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:
- Absolutely must be beautiful.
- 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 ...um...failed. The cards reached their recipients in pieces. I was mortified and vowed never to make Christmas cards again!)
- 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:
- 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.
- 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,....er...something, 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.
(* 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.|
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 Note: I 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...
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.
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...|
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.|
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.
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.