Monday, October 22, 2012

Judith - Reprise

I have to say, I'm not a huge fan of Judith.  Judith as in the book.  I do like bits and pieces (riding in the butcher's van come to mind), but overall I just don't quite buy into Charles and Judith as a fun couple. They have their moments, but overall I just don't see them as a delightful couple down the road a bit.
In the movie The Muppets Take Manhatten, Rizzo (the rat), has a line with Brooke Shields.  Let's substitute Judith for Brooke and Charles for Rizzo, 
 Charles: Do you believe in interspecies dating?
Judith: Well, I've dated some rats before if that's what you mean. 
That sort of sums up this book for me...Judith and Charles are so dissimilar as to have come from different branches on the phylogenetic tree. Charles isn't a rat - he's more of a crustacean. The kind you have to use pliers on and wear a bib if you want to get to the good stuff.

I don't have anything against historians and romance, but if we look at La Neels take on historians, we could deduce that they generally make poor parents. Celtic burial mounds would be a higher priority than, say, baby's first birthday, baby's second birthday, baby's piano recital, baby's high school graduation...

Do you see something in their future that I don't? Do tell.

Cover art--let's do this thing. Three widely-spaced buttons are hanging nonchalantly undone (don't you just hate how silk does that?!) and still no hint of cleavage. Nicely played, Harlequin, nicely played...

I'm of a mind to do this review a little differently, so let's to it:

Judith Golightly is in a rut as the senior night sister in charge of the Surgical Wing (which I think is the highest position of any Neels heroine). She is as stacked as the Roman Coliseum and is constantly being pestered by Nigel (who acts like his name sounds) to marry him. But she hasn't made it to the ripe age of 27 without learning to spot a poor marriage risk from twenty paces. If only something (measles, private patients and a hot, hot historian, perhaps?) would happen to push her onto new byways...Judith is resourceful and honest with herself ('She made no bones about being in love with Charles; she was, and that was an end to it.') and, as far as Charles is concerned, I won't pretend I'm not pleased that she's the medical expert in the room.

Charles Cresswell, eminent historian of 12th-century England, is one of the most unusual heroes in Neels-dom. He is absent-minded and, if given the chance, will forget birthdays and anniversaries and the name of their first-born with regularity. He's a bit of an engineer, personality-wise (no harm meant to engineers!)--he loves to be pedantic and technical and is missing that crucial social awareness gene that tells him he's being horribly rude. It isn't this that creates the tension, however, it is more that he's become a hermit due to a Youthful Disappointment (which must be written in caps and kept bright in the pages of his memory along with sachets of pressed violets and a lock of hair). Judith bowls him over with her brick house and, though she terrifies him and he's unwilling to like her, he's always been a keen student of architecture...

Uncle Tom lives near Charles in Cumbria and asks Judith to come housekeep for him since all she's doing on her month-long vacation is recover from the measles, conjunctivitis and broncho-pneumonia anyway. (Koplick's spots gone? Tote that barge! Lift that bale!) He's a bit of a matchmaker and becomes certain that Judith is the right girl for Charles when he notices that Charles, not acting in his usual manner with women (offhand, circumspect, polite and uninterested), is rubbing Judith up the wrong way every time they meet!

Eileen Hunt is on the make for the historian. Her phone call (late in the book) makes Judith cancel her engagement to Charles but Judith ought to have known better. What sort of trouble could a woman be who signed her picture (luridly gracing Charles' desk) 'Always Yours'--showing a staggeringly massive lack of imagination? She probably dots her 'I's with little hearts. Eileen can be flicked away like the dust mote she is.

Lady Cresswell is dying--slowly but surely. Her leukemia diagnosis at the mid-point of the book gives Judith the little nudge she needs to leave her prestigious hospital job (and Nigel) to nurse the old woman exclusively. They spend some lovely time in Cumbria at Charles' house (where he does her best to avoid her) and then hie to the Algarve for some retail therapy. Seriously, Lady Cresswell's final years (she does have a few left) will be spent playing backgammon, carefully applying makeup, shopping for nonsense and praying that someone (Judith) will yank her son out of the 12th century and give her grandbabies!

Nigel Bloom is horrible. Shall I quote the skunk? 'If you married me, of course, you could work a day shift or even do part-time. [Housewife?] That would be silly. You're a good nurse and as strong as a horse, and the extra money would be useful. Once I could get a consultant's post you'd have to stop, of course, it would never do to have you working.' He sort of even had me until the bit about being a consultant's wife. Sure, Charles will forget Judith exists from time to time but when he remembers...boy howdy. Nigel wouldn't even give her that.

Rating: I liked it better than I remembered--the principles had a little Beatrice/Benedick thing going on. My only issue is that there was not quite enough delightful sparkle in their verbal sparring to make it entirely in good fun nor did it have quite the poignancy of, say, The Hasty Marriage or The Secret Pool necessary to explain all that antipathy.
Still, Charles does make a fun fortress to lay siege to and Judith is an engaging crusader. All the supporting cast are adorable and unabashedly matchmaking. Lady Cresswell will need some careful nursing (not in their home but near it) and I actually like that Judith will have something to do after she's married and Charles goes back to shushing her.
The last few pages are magnificent.
I'll give this a Treacle Tart that leans towards Mince Pies.

Food: Judith makes a good beef sandwich. She has coffee and a squashy cream cake to spite Charles. She travels in a butcher's van with Cumberland sausage and pig trotters. Also, we find salmon, Saddle of Lamb, trifle, iced melon, grilled sole, scrambled eggs, thin toast, creamed potato, tomato salad, caramel custard, swordfish, almond and honey tart, and Mountain Rose pudding.

Fashion: Denim skirt and blouse, blue silk shirtwaister, Laura Ashley blouse, thick silk skirt, wispy sandals, a denim slacks and T-shirt (that does not dim her beauty but this is 1982 and those are Mom-jeans, dollars to donuts), cotton knitted dress, low-heeled worthy walking shoes, a brilliant blue bikini (that he takes no notice of), and a handkerchief lawn dress in blue. Charles wears a dressing gown of 'subdued magnificence'.


  1. "this is 1982 and those are Mom-jeans", Betty Keira? I believe, in 1982, Brooke Shields was not yet a mom, but was very much a jeans-wearer.

    1. Picture Sarah Jessica Parker on Square Pegs in her high-waisted jeans. Or Courtney Cox on Family Ties also in high-waisted jeans. 1982 was not a good year in jeans.

      It was a good year in sitcoms. The Waitresses, my all-time favorite group, performed on Square Pegs. A great excuse to postpone my marketing project and theology paper.....terrible grades that year.

    2. Had to look up Mom jeans on Wikipedia. And watched the fake Saturday Night Live commercial. Now I know what Mom-jeans look like.
      Silly me, when I read denim slacks I always envisioned denim slacks, not jeans. The kind that, back in the 80s, one would see at dress shops in the, er, more-mature-ladies section, the ladylike-fashion section. But, had I read the words denim slacks in 1982, I guess I would have thought she meant jeans because back then I mostly used a similar expression in my language (Jeanshose - JEANSS-ho-zuh).
      Just out of curiosity, Betty Keira, what made you think of Mom-jeans? The Great Betty’s phrasing?

  2. Hmph! Betty Debbie, no offence, but when I read the intro to this book review I get the feeling that you have not re-read the book and have gone from poor memory and Betty Keira’s review – Betty Keira, who has a wrong take on the Professor in the first place...
    Points of Disagreement:
    if we look at La Neels take on historians, we could deduce that they generally make poor parents – I don’t know where you get that idea. Charles Cresswell is a good son and, undoubtedly, will make a good husband and father.
    He is absent-minded and, if given the chance, will forget birthdays and anniversaries and the name of their first-born with regularity. – I never thought that the Professor was absent-minded. On the contrary, I always had the feeling that he was very alert. Of course, he once shushed Judith when she was making conversation and he wanted to do some thinking, but that does not make him absent-minded.

    he loves to be pedantic and technical and is missing that crucial social awareness gene that tells him he's being horribly rude. – I am quite sure he knows when he is being rude, he just does not care. He does not want Judith around because she disturbs him.
    Lady Cresswell's opinion of her son - may not make him look like every girl's dream. But I think he and Judith are a good match. She was not overly polite to him, either, if you recall.

  3. I maintain my feelings on the eminent historian. He just doesn't do it for me much. If I can repeat my run-down:

    My only issue is that there was not quite enough delightful sparkle in their verbal sparring to make it entirely in good fun nor did it have quite the poignancy of, say, The Hasty Marriage or The Secret Pool necessary to explain all that antipathy.

    But if it helps, I'm always taking knocks for my championship of The Hasty Marriage (keep the gagging noises down, Bettys!) and The Little Dragon (no, I will not concede that dragon is an impossibly vile endearment!). We can't expect to agree on everything in the Canon. :0)

  4. You know, I read this book on Saturday, and two days later I can't even remember enough to have much of an opinion. Maybe that's telling in itself ...

  5. Dear Betty Keira, I did not mean to sound belligerent or anything like that, I just wanted show my point of view. I daresay this is a "Tishy" kind of book (Small Slice of Summer). Enchanting Samantha also comes to mind. Some of the characters are appreciated more by some and less by others. It would be pretty boring if we all agreed on everything in the Canon. Besides, if Judith herself thought Charles would forget birthdays, anniverseries and the like, why should you think differently. And just because this Betty is delighted by their sparring does not mean every other reader has to be, too. (I am a great defender of The Hasty Marriage myself and I think being called a little dragon is cute. Poor little you, it does help.)
    This book "does it" for me, I keep coming back for more. (Squashy cream cake - calls for a second helping.) And I expect we can all agree that fate is remarkable.

  6. This is the one where she tries to tempt him by putting her splendid shape on display. This is the one with the diving board.

  7. The book that Judith reads:
    "And get whatever you want for yourself, dear," she told Judith, who, feeling very much in the mood for that sort of thing, chose Jilly Cooper's The British in Love.
    Has anybetty read it? All I could find out about it is this
    This is a love anthology of poetry and prose on the subject of romantic love, taken from writers from the British Isles.
    Charming and unaffected; the author knows what she is talking about. The book consists of quotations from English authors from Chaucer to Nancy Mitford with appended comments from Ms Cooper. It is divided into sections from Childhood to Death and is prettily produced with Gainsborough's "The Morning Walk" as a frontispiece, sensitive line drawings by Don Grant, and a suitably decollete cartouche of the author on the front cover of the jacket.

  8. Okay, I've just finished my re-read of Judith, and I'm guessing this is, at most, my third read-through. While Judith herself is a wonderful heroine (for her genre), her REH isn't even two-dimensional; he's one dimension and so colorless as to be no more exciting than the palest gray. (I over-stretched that metaphor, and must beg your indulgence and some willingness to stretch with me.) He rescued animals as a boy, and he's really smart. Yay. His proposal is prosaic and loveless, he makes no attempt to resolve their misunderstanding, and no one anywhere suggests that he'll make a good husband or father -- in fact, rather the reverse.

    At some point Judith reflects that thinking about the 13th century doesn't allow much time for romance; by my understanding, aristocrats of the 13th century (and don't let's pretend he might have studied the peasantry) would have been well-steeped in the chivalric tradition, and at the beginning of that century King John was widely believed to have lost large swathes of his kingdom due to his besottment (besottedness? is there such a thing as the word I want here?) with his queen. Betty ought to have known better.

    Betty JoDee, here's a line or two for you and your thesis advisor: "For a professor of Ancient History whom one would suppose to be indifferent to kissing girls, thought Judith, he was doing rather well..." But maybe your big crush isn't Ancient, but more modern, History.

    1. Betty Barbara here--
      Betty van den Betsy--Brava!!
      You have pretty much summed up why I never bother re-reading this one. He is such a stick!
      I am sure some where in your vast Betty character database you have the exact numbers for dreamy, distracted academically inclined dads, their managing wives and the poor daughters who have to cope when managing mum dies.(Or have to cope with Mum being wrapped up in Academic Dad with no time for late in life daughter.)

      Adjacent thought--It seems all of Betty's heroes have a stable, fairly happy family background. It's the poor heroines who have such bad examples of parent-kind.
      Perhaps fodder for a Betty By The Numbers posting??

    2. Arrghh! Another of my comments wiped out!
      Dear Bettys van den Betsy and Barbara, I cannot but, most respectfully, disagree. Seeing that you have no particular liking for the story, and haven’t read it as many times as I have, I can understand that you have overlooked all those little details that explain the Professors character. In fact, he displays certain character traits that no Neelsian hero is without. He is a very caring man. Family. Comes. First. He’ll move heaven and earth for his dear ones. He’ll hire people, charter planes... He’ll do everything for his family, because he cares. He is academically inclined, yes, but he is not a dreamy, distracted academically inclined man, like some of the fathers in the Canon. He may be buried in his studies at times, but he is not absent-minded, lost to the present. Like all Neels heroes, he is a managing man. He takes action and gets things done. ASAP. He is a good son, and will, doubtless, be a good husband and father. He would not be a Neels hero if that were not the case. He is and will be there for his family when they need him. His mother is ill – he goes to London. His mother collapses – he flies to Portugal.
      She wanted to tell him not to stay too long, but one look at Lady Cresswell's face told her that champagne with her son at eleven o'clock at night was going to do more good than the most efficient of sleeping pills. She said merely: 'I'll be back ...

      'Judith here...' 'Yes?' There was ice in his voice now but she didn't heed it. 'Charles—your mother has collapsed. Dr Sebastiao is with her, giving her a transfusion—she can't be moved yet.' The silence at the other end seemed endless. 'I'll be with you as soon as possible,' he said at length, and hung up. She flew upstairs again, thankful that Charles hadn't wasted time with a lot of questions. There was plenty to do. She said merely to Dr Sebastiao: 'He's coming,' and rolled up the sleeves of her dressing gown. The Professor arrived very quietly just before six o'clock in the morning, and by then Lady Cresswell was conscious and holding her own nicely. ...

      Why is she Lady Cresswell while her son is only ever referred to as Professor Cresswell?

    3. Betty van den Betsy: ... and no one anywhere suggests that he'll make a good husband or father -- in fact, rather the reverse.
      Lady Cresswell: 'He has his faults, but he is a good son and he'll be a good husband.' 'Oh, is he thinking of getting married?' Judith hoped her voice sounded unconcerned. ...

      Someone had cleaned and polished the Mini and the tank was full; she really had to give the Professor full marks for getting things organised, but of course he was a good son, anxious to do everything possible to keep his mother happy.

      I may not be able to convince you that our lone historian in the Canon is a man of sterling Neels approved qualities. But perhaps I can persuade you to look for the signs next time you read the book.

      At one point, I felt the distinct need for an editor, because I could not find the right words to express myself, and I thought of typing in a plea to Betty Magdalen to let me have the address of her new editor, just for fun, of course. Minutes later, while Betty A. was happily typing away on her keyboard, one part of her memory made a connection to another part of her grey matter – and Betty A. had an epiphany. She checked to verify and is now convinced that Betty M.’s new editor is, in fact, one of our latest members! Sans photo. Well, what do you know. Just knowing that she was there made me feel so much better about my scribblings.

    4. "He had given her no encouragement at all, and he would make a by no means perfect husband."

      "Of course, dear Charles can be most vexing at times."

      "she looked at Charles, who was looking at her pleasantly enough, but quite lacking that same romantic air she would have liked." (after proposing the second time, with his mother as witness)

      "He's difficult, I know, and wrapped up in his work; he doesn't suffer fools gladly and he hides his feelings. He can be ill-tempered and arrogant too, but I think you could deal with that... You mustn't think that because he isn't demonstrative he doesn't care."

      "'When will you marry me, Judith?' His voice hadn't altered at all, he could have been making some further remark about the view -- moreover, wasn't he taking her for granted?"

      "If she hadn't loved him so very much she would have resented his matter-of-fact attitude."

      "what should have been a romantic tete-a-tete turning into a most disappointing evening..."

      "She reflected a little sadly that probably married life wouldn't be quite what she had imagined it to be. Charles would forget birthdays and anniversaries and invitations to dinner; he most likely wouldn't utter a word during breakfast and the children would have to be hushed whenever he was bogged down in a particularly sticky bit of research."

      "...she stifled hurt feelings."

      After they quarrel, she reflects a couple of times that he's a monster, but given the heightened emotions I shan't quote those -- though I think she's right. A man who's wonderful to his mother, who's "used to getting her way," may make a great son. But that's no reason to think he'll be a great husband. And while, if we read Judith in the context of the Neels Canon, we might be able to suspend disbelief and assume Charles will be a great husband and his marriage will be happy, we also have a right to expect that if that's what an author wants us to believe, she'll give us evidence for that. Instead, TGB closes this one with Judith telling Charles that none of his numerous flaws matter, as she loves him enough to "put up with them." This does not sound like a foundation for HEA to me; in real life, in England in the 80s, she'd have gotten fed up and divorced in less than ten years. Or, if her moral or religious beliefs precluded divorce, she'd be bitter and unhappy and chugging back anti-depressants.

      As we make a few refinements to the ancestral homestead, the Jonkheer and I have had to re-visit the concept of compromise as one of the key building blocks of a happy and respectful relationship. He has what he believes to be an amusing perspective on the subject...

      Fortunately for him, we are both flawed. But the marriage of the near-flawless Judith and the arrogant, impatient, quick-to-anger Charles, who cares more about the 13th century than the present one, does not fill me with confidence.

    5. And I'd guess it was someone on his staff who kept the Mini fueled up, not Charles himself.

    6. Hahaha. Charles's staff at Hawkshead = one Mrs Turner, housekeeper. Although, there may be a gardener as well for Charles Cresswell's garden, with its roses trailing over the house walls, scenting the air, unless Judith was right when she thought "Mrs Turner must be a splendid gardener". (Quickly, quickly now, Betty van den Betsy, take a look at your spreadsheet. How many "treasures" does the professor have at Hawkshead? The gardener/chauffeur and the housekeeper in Portugal don't count, do they?) I did say "he gets things done", I can well imagine him leaving the Mini at a petrol station or garage while he goes to look at some fascinating bit of medieval church architecture.

      I knew I could not convince you. Said so. Ah, well. His mom said it all. Your quotes 1, 3, 5, 6, 7: He hid his feelings, he isn't a demonstrative man. He is not the only Neels hero to hide his feelings until the very end of the narrative, he is one of many. And many of the heroines have been brought to tears by the heroes. In fact, are there any who did not cry their beautiful eyes out? A lot of them felt hurt or thought their love quite unrequited. And many of the heroes are thought to be unfeeling.
      Re.: "She reflected a little sadly that probably married life wouldn't be ...
      Reflect, that the heroines often entertain negative thoughts that later on turn out to be pure fiction on their part, because the hero cares for them, after all.
      Found this gem:
      It was more than a week before he returned and long before then she had to admit to herself that she missed him—him and his cold eyes, his bland remoteness and his sudden kindnesses and his indifference. MR VAN DER BEEK ...
      Brute, monster, and my favourite "term of endearment" by far, wretch.