Monday, October 14, 2013

An Independent Woman - Reprise

Let's talk greeting cards.

Julia Gracey, besides being an expert needlewoman, writes verses for greeting cards.  An Independent Woman is actually the second book in the canon that has a character in the greeting card industry.  Mrs. Pagett (Marrying Mary) designs whimsical Christmas cards.

I am actually one of those old-fashioned people who send greeting cards.  Not necessarily as often as I think I should, but I am generally pretty good about sending birthday cards and Christmas cards.  I have been known to buy Christmas cards up to a year in advance (well, I did...once...), but then, I have fairly simple and somewhat specific requirements for Christmas cards.  Here they are:
  1. Absolutely must be beautiful. 
  2. Well crafted (let's not talk about the year that I made and sent Christmas cards - only to find out that the special glue I used  The cards reached their recipients in pieces.  I was mortified and vowed never to make Christmas cards again!)
  3. Prefer (but do not require) a good religious scene,(Madonna and child, wise men, shepherds...)- but only if the first two requirements are met. I can also be swayed by a cards with a vintage vibe. 
It occurs to me as I'm writing this, that I really should start keeping an eye out for this years Christmas card.

Birthday cards are a whole 'nother kettle of  fish.  They require a different set of parameters:
  1. Must be humorous, but not crude in any way.  This is hard - and each year it seems to get more difficult.  When I do find funny/not crude cards, I will often buy two - one for me to send, and one for Doctor van der Stevejinck to send to someone in his family.
  2. Really, #1 covers it.
How hard can it be to write funny/not crude cards? I mean really...
The sun is shining, the morning crisp,Fall is in the air.To the dentist I am heading today,, something, rare.
Sadly, it looks like I don't have what it takes to write humorous cards.  But since I really do have a dentist appointment this morning, I'd better get going.

-Betty Debbie
Jack Kennedy famously said, of a diplomatic trip to France, 'I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, and I enjoyed it.'  Time magazine quipped, of the visit, 'There was also that fellow who came with her.'  Dear me.  An Independent Woman was doomed in my estimation to be known as the politician I had to glad-hand in order to get to vivacious elan of The Little Dragon.  At least that's how I remembered it...

(* This clever metaphor breaks down, I understand, over the fact that JFK was not just 'Good-looking for a politician.' (Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations...) but very nearly actually handsome.)

...attach the bottom to the top.  Iron.
Julia Gracey is on the floor with a curtain trying to magic a lovely/passable evening gown out of it using no money, no time and probably wrestling with one of those gorgeous vintage Vogue patterns that assumes she took four years of Home Ec. in high school. Happily, Julia is a top-notch needlewoman and she's not going to let a little thing like shoddy materials get her down.
Her sisters, Ruth and Monica, are beautiful and a little helpless and often leave all the crushing, spinster-ensuring details in life to Julia (moving them to their home in London, hooking up the phone, paying the bills, showing a little cleavage to the butcher so they can get cheap cuts...etc.) while they busy themselves with little jobs and little romances. Monica has George the Vicar and Ruth has Thomas the Doctor and Julia...Julia has the booby prize.  What else would you call Oscar the Junior Executive at a greeting cards firm?
A knock on the door won't interrupt her work--and work it is.  She'll have a job turning this tatty fabric into anything worth wearing and all the cat hair will have to be...
'It looks like a curtain.'
That's Professor Gerard van der Maes, 36, come to drop off a package for Ruth from her Thomas.  He's handsome and larger than life and there she is, grubbing on the floor with a paper pattern.  
And his was not a passing comment.  (Well, it was to him.) It somehow manages to be a mandate on her life, her circumstances, her miserable excuse for an 'admirer'...She hates him.
Editorial NoteI hated her instant antipathy the first time I read it but this time I tried to understand her feelings a bit more.  When I was in high school my backpack broke.  Instead of asking for a replacement (our family motto might have been: Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.), I employed a strappy airplane carry-on bag to do the job.  I lacked the elan to carry off really quirky fashions but it sort-of looked right. Things had been going along nicely for a week when a boy in my German class said, 'Is that an airplane carry-on bag?'  That's all he said.  No teasing, no nothing.  I was mortified--In a way only a self-involved teenager can be when they think everyone spends all their free-time thinking about the social mis-steps of their peers.  I loathed that boy.  Such are the feelings of Miss Julia Gracey.
A short time later finds our heroine stepping out of a taxi in front of a hotel in the Drapery.  She looks well--well enough for Oscar and a room full of greeting card sellers (her co-workers.  Her job is writing verses for the inside of the cards along the lines of, 'Gee, I think that you're so sweet and I'm sorry we couldn't meet.  Hope you had a lovely day.  That is all I want to say...'  (Top of my head!)).  It's just too bad that the Professor with his Panzer division of What-Not-To-Wear camera people are waiting in the lobby.  'I can't say I agree with Oscar about your dress, but then I know it's a curtain, don't I?'  He was sorry the moment he had said it; for a moment she had the look of a small girl who had been slapped for no reason at all...   
He wants his own face slapped is what he wants.  Can I even begin to list the depth of caddishness in that remark?  Not properly.  Sufficient to say that the dinner he takes her out to afterward doesn't come anywhere near to making up for that.  The night isn't a total loss for her.  She's dumped Oscar (which bodes ill for her continuing employment but well for her future happiness) and ate really well.  
Attempting to write 'humorous' 
cards would be difficult but writing 
LOLCats cards would be impossible...
Sure enough, a short time later she receives her pink slip in the mail along with a short note explaining that the firm will be following market trends into the upsetting land of Humorous Cards.
Her sisters both get married.  (I know I'm skipping great swaths but it isn't as interesting as it could be.)  So, Julia has to:
  • Arrange and execute two weddings. (A task that has her swimming in sausage rolls)
  • Find lodgers who don't smoke, drink beer, drive by Brighton or give her the heebie-jeebies. (Very difficult post-1985.)
  • Nurse her sister back to health from the brink of...a low-grade fever.
Ruth has the flu which is always hard has no responsibilities.  Her husband can look after himself quite well.  There are no little nippers playing King of the Hill on her abdomen.  There is no angry boss demanding TPS reports...(Do I sound irritated?  I once had a vicious 24 hour flu that attacked on the very week my youngest son discovered stairs.  Mijnheer had a code dump that night.  The only way to prevent death was to park the ottoman in the doorway, flop down on it (while my eyeballs blazed way in their sockets), let myself act as a human jungle gym and pray for death...Any one of you could probably tell a similar tale.) Julia goes along as a companion, making fast friends with Gerard's old Nanny (who has the gift of Second Sight where her former charge's matrimonial prospects are concerned), and then returns to London and sells her house.  What?  Why would she do a thing like that?  It's her only asset!  See, Ruth wants a down payment and Monica wants central heating...I know.  They don't make her do it.  They don't even ask her to do it.  Still, they do plenty of talking behind her back (listeners never hear any good of themselves) and the whole thing bugs me.
The Professor, returned to England just in time to do a spot of rescuing, asks her to go to Holland to watch the cottage (which already has a gardener and a daily woman) while Nanny is in the hospital.  So off Julia goes to Holland!--to put fresh flowers around the cottage and visit the hospital (for this she draws a salary!).  She meets Gerard again who, despite being awfully in love with her, still can't manage to be pleasant and courteous. Here, I have fashioned a dramatization of that event.
Mothers and wives first.  Shapely spinsters to follow...
She returns to London determined to forget him.  He returns to London and chains himself to his desk in a futile effort to keep his hands off her.  (This is when, for me, it finally gets good.)  He allows himself, once he has achieved an air of casual disinterest (three weeks of deep meditation finally pay off!), to go to her and ask for a night out.  For his pains (all the climbing down off the RDD pedestal the world has mounted him onto and the carefully studied nonchalance), she hands him his hat.  No I can't go.  I'm leaving London. No, you may not have my forwarding address...  She's all but burned down her house and brushed away her tracks.  But Gerard (In a part I love.) pours over back-issues of Lady to figure out where she is.
Speaking of burned down houses...The manor house that she works at catches fire.  Gerard flies up (he's a pilot! Discuss.) and I was hoping he'd manage to pull her from the burning roof but alas, some hours later he muscles his way past an officer with the 'My future wife was here' routine and bundles her out of the area and back to Ruth's.
Whatever else was going wrong, knitting would make it right.
From here she decides to rise from the ashes as a small business owner.  (They get a lovely date or two as well.) And I really like this part; Julia scouts locations, consults a solicitor, dips into her capital (from selling the house), rents a shop, orders from wholesalers, and organizes fittings and furnishings in no time at all.  That she is desperately lonely she does not consider.  That she doesn't want to own a woolen/embroidery shop doesn't come into it. She's going to do it...and for a minute (until you realize that this is a Betty Neels book and there's not a prayer she's going to make it) you really believe she will.
The takings are slim and though Julia's organizational talents are savant-level, her marketing talents are nil.
Gerard, anxious for her to succeed but antsy to make her his, lets her have three weeks (he has a biological clock set at three weeks, okay?) and then appears out of nowhere amongst her woolens. He takes her off to Stourhead (another Official Betty Neels Pilgrimage Site?  I think so.) and they enjoy a magical day of near-perfect amity. 
The knock on her door in the wee hours of the next morning herald a new dawn of Interdependence for them both.  He's come to ask her to marry him at last.
The End  

Rating:  I remember really not liking this one--for reasons I could not wholly articulate, mostly revolving around the fact that Julia, the alleged Independent Woman, seemed like nothing of the sort.  But after this much closer reading (which is not how an ordinary read, getting the overall vibe and missing the details, would go) I am prepared to admit that the book is nowhere near as objectionable as that.  It's a nicely written if sad book; Julia spends her time wishing that she and Gerard could just get along with one another (but not really striking the right kind of sparks off of each other), Gerard spends his time saying exactly what pops into his mind (which you should never do until after the wedding...) and there are some tantalizing dead-ends (he had a heartbreak a year ago which provides the entire foundation for his grumpiness toward women (which we never hear about!) and a woman with a first and last name is supposed to be chasing him at the hospital (but we never see hide nor hair of her).  Also, the actual number of days the two spend together are very small.
But Julia is quite plucky--she organizes her sisters into wedded bliss, finds gainful employment (who would have expected a fire?), and marshals her resources into a failing start-up. With a few more years of grinding perseverance (which she is entirely capable of) she could be the next Steve Jobs of her own Woolen/Embroidery empire! What a shame Betty Neels had her already marked down for occupational ruin! 
I think I'm also a bit bummed about the failure of the set-up to materialize.  Three sisters of marriageable age living together--it sounds like a great fairy tale--but the two sisters get bundled away with all the romance of a load of laundry.
Still, The Great Betty was, like, ninety when she wrote it and there are some wonderful moments, particularly post-DR from the hero's perspective.  (Is that as mind-blowing to you as it is to me?) 
So, this is somewhere between a Madiera Cake and a Treacle Tart for me (way, way up from the Tinned Soup of my memory).  In other words...the book is passably handsome...for a politician.

Food: Cheese souffle, sole Meuniere, cornflakes (so she can become wand-like), steak pie, sausage rolls for the first wedding, Kaas broodje, buttered bread and tea, new potatoes, lamb chops, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, game soup, roasted parsnips, lemon tart, potato crisps in a hot bath and a stone, cold egg because her temporary landlady is a shabby-genteel Machiavelli.

Fashion: She fashions a curtain-dress, wears a magnificent shawl, and a pleated skirt with a tweed jacket. A pair of elderly trousers and a turtleneck sweater make him fit the Dutch cottage he owns.  She wears a denim skirt and buys (just in case!) a high-necked and long-sleeved amber silk chiffon dress over a silk slip.


  1. If I were really quick
    and I could do the trick
    I would fashion a rhyme
    all during the time
    I see the person from Limerick.

    Which I do, on the globe widget.

  2. Yoohoo, Betty von Susie! I see you. How are you?

    1. Hello, didn't see you before I logged off earlier. We have had several lovely days of gentle, soaking, peaceful rain. I am dreading going back to work tomorrow, I sat and drank milky cups of Earl Grey all afternoon. Sigh. How are things in your neck of the woods?

      B von S

    2. "We have had several lovely days of gentle, soaking, peaceful rain" too, but it's a little cooler over here. We are further up North than you, maybe that is why. (You would have to go North all the way to, uhm, Canada, past Winnipeg, past the parks into the wild nothingness that is up there and then you would almost be there.) I am "on vacation". I have a couple of weeks off and am, at present, minding my parents home who have been sent on vacation (deported) by my brother who, unbeknownst to them, sneakily behind their respective backs, called in the painters to hang new wallpaper in the hall and dining room, which is why I had to spend all of Sunday removing books, mom's collection of wee little pottery jugs, dishes, glasses (not the Weesp nor the Waterford), and knickknacks from shelves, glass-fronted cabinets, one of them a glass-fronted corner cupboard, after hauling the dining room table and chairs out of the room and shoving them into the living room, so that, late in the afternoon, when my brother came we could carry the desk, cabinets, bookcases into the other rooms, remove the Garderobe from the wall in the hall and carry the tall (taller than the doors), heavy (on account of being full) shoe cupboard into the bedroom. And (is it bad style in English too to begin ever so many phrases with the word and?) after my brother left, I still had to take a myriad of pictures off the walls and stack them neatly against cabinets and wardrobes, since there was no space against any wall left or accessible, and when I ran out of (meanwhile rather cramped) space there I stacked the smaller frames on the shelves of the (non glass-fronted) bookcase. Early the next morning, I had to go over to my parents home to await the painters. – Did I mention this was, technically speaking, the first day of my vacation? And I had to get up when it was still dark out? Ugh. And yesterday and today, I had to get up even earlier, at 5:40 a. m. (which may be early for some of you Bettys, but this Betty had to work the late shift last week and – late shift or early shift – usually gets home late and does not close her eyes before midnight.

      Hey, I am delicate! I am meant to lazily linger in the linens!

      Hoorah! The painters have completed their task, gathered their paraphernalia and left! Betty A. immediately did a spot of hoovering, three quarters of a spot for she stopped half-way through the dining room to get some much needed refreshment. All this sitting around while the painters to do their work can be so tiring, I can tell you. A tall glass of Pi Lo Chun, lavishly sugared, served as a great pick-me-up. I feel much better now. My brother had mentioned that he wished to move the furniture back tonight but I averted that chore by explaining most emphatically that the walls needed to dry properly first. Removing the old wallpaper had been a very damp business. It took several soakings or whatever you call it and what with the rain and all the humidity outside when it was not raining the damp hung in all the rooms, even behind closed doors.

    3. These sisters get on my nerves. Monica in particular. Julia had just told her she would not go near Oscar with a bargepole and Monica says, "But you'll marry...?" At that point Julia has no prospect of getting married, she has no "follower". What a silly thing to say.
      Betty Anonymous

    4. I had to go and lollygag lazily in my linens after reading about all the work you did. Whew.

      B von S

    5. Now if I had been a Hannah Betty I would not only have done the wallpapering myself, I would have laid a new carpet (wall-to-wall), painted the nonexistent wainscotting, applied stucco to the ceiling and painted a fresco as well to give an added sense of height to the room.

  3. Our work is done. The job is complete. Yesterday, around noon, we started moving the furniture back into place. My brother had to leave soon afterwards. Now "all I had to do" was put everything back into its proper place. Thank goodness I had taken pictures or I would have been lost. I set up my laptop so I could view the photos. But first I needed some nourishment,yesterday‘s roll and some thinly sliced ham. Later, when I was almost finished, I had to stop because my brother had announced he would be back to put the pictures back on the walls. So I had to sort out all the pictures and lean them against the walls or put them on the dining room table in the proper order. And then when my brother came I had to fight him over the exact placement of most of the frames. He was impatient to get the work done, and would have put them up anyhow arguing that our mother had just put them anywhere too. Not so. She used her artistic eye. I told him he didn’t have one. And when he was particularly tiresome I told him that he could just leave and I would finish the job myself. And I meant it too. Tiresome man. Told me it was nonsense or some such but was careful to ask my opinion every time (while still being impatient). But at last, we were done, the last nail had been hammered into the wall, the last frame had been hung. My brother "borrowed" my notebook to look up something he meant to get for my parents then gathered his things, his toolbox, including my mom’s hammer (which used to be his in his youth), which I only noticed today because I saw a glass heart in one of the pictures which should have been hung up next to one of the pictures and the hammer was nowhere to be found. That also accounted for one of the nails that were left over...

    After my brother left, I prepared my supper. A very Betty inspired meal. Cured ham (in lieu of bacon) & scrambled eggs, fried bread (a Tuscany roll), and some thinly sliced ham.

    And then , today was the day. My parents came home. I was carrying the dog up the stairs so I didn’t see if my mother noticed anything when she entered along with my brother. From my brother’s conspiratorial laugh when I mentioned the hammer I assumed that she had not as yet noticed the new wallpaper. My brother left, my parents‘ thank yous and good-byes were "ordinary", so they could not have known. My mom started unpacking, carrying things around. At one point, she had entered the dining room, once again, and hesitated. She stared across the room. I had forgotten to take a picture of the top of her glass-fronted bookcase! So I had not got things back where they belonged. I knew there was something missing. But she did not say anything. And it wasn’t until later, about 20 minutes after their arrival, that, suddenly, I heard her astonished and, at the same time, pleased voice coming from the dining room. And then from the hallway. She was happy and very pleased. My dad hadn’t noticed anything.

    All this time, I had been thinking, how can they miss this? – The smell of paint was still very strong – How can they miss this...

    Hahaha. Mission accomplished.

  4. Speak-Along: Gerard van der Maes

    audio: /ˈχeː.rɑrt/ χAY-rart

    χ = as the ch in Loch or Bach

    Gerard van der Maes χAY-rart fun duhr MAHS
    Professor van der Maes following the word Professor it’s vun duhr MAHS

    Don’t worry if you cannot get the Dutch pronunciation of Gerard right because, obviously, nobody in the novel uses it. They pronounce the name the English way. Be grateful – he he – I left out the variations in pronunciation for the Dutch but I will not spare you the English variations. Which do you think is the one Louisa favours?

    Gerard – Pronunciation in English

    ˈdʒer.a:d JERR-ahd
    ˈdʒer.əd JERR-uhd
    dʒer.ˈa:d jerr-AHD
    dʒəˈra:d juh-RAHD

    dʒəˈra:rd juh-RAHRD

    dʒer = as the first syllable in Jerry
    dʒə = as the first syllable in Jemima
    əd = as the second syllable in Jarrod

    CNN Piers Morgan – Gerard Butler
    the name Gerard – spoken with an English, Scottish & imitation American accent

    And while we’re at it...

    The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations: The Complete Opinionated Guide
    by Charles Harrington Elster

    read what he says about the Dutch pronunciation of the name van Gogh - funny!

    There are three dictionary-sanctioned ways to pronounce the last name of this great Dutch painter [...]
    The Dutch pronunciation is entirely appropriate when speaking Dutch, of course.

    How to say Huygens the Dutch way
    (1:07) Professor takes a detour into the pronunciation of 'Huygens' while explaining Huygen's Principle to his physics students.


    uy = the Huib sound (Tulips for Augusta)

    g = χ = the sound you need for Gerard and van Gogh

    1. Thanks! I enjoyed the video of the professor and the extract concerning the pronunciation of Van Gogh.

    2. And knowing my limits, I shall prudently stick with the English pronunciation for all the above names myself, including dʒəˈra:d juh-RAHD for 'Gerard'! (My guess is Louisa will favour that?)

  5. While I was "google-ing" I found a Dutch painter

    Everard Crijnsz. van der Maes, Everard Crynsz. van der Maes (1577, The Hague – 1647, The Hague), was a Dutch Golden Age painter.

    There are various spellings of his name:

    • Everard Krijnsz. van der Maes
    • Everard Crijnsz. van der Maes
    • Evert Quirijnsz. van der Maes
    • Everard Quirijnsz. van der Maes
    • Everard Krynsz. van der Maes
    • Everard Crynsz. van der Maes

    I have a suspicion TGB knew of him:
    Krijnszoon (= Krijn’s son)
    van der Maes

    1. Yes, I believe she would have heard of him. Considering that she was born in a time when many women did not receive a great deal of education, The Great Neels managed to include a lot of interesting cultural information in her books which I usually read with delight alongside the romance plots (unless I'm too impatient to know what happens to the heroine, in which case, I skim through the wealth of detail). I've learned a lot about the interior furnishings of Dutch and British homes as well as the exterior architecture, tourist attractions and major driving routes of the main cities of England, the Netherlands, and even countries such as Vienna, Portugal. Not to mention the wonderful food details that she lavishes across her books! Is it a British thing to be able to integrate food details so well in fiction? Ian Fleming's James Bond novels also make my mouth water when it comes to Bond's meals.

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