Monday, September 23, 2013

A Good Wife--Reprise

Good Morning, Bettys.
We spent our Bettysday last week being inundated with a vomitous flu.  I had every intention of tiny sandwiches and sipped hot drinks and big hats but we were just able to hold body and soul together (sometimes at 1am, in the shower, with the 4-year-old) and that seemed like a very Betty Neels thing to do too.  
The Great Betty has been very good to me.  I like her.  I like her books.  I like her insistence that there is nothing that can make people happier than a good marriage.  I like her plucky heroines and her horrible villians and sketches of nursing and British village life of a certain vintage.
So, I'm raising my glass of fizzy pop to Betty.  Long may she reign!
Love and lardy cakes,
Betty Keira

Serena Lightfoot is having a pretty crummy 26th birthday. Her self-proclaimed invalid father could care less, her older brother Henry probably doesn't even remember it, likewise younger brother Matthew. Gregory, her unromantic, stingy boyfriend, doesn't even send a card. Since his stand on birthdays is that they are 'scandalously overpriced' he doesn't bother sending anything else. Time to climb a hill.

Serena had no idea that she would
meet her destiny on that hilltop.
A handsome stranger is sitting on her rock. The two strike up an instant friendship...and then Serena has to return wait on her vile father hand and foot.
The handsome stranger (Mr. Ivo van Doelen, 37) goes back to his friends home and questions them about the untidy girl with the shabby clothes...they know just who he's talking about...the daughter of the horridest old man Mrs. Bowring has ever met.
A few minutes chatting with a pleasant stranger have given Serena a little glimpse of what life could be like...and enough gumption to request a holiday.  Holiday? Yeah, a request for time off for good behavior.
Older brother Henry: What do you need a holiday for! All you have to do is wait on Father hand and foot, clean the house and cook and grocery have plenty of leisure.

Mrs. Lightfoot extracts a heavy promise from Serena. It
was really the painkillers talking.

Younger brother Matthew: What he said.
Gregory the Not Quite Fiancee: What would be the point?
Vile Father: (Sends for the family solicitor and disinherits her).
Her family and friends are the sort that give patriarchy a bad name.
Dictatorial, bullying Father demands sweetbreads in a rich sauce for lunch, then throws them against the wall and has a well-deserved stroke. Daddy isn't long for this world, there is no deathbed re-inheritance for Serena.  She's not quite penniless. Daddy has left her the obligatory five hundred pound legacy - in his will he says that she can fend for herself.  Henry agrees and Matthew, well, Matthew toes the party line here. Gregory dumps her like last week's compost.
All Heather really  needed was her very own
kitty to love.
Mr. van Doelen is able to keep tabs on Serena's situation through his friends, the Bowrings. Why would he want to? It's a case of can't get her out of his mind...yes, he's in love.
A brief interlude with Henry and his spitefully mean social climbing lovely wife, Alice. Just another episode in her roster of unpaid household slavery.
Mr. van Doelen knows of a temp job that will suit. In a charmingly forthright and not sneaky way, he sends Serena a letter letting her know of it. She spends the next six weeks or so taking care of Heather, a neglected thirteen year old girl. Mr. van Doelen knows exactly when her temp job ends, and manages to be on hand to drive her to her destination.  What destination? She has no idea where she's going, but Mr. van D. does.  He takes her to his little pied-a-terre in Chelsea.  No hanky-panky, he's just offering her a place to stay while she job hunts. He won't be there - he's got to go back to Holland, she'll be rooming with Nanny.
Serena strategically forgets to put her return address
on her letter to Nanny.
There aren't a lot of options open for a gal with no marketable skills, but she does line up a sweet gig stocking grocery store shelves. Not only that, her new boss knows where she can find a room nearby. Girlfriend moves, leaving no forwarding address. Mr. van Doelen is obsessed with finding her, his only clue? The postmark from the letter she sent to Nanny in which she neglected (on purpose) to include a return address. He searches as only a man in love can. Upon finding Serena, he immediately proposes. Editor's Note: Yes, it's another MOC, but I kind of buy this one - he is desperate not to lose her again. Plus, she likes him a lot. It's a good offer whichever way you look at it.

Ivo and Serena have a very small ceremony - no family from either side - and it's off to Holland.
Married life is moving along just fine. Right up until Serena sees Ivo with a stunning woman and goes all green eyed monster...then realizes she's jealous because she loves him. Ivo is hers, darn it! Ivo on the other hand is jealous of Doctor Dirk (I'm snickering over his name...Dirk). Doctor Dirk is a slimeball - quite aggressive at chatting up birds - married or un, but Serena is not one to fall for his lines.
Ivo just can't help himself...every time he sees or hears of Doctor Dirk being around he flips. Serena is honest about what's going on...or rather, what's not going on.  Go ahead and be mad at me, I only danced with him to annoy you  while you were dancing with Rachel the Hottie.

Ivo goes into retreat mode, as far as their relationship goes. He's getting more distant by the day. Serena doesn't just wonder, she grabs the bull by the horns and asks Ivo for a hint as to what's wrong.
Him: Are you happy with our current arrangement?
Her: (lying through her teeth)...ummm, yes?
Him: Well I'm not....(telephone rings)...We'll have to pick up this conversation later - the hospital always comes first.
Of course it will be days and days of awkwardness and a  medical trip to Luxembourg  and a stint of Volunteer Work Gone Awry before any type of resolution is reached.

Serena is left behind after serving soup to the riff-raff. No one else notices the abandoned Bosnian toddler. Fast forward a couple of scary hours and a frantic Ivo tracks her down. True love is kissing the girl even with a grubby, wet, vomit-covered toddler is in her arms.  Professions of love on both sides, kissing on the stairs with Serena wearing only her slip and his coat. The end.

Rating: Overall this one was okay for me. It's fairly solid, but lacks some of the brilliance of earlier offerings from the canon. Here's what I liked:
  • Serena has a refreshing honesty.
  • She has no problem recognizing her lack of love for Gregory and is quite alright about being dumped by him when he finds out she has no inheritance.
  • Ivo has his moments too. I love it when he tells her that they will be happy they are walking down the aisle to get married. 
  • The slimy Doctor Dirk is kind of fun for me - Serena never falls for him - but she does use him to get back at Ivo for dancing with the beautiful and mysterious Rachel. 
Here's what didn't work so well for me:
  • I hate that Serena puts up with her horrid father and brothers for years as an unpaid servant.
  • My biggest complaint is when Ivo goes all icy when she assumes Rachel might be more than a friend - after all, he was ready to assume she was falling for Doctor Dirk. 
  • If I had one wish for this book, it would be that there was more potential for future implied conjugal relations. Only once do we get a glimpse of barely suppressed passion: 'Ivo didn't kiss her because he wasn't sure if he could trust himself to stop at a peck on her cheek.' I'm not looking for trips to Brighton, but really, that's as much passion as we get? 
I'm going to be generous and give this one a Boeuf en Croute.

No one filled out a slip like
Elizabeth Taylor
February 27, 1932 – March 23, 2011

Food: Mr. Lightwood orders Serena to serve him such delicacies as devilled kidneys on toast, roast pheasant and sweetbreads in a rich sauce. Coq au vin, Queen of Puddings, globe artichokes with truffle dressing, grilled salmon with potato straws, baked Alaska, sausage and red cabbage, jellied lobster (yuk), spinach and walnut salad, rump of lamb and an ice cream dessert 'which beggered discription'.

Fashion: A dress which Serena sends her father the bill for and then he fakes a heart attack, after that it's all old clothes like her faded blue cotton dress, wedding outfit of soft blue dress and jacket, russet jersey dress, honey-coloured silk and wool dress and jacket, pink silk and chiffon dress, patterned skirt and cashmere top, deep pink silk crepe with marabou stole, pink silk jersey dress, blue-green dress with embroidered bodice and wide taffeta skirt. Final outfit? A smelly slip and his coat.

*Editor's Note:  I was looking for a non-hoochy picture of a woman in a slip - and thought of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (which I have never actually seen - but I remembered the pictures)...anywho...I posted the final two pictures of Elizabeth Taylor before I found out that she had passed away.  I leave them here as a tribute to her awesome younger years. Admit it, no one rocked a slip like she did.


  1. Did I miss something? Is there a reason why Christina and Duert ter Brandt have not made it into this post? They are one of the things I liked about this book.

  2. And I thought I had a bit of a rotten day on Bettysday. Nothing dramatic, mind, just not great. Poor Betty Keira & the rest of the "inmates" of Casa van Voorhees! I hope you are all back to your usual healthy exuberant selves!

  3. Mr van Doelen seems to be the most ostensibly famous of all our RDDs/RBDs. Other RDDs and RBDs received awards, medals, or the occasional knighthood (RBDs only). But did any of the other doctors make it into the newspapers? On a frequent basis?

    A Good Wife, © 1999.

    Presently that lady said, 'I have some photo albums you might like to see...'
    Mr van Doelen as a baby in his pram with Nanny, sitting on his first pony, riding his first bike, in school uniform... Serena turned the pages of his faithfully recorded youth and reached for more formal photos of him in his cap and gown, receiving some award or other from some dignitary, and then several photos cut from newspapers, in some of which he was with pretty girls.
    Nanny took the book from her. 'I've a book of cuttings from the papers, too. Famous, he is, but he's never been one to blow his own trumpet.'
    'You must be proud of him,' said Serena.

  4. Oh, dear. I do so hope all the van Voorheeses feel entirely recovered now, and that Nanny wasn't struck down with the rest of you so she could tend to the family in its time of need.