Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Fifth Day of Christmas - 1971

I had a tough time finding time to read this week - Christmas parties, dates with Dr. van der Stevejink, family movie date (Tangled), making pinecones, dentist appointments, eye doctor appointments (why, oh why, do medical appointments come in dense clusters??)...I snuck in a few pages here and a few pages there - not my favorite way to read a book. After a slow start, I was finally able to get down to business and read most of the second half in one sitting. I'm glad I did. Unfortunately for you, dear Bettys, I was interrupted nearly as much while I was writing this post...aargh.
The opening scenes are quite delightful - Miss Julia Pennyfeather (just 22) is escorting an unstablilized diabetic teen to Scotland after having quit her hospital nursing job. After this little job, she's to go to her worthy (and by worthy, she means dreary)brother's house so as to nurse her sister-in-law through some post-partum depression. Or something. It's a depressing thought - especially since her brother and SIL are determined to play matchmaker to Julia and a pompous windbag named James. Don't pay any attention to that particular plot device, because we will never meet Julia's brother and his wife or James. Ever. And now I've forgotten them.
Scotland is cold and snowy, but eventually the ambulance men, Julia and her patient get to Drumlochie House - only to find it deserted except for one ancient family retainer. The wind has taken the electricity and the phones...Julia gets everyone busy helping out, then she feeds the group before retiring to her icy bedroom.
In the wee small hours, a knock at the door! Julia puts on her dressing gown and allows entrance to the man of her dreams. Dr. Ivo van den Werff. Guess how old he is. No, I mean it, guess. HE'S TWENTY-NINE YEARS OLD!!! Yes, 29. The Great Betty doesn't actually say that, she just says that he's 'pushing 30'. Weird. We don't have to call Dr. Ivo van den Werff by his full name, things are pretty casual among the small group of snowed-in travellers. Julia spends her time taking care of the diabetic teen and cooking. Ivo organizes the ambulance men and himself to take care of the chores, and the family retainer is marginally helpful. I believe he kills a chicken.
The whole interlude in Scotland is delightful - Ivo and Julia get on like a house afire. So much so that he offers her a job back with him in Holland. Taking care of Marcia. Marcia? Who's Marcia? She's The Unresolved Issue.
Marcia has been living at Casa van den Werff for the past six months (with Ivo's dad and sister)where she has been recuperating from a slight attack of polio (yes, polio again). Marcia the Unresolved Issue needs a nurse to finish getting her back on her feet.
It's really too bad about the instant antipathy between Marcia and Julia. Julia sees Marcia as the fraud she is, and Marcia can tell. Marcia spends the entire book making rude comments about Julia's size. Marcia calls her buxom, robust, stout, plump, get the idea. She's a real charmer. Marcia is an unusual 'other woman'. Sure, she's bony and flat chested, has pale blonde hair and colourless lashes and a thin austere beaky kind of beauty...but she's An Intellectual. Her hobbies include: reading the works of Goethe, living in luxury, reading Virgil and Homer in the original Greek, being waited on by Julia, and making out with Mijnheer August de Winter. What? Yes, she's got a lil' sumpen sumpen going on the side. She's just hanging out at Casa van den Werff until the Mijnheer comes up to scratch. Hedging her bets.
So...what's the relationship between Marcia and Ivo? Marcia simpers (gah...I just threw up in my throat a little) and acts coy while telling Julia that she and Ivo have 'an understanding'.
This is where it gets a bit dicey...after Marcia got polio, Ivo went to Edinburgh for six months. Six months with no visits back to Holland. Doesn't sound much like a man in love. Not only has he not been to visit in six months, he doesn't act like a man in love. He acts more like the captain of a sinking ship and Marcia is the broken rigging dragging it down. It's time to clear the decks.
Julia has a bit of a tough time figuring out what's going on. She isn't quite sure what Ivo and Marcia's relationship is. Are they engaged? Will they marry? Julia can see that Marcia isn't in love...and she's pretty dang sure Ivo isn't either. Let's assume he isn't since he kisses Julia at nearly every opportunity, especially after a fight or quarrel, or well, like I said, pretty much anytime.
Julia goes for a walk one afternoon - it's a balmy December day in Holland. Hah! Not. Off she goes into the bike paths and nearly certain disaster. Yes, she gets lost, freezing rain is pouring down and she falls asleep. She wakens to Ivo swearing some beastly Dutch oaths and then pouring brandy down her throat. Of course she's fine - but she does have to endure prosy speeches from Marcia about the inadvisability of impetuous women who are lacking in intellectual powers not giving due deliberation to all the aspects of taking a walk in the country during this particular time of year.
Julia continues to be confused about what the future holds...for her, for Ivo, for Marcia. It's all a muddle. The one thing she's sure about is that she loves Ivo and Marcia doesn't. Despite that, Marcia continues to make a determined effort to keep Ivo away from Julia. Which just goes to show her spiteful nature, since Ivo isn't the one she wants. She wants Mijnheer de Winter in a bad way - badly enough to invite the mijnheer to a family Christmas Eve dinner against Ivo's wishes - without telling Ivo. Julia rushes into Jorina's room (in her bathrobe, hair streaming down her back) to tell Jorina so that she can rearrange seating - Ivo is there, sitting on the bed. Ivo tells her that she'd better get dressed...'If you need any help, I'd be delighted.' *snort*. After dinner entertainment consists of dancing to the 'CD player' (yeah, right...). Marcia does a slow foxtrot around the room and then has Julia spend the rest of the evening putting her to bed. Seems like that would be the end of Christmas Eve for her. Well, it isn't. Ivo made Julia promise to come back down after The Unresolved Issue has retired. He gives Julia his Christmas present to her...a pair of gold earrings with rubies in the center. Do I sense a little forshadowing of things to come?
It's Time for a Medical Emergency.
Not only have we been treated to The Unresolved Issue with polio, it now seems there is an outbreak requiring mass inoculations! Julia is recruited to help Ivo with the hordes of children that now need to be given shots - which gets her out of the house and away from Marcia. Marcia's down with gives her more opportunities to be alone with Mijnheer de Winter. Julia accidently sees them in a lip-lock. Marcia moans about how lonely and alone and forlorn and....Julia begs to differ...'that is a load of old trot!" The kid gloves come off and Julia speaks her mind. Words like 'harpy' and 'fraud' are bandied. Marcia tattles to Ivo about Julia's name-calling. Ivo confronts Julia:
Him: Um...I just had a conversation with Marcia. I think you know what it was about...
Her: So???
Him: Did you call her a fraud and a harpy?
Her: Yes.
Him: May I ask why?
Her (flippantly): No harm in asking.
Julia can more than hold her own in nearly any situation which is a good thing, because she's about to have it out one last time with Marcia. Ivo overhears...The Unresolved Issue is resolved, but while Ivo and Marcia are resolving, Julia packs up her troubles in her old kit bag and runs off to the bus stop enroute to England. It takes Ivo a little bit of time to catch up with her, because he makes a detour to pick up a few more GOLD RINGS...bringing the total to 4 - with an option on the 5th. Lovely closing scene where Ivo pleads for a quick wedding, 'please don't make me wait, Julia', some satisfying kisses. The End.
Verdict: Although a little uneven in the pacing (that could very well be due to my irratic reading (and writing) schedule this week), I really enjoyed this one. Marcia is one of my favorite villainessess - while not the most wicked, she does get quite a bit of page time. Julia, or as Ivo calls her, The Magnificant Miss Pennyfeather, is pretty delightful (even though she has way more patience with Marcia than is humanly possible). Queen of Puddings!
Fashion: Not a whole lot to work with here. Julia spends most of the book in her nurses uniform. She does have a deep rose wool dress and a brown wool dress, a Jaeger coat and skirt of pleasing turquoise and brown, a top-coat and a fur bonnet. Marcia declines to wear a jersey dress.
Food: While snowed in at Drumlochie House, Julia bakes bread, makes soup and omelettes, jacket potatoes and a baked rice pudding. Christmas Eve dinner consists of oyster soup, filet of beef Meurice, and gateau St. Honoré. Christmas dinner is roast turkey, chestnut stuffing, cranberry sauce and what Jorina describes as 'English vegetables culled from an old copy of Mrs. Beeton's cookery book.'


  1. "That is a load of old trot!"--I think we have another contribution to our quotation t-shirt collection.

  2. Betty Barbara here--
    Betty Debbie, I do think your feel for the pacing was influenced by having to read it in bits and pieces. I always gobble it down in one sitting and have never found any pacing problems.
    My latest copy of the book is one of the new reprints, so I got a good giggle out of the fact they changed 'record player' to 'CD player'.
    The polio makes a lot more sense in this story, originally published in 1971. Polio was still a realistic public health threat, in parts of Europe, even with vaccines available. In the 'let's vaccinate the village' chapter, part of their protocol was to check to see which kids had already had their shots/drops.

    I just love this one--I'd give it 'lashings of whipped cream'.

    I wonder why Betty abandoned the idea of a youngish RDD. This story proved that the RDD didn't have to be 'renowned in his field' or a 'professor' or 'leading consultant' to be a suitable romantic hero. And the age difference (7-8 years)was a lot more palatable, too!

  3. I'm sure you're right about my problem with the just has been a hectic week here at the van der Stevejinck household. The pacing of my review was about a million times worse, partially due to the fact that I didn't finish until about 11pm last night (that might not sound late, but I get up before 4:30am five days a week). I can honestly say I was 'knackered'.

  4. I so loved this one too. The gold brings brought me to tears! It was great reading about such an ardent and sentimental RDD. All the kissing! I also had one of the newer copies and noticed the "CD" player. Because I loved the book and I was curious - OK, suspicious - I bought an original copy too and wondered if they had done any other editing. I haven't read the whole book again, but so far I've noticed some bits missing. There is a part in the original when Ivo and Julia go for that walk in the snow in Drumlochie and Ivo is surprised that Julia's patient was left alone by her parents. "Would you leave your daughter?", he asked Julia. That little conversation is missing from my re-released copy!

  5. Here's one explanation for the pacing problems -- The Fifth Day of Christmas was her 11th book, and it's long -- somewhere in the 85,000-90,000 word range. By contrast, I'm rereading Roses for Christmas (because I assumed that you'd get to all the Christmas books in the next couple weeks...), and it's 55,000-60,000 words.

    I love most of her books pretty equally, but I'll admit it: Fifth Day dragged a bit. (I could have used a lot less of Marcia, for a start. Too much like real life for me, as I once had to be "companion" for a very, very famous psychiatrist and she was HORRIBLE.)

    Katie -- I love that bit about leaving one's child alone. I figure that was one of Ivo's partial Dawning Realizations. I wonder why they took it out?

  6. Betty Barbara here--
    Katie-thanks for the research. I guess I will have to get my hands on an original version. I read it, first time, within a couple of years of its release (say 1975) and, naturally, can't remember all the details. My later copies have been "best of", including the most recent re-issue, which has the "CD player" ref.

    And I repeat my question from above--any theories on why Betty abandoned younger RDDs? In her later books, the youngest of them is 34 or 35 and a bunch of them are in their late 30's, if not actually 40! I don't think she ever again did a hero as young as Ivo!

    And one final comment--I thought Ivo's father was a total poppet! Ivo is going to be just like him as he ages. Julia is in for a lot of fun.

  7. Ivo's dad is a darling. He twinkles adorably. Unfortunately we don't see nearly enough of him. Little sister Jorina is cute too, but again, not quite enough of her.

    I have a theory about the RDD age issue. As The Great Betty got older, it might have been hard for her to see the younger men as mature hero types. I get where she might have been coming from - my oldest son is 28 and while he is a functional adult (good education, good job, generous salary, nice apartment, girlfriend...etc.), it's hard to imagine him as an RDD (well, it might be more than the age issue, since he's no more than average height and he definitely has less hair now than he did ten years ago).

  8. It's definitely a record player in the original. I'm so old that a record player struck me as completely reasonable!

  9. I remember reading somewhere that Betty fans like her older books because they are so much more detailed. The ones I've read so far, certainly seem longer and are written with more depth than some of her later books. Maybe at some point, Harlequin asked her to shorten or streamline her stories. As Magdalen points out, Fifth Day of Christmas is longer.

    I think Betty had such a gift for telling a great romance and I savor her words. The missing bits made me sad, because while they may not have made a huge difference to the story, they took a bit of Betty away, like a missed glance or a subtle gesture.

    1. My copy of this book is in one of the Omnibus editions, so page length wise, it appears of normal length; however, the font for this edition is really teeny tiny compared to the rest of the novels, so this book is obviously longer. So besides The Fifth Day of Christmas, what other books have had stuff edited out in later editions? I remember there was one where references were changed to be more current (i.e. Mick Jagger to Boy George), but were there others that had text actually removed in later printings? I'd like to read the original, not an edited version.

  10. Katie -- a bit of history. Betty Neels wrote her books for Mills & Boon, a UK publisher of paperback romances written exclusively by authors in the UK or former British Empire countries like Australia and South Africa. Originally, Harlequin just reprinted M&B romances -- they published nothing written by American authors for the first 20 years or so.

    So if anyone was telling Betty Neels how long her books had to be, it would have been Mills & Boon. I don't think they did that, though -- I think they accepted her manuscripts pretty much as is. And then Harlequin had to accept them pretty much as is -- except that in the very early days, they renamed them so that the casual browser of covers would know it was a nurse/doctor romance. (She wasn't the only author influenced by the assumption that readers needed even the title to be explicit about the protagonists' profession...)

    So the wide discrepancy between the lengths of Fifth Day and Roses for Christmas suggests to me that she evolved as a writer. I definitely think Roses for Christmas is the better book, if for no other reason than that The Unresolved Issue is off-stage for most of Roses for Christmas.

  11. Marcia's unusual in that she doesn't really want Ivo: she just thinks it's right to let his family support her while de Winter courts her.

    I bought the reprint and it seems to me they cut the bit where she receives the bookmark from Marcia.

  12. I just finished this one today... got it from Borders the other day.. our store is closing so it was 40% off.
    I liked this book, but there was a little too much Marcia in it. One thing I loved was that, while Ivo is well enough off, he is not nobility or over the top rich. I kept worrying, though, that Marcia would throw over the man she loved for Ivo's money.
    Marcia was a nasty piece of work, but unusual, as Kitap says, in that she didn't really want Ivo.
    I agree with whoever sad Ivo's father is terrific! He sees what's up immediately and has obviously put his money on Julia. My other favorite thing is the way Julia purposefully outs Marcia in front of Ivo. Sweet. So sweet after all the nasty digs she's put up with throughout the book.

  13. Am I the only one who thinks of Mary Bennett from P&P with all Marcia's "learned dissertations" on various subjects -- such as "the inadvisability of walking in the country at this time of year" thing?

    Wonder if the people who made the Avengers Movie (Fiennes/Thurman/Connery) read this? Wasn't Sean Connery's character's name Sir August De Wynter?

    1. Cannot say that I thought of Mary Bennett, but now that you mention it... And I cannot say which of the two I find more annoying. No, wait. I'm lying. Marcia is definitely worse.

  14. But the message of the book seems very anti-intellectual . . . It's generally OK in the novels for fathers. grandfathers and other men to be classicists and to quote poetry but women must not be clever . . .

    And Oxford and Cambridge and so on for brothers, and for the brothers to be doctors, but the women train to be nurses . . .

    I loved it but it is too long.

    1. It's definitely too long. And yes, you've hit on something I've noticed about The Canon: an academic woman is not a good thing. There's a strong anti-intellectual thread in Betty Neels's work, just as there's an anti-aristocracy thread. She preferred people who did things, even humble things.

    2. But then we have outliers too. Polly was fluent in Greek (and a typist too!) and there were one or two heroines about whom it was said, they wanted to be doctor's but financial tragedy befell the family.

      Still, I agree with Betty Magdalen, The Venerable Neels liked her doers. Hark at how poorly the most learned nurses come off if they can't even make a patient comfortable in bed!

    3. And several of her heroines were Gold Medalists in their classes, Paul compliments Maggy on the high intellectual caliber of her question after his lecture, and Wish with the Candles's good-guy sister is studying to be a doctor. Furthermore, many of her heroines can quote highbrow poetry, sometimes at length, and several of them are multi-lingual. Marcia is the only academic woman who really gets villified; most of the Veronicas can't read anything more challenging than fashion magazines.

      I think TGB is less anti-intellectual than she is pro-doer and anti-show-off. Her Gold Medallists are always modest about their achievements, the few with aristocratic connections don't mention them, and her rich doctors never boast of their wealth, their skills or their baronetcies -- and in fact downplay them when someone else brings them up.

      That said, Fifth Day's virulent anti-educated-woman-ism (the men can be as intellectual as they wish) makes me crazy. And I'm not fond of Jake's gross mis-use of the Tennyson crib "Man to command and woman to obey/All else confusion" to lord it over Annis. Gharstly man. And in the later canon, all those A-level-sporting doers who can't figure out a word processor or a cash register are a bit more than a bit much.

    4. I was working on my comment when we had to take the dog out. In the meantime, Betty Keira commented. So forgive me if...
      Rats. I am too slow. Now Betty van den Betsy has commented.
      To my mind, the Great Betty’s work is not anti-intellectual. Her message is not that women must not be clever. Hey, the number of heroines with A levels is nearly staggering. There are several heroines who quote poetry. And then, there is dear Polly, she who lives and breathes Latin and Greek. There are a few heroines who would have gone to university if the money had not suddenly been scarce, if the brothers did not have to be educated, the sister did not have to go to the best schools...
      In some of her novels, Betty’s message is that it is OK not to be clever. I rather like that. After all, not everybody can be clever. I would not call that anti-intellectual either.

      And Oxford and Cambridge and so on for brothers, and for the brothers to be doctors, but the women train to be nurses . . . Add to that that the eldest brothers get to inherit the respective family homes, and sister sometimes scrimps and saves so there will be a home left to inherit...
      Bothers me no end!!!!!!!

      She preferred people who did things, even humble things. (in an aside, Humble things –simple things, Betty Keira, like nurses turning a pillow, that needed turning. Ha ha!) Yes, she did prefer people who did things, Betty Magdalen, but there's an anti-aristocracy thread? Hey, there are
      nine barons,
      five jonkheren,
      six knighted heroes, Sir Colin Crichton, Sir Fergus Cameron, Sir James Marlow, Sir Paul Wyatt, Sir Thomas Latimer, Sir William Sedley, and a sprinkling of other titled/knighted medical men and non-medicos.
      And then there is Lady Cresswell and I still don’t know if or why our lone historian in the Canon, Professor Charles Cresswell, is untitled (except for the Professor bit). Unless, of course, his father was just knighted not a baronet by birth. I guess that must be it.

      Have you thought that perhaps Marcia's educated-ness only gets vilified because she is the evil Veronica?

    5. IMHO - Marcia is something of a pseudo-intellectual -- the kind of person who has a facility for quotations and wants to be looked upon as brilliant; not someone who is quietly intelligent. I hope that makes sense.

      Besides, I've always had the impression from reading tons of other British fiction that to be (I think this is an Aussie or Kiwi phrase, but I love it) a "tall poppy" (a showoff) is kind of looked down upon as a part of the British character, and TGB's attitude towards her reflects that. YMMV.

    6. I am afraid Marcia truly was intelligent. After compiling the passages remarking on this fact there was no doubt on my mind left: Ivo, his father and even Julia thought so. So I am afraid we have to believe it. But she is boastful, "conceited" as Julia puts it, and that, as you say, is looked down upon. Besides of which she is deceitful in a big way (regarding her state of health) and that is even worse.

    7. A Japanese Zen master once received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

      The master served tea. The Japanese tea ceremony is long and complex, and the scientist became increasingly impatient as the master went calmly through the 54 steps of the ceremony. When the tea was ready, he began to fill his visitor's cup. When the cup was full, he continued to pour.

      The tea began to overflow, and the professor could restrain himself no longer. "It is already full. No more will go in!"

      "Like this cup", the master said, "You are full of your own opinions and ideas. How can I teach you if you have not first emptied your cup?"

      B von S

  15. I just have to comment as my name is also Marcia - Betty Marcia. I wonder how the Brits pronounce it. My name is pronounced (Mar see ah) as I was named after a dear Spanish friend of my mother. However, it is always mis-pronunced Marsha by anyone who doesn't know me (great telemarketer tipoff).
    I have noticed the English sometimes pronounce Maria as Ma RYE ah. Just wondering....

    1. I'm a Brit transplanted to America and I would always say MAR-see-ah, but everyone here seems to say 'Marsha'. It's the same with A-LISS-ee-ah (Alicia)and 'Aleesha'. Don't know if it's the general rule, but I would say Ma-Rye-ah if the name was spelled Mariah, but not if spelled Maria.

      Betty Grace

  16. Betty Grace here:

    I had a few problems with the anti-intellectual tone of this one. Jorina makes a point of saying that her fiancé is very clever but she's not, and this is supposed to make for the best kind of marriage for them. And although Julia is a qualified nurse, and obviously not dim-witted, she says that she's not good with money, likes pretty clothes and is not very clever, to which Ivo replies that she sounds like the ideal woman. That seemed to be going a bit far.
    What bothered me more, though, is the scene in which Ivo grabs Julia by the shoulders and shakes her until her teeth rattle - and then SHE apologises to HIM for having said something to annoy him. (Shades of 'Look what you made me do'.) TGB's old-fashioned take on romance is what gives her books their charm, but I have to draw the line at physical assault. And all that swooping and rough kissing is a bit much too, since as far as Julia knows there is nothing likely to be going on between them.
    I was a young woman in the 1970s and I'd have run for the hills after the teeth rattling incident, and the swooping would have been met with my knee in a tender part of the swooper's anatomy.

    1. I am so with you on this one :) TGB wouldn't have condoned physical assault - there are a couple of her books with hints at exactly that and the characters are very anti same. Also agree about the knee bit :) No way, unless invited, do you swoop Sir!

    2. Thank goodness you all are bothered by that too! I cannot love this book because of the shaking incident - the only one in the canon (although heroes often express their urge to do something physical, they never do). It makes me wonder why it’s there - 1970’s romances, including M &B, were full of that sort of thing, so did TGB write it that way or was it edited it?

  17. Hi from Poland! Reading the comments I thought nobody will raise the issue of women being treated in an unfair way... The more book I read, the less I like the girls agreeing to the kind of... slavery? Being kissed when HE wants, being... ah, whatever. Thank you for you comments above. Love, Dorota

  18. I hope that someone can enlighten me about why The Plot Device has to spend so long at Ivo's house recovering. I cannot understand why anyone could possibly allow this to happen. This was a real disappointment for me. I have thought about it a lot (and I really could be doing other things) and I cant work it out. Does anyone have an explanation?

  19. The explanation is given by Jorina, feeble as we may feel it is.

    'And then last year he meets Marcia at some lecture or other and I think that someone has told her about him because she does not try to flirt or attract him, only she lets him see that she has a good brain and that she reads Greek and Latin and is a very serious person, so he thinks, "Here is a girl who is not after my money or out for a good time", and they become friendly and go to lectures and theatres and concerts—all very dull. Then she is taken ill, and while she is still in hospital Ivo has to go to Edinburgh, and although I am quite sure he has never mentioned marriage to her, she hints and suggests…it is as if she has convinced him that he was responsible for her getting polio—I do not know how.'
    'Where did Marcia catch it?' asked Julia quickly.
    'At a party to which Ivo took her. She did not wish to go because it was to be gay with dancing, but he persuaded her, and it was after that that she became ill.' She shrugged her shoulders. 'So when she is able to leave hospital she asks that she may come and stay with us until she is strong enough to travel, and because Ivo is not here and we do not know how he feels about her, we agree. But six months is a long time and I think—I know that Ivo does not wish to marry her, but she pretends to him that she loves him very dearly, so he is kind to her, for she is ill and perhaps he thinks that in his absence her feelings will change and everything will arrange itself. But you see how she behaves towards him, Julia; she will marry him, although she does not love him, and I shall not forgive her.'

    Ivo's family, not knowing how he felt about her, agreed to let her stay with them until she was strong enough to travel - and because her plan was to marry him she deceives them all and pretends to be worse than she really is, spinning out her stay until he returns home from Edinburgh. Ivo, feeling responsible for her catching polio, cannot tell his family to kick her out, now, can he?

    The website won't let me publish while logged in. 🙄 I am not amused.
    Betty Anonymous

  20. I have been very tardy getting back about your reply. Thank you for going to the trouble of answering my question. It makes more sense after reading what you said.