. I was plowing through a few posts so that I wouldn't have to take time away from vacationing with my daughter's family - (with her husband and 4 children) at Disney World this past week.  In fact, as this is being posted I am probably sitting in the airport in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I'm a little bewildered by the fact that we have a layover in Minneapolis...I have always had my connecting flights to or from the east coast through either Atlanta or Chicago.


I reread The Mistletoe Kiss a few weeks ago.  This was one of the very first Betty Neels that I ever read (Betty Keira loaned it to me along with a few others...and so it began...).  I remember being puzzled by a heroine described as plain and plump.  I didn't realize at the time that that was Betty Code for small, buxom and smoking hot to Rich Dutch Doctors. I also didn't get her name - Ermentrude.  I still don't particularly care for the name, but I can pass over it much more lightly now and just think of her as 'Emmy'. 
Betty Debbie

Betty Neels was in her late 80s when she wrote The Mistletoe Kiss. I slap my forehead, sink gobsmacked on the nearest sack of potatoes and goggle my eyes in wonder. May we all be so needle-witted and full of feeling in our sweet 80s...

Once upon a time there was a fair maiden disguised as a ordinary-looking hospital telephonist (operating a telephone is not exactly brain surgery). Ermentrude Foster, 23, is on the lowest rung of the hospital ladder (almost the scullery!) and she is asked to deliver a message to a beast in the tower.
Professor Ruerd ter Mennolt, a neurologist (operating on the human brain turns out to be brain surgery), is really a handsome prince but has been enchanted by a wicked witch named Annaliese. He meets the maiden, suffers the full force of her considerable charm and remains unmoved. Be good enough to tell Miss Crother on no account to send you here again. And then he polishes off a few villagers and lays waste to the countryside. The beast has very thick skin.
Each day, as he comes to and from his tower (to burn cottages and terrify the populace), he notices the little maiden, plying her needle and practicing other 'womanly skills'. He does not want to notice her.
One day, not too long after, Wicked Witch Annaliese flies into town on her broom. Confident that her spell is as powerful as ever, she neglects fully transforming herself into the Fairy Princess alter-ego so necessary to keeping the beast in her coils. Her answering machine voice, he notices, is grating and high-pitched. (Maybe he hears the lilting sounds of woodland singing from his mousy telephonist.) Also, she is not particularly interested in hearing about all the cities he has sacked or all the brains he has held in his hand. The beast develops a pucker in his brow. Maybe, he thinks to himself, my Fairy Princess is not all spun sugar and sticky toffee pudding...
Then there is a bomb.
Ruerd the Beast uses all his supernatural skills to save everyone. (Who will he pillage or terrorize if they're all dead?) And then he finds the maiden stranded. Well, what's a beast to do? He takes Emmy the Maiden to her door, shares her meal and wins her trust. As he leaves he marks her door with a heavy mark. He knows where to get a good meal in future...
Strangely though, it isn't thoughts of gobbling her up that possess his mind. As he passes her humble nook each day he begins to look for her and even to talk with her. This will never do.
Hoping to regain his old irascible self,Ruerd tells the Wicked Witch about the maiden. Maybe speaking her name aloud will make his growing obsession melt away like his mortal self under a full moon.
But it doesn't and, worse, it stirs his Fairy Princess to action.
The Wicked Witch can smell a threat to her enchantment a mile away and the sound of this little Ermentrude simp sends a shiver of fear through her frozen heart. Swooping down on the maiden in all her spun sugar glory, she scatters a few poisoned apples and waits for them to do their work.
Though mortally wounded by the attack, our gentle maiden is no push over. She rallies in time to assist the Beast in choosing a pet.
A pet. The Beast can't believe he's choosing a pet. Of course, he already has a familiar (a cat) but an animal strictly for pleasure...and not for eating? The maiden is beginning to chip away at his shell to find the handsome prince beneath.
He has so little desire to add her to his menu that he arranges for her father to be offered a job in a neighboring village--far enough away, he hopes, that he will be saved from his own temptations.
Unfortunately, the world holds more dangers than wicked witches and flesh-eating beasts. Emmy, alone in her cottage, is set upon by two highwaymen. She mostly vanquishes them by masterfully wielding a common umbrella. Sadly, the margin between entirely vanquishing andmostly vanquishing a thief is a mild concussion and unsightly bouts of vomiting.
Who should she send for but the Beast who seems considerably less toothy and hairy than when they first met...
As for the Beast, he loves her, of course he does. He has taken a long look at himself in the inevitably cracked mirror in his gloomy beastly lair and admits it to himself at last. But it is foolishness. 'She would forget him. Only he wouldn't forget her...' 
Her concussion gives him an excuse to indulge himself in foolishness a while longer. Telling lies enough to shame a sinner and exaggerating her concussed condition, he manages to invite her father and mother and herself to join him in Holland (hereditary homeland of beasts like him) for Christmas.
His Fairy Princess will be none too pleased, he considers, but her wrath will just have to be dealt with. Nothing will get in the way of keeping the maiden with him...for a little bit longer.
At the beast's magnificent castle Emmy the Maiden looks into the Mirror of Erised (oh, no, wrong story) and sees herself happily wed to a handsome prince. Because her maiden heart beats true she is able to clearly see that this is the beast in his true form and she discovers she loves him. Of course she does.
Aware of perils ahead (to her heart and (thanks to the Wicked Witch's brewing powers) to her health), Emmy reminds herself, 'I must be circumspect...'
Meanwhile, two princesses (sisters of the beast) have fallen at Emmy's feet like the rescuing antidote she is. Princess Joke and Princess Alemke exchanged a quick look. Here was the answer to their prayers. This small girl with the plain face was exactly what they had in mind for their brother. But Ruerd, deep in his painful transformation from beast to man, has to keep himself well away from the maiden. Each moment with her threatened to carry him away on a tide of feeling. He wondered why the sight of her in a sensible nightdress with her hair hanging untidily in a cloud around her shoulders, should so disturb him in a way which Annaliese, even in the most exquisite gown, never had.
But one day the heady temptation of her proximity undermines his rigid control. Passing off the fierce and possessive kiss he gives her as a bit of mistletoe nonsense and beastly behavior is a lie and he knows it.
The Wicked Witch, her Fairy Princess disguise wearing thin around the edges, casts more enchantments and spells to little avail. The beast (hardly a beast at all now) is lost to her but she'll be cursed if there's going to be a happily ever after--not if she has anything to do with it.
She dips an arrow in deadly poison and lets fly. White-faced and shaken, Emmy is able still to banish her from the castle but staying with the prince is now impossible.
She turns to her Fairy God-uncleOom Domas, and asks him to escort her back home to her cottage. He agrees, though with some misgivings. But he must grant the wish as that is a FairyGod-uncle's job.
However, before they leave, Emmy the Maiden, with the courage of ten men, follows the wounded Beast (wounded at her news of her departure) out to the wind-lashed dunes. I'm going because I'm in love with you. You know that, don't you?
...He kissed her soundly. 'We will talk later. I'm going to kiss you again.'
And then the Beast was never a beast again.
And they lived Happily Ever After

Rating: I just adored this one from beginning to end. Ermentrude is so friendly and has so few deferential feelings toward Ruerd (at least until her Dawning Realization) that he is disarmed and then captivated. Expecting to be treated like the eminent professor that he is, Emmy instead adopts him just as she would a lost puppy.
The tension in this feels very like that in An Ordinary Girl--hero, engaged to one girl, finds himself pursuing (quite madly) another. The principles like one another throughout and the angst revolves around seeing if hero will let himself go. This is also one of the best books for supporting that 'I loved you from the start but didn't know it right away' tropes.
But Ermentrude. Any takers on whether Betty Neels named her that for a drunken bar bet?
The Mistletoe Kiss is particularly good in the supporting characters department--his sisters, her parents, even his Oom Domus. Brilliant.
Lashings of Whipped Cream for me.

Food: Chocolate cake, tiny macaroons, lemonade, bacon, eggs enough to start a poultry farm, mushroom soup, sole a' la femme, apricot pavlova, roast pheasant, smoked salmon with brown bread and butter, game chips, creme brulee, lobsterThermidor, ubiquitous New Year oliebolljes, a 'horrid' salty candy she is pressed to try in his village (Zoute drop), sorrel soup, mustard-grilled sole, milanaise souffle, red cabbage, mushrooms in garlic, and a traditional Christmas feast with turkey, pudding and mince pies.

Fashion: Ruerd thinks she wears a lot of ill-suited clothes 'with an air'. Plastic mac, a brown suit with a cream blouse, and a 'useful' brown velvet evening dress. While staying at his home, he presumably sees her wearing his sister's gossamer nightie (not too gossamer, I hope). In contrast, his fiancee' Annaliese wears a slim cerise silk sheath (nice alliteration, Betty), stone-colored crepe de chine, red chiffon (which is a middling way to be a vamp--chiffon isn't exactly dangerous and tarty material), a cashmere and quilted jacket, gold tissue and chiffon, peacock-blue taffeta, and a soft blue wool coat with a high-crowned Melusine hat.


  1. Betty Barbara here--
    I just love the review because it sooo explains why I love this book so much.
    A few random thoughts---
    I think one reason several of TGB's later books are in my top 10 is that we get a bit of the hero's POV; his feelings are no longer the subject of guess-work or interpretation. (see nightgown quote, above)
    Only in Neelslandia would the heroine wear high heeled shoes and a Sunday-best outfit to the dog shelter! Ah, Betty...

    This is one of the few Betty books where I wanted to see them after they were married--specifically, I wanted to see the Harrods shopping trip o' true love. I bet Emmy looks just splendid in her new finery.

    But the name. Oh dear. You note that even her parents call her Emmy. (So why did they stick her with an awful name? Were they trying to butter-up an ancient aunt in hopes she would leave them money? Oh wait--she left them a dinky house in London instead....)
    And we will tactfully ignore The Great Betty's dithering over just how long Emmy would be playing substitute nanny for Joke--the length (days or weeks)depends on which scene you are reading.

  2. I have some sympathy with The Great Betty. I'll bet she found herself thinking "No one ever uses the good old names..." Of course, I don't think Ermentrude is particularly "good" but it is "old." Hey, if that's the price we have to pay to have so much angsty goodness in a single volume, I'll fork over the psychic bucks, no questions asked.

  3. I thought I'd read this book when it first came out, but if I did, I couldn't recall a thing about it as I read it this past weekend.

    I don't know...maybe it's because my husband has had a lot of health issues this past year and we've seen a LOT of eminent doctors like Ruerd here lately (American though, not Dutch) But I just can't imagine any of them giving the time of day to a 23-year old woman manning a switchboard. Emmy just seemed so "young" to me. It just didn't seem they had too much in common.

    Maybe I need to read it again...:)

  4. When I saw this one was up for review, I had the feeling that I hadn't liked it much. Then, not only three pages in, Ruerd is so ghastly horrible, and I thought ... aha! That's why I don't like this one. He's such a grump. But I kept reading and liked it much more than I remembered. Love the sisters and all their plotting.

  5. I loved Emmy!

    She is so cheerful despite her ghastly circumstances!

    She is my hero!

    B. Francesca

    ps. love the review

  6. I love love love this book. It's a top tenner for me. Is tenner a word? If not, I nominate it for Webster's.

    I love the scene where Ruerd kisses Emily under the mistletoe. "She was so taken by surprise that she didn't do anything for a moment. She had no breath anyway. ... And besides, she had the odd feeling that something was alight inside her, giving her the pleasant feeling that she could float in the air if she wished." Hot hot hot writing for Betty!! Then after she runs up the stairs while thinking Ruerd was laughing at her, comes the perfect line: "But the professor wasn't laughing." I think this scene was the most perfect in the book. Wonderful job by Betty.

    The beach scene is one of my favorite endings in the Betty books. The grim and tired professor. The sad Emmy who has to tell him she loves him before she goes. The cold wind and the waves. "Heaven, thought Emily happily, isn't necessarily sunshine and blue skies--and she reached up to put her arms around her professor's neck." The way Betty used HER professor's neck instead of THE professor's neck is perfection in writing, IMHO. Love it.

    Have I mentioned that I love this book? :)

    The wind in West Texas is blowing much like the wind on the beach was. My house is shaking, and the wind is making booming noises as it hits the house. Crazy. A cold front is passing through. I do believe I will drink my Horlicks then head to bed, where I will curl up under my cozy down comforter and read a few more chapters of Dearest Love.

    Betty AnoninTX

    1. We've got the wind here in Idaho too. I'm hoping it doesn't blow off the shingles I just had fixed to sell my house. I'll be in Texas in less than 3 weeks!

    2. Did your shingles hold? My patio furniture ended up against the fence. Three weeks to get boxes packed!

      I drank my Horlicks, curled up in bed, and read three pages before I went to sleep! Between the Horlicks and the cold weather, Betty didn't stand a chance.

      Betty AnoninTX

      PS I love this book.

    3. Webster's may not have "tenner", but probably the OED does, since that's British slang for a 10-pound note. (Ok, different usage, but still...) :)

      Loved the review. The Beauty and the Beast motif worked very well!

      It's been awhile since I read this one, but I remember liking it. Ruerd (I think that's an anagram of "ruder", and it's appropriate at the beginning) turns out to be a bit of a softy underneath.

  7. Wikipedia:
    Ermentrude of Orléans (27 September 823 – 6 October 869) was Queen of the Franks by her marriage to Charles the Bald, Holy Roman Emperor and King of West Francia. She was the daughter of Odo, Count of Orléans and his wife Engeltrude.
    Ermentrude had a gift for embroidery ...

    1. King: My daughter! I have found you a royal husband!
      Princess: Who father? Who?
      King:Charles the bald, limping, Habsburg lipped, impotent imbecile!
      Princess: Yay.

      B von S

    2. Limping, Habsburg lipped? Dear Betty von Susie, I am afraid you have confused the Charleses: Wrong Charles.
      Right Charles.
      Another "great" picture: Charles the Bald

    3. Emmy loves to do embroidery, really complicated embroidery, you know? Same as her medieval namesake.

    4. Sigh. I was not talking about your particular Charles, I was making reference to the fate of every poor princess THROUGHOUT HISTORY who was forced to marry some royal goob in order to satisfy her greedy father's desire for more money, land, power, castles, and peasants to oppress. I guess I should have changed the name to Frederick the Frog-faced or Wilhelm the Weird.

      B von S

    5. Ah. That explains it. I couldn't fathom how you could have got them confused. What a coincidence the Habsburgs had a king named Charles who went bald and practically matched the description of "your" groom.

  8. OH, NO! Betty Barbara, I can see you, cover your eyes, don't read the latest comments! Shocking, shocking, shocking.

    Last night, I opened the book at random. Ruerd met a friend who happened to be headmaster of a boys’ prep school in Dorset trying to arrange for a job for Ermentrude’s father.

    The headmaster wrote in his notebook and tore out the page. 'He can give me a ring...' The professor shook his head. 'That wouldn't do. If he or his daughter discovered that I was behind it, he'd refuse at once.' 'Got a daughter, has he? Thought you were getting married.' The professor smiled. 'You can rule out any romantic thoughts, [ HA HA HA!] but I would like to help her get out of a life she isn't enjoying; away from London. To do that her father must get a post somewhere in the country, for that's where she belongs.
    and his friend went home and told his wife that Ruerd ter Mennolt seemed to be putting himself to a great deal of trouble for some girl or other at St Luke's. 'I thought he was marrying that Anneliese of his?' 'And still is, it seems. He was always a man to help lame dogs over stiles.' 'Anneliese doesn't like dogs
    [!!! ],' said his wife. [Clever woman! ]

    She had a great sense of humour, our Betty!

    1. Betty Barbara here--
      Gasp! Porn spam!! Oh Noes!!!
      Yes, I've noticed, sometimes with horror, the proliferation of spam comments to "our" blog. It may well be that the Founding Bettys will have to bring back the hideous validation box.

    2. Anything is better than that kind of spam. Why is there so much spam these days? Did "we" somehow open a door to them? I'd rather copy squiggly nigh unreadable ciphers and letters than read all that spam Ԁotted ωith κaρρas, omegas and rhos and the κomi-Ԁ and, lately, with worse.

    3. Did all the spam start after the background was changed? I can't remember. It probably doesn't have anything to do with it, but it might?

      Betty AnoninTX

    4. I log in about twice a day most days, and delete 1-3 spams. It's really not difficult, for me, to ignore them, and easy-peasy to delete them. However, my blood pressure rises each time I see one. I think it has to do with the vulgar, vile, profound insincerity of the messages. So I suppose I would support a return to the prove-you're-human validation tests. Maybe if the Founding Bettys brought them back for a month or so the spammer would go away.

    5. I'd be happy to do it - if that is the wish of the masses. I too am tired of the vile and vulgar spam.

    6. I for one don't mind at all proving I'm human, particularly if it keeps our beloved Betty van den Betsy off blood pressure medicine :)

    7. I, too, was wondering if it had anything to do with the new background. I think it started a couple of weeks afterwards. Not sure. Perhaps we could test this theory by changing back to the old background.
      Betty Anonymous

  9. when she offered the children a sweetie from the jar on the counter, she offered Emmy one too. It tasted horrid, but she chewed it with apparent pleasure and wondered what it was. 'Zoute drop,' she was told. 'And weren't they delicious?' For anyone partial to a sweet made of salt probably they were, thought Emmy, and swallowed the last morsel thankfully.

    A long time ago, I happened to be in a city in the west of Germany, about 30 miles from the Dutch border. I went to the Cathedral Square. It was market day, and lo and behold, there were two stalls selling Dutch licorice. They had many different kinds and shapes to choose from. I decided on some zoute drop, salty licorice, and some zoete drop, sweet licorice, in the shape of canal houses. This shape is called gevels (gables) or geveltjes (little gables).

    My computer broke down this morning. Sniff. I am using my dad's at present. I may not be able to check in each day. Sniff, sniff.
    Betty Anonymous