Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Greatest Fantasy Element in Neelsdom

Waterloo would bide his
time. And then when the dog
wasn't looking...
The Canon of Betty Neels contains many elements which, though not wizards and fire-breathing dragons, have just as much improbable magic in them.

  • Unattached, established bachelors waiting around for poor, plain, gently-bred, British nurses to steal their hearts
  • Loyal servants and enough wealth (usually) to afford them
  • Dutch stately homes in excellent repair dying for a mistress to poke through the linen cupboards
But the element that surprises and delights me more than most has to do with the pets. Whenever the two households (lady and gentleman) become one, there is the sticky issue of "How will the pets get along?" to work out. Betties, THEY ALWAYS DO.

I do recall one instance (but not the book, darn it) where a new cat was given a swat on the face from an older, more established cat before learning his place in the pecking order and taking to it at once but most of the time it's even more seamless than that. 

In 'The Promise of Happiness' (or 'Becky and the Baron (the Hot, Hot Baron)') Becky has to entrust her two beloved pets (Bertie and Pooch) to a near stranger for weeks at a time. Will they settle down? is the anxious question:

He put a hand on her back and swept her along and through the baize door, down some steps and into a large kitchen, equipped to the last skewer and still somehow looking delightfully old-fashioned. There was an Aga stove along one wall and on the rug before it were Bertie, Pooch and a Great Dane. All three animals turned round, half asleep, and then bounded to their feet and rushed across the kitchen, the Great Dane to hurl herself at the Baron, Bertie and Pooch to cover Becky with joyful licks, pushing and shoving her in their efforts to greet her properly after such a long time. She sank on to the floor and let them have their way while the tears ran down her cheeks...

The three animals seem to get on like a house on fire and in none of the calls from Becky to the Baron, over her weeks of absence, were mentioned litter box mishaps or antique William and Mary settees ruined by claw marks or soiling. 

Betty Kylene (whose heart is made of butter) found herself adopting a stray black cat a few months ago. Of course the cat was pregnant. Of course the cat and her other cat fight like brawlers. It's been fine since one was an indoor cat and the other was an outdoor cat. But did I mention the heart like butter?

The winter is cold and the outdoor cat is loveable so she's resorted to a baby gate to try to acclimate the two factions to one another. It's going to be a process...

Have you any experience blending pet families? Successes? Failures?


  1. So true. Forget about the unlikelyhood of a handsome rich doctor saving himself for the mousy nurse.

    Established animals getting along with new animals is much less likely.

    I too have a heart like butter...or am gullible. Not sure which. But getting the new cat to blend with the old is almost always a challenge. I'm fairly lucky in that my "head cat" is an amiable little guy. But if a new one decides to challenge him look out! He didn't become head cat for no reason.

  2. "Heart like butter" describes me and my Professor as well ("she said, ungrammatically"). We have 3 dogs and 3 indoor cats, as well as 3 outdoor, somewhat "wild" or stray cats, all of whom have joined our family at different times. I am proud to say that, except for a bit of jealousy between two of the dogs, our herd gets along together quite as well as any of those belonging to our RDDs and heroines.

  3. Suspend disbelief. That's the best way to read of wealth beyond measure, cute meets, miracle cures, just-in-time reconciliations, and happily ever afters. Fantasy is the hope of the possible and probable--the hope of happiness.

    As Dr. Seuss said, "I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life's realities."

    If I wanted reality, I'd read the newspaper, watch Ingmar Berman films with subtitles, and limit reading to Swedish authors like Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson. Well, I do those things, but in smaller doses to give hope a chance.

    1. I quite agree. Though in some measure I feel like I'm taking the rattle apart to see how it works when I bring up these topics, somehow her magic is still there.

    2. I find her stories more believable than modern romances, perhaps because her characters are more like the people I know. Well, not the wealthy part--just the character, dedication, and gentleness, if you will. It resonates, like good music.

    3. I like that. I ran across a quote today that made me think that Betty knew her characters before ever putting them down on paper: "I choose to write about people whose values I respect; my pleasure is to bear witness to their lives." WM. ZINSSER

    4. Exactly. And I'm so glad she did.

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    6. Oh yes I agree with you! Lots of modern romances aren't so believable. Often they're lacking of description, contain almost only dialogs, very few actions, or they occur in such a short period of time, that they appear improbable. And I also find that the characters often have very complicated psychologies, the story is almost a therapeutic path. Sometimes I'd like to read stories of "normal" lives, of course with ups and downs, without the subject falling into pathos. So I find them so boring.

      In Betty Neels's world we meet "normal" people, sometimes with huge problems, but courageous and we don't have interminable psychological dialogs. And the heroes often have a strong personality. Betty Neels wrote beautiful descriptions of people, landscapes, plain daily tasks, always with a touch of humour. I believe that's why we love her writing.

      I tell you, I prefer the old romance books. Perhaps I'm a great nostalgic ! ;o)

    7. Littleblue, you are so right about the "normal" people. There is an author I like to read whose stories are set in contemporary rural Idaho and Colorado. As I said, I do like reading her stories, but all of her principal characters, and I do mean all the heroes and all the heroines are troubled in some way. So sometimes, I have asked myself, "Aren't there any normal people?"

  4. I've been a big Betty reader for ages and I'm in the process of reading them in alphabetically order and I've just finished reading Hannah and it never gets old when I'm reading about finding a stray donkey, cat or dog. It also reminds me of my 7 month old kitty and I would get another kitty when he gets older but he would probably get jealous he's that spoilt lol

  5. Betty Marita here and when I adopted my second kitty my first kitty wanted to be BFFs IMMEDIATELY. He kept trying to play with Imhotep who was having none of that! Well she had just been spayed and was in a new place and Was Not Happy. But he was *so* anxious for a friend.

    After about 6 weeks he'd convinced her to be his friend and they were BFFs until he got Feline Infectious Peritonitis and had to be put to sleep.

    1. I am so sorry to hear about your poor little one. Condolences.

  6. It's been a few years, but thanks. The Imster is still going strong at 11-ish. Still pushy.

  7. I remember one scene in a Betty book where the heroine had somehow acquired a dog from some gypsies, and asked the Professor if he would keep it, since he already had a dog. He agreed, but silently envisioned dog fights in the future. I can't remember the name of the book, but I think it was one with a non-doctor Professor.