This is my last reprise and, let me just say, it's been a peach rolling around in all this Betty awesomeness. Having read through all the comments on the original post and discussion thread, I have two observations. 1) I think it's agreed that Francesca is one of the best heroines in the late Canon. and 2) The comments from the Great Socking Betty Blogland are the thing that has made this so fabulous. Here are snippits of comments from just this novel:
- It was nice for an RDD to recognize a snub and react against it (rather than hand one out himself like, oh I don't know...Nasty Reilof?) when he walks out on his godmother's shindig. She doesn't know it (after all, you're kinda stuck with godmothers), but FRANNY does. Good for him!
- You failed to mention that Lady Trumper is Marc's godmother. I think this is the only time a Neels hero has a rotten godmother. I was quite surprised when that little plot point came along. How did either of his parents come to know such a person? and value her enough to make her godmother to their child? Or maybe Lady T was nicer 35 years ago??
- $5000 pounds for Harrods? Really? Wow. I've never even shopped at a place where I could spent $5000 in one go. There are no such places in Podunk, PA. None.
- Betty Barbara here--
Thanks for mentioning the mobile phone, because that jogged my memory for something else I wanted to mention. Mayhap this book was written earlier that it was published--a lot earlier.
Marc's elderly butler/man of the house is mentioned to have been in the resistance with Marc's dad. Given that the book was copyrighted in the late 1990's, that would make faithful retain around 80 years old(If he had been in his 20's during WWII). If Marc's dad was his contemporary, and Marc is typical RDD age(say 37), the Marc's dad was well into his 40's when Marc is born. Of course, dad and retainer could have been teens during the war, which would make retainer in his early to mid 70's and put dad back to typical RDD age when Marc was born.
Anyway--a round about way of mentioning that I think this is the last Betty Book that mentions WWII.
Love, love and lardy cakes!
I can't believe this is my last review. I was a little nervous about doing The Fortunes of Francesca - I know it's not a universal favorite (as if there is such a thing!). There are no 'other women', no pet rescues, no adorable kiddies...the romance is really long in coming...despite all (or perhaps because of) that, I adore this book. Adore it. Let's dig in.
Francesca Bowen (23) is sorely in need of work. She's had two years worth of nurses training, that and a dollar bill will buy you your hearts desire (as long as your heart only desires things from the dollar store). She's the breadwinner of a family that includes, a) her aunt, Mrs. Blake and b) her younger brother (and medical student), Finn. Auntie can't work (health issues), and Francesca and Auntie won't allow Finn to work. Their household is oddly devoid of animal companionship.
Francesca answers an ad seeking a 'girl Friday'. Lady Trumper is not willing to engage her, Francesca is not deemed suitable. She is however, suitable enough to do a spot of heroic rescue work in Lady Trumper's kitchen wherein Elsie (a servant) is bleeding from a nicked artery. Professor Marc van der Kettener (35) is impressed with Francesca's sangfroid-i-ness. It's not every day that you meet a small mousy stranger who's that cool in the face of adversity.
The Professor sees Francesca walking down a busy street - so he pulls over and picks her up. She's her usual outgoing self, but he's not sure what to make of her. It's like she doesn't have an off switch.
'I trust Lady Trumper doesn't have to listen to your chatter?'I'm not sure that you could call the Professor a kindred spirit - at least not when it comes to chatting, but he is intrigued by Francesca's indomitable spirit. When life hands her lemons, she doesn't just make lemonade, she makes a friggin' lemon meringue pie.
'No, no...I speak only when spoken to. Sorry to have bored you, but you did look like the kind of person one could chat with.
What kind of medicine does Professor Marc specialize in? He's a heart surgeon, that's what. In Neeldom, where heart surgeons flourish, can heart attacks be far behind? Nope, they can't. In this case, the revelation that Marc is a heart specialist comes only 4 pages before Auntie has a heart attack. It's clear to Francesca that Auntie will need more supervision when she leaves hospital - so Francesca starts to contemplate getting a new job working the graveyard shift - she'll just have to forgo sleep for the foreseeable future.
Franny, being Franny can't help but be forthright. When Lady Trumper discloses her unethical bill paying strategy, Franny corrects her. Faster than the grass is growing in my front yard (the van der Stevejincks have an embarrassment of lush greenery at this time of year), Lady T sacks her. Francesca isn't overly fussed - after all, she was planning on quitting in a few days. Lady Trumper threatens non-payment of wages, but Franny very reasonably counter-threatens to take her to court.
The Haven in Pimlico. It sounds to me like a place where old racehorses are put to pasture - which is sort of what it is. The Haven is a small rest-home/geriatric facility, conveniently located only a short bus ride from Francesca's home on Fish Street. The pay isn't great - neither are the hours, but at least it's a job. At least it's a job right up until Francesca slips and sprains her ankle. Then loses her job. The little household is firmly wedged between a rock and a hard place. There's simply not enough funds to go around. Truly the low point for Francesca, Auntie and Finn. If only the Professor was around to chat with...
|Francesca could have whipped the winged Nazgul all by |
herself...if she hadn't needed to protect Auntie.
|You have no power here. I plan to marry Francesca.|
- Francesca might be too thin, too pale and too tired, but she had the light of battle in her eyes.
- Marc's secretary, Mrs. Willett, will chaperone (and thus preserve Francesca's reputation).
- Marc gives Francesca carte blanche at Harrod's for a new wardrobe, including wedding outfit. Francesca sensibly agrees to it - she has no money of her own.
- Marc watches Francesca walk back to his place looking 'as though she intended to conquer the world'.
- Francesca tries to be more of a silent type...I find your silence quite terrifying. Francesca has a knack when it comes to chatting with absolute strangers. She gets to hear about all sorts of interesting things - how proud the saleslady at Harrods is that her son got into cathedral choir school, which hospital the cabby had his appendix out at, the butler's sister's chilblains, etc...Her effort at being quiet is to try and fit herself into a mold - a mold of what she perceives as the ideal wife for Marc. Although he's not able to articulate it yet, he just wants her to be herself. He's had glimpses into her awesomeness - just enough to know that while she may be small and plain and mousy, she is also happy, courageous and, well, awesome.
- Oh, and she realizes she's in love with him. Has been for some time.
|Truer words were never spoken.|
Back in London Marc tells Francesca that they are going to a dinner party at Lady Trumper's. No! says Franny. Yes! says Marc. He's not ashamed of her. Franny finds her friendly salesgirl at Harrod's and together they find The Amber Chiffon Dress of Destiny. It turns Franny into a stunner. Marc is somewhat gobsmacked at how pretty she is. She can see the unspoken compliment in his eyes, which helps carry her through the cocktail hour. Lady Trumper can't help but be spiteful and rude about Francesca - to Marc, who won't stand for anyone to insult Francesca. He invents a medical emergency and takes Francesca out to dine and dance. Editor's Note: Marc has been very gradually leading up to falling in love with Francesca - I think this evening is the critical eye-opener for him. He's still not quite ready to admit it to himself, but he does very soon hereafter.
Marc has to go to Israel for a week or so. On the brink of leaving, he nearly confesses his love - but is interrupted. Dang. There's just time to give Franny a kiss.
The final scene is as cute as it is short...
- Marc hides out in his downstairs office - Franny knows he's there because she can see his car. She finally goes downstairs to see him.
- Franny thinks Marc is happy because he's fallen for someone - she tells him she just wants him to be happy.
- Because I love you more than anything in the world.
- I love you too - and I was sitting here wondering how to tell you.
- I'll tell you how to do it, said Franny...(brilliant, absolutely brilliant)
|Family van der Kettener, the later years.|
'...Two of each, said Franny, then they can make up a tennis four.'
'...At least you don't hanker after a cricket eleven.'
|Francesca reminds me of a doll I owned in the early|
Food: Eggs, bacon and fried bread, fish and chips supplied by the Professor, steak and kidney pudding (twice), tea and crumpets, 'warm milk laced with the best brandy', fairy cakes, sprits, roast pheasant, red cabbage and a rich pudding with whipped cream. Franny makes three kinds of sandwiches - Gentleman's Relish, cucumber and egg and cress.
Fashion: navy skirt with a white blouse topped with a navy cardigan, a sodden woolly hat and a mac that clings damply, TWO pre-wedding shopping trips to Harrods - fully financed by Marc! At her first post-wedding dinner party she wears a dark red velvet dress. To go to Lady Trumper's dinner party, Francesca splurges on the Amber Chiffon Dress of Destiny that pretty much stops Marc in his tracks.