Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Not Your Average Bedsit.

via email:

Hi Bettys,
This is a floor plan of an apt in NYC, but I thought it appropriate for the BN book where our heroine is the Nanny in Vienna. 
I always wanted a floor plan in my mind because so much of the story happens in that apartment. 

Betty Francesca
 On behalf of everyone here at TUJD, I'd like to thank Betty Francesca for this awesome floor plan.  I've never really been able to visualize an apartment that seemed big enough to house the assorted servants that invariably go with RDDs (or even the occasional Veronica).  There are actually several RDDs who maintain a London apartment, and now I can more easily visualize something grand enough to qualify as a part-time abode for a fabulously wealthy Dutch Doctor.
-Betty Debbie

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, August 6th.
A Match for Sister Maggy
Take your pick from three (3!) different titles, Maggy has a bit of Scottish brogue, Evil Belgians.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Pineapple Girl--Reprise

I'd like to see a show of hands for all Bettys that found this title wonderfully unforgettable but also found this novel a bit of a let-down...I remember finding it in a pile of used books and seizing on my copy with a "The Great Betty had a 'Pineapple Girl' in her line-up?  Eureka!" and being so excited to read it.
And I'm not saying it was a bad read necessarily but, for this Betty, it didn't live up to its originality promised on the cover page.
But, as with all Betty-books, there is still plenty to love.
Love and lardy cakes!
Betty Keira

Eloise Bennet - tall, shapely, nutbrown hair. Plainish as to face...'her nose was just a nose' (why is that a bad thing?)......she works the night shift at St. Goth's.
While making her rounds one evening, a patient presents her with a pineapple - rather in the manner of a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Frankly, it's a good thing Eloise gets the pineapple. Why? Because that pineapple is the one thing that makes this Neels stand out - in an otherwise less than memorable book.
While racing down the stairs at St. Goth's, Eloise sees a strange man staring at her - as though she was surrounded by winking lights or something. Up goes her chin and Eloise becomes Pineapple Girl when she misses the final stair and takes a header - thus dropping the pineapple which rolls across the floor and is dented on the stranger's expensive shoe. I'm sure there were some quick pleas for the earth to open up and swallow her - but no such luck - girlfriend is hoisted to her feet and dusted off by the stranger and Sir Arthur Newman. Great first impression. Great.
Eloise aka Pineapple Girl, rides her ancient bicycle home, through the London streets - and drops into bed - to try and sleep through the day.
Mum brings her tea in bed and asks about the pineapple. Was it a special pineapple? Why? asks Eloise...because a large Fortnum and Mason basket of fruit has magically appeared, addressed to...the Pineapple Girl! Handsome stranger has sent a basket - but not his name, so there is no way to say thank you and she'd really sort of rather not...
Mevrouw Deborah Pringle comes to visit...she just had a rather vague 'procedure' and needs a nurse to come back to Holland with her for a couple of weeks. Mevrouw Pringle is a charming old friend of Mrs. Bennett's - not only does she get Eloise to agree to come to Holland, she also arranges for Mrs. Bennett to go stay with Mrs. Plunkett back in Eddlescombe.
Mevrouw Pringle confides in Eloise that she has inoperable cancer - and that she has six months to live. Editor's note: Anyone familiar with doctors in Neeldom will immediately suspect that 'six months to live' is a bald faced lie...which it is.
Mevrouw Pringle only has weeks to live - and no one is going to tell her - especially not her doctor - who turns out to be the handsome stranger who sent the healthy fruit basket. Doctor Timon van Zeilst.
And now we get to the interaction between Eloise and the RDD. I wish I could say I enjoyed it. But it leaves me a little meh. Timon is dating a small, willowy, vicious blonde named Liske. The kind who wears silver lamé suits with jangly gold bracelets. Yuk. The man has no taste. Of course he's now in love with Eloise - but besides the occasional kiss he is astoundingly reticent about his feelings. A little openness and this could have been a short story. But I digress.
Mevrouw Pringle is dying to have a dinner party (get it? I slay myself...). Too bad the only fancy dress Eloise has is a slightly elderly velvet dress the colour of a mole. Timon will bring Liske of course. Let him bring a dozen Liske's...she could care less. The Pringles son is coming - there will be someone for her. Yes, he's a head shorter than her and balding to boot. He is also the type of man who would poke around the kitchen to see if his wife cleaned the saucepans properly. In spite of his mother being terminally ill, Pieter only ever thinks of himself. Let's ignore him. He's really not a player. Meanwhile, back in Eddlescombe, Mrs. Bennett is being squired around the village by Mr. Jack Plunkett. Why bring that up? You'll see.
Mevrouw Pringle starts going downhill fast...really fast. In fact, she dies within only 2 or 3 weeks of returning to Holland. Eloise calls her mum - who says that she'll be coming to the funeral...Jack will drive her there and take both of them back. Mrs. Bennett and Jack are in fact, engaged and plan on marrying shortly. Love must be in the air - because it only takes a page or two for Eloise to realize she's in love with Timon. Rather hopelessly. She's plain...he's dating Vicious Liske and....he's stinking rich! Eloise's heart drops to her shoes when she sees his home for the first time - it's so grand. He is soooo obviously beyond her reach...besides, he's going to marry Viscous Liske, right? Liske is busy throwing "keep your hands off my property" looks at her - so Timon must be planning on marrying her, right? Who knows? He's certainly not saying.
Now that Mevrouw Pringle is gone, it's time to go back to London and the sad little flat behind the Imperial War Museum. It's time for Eloise to go back, Mum will be going to Eddlescombe to marry Jack. Eloise volunteers to finish up the packing in London then move into the Nurses Home at the hospital. She spends some time in fruitless daydreaming - yes, she's dreaming of Timon - probably a Liske-less Timon. Guess who is leaning on her doorbell while she's trying to get some much needed sleep? It's Timon! He would like her to come back to Holland with him and spend a couple of weeks cheering up Cor Pringle.
Her: Dang...oh, well...how about some breakfast? Sorry about the primitive conditions.
Him: I am a primitive man.
Really? We've had a glimpse of his grand house - the one with mulberry pink ceilings. That may not be quite our taste, but primitive it is not.
Eloise balks at going - how can she leave her job? She's got no more holiday leave. What about a secure future?
Him: If you were allowed to leave at a moments notice, would you come?
Her: Yes.
So, leave she does. Timon and Sir Arthur conspire together to bamboozle the Nursing Superintendent into letting Eloise go at a moments notice. In spite of the tearing hurry, Timon plans a side trip to Eddlescombe. Which gives Eloise time to stick her foot in her mouth.
Her: I thought you and Liske were getting married.
Him: You may think what you wish.
Aargh. More of that unbounded reticence. Even when Eloise tries to apologize, Timon is downright rude.
Him: Putting out feelers? That will get you nowhere with me.
Aargh. Double Aargh.
Eloise is a natural at cheering up the grieving Cor Pringle. She does get to see a little more of Timon, but that is a bittersweet treat. Especially when he hosts a dinner party and invites Vicious Liske. Dinner is delicious, but a willowy blonde like Vicious Liske doesn't eat. She does, however make thinly veiled insults while looking at Eloise - I should hate to get fat.
You can't answer rudeness like that - so Eloise doesn't, in fact she opts for seconds. You go, girlfriend!
After a visit to Timon's sister, Eloise just has to go fishing for information again - despite the fact that her earlier fishing expeditions have netted her exactly no fish.
Her: I thought you might have invited Vicious Liske since you're going to marry her.
Him: Am I? Would you like to see me married to Liske?
Her: As long as you're happy.
Him: With half a dozen kids? I'm not sure Vicious Liske would agree to that. I can see that I nearly made a humungous mistake...I'd need to fix that, Pineapple Girl...
Timon has a date with Vicious Liske...it's a break-up date! But Liske is not going down without some some down and dirty mud-wrestling. She comes to Casa Pringle. It's The Attack of Vicious Liske! Accusations and insults fly with wild abandon....Liske is at her most vicious. She is not fighting for love though, she's fighting for lifestyle. I can already tell that this won't end well.
One more time, one more try - Vicious Liske barges into Timon's house and starts slinging more mud, you are a harpy and designing trollop!...but this time Eloise is not going to take it, so she gives a little back - which is where Timon walks in...just in time to hear her say that Liske is like something that lives under a stone...and then Timon is wept on and lied to by Vicious Liske. AND HE BELIEVES HER!
Aargh. Triple Aargh.
Eloise grabs her coat and leaves...in the teeth of a raging gale - and I can't say I blame her. Of all the insufferable things to happen - having the man you love believe horrible things about you because of your worst enemy. I get it. I'd storm out in the teeth of a gale too. Timon does come after her - they shelter from the storm in an abandoned cottage. Seems like it would be a perfect opportunity for some romantic declarations or at very least, some explanations...but no...Timon would like to talk to Eloise tomorrow. In the meantime he's blathering on about the supposed mud she was slinging at poor Vicious Liske. Instead of waiting for him to show up for a talk the next day, she buys an airline ticket and flies back to England. Eloise has got the itch to get as far away from Timon as possible so she takes a temp job as matron in a boys prep school somewhere in the wilds of Cumbria. Let's wrap it up:
*Eloise goes out on a ledge to save a small boy from suicide.
*Timon drives up just in time to save both of them.
*Timon goes away.
*Eloise gets ready to leave the school and is stopped by Timon.
*Declarations of love, then the second shortest engagement in Neeldom (about 30 minutes - only topped by the engagement in Heidelberg Wedding).
The end.
Rating: Pineapple Girl is a bit like a can of fruit cocktail...only the peaches are dependable...sometime the pears are okay...but that's about it. Some of Pineapple Girl is good - but much is only so-so at best. Too much of the book is either canned grapes or maraschino cherries. Both of which should be banned by a unilateral trade agreement. Timon is one of the most frustrating RDD's...he has a few good moments, but all too often he's canned grapes - especially when he is so abominably reticent. He sinks to the level of maraschino cherries when he listens to Liske's lies and believes her over Eloise. The best I can give this is Madeira cake.
Food: Sizzling macaroni cheese, pineapple, rice pudding, porridge showered with sugar. And to top it off, here's a direct quote: "Would she ever forget the salmon mousse, the roast pheasant, the great silver dishes of vegetables, the sauces?" Doesn't get much better than that.
Fashion: angora cap, scarf and gloves to liven up her old coat, elderly velvet dress the colour of a mole, grey jersey, dark green coat and hat with a lighter green dress. Vicious Liske wears a silver lamé suit with gold bangles.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Passion's Fortune

via email:
Betty Debbie, 

Look what I found on Amazon.com:

It is selling for $99.00, the Kindle price is $94.00....$94.00 WTH??? I found a "very good" used copy for $22.00.
An Amazon review:
This is a well-written and extraordinarily well-researched book about the history of the popular British publishing house of Mills & Boon (Harlequin romances, etc.). Joe McAleer has written a book appealing to romance-lovers and non-romance-lovers alike (I'm the latter!). The wonderfully-named "Passion's Fortune" is entertaining, informative, and eye-opening, as it sheds glowing light on a niche (albeit large) business within publishing. You will not view "cheap, summertime romance novels" the same after reading this book!
I can't wait for this gem to arrive!
Betty Helene

Dear Betty Helene,
Thank you for the heads up!  I'm looking forward to hearing if you enjoy the book.   When I got on Amazon to check it out, I ran across this little gem:
 The Art of Romance: Harlequin Mills & Boon Cover Designs
Review on Amazon:
They're not exactly bodice-rippers or as dramatic as pulp fiction covers, but the romance novel art displayed in this book, dating back to the 1908 launch of Mills & Boon, the United Kingdom's leading romance fiction publisher, has a nostalgic charm and glamour all its own.
Starting as a general publisher (P.G. Wodehouse, Jack London), the firm began to focus on women's fiction in the 1920s, much of it with exotic themes and the illustrations depicted here reflect both social and graphic change, though in the end, it's the stereotypical characters that endure-the tall, dark, handsome rugged hero be he explorer, doctor, or pilot, and the young blue- or green-eyed heroine wrapped in his embrace. Quite a hoot. --Creators Syndicate
You can find copies (used) for as little as $2.37, and only $9.70 for new!  If anyone has this, I'd love to know if they like it.

Love and lardy cakes,
Betty Debbie

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Olympic Fashions

As I was starting up my computer this morning, I ran across an article on Yahoo about Olympic opening ceremony fashions.  Being a sucker for an online fashion show, I clicked over.  I would like to share a couple of pictures for the two or three other people on the planet who haven't already seen them ( Yahoo captions are in italics):
You can't pull off orange pants. I can't pull off orange pants. Only Dutch athletes can pull off orange pants.

Sigh.  There are some potential RDD's in the making.  On the other side of the fashion spectrum, I give you Great Britain:
Are they in Abba? A cult? A recreation of Puffy and Mase in the "Mo Money, Mo Problems" video? If the English do as well in the Olympics as they did in looking the most ridiculous at their Opening Ceremony, then it's going to be one happy fortnight in London.      
The Brit's costumes do remind me of Gloria's knickerbockers (A Dream Came True). Discuss.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Betty by the Numbers: Touring the United Kingdom

 There really is no place like home, and when home is that green and pleasant land, that precious stone set in the silver sea, that land of brown heath, shaggy wood and rugged strand that we today call the United Kingdom, well, why not explore a bit?  Betty does!

A full 100% of the 135 Novels Neels are set, at least partially, in the U.K. – more specifically, in England or Scotland or both.  However, as in real life, while the heroines and heroes acknowledge the beauty and richness of their immediate environs, they’re sadly disinclined to tour like the guidebooks do.  Only 43, or 32%, do any serious tourist-type attention-paying to the country around them in England, and another eight, or 6%, give us insight into the riches of Caledonia.  (Two of those eight explore both countries, so it’s a total of 49, or 36%, of the books that offer England/Scotland tours.)  Compare this to the 60% who offer useful perspective into sightseeing in the Netherlands.

Unlike our experience of touring the Netherlands with Betty as our guide, touring England and Scotland involves vigorous shunning of the larger cities.  Only 1% of our heroines browse about London with any real conviction (they often live there, but take every opportunity to flee to the country).  Sadie Gillard of A Girl to Love (1982) and the young Misses Trentham thrill to the grisly history and gleaming jewels of the Tower of London, and Beth Partridge and a whole gaggle of kids take a few ganders about the big city in A Star Looks Down (1975).  The bodacious Josephine Dowling van Tacx has several days to explore the delights of York, population 198,000 today, while the small and nicely plump Amabel Parsons gets a few weeks to become familiar with its seamier side – though when Oliver Fforde shows up, they cover the higher-end bits together (Never the Time and the Place, 1985, and Always and Forever, 2001, respectively).


London and York – seriously, Bettys, how can you pass on these?

As an aside, I am distraught to imagine all these Londoners never taking a good look around that historic and charming city.  Although Amsterdam is the most-named location (after ‘other’) to tour in the Netherlands, the English capital is relegated (mainly) to a vague background for slightly down-at-heels family homes (hers), richly-appointed Regency townhouses (his), valiant bedsits, Victorian-era hospitals, swank hotels with Grill Rooms and staunch East-End clinics, with the occasional dog-walk in Green Park or Richmond and vaguely-worded visit to Harrod’s or an unnamed art gallery.  Pshaw!  One might almost surmise that Mrs. Neels was tired of London – and we all know what that means.  My own favorite thing to do in The World’s Most Interesting CityTM is to wander.  I’ll carry a map or cab fare, because one wants to get back eventually, and set out on foot, and then next thing you know, I’m watching the Queen’s Guards parade across some side street on their way to Buck House for the Changing of Themselves.  Or checking a street sign to read that I’m on Downing Street – and quickly noting that that house over there has a large number “10” on its door.  Or gazing delightedly at the Savoy Hotel, meandering under Nottingham Gate into an outdoor art show, or cantering down Rotten Row... (okay, the last one took a smidge of planning).

However, I am not Betty Neels, and I adore a good dose of difference-of-opinion.  So off we go to Betty’s favorite beauty spot:  ....no, I’m not telling.  Guess.

It’s the West Country.  For purposes of this dissertation, I’m defining the West Country as comprising the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset.  Some scholars include Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, but then we start bumping into the Cotswolds, of which more later.

The hills are steeper than in the self-proclaimed “quintessentially English” Cotswolds, but the West Country nonetheless boasts greenness, pleasantness and the occasional thatched cottage.

So you may have noticed that a healthy portion of heroines, and some of our heroes, have or had homes in Devon or Dorset or Somerset, and one or two have aunts in Cornwall.  That is the topic of a future BbtN.  For now, let’s stick to the tourists:  14 heroines, 10% of all heroines and 27% of those who tour in the UK, make their ways to the West Country.  The first to do so is Tabitha Crawley, taking in the glories of Lyme Regis, Stoke Fleming, Churston Ferrers and Chittlehampton from the passenger side of Marius van Beek’s Bentley T convertible (Tabitha in Moonlight, 1972).  Beatrice Browning makes it farthest west, as she pokes her splendid nose into Polperro in Cornwall, a wonderful place for a Hilltop Tryst (1989) (though not Beatrice and Oliver’s designated trysting-top).  We know Emma Trent is The Right Kind of Girl (1995) in part because of her embrace of the simple glories of Dartmoor, Lustleigh and Torquay.  And we know the West Country is the right kind of place because in Betty’s swan song, Emma’s Wedding (2001), the two places Emma Dawson tours are Amsterdam (extensively) and Devon (a bit).  Incidentally, the photo that appends my comments in this blog is of me, leaning against a rent-a-Punto pulled over to take in a pastoral roadside scene in Devon.  Or maybe Dorset.

Polperro Harbor – plenty of hills for Beatrice’s trysting pleasure.

A close second on the list of visit-worthy locales in England & Scotland is ‘other,’ with 13 visits (10% of books; 26% of UK tourists).  And the category had some catching up to do, as after Mary Jane takes a peek ’round Cumbria in 1973 (Winter of Change/Surgeon in Charge), no ‘other’ visitors show up until Katrina Bennett enjoys visiting Edinburgh (pop. 482,000!) in When May Follows (1980).  Don’t be alarmed by that big Scottish city; the rest of the ‘others’ are towns and villages like Ightham in Kent, as described in Heaven Around the Corner (1981) and not much of anywhere else in the world (although The Rough Guide England (4th ed., 2000) recommends a visit to Ightham Mote, an “idyllically situated medieval dwelling,” while noting that “Ightham is tricky to get to by bus, with only the infrequent #404 from Sevenoaks (not Sat or Sun) making the trip.”).

 Ightham, I presume?

Then there’s a sprinkling of Sussex and Suffolk and Hampshire with a heavy dose of not-quite-Cotswolds Wiltshire – specifically, Wilton, Salisbury, Castle Cary, Amesbury and the Longleat Estate near Warminster.  Only one of our young ladies is intrepid enough to explore Brighton within the pages of her romance; perhaps that’s part of what makes Venetia Forbes ter Laan-Luitinga The Convenient Wife (1990).  Although, if I recall correctly, she and Duert were not yet married when they browsed about the pier.  Shocking!

Now, if you’ll wave goodbye to Worthing’s delightful sea breezes, and Brockenhurst by the New Forest, we’re off again.  This time, to the Cotswolds, with nine heroines and heroes squashed in to the socking-not-great-enough Bentley.  (Betty Keira is forced to sit on a lap!  Sadly, it is Betty Debbie’s lap.)  Those nine comprise 7% of all Neels partnerships, and 18% of those who tour the UK.  The Cotswolds, for those who have always wondered, are a series of hills (“wolds”) full of sheep sheds (“cots”), and the region is an irregularly-shaped Area of Natural Beauty incorporating pieces of six counties in more-or-less the central part of southern England.  It’s a lot like the West Country, actually, though with more tourist-friendly quaintness (subjective opinion!), gentler hills and a wealthier population base.

Victoria Parsons is the first of Betty’s heroines to look about the mellow hills of limestone (Victory for Victoria, 1972), and then we stay busy elsewheres for a decade or so.  Six stories feature Cotswolds tours from 1982 to 1985, including two of our three visits to Bath (pop. 84,000), in A Girl to Love (1982) and All Else Confusion (1982).  Jemima Mason visits another major attraction of the area in A Dream Came True (1982), becoming the only heroine to pay homage to her creator’s literary progenitor with a whip-round his home town of Stratford on Avon.  Over the next few years, we swing through Warwick and Bristol, and take a peek at Elmley Castle, and then depart the area until 1990’s visit, with Venetia and Duert, to Moreton-in-Marsh and Woodstock.  Olivia Harding rolls back through, with a busload of schoolgirls, in 1994 (A Christmas Wish) for another visit to Bath (Shakespeare 1, Austen & Heyer, 3), and then we depart the magical land of quintessential Englishness, mellow golden stone and thatch forever.

Stow on the Wold (Cots-wold, that is), Glocs.

 The Romanesque-Georgian architecture of Bath serves up golden stone in verdant Somerset.

Okay, scorecards back out:  fourth most-toured in the UK?  The Scottish Highlands.  Six of the eight books that offer us a view into the scenic wonders of Scotland serve up the Highlands – and all eight of them if you’re willing to consider the island of Mull and the Isle of Eriska (a very, very small island owned by one family and featuring a snazzy resort hotel) as Highlands, which is up to you.  Those six constitute 4% of all books, and 12% of those that guide us through the UK.  Three are from the 70s, one from the 80s, and two from the 90s, which seems a fair distribution given how long the trip is from The One True Betty’s West Country home to the remoter bits of Scotland.  While the names of English villages are often great (Saffron Walden, Churston Ferrers, Buckland in the Moor), let us reflect a moment on Sappha Devenish’s itinerary in the Tangled Autumn of 1971:  Ullapool, Inverewe, Balmacara, Auchtertyre and Lochcarron.  Shove a half-dozen marbles into your mouth and say those names aloud, rolling the “r”s, to get the true local flavor.


Scottish Highlands, with not a Nissen hut in sight – note low-hanging clouds, please, and take appropriate precautions.

Stourhead, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Bath, is just outside the Cotswolds, so gets its own place on the rankings list:  five of Betty’s stories take us to that meticulously-landscaped Palladian mansion in Wiltshire, starting with 1985’s Never the Time and the Place (though Stourhead seems the perfect place for a declaration of love).  Then there’s one visit each in ’87 and ’88, and we skip ahead eleven years for one in ’99, then finish up with Julia and Gerard’s 2001 visit in An Independent Woman.  If we include the five edge-of-Cotswolds locations I’ve thrust into “other” with the Stourhead visits, “Wiltshire just outside the Cotswolds” has more Betty tourists than the Cotswolds proper.

I have got to get to Stourhead – bee-yoo-tee-ful!

There are three (2% of books; 6% of UK tourists) visits to Yorkshire, and the same for Bath, both touched on above.  Finally, we have two visitors (1% of books; 4% of UK tourists) each for Scottish islands, Guernsey, Essex (“the true Essex”), London as mentioned, Cumbria, Northumberland (Hadrian’s Wall!), the Lake District, Oxford (just outside the Cotswolds) and Cheddar Gorge (also just outside the Cotswolds).  Zero for the Midlands, the Peak District, Liverpool, the eastern Fen country, ‘Madchester,’ Durham’s coal-mining country, the storied St. Andrews or the gritty Glasgow.  But then, Betty didn’t go in for grit much, did she?

So, what’s your favorite part of the UK that Betty skipped?  They say Birmingham is awfully hip...

“Brum,” as some folks call the UK’s second-largest city:  old and new; classic and (horrors!) modern

The usual caveats:  1) Eliza Proudfoot spent half a book in Scotland without exploring any notable landmarks, so she doesn’t count; similar examples abound.  2) Sometimes I don’t count so good myself.  3) Sometimes I don’t count five words (“They drove through Middle Carnage”) as ‘proper’ touring, and sometimes I do.  This whimsy is part of what keeps me young at heart.  4) You can argue as much as you like about what’s in and what’s out of the Cots, the West C., the Highlands, etc.  You’re not wrong.  Neither am I.  Seriously, that’s an invitation to state your case.

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, July 30th
Pineapple Girl
Pratfall with a pineapple, mole colored dress, saving a small boy from jumping off a ledge.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Midsummer Star - Reprise

Midsummer Star was one of the last Neels that I read, so it hasn't made it through my rotation very often.  Partly due to The Nicky.  I have a hard time reading about Celine and the married man. I do love the B & B segments (except for The Nicky), I even like the idea of Celine working and living in Bethnal Green - a bit rougher neighborhood than the typical Araminta or Olivia is subjected to. I just keep stubbing my toes on The Nicky.  You might want to put on some work boots for this one. For those of you who like a bit more angsti-ness than I, this one might be right up your alley.
-Betty Debbie

My copy of Midsummer Star is falling apart--the pages fluttering out like pieces of our heroine's ragged heart.

Celine Baylis, 22, is a gorgeous dark-haired beauty with years of theoretical education and 'finishing' behind her. She speaks French like a native, whips together food like a Cordon Bleu, looks awfully decorative and lives like Sleeping Beauty in a charming tumble-down Elizabethan Manor. But, as evidenced by her awful name (Celine just screams Neels villainess to me), her parents are not to be trusted.The Colonel (a dreamy type with a sporadic parade-ground manner) and his wife ('My, what a lot of flowers there are to arrange!') have dug themselves into a debt crisis. Their assets are these:
  • The manor. Yes, this 10 bedroom house has damp patches and needs repairs but if you squint just right and fail to acquaint yourself with the furnace (ha! It doesn't have a furnace, silly.) it is charming.
  • A couple of old retainers--cooking and butler/gardening. They're paying them no matter what.
  • A well-stocked wine cellar that The Colonel mothers like a broody hen.
  • An extensive kitchen garden--producing fresh delectables at little cost. The garden also has a good deal of flowers.
  • One newly minted entrepreneurial daughter--passionately determined to make a go of running a Bed and Breakfast. ('If Mrs. Ham can, so can I.')
Act I: The Bed and Breakfast or Mother Can Do the Flowers or Celine the Magnificent
This is my favorite part. Once Celine (a name which is probably not too bad in real life but fits like a bad suit on a Neels heroine) understands the magnitude of her parents' financial straits, she throws off the young Swiss-finished lady and rolls up her sleeves. Celine pitches in...cleaning crud up in the kitchen

With an unflinching desire to live life as it is and not the way she wants it to be that had me cheering she tells the family solicitor, 'I've been doing nothing for a long time...I think I'll try something else for a change.'
In no time they've opened up the rooms, worked out menus and rates (Six pounds for a night, dinner will be three pounds fifty and extra for drinks) and had a few visitors.
And then one day, when she's strolling gently past the front drive she gets malaria. Okay. Not malaria. But some disease that transforms her personality and gives her a brain fever. Let's call it...I'm just spit-balling here...(snaps fingers)...The Nicky.
Celine instantly succu
mbs to The Nicky. He is with his parents on holiday and plans to stay a few days! Celine's joy has little to do with swelling the family bank account and more to do with being rushed off her feet by this magnificent malarial specimen.
Editorial Note:

I think of falling in love with Nicky as the Old Celine's last hurrah. She's not in love with the Malady, per se, but in love with this languid, cosseted life she used to live. And though she works like a Trojan, I think she's got some lingering longing for her former self. New Celine is rushed off her feet, running after guests and getting dinner. Nicky takes trays out of her hands and strolls with Old Celine in the garden. (Of course, New Celine takes a basket along with her to collect some peas while she's at it.)
And then his father has a stroke. (Maybe from hanging out with The Nicky?)
The Nicky is less than useless, leaving his father to be cared for by strangers, while he lolls about the scenery and makes passes at Celine. Papa Seymour (The Nicky's father), meanwhile, calls threadily for 'Oliver'.
Oliver Seymour, Nicky's cousin, is an up-right, up-tight, do-right bore according to The Nicky--he's a virtuous prig but they'll have to send for him.
Celine is up a ladder in filthy clothes painting a drainpipe that she's hauled into place (no lolling here!) when she meets the Odious Oliver. Deep in love (read: 'Deep in do-do') with the Malarial Nicky, she feels like she needs to adopt his attitudes and loyalties--hauling her opinions into line with his in much the same way as that wayward drainpipe. So she sees what Nicky sees: A smug and virtuous man bent on showing The Nicky up as the cheap imitation he is.
Oliver loves her at once.

Act II: Young Love's Dream Dashed
Oliver steps into the situation with an un-Nicky-like aplomb. Nicky is only able snatch moments with Celine--whispering about weekends and...marriage...of course he means marriage if weekends away are involved--before Oliver breaks things up. And then, when Nicky and his parents leave and all the bills are settled (by Oliver), Celine receives a crushing blow.
Oliver: I noticed you and Nicky were making googly-eyes at one another.
Celine: We mean to be married. What would an old bachelor like you know about a divine love like ours?
Oliver: Only that it would be illegal in all fifty Colonies.
Malarial Nicky is married.
It can't be true, thinks Celine as she spirals into a fevered delusion. But when The Nicky returns, she (after much equivocation) tells him what Oliver said. Well?
Oh. That. Divorce is easy these days...let's have a weekend...you're naive...let me grab your arm menacingly...
Oliver makes a sudden rescue and Celine takes off to cry her eyes out.
When Oliver does track her down he offers a shoulder to cry on and a job. She (stupidly!) wants to know if Nicky would really want to divorce his wife and find her again. (I almost can't forgive this much idiocy.) And then she calls Oliver avuncular because he must not be interested in women. He took this unflinchingly on the chin.

Act III: The Fetid Swamp of Bethnal Green or Celine Gets a Job and a Flatlet
Oliver arranges everything (even the installation of Mother Baylis' much younger sister as Celine's temporary replacement) and before you know it, Celine is living above a paediatric clinic in the rough part of London--Bethnal Green in the East End.
The point is that absence and activity will make her forget The Nicky but I keep getting annoyed at the subtle implication that she's not up to the job. She bravely started a semi-thriving Bed and Breakfast with limited resources and a willingness to work, people! Don't tell me that she's incapable of swabbing baby vomit or de-funking toddlers.
My one criticism of Oliver is that, just as The Nicky said, he is always right. This would be rather tiresome to live with and you find yourself wishing that Celine would be mugged and strangled on her way to church just to prove to him that establishing her in the middle of a slum might be a bad idea.
She does not get strangled.
Instead, on her day off, she meets The Nicky. And she has tea with him. And she listens as he pours his honeyed disease into her ears. But back in her flatlet she isn't quite so happy. Maybe dating a married man would be a bad idea!
Oliver, seeing the need to bolster Celine's resolve, makes some effort to fill up her free time and she spends a wonderful day with him in the country and then at his home. They go to Cats that evening and stumble across Daphne--Nicky's wife...and mother of his child! 'You knew--that they were going to be there. You did it deliberately...'
'Yes, I did it deliberately.'

Editorial Note:
Recently legendary screen actress Patricia Neal died and I've been going through a lot of her obits. She suffered a series of horrible strokes during one of her pregnancies and her rehabilitation was attributed to her husband, author Roald Dahl, being a horrible SOB (not a stretch for him, I hear) and making her button her own shirts if it took her an hour. This is exactly Oliver's approach. Nicky is a disease to be purged from her system and Celine won't get better by being coddled. But don't think that Oliver enjoys it.
Nicky isn't going to stop pestering her (though her fever has finally broken and she's so over him) so Oliver, tossing over his shoulder on the way to stabilize a diabetic child, says, 'A propos Nicky--we could get engaged.'
She agrees to talk about it (intending to ask if he's suffering under malarial delusions) and, coming upon him waiting for her to change--sitting on the bottom stair, reading a newspaper--she is blindingly certain that she's in love with Oliver.
So, now it's a foregone conclusion that she'll agree to an engagement of convenience. Delightfully we learn that her middle name is Petronella (please don't print that in the newspaper, she thinks) and his Christian names are Oliver Edmund Frederick. They dance in the line of duty and kiss in the line of duty and if his embraces are more warm than is strictly warranted than it must be attributed to his skills as an actor.
On one weekend they visit his aunt and uncle (Nicky's parents) and run into Daphne (quite bitter over her husband's continual philandering and in a mood to pour her heart out to Celine) and Nicky (who hisses at Celine, 'Am I supposed to believe that this is a fairytale romance?...You'll be telling me next that you love him.' Celine's quiet and heartfelt, 'I do' wipes the smug expression off his face).
So that's Nicky taken care of. But we still have thirty pages left and we have to fill them with something...Ah, a red herring! Just the thing. One of Oliver's friends tells Celine that she was sure Oliver was waiting to marry her daughter Hilary. This is just like your GPS telling you to take the I-405 North exit to get to the airport when you know that to take the I-405 South exit will get you there sooner. Detours ahead!

Act IV: Hie to Holland or The Little Italian Dress Takes a Trip
And then they go to Holland because he has a business trip and wants to have her meet more friends. She gets a chance to air her French and likes her hosts enormously. He catches her in the garden one afternoon, kisses her thoroughly and gently reminds her that they are engaged. But of course, that only makes her stiffen (instead of relent and reveal which was what he was hoping for) and, as he is a seismograph where she is concerned, he lets her go and the moment is lost.

Act V: A Spot of Snogging
Back in England, she plucks up her courage and corners the good doctor. She has heard that Hilary is a charming girl and, finding the selfless love of New Celine more satisfying (albeit, more painful) than the blind rapture of Old Celine, gives him back his ring and breaks the engagement.
Just by chance she meets Hilary in the street and sees that she's not a day over 14. Uh-oh. Or, if I may employ the more nuclear, Scooby-Doo-ism: Ruh-Roh.
Forces (by 'forces' I mean 'A very determined and angry Oliver') keep her from getting a minute alone with Oliver to explain and she finds herself being told by his butler that he's gone away for a few days. Tears!
And thank heaven for tears because Pym (the butler) calls Oliver to let him know he was making innocent young ladies burst into lamentations on his doorstep. That's why, when Celine is swinging gently in her Elizabethan garden under her Elizabethan tree, Oliver walks around the corner of the Elizabethan house. He's there to see what the fuss is about.
There's no fuss. Just kissing and disclosures and more kissing
The End

Rating: This was a darling little book. It's not one of my favorites (as it becomes mired in the swamp of Bethnal Green rather securely) but it mostly works and the two main characters have much to recommend them. Oliver is always right and serious and dependable. Celine (ugh, I hate her name) is fresh and plucky and hard working...and as dumb as a post. The only part I don't like much is when she's trying to justify seeing Nicky again even after finding out about his wife. I hated it, but then, I think I hated it because it was uncomfortable to read...not because it wasn't an understandable feeling for Celine to have. When she was behaving stupidly I would think to myself, 'She single-handedly rescued her family from ruin' and say it over and over in my head. She never does get the recognition she deserves for such an awesome thing. I give this a happy boeuf en croute.

Food: Cornflakes, kipper fillets, lamb chops, syllabub (twice!), egg and mushroom flan (ick.), fresh peas are pushed to the side of the plate (that's what I do with my peas too), Yorkshire pudding, roast beef, trifle, wild duck stuffed with apples, ice cream, strawberries coming out of your ears, Boeuf Stroganoff and lobster.

Fashion: Celine meets Oliver wearing paint-stained jeans and a cotton sweater. She could practically drive to Rome on the mileage she gets out of a 'little Italian dress'. She also wears a dim apricot silk and a faded cotton Liberty dress.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

This Week's Pin-up Doctor...

I received an email today with a great link.  I'm not sure which one of you lovely Bettys sent it, but please step up and take a bow!

via email:

He received his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Trinity College Dublin in 1996 and his Ph.D. in neuropharmacology at King’s College London in 2000

He moved to So. Calif. 

He proved in his research that junk food is addictive like rec drugs. 

Kudos for him. 

And, he is good looking. 

Dr. Paul John Kenny
I'll bet he has a lovely accent too.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Life After Betty

Life After Betty:  The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

Alan Bennett always makes me think of A Girl to Love, one of Betty Neels’s six stories to feature a non-doctor in the role of hero/future husband.  In that one, Oliver Trentham is a wealthy, well-known writer for television.  That’s what Alan Bennett is!  And he’s about the only writer for TV I could name, and he was rather handsome as a youngster.

Bennett in 1973 – not bad for a bisexual intellectual comedian who writes TV plays with Wittgenstein references, right?

In addition to TV scripts, Bennett has also written a host of plays, movie screenplays, essays, short stories and novellas.  Apparently he acts, too, with a thick Northern (Leeds) accent.  The Uncommon Reader is one of the more recent of the novellas, published in 2007.  At about 25,000 words, it’s a quick read, and with Bennett holding the pen it’s a delightful and inspiring one that repays re-reading.

The central conceit of the story is that Queen Elizabeth II, stumbling upon a mobile public library, picks up a novel to be polite and gets captivated by the world of literature.  Bennett conjectures that the queen had previously not been a reader in part because of the requirement attaching to her role that she avoid obvious preferences.  “And besides, reading wasn’t doing.  She was a doer.”  On her first attempt, she inadvertently chooses a “duff read,” but perseveres:  “That was the way one was brought up.  Books, bread and butter, mashed potato – one finishes what’s on one’s plate.”  To escape a dull meeting, she takes out a second novel, and Nancy Mitchell’s The Pursuit of Love captures the queen.

She becomes a voracious reader with a catholic taste that encompasses Jean Genet, Lauren Bacall and Alice Munro.  Staff and family are forced to make adjustments in schedules and standard procedures to accommodate her majesty’s reading.  Various functionaries try to curtail it, but their efforts are powerless in the face of literature’s pull.

This imaginary queen makes important discoveries in her reading, both as she thinks over what she’s read and as she moves on to writing down her thoughts.  “Briefing is terse, factual and to the point.  Reading is untidy, discursive and perpetually inviting.  Briefing closes down a subject, reading opens it up.”  “A book is a device to ignite the imagination.”  “You don’t put your life into your books.  You find it there.”  As she writes, she is liberated to discover, for the first time, her own voice.

This is a wonderful, chatty little story with some great suggestions for future reading, and some thought-provoking reflections on the causes and effects of literature.  The queen, as Bennett imagines her, is a delight – smart, thoughtful, forthright.  His suppositions seem so reasonable that I have a hard time remembering this is a novel, not a biography, and I still finish up with a strong affection for the real queen, as it seems so possible she could be just like the one in the book.  And then I read it again.

Brighton:  not even vaguely
Clothes:  the queen becomes very slightly less attentive to her wardrobe as she reads more; “’I’d outlaw that cardigan,’ said her maid.”
Food:  boeuf en croute!, poires belle Helene, a wicked trifle, etc.