Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Royal Wedding Before and After


Sadly, mini-Betty Keira didn't realize that she would peak so early with her sartorial aspirations...

I don't remember watching the Royal Wedding--the first one when everything went so pear-shaped--but I vividly remember getting a new dress for my sister Debbie's 1980s wedding (I was five.).  She went with yellow and, though my mom must have worked her fingers into bloody nubbins for weeks before to outfit the entire family in yellow, I only recall that it appeared out of nowhere and was the prettiest dress I'd had before or since; light buttercup yellow, wide white sash, puffed sleeves, an elastic neckline (that I would sometimes pull off my shoulders to look even more awesome) and a deep ruffle-y flounce at the top.  I was gorgeous.  And I remember, as clear as day, checking my bad self out in a mirror and thinking that with my short, feathered hair I looked just like Princess Diana.  I couldn't have known then that she'd filch my dress...

Fast forward thirty years.

Am I watching the Royal Wedding?  I am so watching the Royal Wedding. (But why, Betty Keira?  Why?)
Can I summon up any nostalgia for the monarchy?  I. Can. Not.
King George III--the 'he' mentioned so many times in the Declaration of Independence, as in: "He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures."
Am I an Anglophile?  Er, the tiny island produced Milton, Donne, Shakespeare, Betty Neels, the trench coat, the Magna Carta (which incidentally is part of a long list of incidents that created the largely defunct constitutional monarchy we see today--the monarchy part, not the constitutional part), William Wilberforce, English common law, the great-socking Bentley...So, yes.

But do I have no shame?!  Look.  I'm a proud small 'r' republican (in which the people, or some significant portion of them, retain supreme control over the government), and would have proudly carried pails of hot rifle shot to the beleaguered Patriots at Saratoga, Ticonderoga, Yorktown.  Heck, one of my ancestors was scalped by a 'dastardly Tory'!
Molly Pitcher, hero of the Revolution, looks dashing in a full length Betsy Ross number of crimson muslin and white cuffs...
But doesn't this imply that I have silly wish to be an actual princess?  Look.  Not really.  Anyway, no more than watching the NBA playoffs would give a man the idea that he could actually have a pro-level turn around jump shot.

Here's the beginning and end of it for me: Kate is a babe.  Wills has nice teeth.  And the fashionGreat googly-bear!  The hats alone are worth the effort.

So I'll spend the day in a media black-out, fingers pressed over eyes and plunged into ears and watch it as civilized and sane people do...Dressed to the nines with a fascinator and gloves.  (Pictures to follow.)
The media black-out was difficult.  Next time we do a brunch or something.

Well, how gorgeous was that bride?  Yes, very Princess Grace-y but just breathtaking.  (And sleeves!  Maybe this will make it easier for brides to find sleeves!)  For me, I really liked the heavily religious nature of the service--sort of the antithesis to being married by a hippie on the beach (regrets to any I may offend by that remark)--but the formality never eclipsed the nice family wedding.

It was such fun to get together with like-minded (read: hopelessly silly) ladies.  Betty Kylene made an unbelievably gorgeous hair accessory for the event... 
Mine (below) by contrast looks modest (and I still had to maneuver carefully into the car). 

And our hostess wore her wedding dress!  (And ladies, it was (after four children) swimming on her.  That was not the same problem I have...)

My SIL came with and discovered the wonderful world of fascinators for herself....
I hope we're all in agreement that this (below) was the worst crime of millinery we've ever beheld.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Royal Wedding - let's not spoil it for Betty Keira.

Four words, dude. Hair Club for Men.
Probably every woman on the face of the planet with tv or internet access has seen (or will soon see) pictures and/or video of the royal wedding...

Kate was a lovely bride.
...except Betty Keira.

Betty Keira is going to a party tonight wherein she will be dressed to the nines and do all things British (I assume). I told her that I was going to start a post where the rest of the free Betty world can talk about such burning issues as the awesomeness of Kate's wedding dress and, well, whatever.  Betty Keira will be avoiding the comment thread until tomorrow (or tonight after her party). Feel free to share your thoughts and impressions!

Cinema Betty

The Fortunes of Francesca has a little to do with a 'Girl Friday':
His Girl Friday (1940)

Nothing with Rosalind Russell in it ever seems to date and you all know my unrequited passion for Cary Grant even when he, as in this, is playing a cad.  Hard-boiled newspaper reporting, hiding in a roll-top desk (the first time one of those was actually useful for something) and dialog that just zings along.  It goes slightly pear-shaped when I'm expected to swallow Earl Williams (the killer) character but the movie about a man on death row happens to have very little to do with it at all.

Here's a great take on the film while the reporter is supposed to be reviewing another film:
When the philosopher Stanley Cavell coined the term "comedy of remarriage" to name those classic screwball films in which a bickering couple must divorce before they can discover that they're actually made for each other, he didn't have in mind Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher What Happens in Vegas (newly on DVD!) isn't just one of the worst films of 2008, it's an insult to its venerable tradition. Praise be then to His Girl Friday (1940), which screens tomorrow at BAMCinematek, as part of its awesome Howard Hawks series. Cary Grant is his usual unflappable self as a newspaper editor whose ex-wife and former ace reporter (Rosalind Russell) is in town with her new fiance, Ralph Bellamy (whom you kids probably know as Randolph Duke in Trading Places). From their very first scene together, when Russell asks Grant for a smoke and he casually tosses a cigarette at her (they then repeat the pattern with the matches) we can see what they see in each other—and in contrast to the idiotic characters played by Diaz and Kutcher, they're not just beer goggling.

The  movie I want to recommend for The Final Touch has nothing to do with the book unless the virtue of portraying one of the hottest Dutchmen in cinema is in the RDD ballpark:
The Spanish Main (1945)
Laurent Van Horn (Paul Henreid), captain of a Dutch ship, is forced to dock at a Spanish port to make repairs to his vessel but is imprisoned by Don Alvarado (Walter Slezak), the Spanish governor, and sentenced to hang for trespassing. While awaiting execution, Laurent meets other unfairly incarcerated prisoners and together they stage a jail breakout, escaping to safety. Five years later, Laurent has become "The Barracuda," an infamous pirate who plunders Spanish ships. When he learns that Francesca (Maureen O'Hara), Don Alvarado's bride-to-be, is arriving by boat from Mexico to be married, he sets a trap, abducting her and setting in motion his revenge for the governor's past mistreatment of him 
 Honestly, doesn't that just make your eyeballs scorch?
Henreid was personally responsible for that change of pace. He came up with the story line in an attempt to change his image. "The search for challenging movies that would change my image as an actor finally made me decide to write out a quick treatment of an idea that had been simmering in my mind for a long time. I was getting tired of being cast as the suave ladies' I started to think in terms of something that would be more fun, a swashbuckling part in a pirate film."
I adore Paul Henreid (even though he's Austrian and not Dutch at all).  You should totally try to check this out.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Final Touch - Discussion Thread

We're not saying goodbye to TUJD
yet...just a fond farewell to the herculean
task of writing reviews. 
Gosh, this is our very last official 'discussion thread'. Sniff.

The awful Cor van Kamp had even taken Charity to Brighton for the day (that should have tipped her off right there - if only she had been conversant with TUJD definition of 'Brighton' - she would have known what a cad he was. The book I reviewed last week also had a reference to the girl being taken to Brighton for the day with the cad (Loveday and Charles in The Doctor's Girl).  After fruitlessly cudgeling my brain (and then taking advantage of the search feature on our blog), I was able to find one reference to Brighton that actually features the hero taking the heroine to Brighton (A Kiss for Julie). We know that Simon is NOT a cad and does not have Brightonish designs on Julie because he also invites Julie's mum and little sister along as chaperones. Take-away? If you must go to Brighton before matrimony, take some reliable chaperones.

It's one of those movies that you
wish you liked...

To fill in her lonely hours, Charity goes to a lot of museums one of which is the History of Science Museum. That sounds much more interesting than, say, a History of Agriculture Museum (I'm imagining a display of Fertilizer Through The Ages) or a History of Typography Museum.  In a barely related way, I recently watched about half of the documentary film Helvetica.  Pardon me for saying so, but it was excruciating boring.  Even my daughter-in-law who is something of a font snob found it frustratingly lame...and unbearable slow. I would expect that a History of Science Museum would have enough variety of subjects to keep me entertained for a while - but then, I'm married to an engineer.

Letizia and Teile (10-year-olds) both have checkbooks.  That seems unnecessary to me.  I'm all for teaching children fiscal responsibility, but a checkbook for gradeschoolers? The current equivalent would be for a child to have their own debit card.  My kids had bank accounts at that age - which came with debit cards...but they were not allowed to use the debit cards without permission.   In fact, they didn't get to carry their debit cards around at all until they were at least 14 (mostly for fear of losing them - my boys were not always very reliable about keeping track of such things).

Charity reads Little Women aloud to the girls (it always amuses me when non-U.S. authors (I'm thinking of Neels and Summers here specifically) talk about American books--why do I think the cultural stream (novel-wise) only flows in one direction?)

I adore the details of Charity and the twins making a doll house out of cardboard boxes.  It's adorable. Having only one daughter and five sons, I have been much more likely to make catapults out of wood and rubber bands and use foil balls as ammo (I am not joking here - I can't tell you how many catapults I have made over the years -  at home and as a den leader in Cub Scouts.) I picked up this book (Mini Weapons of Mass Destructions) on my recent trip to Portland (shh! don't tell my son-in-law - it's for his birthday), because you can never learn too many ways to make catapults. Speaking of engineers and weapons...(I was!) Here's a little engineering humor (courtesy of Dr. van der Stevejinck)

Q: What's the difference between a civil engineer and a mechanical engineer?
A: A mechanical engineer makes weapons, a civil engineer makes targets.

I did say a 'little' ...

What kind of homemade toys have you made (or had)?

The Final Touch--1991

Even Bono feels it: 'And the last Betty read,
yeah, sounds the clanging chimes of doom...'
 Have you felt the gnarled, chilly hand of disaster reaching out to you in the dark watches of the night?  Have you strode quickly past dead-end alleyways, fleeing from the dread that dare not speak its name?  Have you caught yourself staring into the sun hoping, always hoping, to bring back those carefree hours of days gone by when this vague menace wasn't annexing room after room of your fevered brain?  Me too.  We're done, Bettys.  The Final Touch really is the final touch and when I had finally turned the last of some 13,000 pages I've read this last year I was genuinely sad.  (Not that I haven't rehearsed the ticker tape parade of The End of Days but I did not expect to feel that Tom Hanks-ian Brain Cloud.)  But that was a week ago and I still have a review to write!  Let's gird up our loins, adjust the C-cups and get on with it.

Professor Tyco van der Brons, 39, does not work in the Path Lab.  So why is he staring with microscopic intensity at the mousy English nurse?  He knows her history--hasn't it been hospital grapevine fodder for weeks now?  She found a job here in Holland on the recommendation of Cor van Kamp (a worthless young scalp-collector) and, with a trusting instinct no more developed than a babe newly born, she built high hopes on the lines he fed her.  Tyco sees all this but his own troubled romantic history lends him an extra-sensory perception.  Though he is a lofty professor/consultant of 39, he sees that Nurse Charity Pearson , 23, is about to have a similar romantic fall.  Moreover, he seems to know that she won't be able to brush it off like other girls her age.  He doesn't love her but he, nevertheless, knows that she's JUST. LIKE. HIM.    
Charity is heartsick--not just to be on the receiving end of pitying glances and bracing smiles, but genuinely torn up that Cor proves himself to be so unworthy of her, by this time, unwilling regard--and accepts the Professor's brotherly hand of friendship with happy relief.  Still, Cor is becoming a growing problem.  He's like a barnacle that has attached itself to her hull and won't shake itself loose.  She's convinced that an extended stay at a maritime museum dry docks is just what the doctor ordered--barnacles will be scraped and no new ones will have a chance to try their cement glands on her at all. 
My side-arm is in my other pants...
As he pesters her on the ward and brushes her hand or squeezes her shoulder, Cor is revealed as that most tiresome kind of man--the kind poisoning the water wells as he moseys into the sunset.  Thank heavens Tyco is handy with six-shooters and side-winders.  Charity is moved to the burn unit...headed by the Rootin'est Tootin'est Gun in the Holland. 
Tyco already knows that Charity has self-control, dignity, a fine work ethic, empathy toward the disfigured and a willingness to throw her punches straight from the shoulder but he also has occasion to learn that she's an Urban Supergirl.  Rushing into a burning row house she saves the life of an infant and a toddler, receiving some burns on the backs of her hands herself (which, btw, seems like a funny place to get them unless you're holding a baby and pushing open a door with the exposed part of your hand).  Tyco discovers her in shock sitting on her bed in the nurse's home, treats her and (I think) decides then and there to sometime soon offer her a marriage of convenience.  Why else would he lay bare the sordid history of his philandering first wife?  He establishes himself as a fellow sufferer of love's outrageous fortune, gets to tell her about his marital status...and the kids.
Oh, have I not mentioned them?  Letizia and Teile (First wives--for that matter, all wives--in Neelsland are Fertile Myrtles) are two precocious 10-year-old twins brought up by their soon-to-be-leaving governess, Miss Bloom--a velvet hand in the steel glove. They like Charity right away (which Tyco observes with relief) and press her to visit them again.  (She's there for tea.)  Not very long after, she makes the amazing discovery that Cor no longer matters. 
Hard on the heels of that is Tyco's proposal.  Only believe me when I say I have a great regard for you and believe that we could be happy as a family. He proposed for the sake of the girls, of course.  That, and the cold fact that she doesn't excite him.  Why else?  Not even Tyco could answer that one.
There's Newly Married and then there's Snuggie Married
So they marry.  The little girls are outfitted in matching dresses and Charity is wearing a new hat and patent leather shoes.  The ink isn't dry on the wedding license before Mijnheer and Mevrouw van der Brons have commandeered two fire-place adjacent wing-back chairs that, though it illustrates a different scene, reminds me forcibly of the words 'And Ma in her Kerchief and I in my Cap had just settled down to a long Winter's nap'.  As Sheryl Crow might say, 'This ain't no disco.'  But he reads his papers and she knits jumpers for the girls and, no doubt, he is congratulating himself on a task well-managed.
Until he falls in love with her.  He thought he knew what she was like--and he did know on some cerebral level that she was loyal, brave, plucky...But living with her is something else entirely and maybe he remembers that first, wretched marriage (that was never any sort of marriage at all) contrasted with the quiet pleasure now of coming home to his family and his feelings become quite jumbled.  Suddenly it matters awfully that anyone would ever hurt someone as wonderful as Charity and maybe it matters, too, that he's so much older than she is and...As you can tell, Tyco is on his beam ends.
But Charity is still wandering flashlight-less in a Dark Romantic Fog and might still be if not for the untimely appearance of Eunice, who, is probably as flat-chested as her name indicates.  She is Charity's step-sister and your average, run-of-the mill fashion model come to play tennis.  (Not tennis?  Then why is her back-hand so good?)
I love this part because it could really have gone off the rails but doesn't. 
Charity had the exterminator on speed dial.
  • Eunice invites herself to the townhouse.  (I'm reminded of those Orkin commercials where the life-sized bug wants to use the phone as a pretext to home invasion.)
  • Charity lies to her face and tells her she has to leave at the end of the week.  (Birthday party. Loads of family.  Don't let the door hit you on the rear on your way out.)
  • Tyco backs Charity up to the hilt (Which is a welcome relief from all those RDDs who think out of a mistaken sense of honor that one mustn't dislodge a guest under circumstances short of burning the house down--which, come to think of it, Charity might have been willing to do.), making the most of his opportunities by ramping up the endearments.
  • One of the girls gets sick on the very night that Tyco promised to take Flat-chested Eunice out to dinner. A minor spat ensues and then, later that night as Charity lurks in the shadows, Tyco KISSES Eunice...or she pretends to.
Happily, Charity doesn't have to resort to burning down the house.  Though Eunice was to leave the following afternoon, she tells her to get the $^%$  out of her #@!$#  house and not to darken her *@#;*!@ -- ;#@@#^  door ever again.  (Think of a Samuel L. "Bleep-Bleep" Jackson-Snakes-on-a-Plane freak out.)
Tyco and Charity have another spat (pretty minor stuff) where they are more than willing to meet each other half-way (but not at the same time) and it is just too bad that when Tyco leans forward to deliver an affectionate kiss Charity steps away.  Don't do that.  I can't bear it
A mini ice age develops on their front doorstep.
Later the next day, Charity is trotting down the hospital corridor on her way from having tea with the SNO and probably feeling less the Grand Married Lady than she ever has, when Cor oozes out from under the nearest rock.  Though he attempts to break her composure, she sweeps past him in a gesture that reminds me of when the mad-cap Sister Maria returns from her honeymoon with The Captain and he has to sing Edelweiss in front of everybody and she moves to his side, picking up the threads of his lost melody and beckons with all the confidence of a happily married woman to her children to join them. 
Tyco sees them, however and missed the subtleties of her confident gesture and accuses her of "meetings".  She fights back the only way she knows how; by reaching up on her tippy-toes and kissing his chin.
He chases her down, bundles her into the car, gets her nice and alone and kisses her back.
The End

Rating:  Queen of Puddings.  I really like this book and maybe it doesn't deserve this high a rating but my Wistful-O-Meter (see right) over the end of reviews has been hovering around Anne Murray and threatening any moment to enter the hitherto uncharted Don McLean reaches so I'm giving myself some artistic license on this one.
I have a theory about books--that any one of them can find a comparable Jane Austin equivalent.  So, The Final Touch is not sparkling like Pride and Prejudice but quietly romantic like Persuasion.  Charity has such a raw deal and Tyco expects so little happiness in life that, even though they're not riding many emotional roller-coasters, you're rooting for them to make a happy family.  I'm never tempted to get irritated with Charity for that I-shall-never-love-again business because her hurt and humiliation are just so fresh.  Tyco is forgiven for it because his first at-bat was a fiasco of Homeric proportions.
Letizia and Teile are darlings.  I love the part where they make doll houses out of old boxes with Charity.
I enjoy all the hospital set-up in this one too.  You really get a sense of the enormous social chasm that ought to have separated them (underlined vividly when Charity returns after her marriage to have tea with the senior nursing officer) but doesn't because, at heart, they are cut from the same cloth.
Eunice is an interesting distraction and, happily, Tyco isn't terribly good at dangling her in Charity's face (for that matter, Charity is being rather obstinate about her motherly duties), even going so far as to compliment Charity for her ability to lie like a trooper just to toss her sister to the curb.   

Food: Groentensoup, zeetong (sole), spekpannenkoeken with stroop, kerstkrans (a ring-shaped Christmas cake), poulet a l'estragon, pumpkin souffle, biscuit glace with fresh raspberries, wedding cake, little mushroom pancakes, and vichyssoise (just saying it makes my IQ jump ten points).

Fashion: Charity owns a soft, grey jersey dress which sounds suspiciously mouse-like, a burned coat gets replaced with a dark green winter coat and she buys a cranberry needlecord that carries her through upsetting social occasions like getting proposed to.  She has to talk the girls out of satin and yards of lace and a pearl-embroidered veil and satin slippers and long white gloves and into the considerably less romantic wool coat, hat and patent leather shoes (If Kate Middleton shows up in these tomorrow I lay odds that the monarchy could cock its toes up.).  She totters around on high heels for the girls and owns a gorgeous sapphire dress.  Sister Eunice swans around in fashions that probably reached their sell-by date before the book hit the publishers.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I may not know art, but I know what I like.

Betty Cindy started this darling little RDD (Rich Dutch Doctor) before her recent bout of health issues...we're so glad she's back, and not only back, but she's brought along a friend.

Here's what she had to say:

I do hope you aren't underwhelmed. ;-)


Silly Betty! I adore him from the top of his lint fair head to the bottom of his handmade Italian shoes. My only question? What's his name?  Let's hear some ideas from our fellow Bettys.

Question of the Week

The first rule of hermits was don't talk about hermits.
I've been dreading/anticipating this week for about six months now--holed up in my bunker with a dwindling stack of un-reviewed Neels novels, diminishing water stores and less and less contact with the outside world.  I'm like one of those ornamental hermits that some 19th Century landed gentlemen would pay to live in a prefabricated grotto erected on the outer perimeters of their land.  Or maybe I'm a schmaltzy Tim Rice lyric:
From the day we arrive on the planet
And blinking, step into the sun
There's more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done
There's far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the sun rolling high
Through the sapphire sky
Keeps great and small on the endless round

It's the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life

Anyway, the four horsemen of the post-Betty Apocalypse have ridden up and they're thumping on the grotto and the bowing zebras are getting impatient and I could use a mani/pedi.  My question is: Oh the humanity!  What do we do now?!!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Upcoming Reprise

re·prise n.
  1. Music
       a. A repetition of a phrase or verse.
       b. A return to an original theme.
  2. A recurrence or resumption of an action.

Betty Magdalen had a great idea last week - and after some intense discussions between The Founding Bettys, we decided to give it a whirl.  Here's what we're going to try - each week we will pick one review and post it on Monday.  Whichever one of us who didn't do the review will add an introduction. Please chime in with your comments. We'll be going in the same order we initially reviewed them, so our first pick is...(drum roll please)...

Monday, May 2nd

Deborah Farley, 23 years old. a certified nanny!
Professor Gideon Beaufort, 35 years old, a professor of economics!

British Word of the Day

Yes.  It is a jumper but, as in most things, it's the filling that matters more than the shell...
 jump·er 2  (jmpr)
1. A sleeveless dress worn over a blouse or sweater.
2. A loose, protective garment worn over other clothes.
3. A child's garment consisting of straight-legged pants attached to a biblike bodice. Often used in the plural.
4. Chiefly British A pullover sweater.
[She] thanked heaven that she had had the sense to buy wool and needles for the jumpers she intended to knit for the children.--The Final Touch 
This is one of the few British words that I have trouble with as it conjures that first definition, for me (see right), so vividly.  Does anyone have any idea how this might have come to mean 'knitted sweater'?

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Fortunes of Fransesca--Discussion Thread

The Very Estimable Betty writes: 'at least the girl didn't wear a skirt up to her thighs and one of those vulgar tops printed with some stupid sentence.'  Methinks she was penning from cruel experience and I can't think of an outfit more opposite to a tasteful sweater set and knee-skimming silk skirt...
Not that I've seen it...but, c'mon, it's iconic.

On payday at Lady Trumper's, Francesca has to hand out the wages - cash in envelopes.  Betty Debbie says: "I'm wondering about the tax implications..." but I think Lady Trumper just liked the wads of cash. (Can't. Cudgel. That. Indecent. Proposal. Scene. From. My. Brain)

Marc (a heart surgeon) loans Finn his mobile phone while Auntie is in the hospital.  First of all, that's very generous of him..but secondly - what happens if a patient needs heart surgery asap?  Maybe he had a bleep?

While working as a stock girl at the supermarket, Francesca is occasionally allowed to buy things at a discount.  My sister, Betty Tia, had the best awful job perk ever.  She worked at the BYU bookstore and got something like 15% off every purchase.  Think about what that means to the cumulative cost of college!  I, on the other hand...I worked at the laundry.  So...I could bring in my dry cleaning (of which students have an enormous amount) whenever I wanted!  Sure, I picked up a husband there and I guess that might be considered a perk...

It's a booster!
At the big family dinner in Holland, the smaller children where perched on cushions. We used telephone books and/or encyclopedias--which, funnily enough, are both fading in the paper-goods firmament, more often used in digital form, and thus no good for bottom boosting.  Still, I'd never ever sacrifice (because that's what it would be) a decent pillow to face a spaghetti-smeared future.

Marc's London flat bathroom has guest toiletries. ' there was everything there that a woman could possibly need - make-up, brushes, combs, toilet water - a choice of bottles, too - a pile of towels, soaps, even several toothbrushes in their cellophane packs arranged beside a choice of toothpastes'.  I love The Great Betty and I love every single thing on that list...except make-up.  It's such a personal purchase and I would be hard pressed to use anything touched by another woman.  Maybe there was a handy cup full of those little disposable brushes...

Lady Trumper's husband was knighted for making nuts and bolts for tanks...That's a little glass-half-full, don't you think?  Let's try the glass-half-full approach.  Lady Trumper's husband was an integral cog in the wartime machinery that staved off a Nazi onslaught. 

This poster has nothing to do with tank parts but I just couldn't resist...

The Fortunes of Francesca - 1997

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.

Working for Lady Trumper is not particularly fun, but Francesca manages to spread a little sunshine, endure what must be endured and enjoy whatever little pleasures are offered - and she's a pro at recognizing the good things in life. Editor's Note: If you don't like characters like Pollyanna, you probably won't like Francesca - she seems to go through life playing The Glad Game (see first paragraph of the plot summary on wiki if you're not familiar with this game).

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?'
'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.
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.

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. 
 SirWilliam Meredith, the Winged Nazgul of Opportunity comes a-calling. He offers a home to Franny and Auntie. Francesca has grave misgivings, but what's a breadwinner to do, when she can't earn any bread?  Uncle William has spent his life planning revenge and simply can't pass up such a rare chance to get back at his sister and the daughter of his other sister.  If he had a mustache, it would be twirling like a cordless drill with a new battery. Things are looking dire for Auntie - no medical attention, no money, no home of her own - and a brother who would just like her to die ASAP. As for Franny, Evil Uncle plans for her to be an unpaid servant for the rest of his life - and not receive a penny piece afterwards. Where, oh where, is the Professor...?

You have no power here. I plan to marry Francesca.
He's back in London and Franny is on his mind, but where is she?  Not on Fish Street, that's for sure. She's gone without a forwarding address. The Professor is not without resources...and by resources I mean Finn. Finn has been uneasy about Franny - her letters don't sound like her. The two men cook up a rescue plan. Leaving at the crack of dawn, the men drive down to Dorset and beard the dragon in his den. Uncle William doesn't care if they take Mrs. Blake, but for some reason he feels that keeping a 23 year-old niece is his right. The Professor says, I have that right, we're to be married. Franny just about swallows her tongue - but Finn shushes her - leave it to the professor.  Auntie is dropped off at the hospital and Francesca is to stay at Marc's place.
  • 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.
The wedding is, of course, by special licence.  Finn and Auntie along with Mrs. Willett and Crisp make up the wedding party.  Then it's off to Holland for a bit. Marc admits to himself that he is getting fond of Francesca. He thought of her often and with pleasure. He drops her off for a day of shopping in Den Haag, but neglects to give her any money.  Francesca is resourceful enough to survive the day with ten pounds in her purse - enough for morning coffee, a sandwich for lunch and the entry fee for the Mauritshuis.  Not enough for a trolley ride all the way back to the hospital.  Marc is a little put out that she is late, until he finds out why - then he grovels quite nicely. Franny, being Franny doesn't hold a grudge about it.

Truer words were never spoken.
Marc has to go away for a few days - he leaves Franny at their home in Holland. She misses him, but more importantly, he has been looking forward to coming home and finding her waiting for him.

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.
  • Why?
  • Because I love you more than anything in the world.
  • I love you too - and I was sitting here wondering how to tell you.
  • Family van der Kettener, the later years.
  • I'll tell you how to do it, said Franny...(brilliant, absolutely brilliant)
Future pledges of affection are discussed.
'...Two of each, said Franny, then they can make up a tennis four.'
'...At least you don't hanker after a cricket eleven.'
The End.

Francesca reminds me of a doll I owned in the early
1960's .
Rating: If you were hoping for a love story, The Fortunes of Francesca might disappoint. It doesn't disappoint me.  I adore Francesca.  She's such a fun character - indomitable, chatty, cheerful - a glass half-full kind of girl.  She's not entirely sweetness and light - she does have a fierce side.  I love her when she's calling bad Uncle William a tyrant. I love her when she shares a few truths with Lady Trumper - and is willing to do so even in the face of being sacked. Brother Finn is a surprisingly consistent character - in many of Betty Neels other books, he would have barely rated a mention - but in The Fortunes of Francesca he hangs around for an unusually long time. It's rather adorable that he has a bit of a man-crush on Professor van der Kettener.  It's also adorable that while he thinks the Professor will make Franny a good husband, he also hopes that Franny won't be pig-headed about it. Marc is a fine hero - but let's face it - the story is not really about him...Francesca steals the show each and every time she makes an appearance. Marc will spend the rest of his life see-sawing between a wish for peace and quiet and wondering how he ever got so lucky as to be married to Francesca. Lashings of Whipped Cream!
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.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Betty Goes to Church

Christ and the Young Child
by Carl Heinrich Bloch
 The Founding Bettys wish all a happy Easter. In honor of the season we offer an Easter hymn, written by an Englishman.  The fact that Charles Wesley was a Methodist is rather sweet - we do have a couple of  Methodists in the canon (Fred from Marrying Mary is a staunch Methodist, and Abigail - from Saturday's Child is likely a Methodist since her father was a Methodist parson).

Here's a snippet from Wikipedia:

Charles Wesley (18 December 1707 – 29 March 1788) was an English leader of the Methodist movement, son of Anglican clergyman and poet Samuel Wesley, the younger brother of Anglican clergyman John Wesley and Anglican clergyman Samuel Wesley (the Younger), and father of musician Samuel Wesley, and grandfather of musician Samuel Sebastian Wesley. Despite their closeness, Charles and his brother John did not always agree on questions relating to their beliefs. In particular, Charles was strongly opposed to the idea of a breach with the Church of England into which they had been ordained. Charles Wesley is chiefly remembered for the many hymns he wrote.

Christ the Lord is ris'n today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heav'ns and earth reply, Alleluia!

Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the vict'ry won, Alleluia!
Jesus' agony is o'er, Alleluia!
Darkness veils the earth no more, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where,O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

-Charles Wesley, 1707-1788

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Betty and the Real World

Fate Takes a Hand:

Lally (ugh) uses Interflora to send flowers for Mr. van Linssen:
Back in 1920 a florist, Joe Dobson, of Leighton's Seedsmen and Florists in Glasgow, and a nurseryman, Carl Englemann in Essex were looking to increase their business. They knew of the Florists Telegraph Delivery Association (now known as FTD, Florist's Transworld Delivery) which had existed in the US since 1910, and applied to join as foreign members. In 1923 the UK arm of the FTDA was officially formed and had seventeen members across the UK.

Lally (double ugh) tells Peter that while she's in London she'll pick up a Beano from the bookstall.  Peter wasn't in need of a natural enzyme supplement to curb gasses in the digestive tract:

The Beano comic takes its name from the English word beano which can be loosely interpreted as a good time.  Its iconic characters such as Dennis the Menace, Roger the Dodger, Minnie the Minx, The Bash Street Kids, Calamity James, Ivy the Terrible and Billy Whizz have become known to generations of British children.

The Doctor's Girl:
Cousin Charles takes her out to a movie described as 'a triumph of modern cinema'.
The prosecution rests...
Here are the top grossing films of 2000:
1 Mission: Impossible II
2 Gladiator
3 Cast Away
4 What Women Want
5 Dinosaur
6 How the Grinch Stole Christmas
7 Meet the Parents
8 The Perfect Storm
9 X-Men
10 What Lies Beneath

I'd like a show of hands for Gladiator.  Because if Russell Crowe isn't a triumph of modern cinema...

Friday, April 22, 2011

Cinema Betty

Fate Takes a Hand has some mild home renovations which our heroine has to facilitate.  I love home renovation movies almost as much as I hate actual home renovation:
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)
If there is anything I love more than Cary Grant, it's probably Myrna Loy.
One review says, "The type of humor here is something that everyone can enjoy because, even if you haven’t built a house yourself, the emotional focus is on attempting something that seems to get more and more difficult as the days go by. We all have those goals in our lives – probably more than one – and we can all remember the feeling of seeing the end of a project on the horizon only to be told that a major complication will push everything back or not allow us to do things the way we want."  I spent forty minutes one day this week (on the nicest day in an age!) NOT driving my daughter to her softball practice.  We were like one of those Discovery Channel scare-the-suburbanites shows where a real-life couple take a shortcut through a snowy forest and, through a series of misadventures, wind up on the brink of death. I felt just like Mr. Blandings.

In The Doctor's Girl, Loveday and Charlie take a trip to Brighton which is a town that always struck me as giving off a kind of Atlantic City boardwalk-y vibe...which is just enough to recommend:
Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken (1991)
My blindness is no worse than your acting...

Yes.  The movie has flaws.  The title is about as awkward as a handlebar mustache during the soup course.  It tells the story of an obscure side-show act. No one acts very well in it. And yet...Gabrielle Anwar is engaging.  The story is a universal one of courage in the face of terrible odds.  And then there's Michael Schoeffling's turn as 'Al' the love interest--his acting is just rotten and not for nothing does his wiki page have an entire segment titled "Life After Sixteen Candles" (wherein he played desperately hot Jake Ryan) but he's one of those people who prove the saying, 'A thing of beauty is a joy forever' and expecting Jake Ryan to act is like asking the Venus de Milo to tap dance.  It's just not done.

*For Valentine's Day in 2004, twenty years after the film's American premiere, the Washington Post ran an article entitled "Real Men Can't Hold a Match to Jake Ryan of Sixteen Candles". On set Schoeffling used risers in his boots to appear taller than Ringwald and the other actresses in Sixteen Candles. Schoeffling stood 5'8" and several camera angles were used to give the appearance of a 6' tall jock. Schoeffling never duplicated the success of Sixteen Candles, and in various magazine and newspaper interviews stated the lack of roles and a growing family to feed were his reasons for retiring from acting. He now lives with his wife, Valerie L. Robinson of Virginia, also a former model, and their two teenage children Scarlet and Zane, in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania, producing handcrafted furniture as the owner of a woodworking shop. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Doctor's Girl--Discussion Thread

'How's your calcium intake?'
The description of Dr. Fforde's waiting room 'all restful greys and blues, and with one or two charming flower paintings on the walls. Betty Debbie claims to have never personally seen 'charming flower paintings' on waiting room walls - or anything else charming...The doctor I visit most often is the OB/GYN and they have fairly inoffensive artwork there--pictures of babies in the office itself and out in the lobby there are those 'so large you can't tell what it is' pictures of flowers--for whatever reason 'flowers' seems to say 'Congratulations on that bun in the oven', 'We're sorry about those infertility issues' and 'Lump?  Let's get that checked out.' all at the same time.
The Cone of Shame

Dr. Fforde has a dog with both back legs in plaster (they name the dog Bob) sounds potentially smelly and very unhygienic.  I was hoping that they'd rig him up one of those doggy wheelchairs (which are both adorable and look like harness racing for dogs) but since they didn't you have to wonder how they managed the call of Nature and you have to assume that he had to wear one of those face-cones to keep them from chewing.  To sum up: Dr. Fforde is a good, good man.

Betty Debbie says that her copy has a mistake.  "'Loveday was an ice child'.  Ice child?  think it was supposed to read 'Loveday was a nice child'....both are grammatically correct so evidently someone looked at it..."  Sometimes when I am really annoyed by things like this I get an eraser out and lightly brush the offending letters out and pencil them in correctly.  Wow.  That sounds retentive.