Monday, April 1, 2013

A Christmas Proposal

I think it's pretty hilarious that Betty Keira began her review with "What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet..." and then goes on to accuse Bertha's parents of having a chip on their shoulders - especially given the fact that she and the Minjeer have yet to come to an agreement about the name for their upcoming pledge. She has been enjoying the suggestions from our sister Bettys.  For those of you following along at home, she is due....NEXT WEEK.  A week from this Thursday.  She's nearly down to the single digits in days.

I quite like A Christmas Proposal - I spend an inordinate amount of time (while reading) trying to envision the awful dresses that are foisted upon darling Bertha...and also trying to ignore how much I don't like the name Bertha.

Let's talk about novellas, shall we.  I think that Betty Neels was brilliant at writing short novels.  I do have a question about her proficiency (perhaps one of our authors could address this?). Was The Great Betty actually brilliant at writing short novels, OR do I just think she is brilliant because I've read all of her other novels and can subconsciously fill in any plot holes?


Have a great week! It's Spring Break here at Casa van der Stevejinck, the sun in shining (or rather, will be when it comes up), the birds are singing, and I've got a ton of flowers and spring bulbs to plant.

Love and lardy cakes,
Betty Debbie

What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet...
Let's go test that theory, shall we?

Bertha Soames' parents had a chip on their shoulder. They had to have. Who looks at the miracle of a tiny defenseless newborn and thinks to themselves, 'It is never too early to begin blighting a life. Bertha it is.' I will allow that the name sounds infinitely better with a British accent but there is a reason (see below) that the popularity of the name resembles a precipice you'd need crampons, an ice pick and a Sherpa guide to conquer.
Professor Oliver Hay-Smythe is one of those handy unattached bachelors--the demand of which always outpaces supply. So when his friends tow him along to a socialite's birthday party he is sure of a ready welcome.
He sees an abominable outfit--elaborate and ill-fitting shrimp-pink. And then he sees the girl in it.
Maybe he's sorry for her--there's a lot of compassion in his make-up (your average lame-dogs-over-stiles fellow) and she's having a dire night. Persuading her that he's hungry and bored, he spirits her out of the house and off to a pub.
Editorial Note: Other than not believing for a minute that Oliver would have nothing better to do than hang about with strangers for a cocktail andun-filling bits and pieces, the meet-cute is
Clare, the indispensable step-sister, appropriates Oliver, puts a premature notch in her lipstick case and awaits his eventual proposal.
Oliver, meanwhile, wants to help little Bertha (you're imagining a bosomy Teutonic lass, now aren't you?) get a job. He asks her to read to Mrs. Duke who likes romances. (I wonder if Mrs. Duke liked the racy stuff. Reading that aloud would be a job...)
Meanwhile, Bertha takes every opportunity to display her awesomeness. Street thugs mug an old woman? She descends like a Fury. Clare takes the credit? Bertha holds her tongue and lets Clare hang herself. (Oliver invites them down to his house in the country on the strength of their trauma. Poor Bertha has to wear a vile acid-yellow get-up. And after a while you really have to wonder if Clare is buying such unsuitablesartorial abominations just to pass them on.) Child nearly flattened by the wheels of a speeding car? Clare pushes little Timmy out of the way and earns a concussion and shredded leg for her pains.
That last one lands her in the hospital (in one of Oliver's beds! Marinate on that a while...). Clare and Step-mommy-dearest can't come. Clare is so sensitive to pain and distressing scenes. (cough*pansy*cough)
They aren't earning any points with Oliver who sends Bertha flowers and makes those middle of the night 'Oh, Sister, I'm just on the ward to check on one of my patients...the one with the empurpled eye...I'll just be looking at her for twenty minutes or so in the dark without taking a pulse or anything...' visits. For her part, Bertha finally realizes that she's in love with the generous professor. ('So that's why I wanted to bawl the steps out when they wanted to hand-me-down more wretched clothes.' (smacks head))
On the very next page we get the long and complete history of Oliver's love. It started in the shrimp pink, continued in the lime green...he's loved her all along.
Editorial Note: He unpacks the story of his dawning realization in all the hurry of a man with no clean clothes and a business trip in the morning. I take issue with this as this story would have been marvelous if The Great Betty had sprinkled his feelings a little more liberally throughout the earlier pages. As it stands, many of his actions appear perilously similar to pity. In contrast, he makes it clear enough that he hates her clothes which got me thinking. At The Church of the Founding Bettys (that does sound official) we have a lay clergy (leaders are chosen from congregations and hold down full-time jobs in addition to their church-y duties). A few years back, when the Stake President (head of a group of 5,000 or so) was called, there was an audible gasp of dismay in the audience. See...he's my OB/GYN (delivered most of my kids, in fact) and the OB/GYN of hundreds of other ladies in our area. (He's a brilliant delivery doctor.) I won't pretend that the idea of him having seen...(gulp)...everything was potentially mortifying. Thank heavens, he seems to have a happy knack of mentally segmenting every woman he meets at the neck. At his offices he's a genial and folksy professional, walking you through a breast self-exam with a matter-of-fact aplomb. At church he can't see anything below the Clavicle. Oliver has that happy knack as well...I think he keeps his chin well up so that lime-green and putty-beige dresses fade into the unimportant periphery.
Oliver invites her to his mother's for Christmas and she's all set to go when the steps engineer a sudden emergency at Aunt Back-of-beyond's. There is no emergency, of course, but Aunt is happy to see her anyway and effect a much-needed make-over. (Bibbity-bobbity,boo!) And when Oliver finally shows up there is nary an acid or electric or abrasive hue in sight.
Kisses, proposals and hopes for a hasty marriage!
The End

Rating: Hm. It did no good that this one was so memorable by reason of those hideous outfits because, while on one hand those outfits make this book, on the other hand, I had remembered this as a shade better than it turned out being. So, I think if I'm a wee bit dissatisfied it is just because the re-read didn't quite come up to expectations. I generally love La Neels' shorter stories--she really shines at a hundred pages--but this needed a little more self-awareness (by our hero) earlier on.
Still, it is pretty good.
Clare was enjoyably nasty and step-mama, though predictably horrible, did the thing with verve. I mean, if you are troubling to make Cinderella comparisons I'd say she holds up.
And the clothes. Great Cesar's ghost they were awesome. The Great Betty surpassed herself.Brilliant! Acid-yellow! Shrimp pink! My retinas are burning.
So, anywho, I'm waffling on this but I'll give it a dollop of Treacle Tart and a dash of Mince Piesand take my licks like a Betty.

Food: Bangers and mash and some 'old and mild' (which I think refers to some beer), tonic water, tea and meat paste sandwiches, orange cream souffles, miniature onion tarts. A breakfast comprising bacon (Up with bacon!), mushrooms freshly picked, fried bread, a sausage or two, egg garnished with tomato, which Betty describes as 'a meal to put heart into a faint-hearted man.'

Fashion: Where to start? He falls in love with her while she's wearing an 'elaborate shrimp-pink' number. We get a 'brilliant' thin linen dress, a lime green dress with too wide shoulders, a jersey two-piece in a 'ghastly color' (this is the acid-yellow one). Clare, meanwhile swans about wearing high-heels and perfectly-fitting blue and white gowns and, if Oliver hadn't shown up, I wonder if Bertha could have had those sooner or later.


  1. Funny that in this review I go on a bit about my OB/GYN-Stake President who is still both. It can be a handy combination, I found recently as, until about three weeks ago, I had a pretty heavy job (ecclesiastically speaking) and he tossed off, "Do you want to be released? It'd just take one call. You know I can do it." That's what I call holistic treatment. Thankfully, my Bishop was already on the job of finding a replacement but I knew who to turn to if he hadn't been.

    Also, dear Bettys, I have LOVED your name suggestions! My husband is still lamenting that Audrey is a dog that just won't hunt for me (I don't like the nick names and I feel like I have to work too hard to say it...) and I'm awfully glad that the quality of our marriage doesn't depend on the ease with which we name the pledges.

    As for Dear Bertha and Oliver, I stand by my original assessment of this one. I really like it but I always wish it were a shade better, particularly as some of her other novellas are in my list of favorites

  2. When I was in my teens, the German equivalent of Bertha, Berta (BEAR-tah), was in the same league as Emma = very old-fashioned, a name belonging to our grandparents' generation. I would have pitied any girl bearing such an unfashionable name. A few years later, I discovered that Emma was actuallly a very popular name in the lands across the Atlantic Ocean. And what do you know, according to some statistics I've just read, based on 470.521 births in all of Germany, in 2010-2012 Emma was the second-most popular name for girls in those years. (Nele/Neele came in at 21.)

  3. About writing certain lengths of stories...

    I'm currently struggling with the authorial application of what I call "sparkle dust" -- that magical ingredient in the best romances that makes you swoon when you read them. Has nothing to do with the couple distance from (or time spent in) Brighton. I think it has everything to do with how the author feels about the characters.

    But I also think that shorter stories are easier to sprinkle with sparkle dust. Maybe it's because so much filler gets cut out. In The Great Betty's case, let us count the things you don't find in a shorter story: Tons of detail about the weather, the Victorian idiosyncrasies of the teaching hospital, nasty Veronica subplots, and the list goes on.


    I wish The Great Betty was alive to advise me on this element of romance writing. I could use the help.

    1. Oh, and speaking of Brighton... Betty Ross and I were watching Parades End, a TV miniseries adaptation of a Ford Madox Ford quartet. It's set before and during WWI. Someone mentioned Maidenhead, and Betty Ross helpfully informed me that Maidenhead (ironically enough!!) was "Brighton" before Brighton became "Brighton."

    2. To quote Larry the Cable Guy: "Now that there's funny."

    3. I thought Bertha is just awesome, despite that awful name. I practically cheered for her when she stood up to the Evil Steps about Claire's hideous hand-me-downs and when she told Claire off about all the lies she told when the old lady was robbed - well!

      Claire just made me laugh - "I must be very sensitive..." (snort!)

      The only thing this one needed was a description of the scene when the Evil Steps are told that Oliver and Bertha are engaged - I keep writing it in my head with Bertha's absentee father included, that man needs to wake up!

    4. Was all of Maidenhead considered to be naughty, or just those furtive couples sneaking into different doors of the Skindles hotel?

      B von S

      I posted this last night and it disappeared.

  4. Forgot to add also, regarding Mrs. Duke - I think it's very likely that Bertha was reading the late Barbara Cartland's books to her - Babs has a variety of titles that are variations of "Love's something or other"

  5. Look what I saw on television today:

    Rembrandt’s famous painting De Nachtwacht / The Night Watch — a Flashmob:

    Onze helden zijn terug! (Our Heroes Are Back!), shot at De Barones, a shopping mall in Breda.

  6. Where is Bertha’s father? How long has he been away from home? I mean, has he been gone for years? And if not for years, then WHAT HAPPENED TO BERTHA’S OWN CLOTHES? Presumably, she must have had some. Did they suddenly fall apart, all at the same time?

    As he drove off he asked casually, 'You live here with your parents?'
    'Yes. Father is a lawyer—he does a lot of work for international companies. My stepmother prefers to live here in London.'
    'You have a job?'
    'No.' She turned her head to look out of the window

    She wished suddenly that her father were at home. He so seldom was...

    Another of Clare's cast-offs, he supposed, which cruelly highlighted Bertha's nondescript features. Really, he reflected angrily, something should be done, but surely that was for her father to do? He finished his writing and left his chair.

    A little alteration here and there and they would be quite all right for Bertha, she declared, making a mental note that she would have to buy something new for the girl when her father returned in a month's time.

    'It's time you had something decent to wear,' she said surprisingly. 'There's that jersey two-piece of mine—I never liked it; it's a ghastly colour—you can have that.'
    'I don't think I want it if it's a ghastly colour, Clare. Thank you all the same.'
    'Oh, the colour is ghastly on
    me. I dare say you'll look all right in it.' She glanced at Bertha. 'You'd better take it. Mother won't buy you anything until Father gets home, and he's been delayed so you'll have to wait for it.'

    'Has she no family?' 'A stepmother and a stepsister and a father who at present is somewhere in the States. He's a well-known QC.' Sister looked at him. There was nothing to see on his handsome features, but she sensed damped-down rage.

    'Is everything all right at home, Crook?' asked Bertha.
    'Yes, Miss Bertha. I understand that there is a letter from your father; he hopes to return within the next few weeks. Mrs Soames and Miss Clare have been down to Brighton with friends; they are dining out this evening.'

    'We will see.' Miss Soames thrust the door wide open and said belatedly, 'Well, come in. Now you're here you'd better stay. Where's your father?'
    'I'm not exactly sure, but he's coming home soon.' Aunt Agatha said, 'Pah!' and raised her voice. 'Betsy, come here and listen to this.' Betsy came so quickly that Bertha wondered if she had been standing behind the door.

    I’ve saved this for last. Grab a box of tissues, because this is so sad:

    'You see, Father married again—oh, a long time ago, when I was seven years old. My mother died when I was five, and I suppose he was lonely, so he married my stepmother. 'Clare was two years younger than I. She was a lovely little girl and everyone adored her. I did too. But my stepmother—you see, I've always been plain and dull. I'm sure she tried her best to love me, and it must be my fault, because I tried to love her, but somehow I couldn't.
    'She always treated me the same as Clare—we both had pretty dresses and we had a nice nanny and went to the same school—but even Father could see that I wasn't growing up to be a pretty girl like Clare, and my stepmother persuaded him that it would be better for me to stay at home and learn to be a good housewife...'

    So when and why did Mrs Soames stop buying pretty dresses for Bertha? Why would she not buy her new clothes while her father was away? It’s not as if they didn’t have the means.

    1. Actually, this kind of thing has happened to me before. One year it was almost all of my jeans getting holes – at the same time. Another year, all my jeans shirts (bought roughly around the same time) starting to get frayed or get holes in them – at the same time. All my coats dto. A pair of shoes joining in the "fray"...

  7. I had an acid yellow mini dress when I was about ten years old. I stopped wearing it because whenever I wore it outside thunderflies would settle down on me. Thereafter, my mom wore it. For playing tennis, I think. (In case you are wondering, I was 5ft 4 9⁄16 in or 164 cm tall at the time, my mom was about 2 inches taller.)

  8. Queen of Puddings!
    I loved this story though agree Oliver should have had his Dawning Realization much sooner!!!

  9. How about this...I envision Mr. Soames QC having a fit of remorse for his absenteeism. Because of this, he'll give Bertha and Oliver a fantastic wedding with all stops pulled out. Clare can be a bridesmaid in a gown with a lime green skirt, shrimp pink bodice and acid-yellow accessories.

    1. Oh, funny! What a marvelous image. One can only hope that now Betty Keira has nothing to do all day but laze about while her hard-working sisters take care of everything at home, she will put together an illustration of Bertha and Oliver's wedding. As you describe it, Betty Daphne, it would make a *great* picture.

    2. The absent Mr. Soames QC won't make the wedding. Probably won't even know Bertha got married. He may be back from America in time for the birth of his second or third grandchild...