Sunday, June 17, 2018

Five Reasons to Read Betty Neels

I am a terrible door-to-door salesman. Granted, my evidence for this rests on an abysmal record of moving beef jerky sticks for the 4th grade school fund-raiser. But I did no better hocking chocolate bars, frozen cookie dough or novelty lollipops. Betty Neels, though? I am an evangelist for Betty. Here is a loosely compiled list of reasons everyone should read the works of The Mighty Betty Neels.

Come buy what I'm selling.

The cads: These rotters work more angles than a lesser-known Kardashian. (To what end, Betty Keira? To what end? To seedy, loveless Brighton, my Betties.) They run out of petrol on lonely Dutch roads, march British nurses past antiquated mummies without a fortifying tea, stick them with the bill when offers to 'get away for a quiet weekend' are refused, run from fires, practice medicine poorly and, worst of all, damage original Gina Fratini gowns by being stupid and bad kissers.

Yes, yes, I ought to long for the complicated embrace of classic literature's multi-faceted characters. But that's like telling myself I ought to eat kale instead of hot Cheetos. Those hot Cheetos have to be eaten, ladies. Just leaving them in the pantry would be wasteful.

The cleverness: Let me give a hard eye-roll to the suggestion that sweet romance is, de facto, dumb romance.

For the love of Grabthar's Hammer, declining to write
about sexy-times is not proportionally related to IQ.

Consider some Neels characters. Chef Florina Payne dumping lemonade over the woman who insulted her sacred honor, enjoying the chemical reaction all that acid is likely to do to tinted hair. Or Gideon van der Tolck of The Silver Thaw, whose proposal, given too soon, betrays the depth of his love as well as the self-preserving humor he cloaks it in. How's about Rose Comely wooing her Dutch doctor by singing nursery rhymes to little Duert ter Brant as he revives consciousness, setting the doctor firmly on the path to appreciating the Amazonian goddess masquerading as a plain Gold Medallist.

Betty Neels is a master of the satirical observation, the not-quite-nice impulse noted and smothered, and the soft, soft moment when everything changes forever. 

The comfort: You Betties are a well-read lot so I find it particularly sweet that you've taken books from The Canon to the hospital as you've gone through surgery or turned to them after the loss of a family member.

Following the inexorable courtship of a vast Dutch surgeon and an excellent British Night Sister who will invariably fall asleep in his socking, great Bentley as he drives her into the country for a spot of fresh air before bed... It's all very gentle and undemanding. Even when Aunt Thirza dies of leukemia, it sounds like the most charming pop-off in recorded history. Tea, a moss rose bush, the lies of a medical professional, and one's own garden. I found myself nodding, "What a lovely way to die." When one is feeling poorly, Betty Neels can be counted on to deliver the goods.
"Take some iron pills, lie down and go towards the light..."
The cast: So many extra characters round out the world of Betty Neels. Indian owners of the local grocery store who tot up the canned goods even while the lovers make their declarations, Jan in Cassandra By Chance, tending an ogre in a lonely cottage. Careless sisters forgetting to pay the nanny or forgetting they even have children, mothers illustrating in garden sheds, fathers with an elderly Morris and a dicky heart...

There's something for everyone here.

The craving: Okay, yearning. But I wanted another 'C' word since I was already on a roll.  Though our characters stay well away from physical 'no-fly zones', this does not mean they are unmoved by passion. For instance, Never Say Goodbye's Isobel Barrington. I'm thinking of the amber necklace--a token from a man she is sure doesn't love her--worn surreptitiously under blouses, next to her skin. All the heroines who take dreadful private nursing jobs to run away from hot, hot Dutchmen. Proposals, second proposals, swooping kisses, gleams in hooded eyes, slowing a car through a village on the off chance he might see the heroine in the yard...
Sometimes you have to read the subtext
So many feels, so much wanting. And The Great Betty's genius is getting you to want her couple to get together as much as they do.

I cannot hope to spark the next battle in The Great Turban Wars with this post but I'd like to know some of your reasons for reading Betty Neels.


  1. Thanks for coming back! I sometimes think it's the last posting. The appeal? That we all can benefit from magic whether we are beautiful, plain, outspoken, witty, tongue-tied, educated, thwarted, loved, ignored da da da da da. . . . It's so hard to be "you" but the ones who
    prerservere give themselves a chance. God, what I'd give to be able to express this in a poetic way! Much thanks for your efforts Betties!

  2. That's poetic enough. I, too, love that those qualities (hard word, goodness, a loving heart) win out in the end. They make up for all kinds of barriers (plainess, poverty, self-protection) and sort of blast through them.

  3. Well said, Betty Keira!

  4. I just finished reading through the canon in chronological order on Saturday, and it's killing me not reading a Betty at all times. Those are very very good reasons for loving TGB, Betty Keira!

    1. The whole thing in order? I would love to hear more about your observations!

  5. I fell in love with Betty’s books in the early 70’s. I love the warmth and the characters who are so real to me. I love knowing that I can expect an HEA, after all the drama. I even love the way Betty’s prejudices show when she mentions the US among other things. This is my first time reading the books in order, and I’ve enjoyed every minute. I’m in the middle of The Quiet Professor and dread the day I finish the list.

  6. I’ve loved Betty’s books since the early 70’s. I love the so real characters who make you care about them. I know I can expect an HEA no matter what the pitfalls our heroine gies through. I even love the fact that Betty’s prejudices show and that so many of her phrases shie up multiple times.
    I’m still rereading them in order for the first time, am now on The Quiet Professor and am dreading finishing the list.

  7. Another reason to love Betty is her use of language. So subtle sometimes but so evocative. And sometimes just plain funny! I can't give an example offhand, but I would say we have probably all been struck by her phrasing at some point.