Friday, November 30, 2012

It’s beginning to look a lot like A Christmas Romance

Those finalists, again, for TUJD Best Christmas Ever (2012 version) are:

Damsel in Green (1970)
Caroline's Waterloo  (1980)
A Girl to Love (1982)
When Two Paths Meet  (1988)
The Mistletoe Kiss  (1997)
A Christmas Romance  (1999)

Let us recall a few highlights of that latest-published volume, in which dietician’s assistant Theodosia Chapman manages to meet senior medical consultant Professor Hugo Bendinck, fall for him, adopt a dog with him, lose him (the doctor, not the dog), and win his undying love forever in a mere 103 pages in my 2001 Mills & Boon “Betty Neels Collector’s Edition.”

The story opens just five weeks before Christmas, when it’s cold and wet and dark outside, but cozy and warm in Theodosia’s London studio flat, with its bright cushions and handsome ginger cat, Gustavus.  Theodosia lives alone but plans to spend the holiday with her remaining family:  two elderly and rather unloving great-aunts in a chilly cottage in Finchingfield.  Much of the book’s four chapters concern various preparations for Christmas, greatly enlivened by the assistance of Hugo, whom Theodosia meets at the hospital where she works as a typist.

There’s also an awfully lot of mention of cold:  cold weather, Great-aunt Mary’s face “held little warmth,” cold cottage, underdone beef, cold supper, “not quite hot” bath water, cold feet (literal), chilly church, cold lunch, shivering one’s way to the bathroom, cold sleet, a brief mention of her parents’ deaths, five years earlier, of ’flu.  I am curling my toes and hunching my shoulders just typing about it.  But Theodosia has ginger hair – a bit of fire – and a ginger cat, and the professor’s car and home are blissfully warm, and Christmas is coming...

So off we go to the hospital ball, in a nipped and tucked dove-grey dress from Oxfam, to dance with the professor and ride luxuriously home in his Bentley.  And then it’s time to dash out to Fortnum & Mason’s to do the aunts’ shopping – but wait, the professor is there again, driving us (luxuriously) to that emporium to hand over the shopping list to the food-department experts and spring for a lunch of (hot) omelette and a glass of wine, and resisting “a wish to kiss the tip of her nose.”

And the following weekend, in the Christmas spirit of loving and giving, Theodosia succors an old lady hit by a car.  The professor, coincidentally and fortuitously driving by, ties off gushing arteries and whatnot whilst our heroine chats with the plucky survivor:

“She went and knelt by the old lady, who was still conscious but very pale.  ‘Bit of bad luck,’ she said in a whisper. ‘I was going to me daughter for Christmas...’  ‘Well, you will be well again by then,’ said Theodosia.  ‘The doctor's here now and you're going to hospital in a few minutes.’  ‘Proper Christmas dinner, we was going ter 'ave.  Turkey and the trimmings—I like a bit of turkey...’  ‘Oh, yes, so do I,’ said Theodosia, her ears stretched for the ambulance.  ‘Cranberry sauce with it...  and a nice bit of stuffing.’  The old lady's voice was very weak.  ‘And plenty of gravy.  Sprouts and pertaters and a good bread sauce.  Plenty of onion with it.’  ‘Your daughter makes her own puddings?’ asked Theodosia, and thought what a strange conversation this was—like a nightmare only she was already awake.

You’ve got to love that, right?  She’s kneeling on the sidewalk, speckled with elderly blood, queasy at the site of the “awful mess” a speeding car can make of a stranger’s leg, and chatting about pudding recipes.  Perhaps not traditionally Christmassy, and perhaps adopting an unloved mutt out of the dogs’ home (which they do that afternoon) isn’t either, but the spirit is certainly right.

Sadly, by Christmas Eve we’re in a fine muddle, the prof having told Theodosia he plans to marry, and neglecting to mention, from some misplaced modesty or inappropriate sense of the dramatic, the you bit – I plan to marry you.  So of course when she sees him laughing with a lovely woman who kisses his cheek, she doesn’t think, “Must be his sister,” but instead grabs the nearest path lab assistant and pretends they’re dating.  And then off home to the sometimes cozy, sometimes chilly bedsit to pack the great-aunts’ gifts and catch the late train.  Except landlady Mrs. Towzer, “Aving a bit of a party this evening; must get meself poshed up,” drops off a letter from those fickle aunts, dis-inviting Theodosia for Christmas! in preference to an elderly archdeacon and his wife recently returned from South America.  A moment’s despondency for Theodosia, and then:

“...she got up, counted the money in her purse, got her shopping bag from behind the door, assured Gustavus that she would be back presently and left the house.”

She lays out her train-ticket funds on three days’ groceries, plus a discounted turkey leg, a small Christmas pudding and a plastic tree.

“...‘We are going to have a happy Christmas together,’ she told Gustavus.  ‘You'll be glad, anyway, for you'll be warm here, and I've bought you a present and you've bought me one, too.

“...The room looked welcoming and cheerful; the holly and the Christmas cards covered the almost bare walls and the Christmas tree, viewed from a distance, almost looked real. The cat food, wrapped in coloured paper, and the box of chocolates were arranged on each side of it and she had put the apples in a dish on the table. ‘Quite festive,’ said Theodosia to Gustavus, who was washing himself in front of the gas fire. ‘Now I shall have a cup of cocoa and you shall have some milk, and we'll go to bed.’”

But Hugo has been busy disentangling lies and grilling great-aunts, and swoops in to bear his love away to his warm Regency house, rendered less quiet than usual by the arrival of family.  Take it away, Betty:

“‘You are spending Christmas with me at home.’  ‘I'm not. I have no intention of going anywhere.... It is most kind of you,’ began Theodosia, and put a hand on his arm.  This was a mistake, for he took it, turned it over and kissed the palm.  ‘Oh, no,’ said Theodosia in a small voice as he wrapped his great arms round her.  She wriggled, quite uselessly, and he said gently, ‘Keep still, my darling; I'm going to kiss you.’  Which he did at some length and very thoroughly.

“‘I have been wanting to do that for a long time.  I've been in love with you ever since we first met.  I love you and there will be no reason for anything I do unless you are with me.’ 

“He gave her a swift kiss.  ‘Now come along.’  He swept her downstairs and as they reached the hall Mrs. Towzer came to see who it was.  ‘Going out, Miss Chapman?  At this time of night?’ She eyed the professor. ‘You've been here before; you seemed a nice enough gent.’  She stared at him severely.  ‘No ’anky-panky, I ’ope.’  The professor looked down his splendid nose at her. ‘Madam, I am taking my future wife to spend Christmas at my home with my sister and her family... ‘Oh, well, in that case... ’Appy Christmas to you both.’

“‘I promise I will never be stern with you.’  He turned to look to her as he started the car. ‘Or our children.’  She smiled and wanted to cry, too, for a moment.  From happiness, she supposed. ‘What a wonderful day to be in love and be loved.  I'm so happy.’  As they reached his house, the first strokes of midnight sounded from the church close by, followed by other church bells ringing in Christmas Day. ... He closed the door behind him, set Gustavus in his basket on the table and swept Theodosia into his arms. ‘This is what I have wanted to do—to wish you a happy Christmas in my own home—your home, too, my dearest.’  Theodosia, after being kissed in a most satisfactory manner, found her breath.  ‘It’s true, it’s all true?  Dearest Hugo, Happy Christmas.’  She stretched up and kissed him and then kissed him again for good measure.” 

The end.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Christmas - still coming [Damsel in Green]

So the finalists for TUJD Best Christmas Ever (2012 version) are:

Damsel in Green (1970)
Caroline's Waterloo  (1980)
A Girl to Love (1982)
When Two Paths Meet  (1988)
The Mistletoe Kiss  (1997)
A Christmas Romance  (1999)

I think it might be helpful to refresh your memories of the various wonderments each of these slim volumes holds, so I shall, over the next few days, post some summaries.  We begin with the story of Staff Nurse Georgina Rodman and Professor in Anaesthetics Julius van den berg Eyyfert, festively studded with her aunt and his many young cousins.

“'Are you using your own money for this Christmas job, Georgina?’” Karel asks, and indeed she is.  Her parcels enable the young van den berg Eyyferts to create paper chains and other decorations well in advance of the holiday – in fact, they’re almost done by St. Nicholaas Day.  Given the family’s Dutch roots, we get to celebrate that event as well, with “real gifts” supplementing their chocolate letters including watches, a Domiplan F2.8/50 camera, pearl earrings and a Meissen figurine for Georgina; coincidentally, one she’s admired for months in a Saffron Walden shop window.

Drawing closer to Christmas, Georgina takes a day for a London shopping spree that includes “a long-skirted dream of a dress, of a dark green velvet...”  The handmade decorations have been sorted into boxes, ready to be put up on Christmas Eve, and “Mrs. Stephens sent up vast quantities of mince pies each teatime.”  There is wet-haired carol-singing by the fire, piano-moving to enhance same, and “Christmas cards festooning the Balkan frame over Cor's bed,” in preparation.  Cousin Karel takes Georgina to visit Aunt Polly (who always spends Christmas with friends since her niece is unlikely to have the day off from her hospital duties) and brings along “a large square box of his own, which, when Georgina queried it, she was told was none of her business.”  It is a gift from Julius to Aunt, and contains six bottles of the best champagne.

And then there’s Christmas Eve:  Georgina has a chance to remind the Prof that his “bad luck” in having to work that day is “nicely cushioned.”  Once that’s out of the way, we begin decorating, “and  as  everyone  had  their  own  ideas  as  to  what  looked  best  the results  were  unique  and  startling;  only  in  the  hall  and  drawing  room  did Dimphena  and  Georgina  get  their  way.    They  had  put  their  heads  together  days before,  and  now  proceeded  to  fill  the  vases  with  charming  arrangements  of holly  and  Christmas  roses  and  coloured  baubles  and  the  silvered  pine  cones they  had  collected  on  their  walks.  They  twined  holly  and  evergreens  around  the  great  fireplaces,  and  arranged the  elaborate  centrepiece  they  had  all  had  a  hand  in  on  the  dining  table.  There  was  a  small  tree  for  Cor's  room,  which  they  had  put  as  close  to  him  as possible,  so  that  he  could  help  with  its  decoration,  and  while  they  did  that, Karel  and  Franz  blew  up  the  balloons  which  they  insisted  were  an indispensable  part  of  the  decorations.    Karel  hung  them  in  great  colourful bunches  all  over  the  house--he  hung  the  mistletoe  as  well,  and  then  refused to  tell  them  where.”

Georgina marches through the snowy lane to fetch a last few tags and wrapping paper, singing of snow.  Her Christmas wishes come partially true when Julius gives her a warm ride home in the Rolls, interrupted only to exchange gifts with the Leggs at the lodge, and requests, with an avuncular kiss, that she wear her prettiest dress to dinner.  Then there’s that whole mother’s-diamond-ring thing, largely forgotten over smoked salmon, roast goose, chestnuts, cranberry sauce, haricots verts, potatoes noissette and zabagloine – and claret, and champagne.

We have a confab in the Professor’s bedroom(!), a sneaky foray to leave Christmas socks by the younger children’s beds, heady compliments and liqueurs by the fire, much, much too late for someone planning to attend 7:00am service.
I’ll let Betty take it from here:  “It was cold when she left the house the next morning and made her way to the garage.  She was in the Mini and had just switched on the ignition when Julius said out of the darkness, ‘Good morning, Miss Rodman, and a Happy Christmas.  Move over--if we are to risk life and limb on these appalling lanes, I might as well be responsible for the damage.’  She moved over without a word, her heart beating a rapid tattoo which she felt sure he could hear.  It seemed not; he got in beside her and shut the door with the air of a man fitting himself into a too tight coat.  It was a good thing that she was a normal-sized girl; as it was, it would be impossible for them to be any closer.”

“The little church was full, its early morning chill scented with holly and chrysanthemums; Georgina enjoyed the service and said so on the way home. ... It was still very dark, but there were lights at some of the windows of the rambling old house, and the clear frosty sky made the stars seem very close.  Georgina, her head thrown back, stood gazing upwards.  ‘I do like Christmas--it's a wonderful time.’  She felt his hand tighten on her arm.

“‘Full of the Christmas spirit, I hope, Miss Rodman.’  She brought her gaze down from the sky to the level of his face above hers.  ‘You mean loving and giving?’ she asked simply, like a child.  He said slowly, ‘Yes, that's what I mean--loving and giving.’  He loosened his hold on her arm and added matter-of-factly, ‘Look out for the steps, they're slippery.’  The day promised to be a wholly happy one.”

“Her own presents she carried to her own room; they made quite a large pile, for they had all given her something, from Beatrix's lop-sided pincushion to the Professor's silver Valentine mirror, an exquisite trifle which must have cost a pretty penny...  Much later, in bed, she ... reminded herself that it had been one of the best Christmases she had ever known, and went determinedly to sleep.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Upcoming Reprise

Monday December 3rd.
The Girl With Green Eyes
Working in an orphanage, Legionnaires Disease, cross-over with Fran and Litrik (The Secret Pool).

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Magic of Living - Reprise

At first glance, Arabella Birch doesn't seem like much of a catch.  The stuttering and supposed plainness would seem to doom her to the life of an old maid, yet at 22 she manages to snag her very own RDD. Turns out she's not as plain as she thinks, and that the stuttering doesn't matter to people who really love her.

Arabella reminds me of a man I know from church. Let's call him 'John' (not his real name). He is the worst stutterer I've ever known. Much worse than Arabella sounds.  I've known him and his family for eight or nine years. He is such a nice guy (and funny), I always find myself surprised when he starts stuttering - because I totally forget about the stuttering when he's not around. I remember what he said, but not how. Betty Keira's youngest (going on 4 years old) is a mild stutterer - it manifests mostly in hesitation (or as I like to call it, 'dramatic pause').  Again, to me, it's much more important to remember what he says. For instance, while Betty Keira's family was packing up to go home after spending Thanksgiving at the van der Stevejincks, I asked Zac if he would like to stay here and live with me.  He answered (with no apparent hesitation) "Yes".  I'm sure it didn't have anything to do with the fact that I just so happen to have 3 remote control cars that he adores playing with.  

Betty Debbie

Leave it to The Mighty Betty Neels to incorporate spastic children into the plot of her mid-seventies romance novel. And not only spastics (which here does not mean your little brother dancing around in your bra) but a stutter too! Is she successful? Did Houdini do card tricks? Heck yes.

Arabella Birch, 22, is a student nurse--orphaned at a young age and raised with her cousins in the care of Aunt Maud and Uncle garblemumblewhocares. She has unremarkable features and pale brown hair--a gentle kind of beauty which, next to her glamorous cousin Hilary, looks like an adorable pair of China flats cast off for some four inch Manolo Blahniks.
Arabella lets the readers know a couple of facts about her family:
  • They are very nice. They took her in as a 5-year-old and never grudged the expense.
  • Aunt Maud is full of some very helpful advice.
  • Hilary is a casual cousin but generally kind.
Editorial Note:
Many years ago I read a criticism of some literature that said, in essence, that the author did too much 'telling' and not enough 'showing'. In this case The Great Betty (at her most genius) has Arabella tell us a lot of nonsense and then quietly shows us how the family really treats our heroine.
So let's find out what home life is really like:
  • Aunt Maud's advice is to tell Arabella to buy plain clothes since she will have to support herself someday--unlike Hilary who won't. Also that plain hats should go with plain faces. There is a scene wherein Arabella sneaks a try-on of her friend's wedding hat, too embarrassed to see herself probably look awful in it in front of the other girls. Aunt Maud has a lot to answer for.
  • Hilary is not cruel to Arabella. Sure, she annexes every male in sight but it's not as though Arabella really cares about any of them. Nanny Bliss wonders what will happen when this is no longer the case.
  • Arabella is used as a gopher and babysitter in ways that the daughter of the house would never be.
So, all in all it's not dungeons, short rations and daily beatings but Arabella hasn't got a clue that she's being used. Not one to play dirty tricks on others, it is inconceivable that she might be treated so.
Hilary, in order to carry on an inexplicable flirtation with a man whose marital status, eye-wear and awkwardly hyphenated name (married, hornrims, Thisby-Barnes) make him sound like a booby prize, wheedles Arabella give up her holidays in order to take her place ushering a busload of spastics to Holland for a summer camp.
Editorial Note: The Founding Bettys actually have a few siblings whom The Venerable Neels would have classified as 'spastic' but it's not a word people use anymore (at least for any medical condition)--preferring often to use the term cerebral palsy. So, please understand, if I'm laughing (and I am) it's only at the term.
Hilary manages to hog all the limelight and then sends the busload of spastics on their way.
Arabella is managing just fine (even though the other nurse is worse than useless) when the driver up and dies. He dies!
Arabella hastily grabs the wheel to avert an oncoming car and lands them in a ditch. (All this is more heroic and skilled than that just sounded)
But this is Holland and you can't swing a dead cat around without hitting a dishy Dutch doctor. Dr. Gideon van der Vorst, 38, peers at all her gentle loveliness from his perch on the side of the bus and commences the evacuation.
He is witness to her good sense, infinite patience, correct priorities, calmness, helpfulness, good scout-ery and stammer (which doesn't bother him a jot...Honestly, maybe every married pair should meet during a crisis.). She weathers a rescue that resembles something out of a muppet skit.
Gideon quotes some Shakespeare at her ('She has brown hair and speaks soft like a woman...') and takes care of getting everyone to the hospital.
Everyone is fine (except for, you know, the dead fellow) aside from Billy and Sally--they both broke some bones--and will be sent back shortly. Gideon suggests that Arabella bring them to his home for the remainder of their convalescence. She wonders if his wife will feel it inconvenient.
Well, no. He's a bachelor. His little sister Larissa is there to play propriety. (Because Billy and Sally can't move fast enough to break up a spot of late-night snogging, I suppose.)
Editorial Note: The one sentence that best encapsulates the nature of her stay at his home is about an ordinary tea in the sitting room: '...they talked comfortable nothings.' Arabella's stammer almost completely disappears when she is wrapped up in the peaceful cocoon of the doctor's house. A lot of other stuff happens during this relatively quiet time but it is mostly an interlude where the principles are enjoying one another enormously--kissing too. Tellingly, Arabella mentions Hilary (her wonderful cousin Hilary), hardly at all.
But it can't last forever. He returns her to her British hospital after a couple of weeks. She knows that Gideon likes her but not much else. And then Hilary, tripping down the stairs in a blinding glow of mendacious solicitation, meets the doctor. Arabella can see the castles in the air she built up over the previous weeks begin to show signs of structural weakness.
Hilary, up to this point, has been more or less benign--sure there's a pit where her heart should be but she's not been cruel to Arabella, merely unfeeling. And she's not trying to be cruel now (or maybe not trying very hard). Arabella, to her, is a native guide and having lead the Great White Hunter (Hilary) to the herd of wild rhinoceros (RDD) it's time for Arabella to cartoonishly clap her hands over her ears in anticipation of the .50 caliber rifle taking down that noble beast with alacrity. I can almost see her adjusting her bodice and heading into battle.
For his part, it helps the plot tremendously if you understand that Gideon is at first happy to meet Arabella's cousin. All that charming 'Darling-are-you-alright' and 'I'm-sorry-you-had-to-go'-ness is just how he would like to believe Arabella's family would treat her. He agrees to let her make a third in the car as he drives them home for a four day break. See, he thought there was real affection between them and can't make it out at all.
Arabella, the scales now ripped from her eyes with a vengeance, is furious. She sees Hilary as she is and for the first time her stammer becomes a real obstacle to sorting out misinformation (Hilary is practically a one-man Minister of Propaganda) and beating her cousin to the punch.
Editorial Note: I'm not about to spoil the machinations of Hilary the Depraved but, sufficient to say, a close reading will show that the doctor recovers from his Hilary-blindness (which never included attraction even a little) toot sweet. He continues to be around her only to gain access to an increasingly elusive Arabella.
But then Hilary makes a fatal mistake (ah pride, that most deadly of sins) when she tells Gideon that she has to go home to nurse a nigh-on-dead Nanny Bliss. Never mind Arabella--she didn't want to come anyway. She wanted to go shopping!
Which all leads to Gideon practically kicking down Arabella's door (in the nurse's home, mind you!), flinging around plenty of unjust accusations and taking her home to visit Nanny Bliss (who has been calling for her from her perch on the edge of death's door) whether she wants to or not.
The mortification on his face when he realizes that she had a train ticket for the earliest possible trip the next morning ought to give a happy glow for readers who like their Neels heroes to have to dig themselves out of craterous holes with back-hoes. The one benefit is that Gideon won't be fooled by Hilary's lies again.
His next act is to verify that Arabella is not, in fact, interested in the local rector's horrible son as Hilary has hinted (the scene is awesome--Gideon reassures us readers that he knows Arabella so well that one glance at Bertie Palmer Hateful yet Innocent By-Looker is enough to tell him that he's so not her type), engineer a theft of Arabella's passport by delightful means and to abduct her to another country.
Kissing and explanations and Dutch lessons follow.
The End

Rating: The last line reads like that short story Diana Berry submitted for Anne Shirley ('Sweetheart, the beautiful coming years will bring us the fulfillment of our home of which we will never use any baking powder except Rollings Reliable.') in that it seems bluntly shoehorned in to fit a just so-so pre-selected title.
But what a silly quibble! I love this book.
At first blush you're thinking, 'Stammer? Really?' Yes, and The Great Betty uses such a skilled hand that you'll be falling in love with it right along with Gideon.
The doctor is so darling. Just when you think that maybe he loves Arabella out of a sense of misplaced pity, our beloved authoress gives us a peek at how much he really needs her. He is charmed--completely charmed.
I felt that Hilary was such an interesting character--not cruel, according to her lights, to Arabella, just horribly self-involved and frank about her goals. She probably would make a good wife for a man willing to spoil her and reconfigure the planetary orbits so that everything revolves around her.
This one earned a lashings of whipped cream and then some...

Food: Arabella struggles with the Dutch breakfast (bread, butter, cheese and jam) as it seems such a poor compromise for hearty English fare (porridge and bacon). Gideon likes rich fruit cake. We get Peach Melba and apple chutney. He brings her champagne when she's pretending to sleep in the car but when she arrives at home everyone sends her to bed--in a rage she drinks some cooking sherry, eats a couple of bananas and has some bread and butter. The lower class Mrs. Burns serves tea laced liberally with condensed milk.

Fashion: Arabella is relegated to shabby tweeds, fawn-colored raincoats, and severe hats because, as Aunt Maud says, 'Plain hat for a plain face.' She owns a jersey dress of honey and cinnamon stripes (love The Great Betty's culinary descriptions), and (in the best shopping trip in the history of Neels) she is persuaded to buy a coral PVC mac 'with a decided swagger', a corduroy pinafore and a coral and brown striped wool dress with a flared skirt. He also gets to see her in her pink quilted dressing gown for good measure.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, November 26th.
The Magic of Living
Stammering, spastics (yes, it's that book), kidnapping!

Monday, November 19, 2012

When Two Paths Meet--Reprise

Good morning, Bettys!
Here at Casa Van Voorhees we're still rubbing the rosy dawn out of our eyes which, translated, means that I drove my oldest pledge of affection to school in my muumuu-esqe cotton night dress and it's raining cats and dogs. Po-TAY-to. Puh-TAH-to.
As I sit down to reminisce on When Two Paths Meet, my over-riding feeling is still the incredulity I felt when I realized that Katherine was going to be yanked out of her job because her BROTHER's wife "needed" home nursing.  Um...that is a Betty bridge too far.  
But speaking of two paths meeting, I have a date with destiny this week with my ultrasound technician.  I am hoping for news of a girl-child but, as a friend of mine reminded me yesterday at church, "Assume they'll all be boys and that every mission call will be to Provo, Utah."  Which is Mormon shorthand for "Hope for the best and expect the worst."  
The good news is that I haven't thrown up in a week and I am halfway done on Thursday.  Huzzah!
Best wishes to all the Bettys this week and, to our American Bettys, may your Thanksgiving celebrations be full of gratitude and the kind of family you wouldn't mind introducing a Rich Dutch Doctor to...
Love and Lardy cakes,
Betty Keira   

I thought I remembered this book quite well. I did have most of the plot down pat - but I didn't remember loving this one. Why didn't I love it? The question bothered me until about 2/3 of the way through...then I knew. It's a 600 pound gorilla.

In the pre-dawn chill a knock sounds at the door...Katherine Marsh hops out of bed and tiptoes downstairs so as not to wake the household. A good-looking stranger urgently requests entry, as he has just found a newborn baby beside the road. Man with baby? Check. Dawning Realization? Check. Dr. Fitzroy asks that Katherine accompany him to the hospital so that she can hold the baby...Katherine is happy to help out (although sister-in-law Joyce is NOT), even happier that instead of being forgotten at the hospital as she expected, Dr. Fitzroy has arranged for her to have breakfast in the canteen. When he takes her home she shakes his hand goodbye and 'looked up into his face learning it by heart...memory was all she would have.'

Katherine lives with older brother Henry and his wife Joyce. They are a delightful couple. Psych! Not really. Henry is a schoolmaster...which hardly bodes well for the youngsters in his care. I find myself wondering what kind of school he teaches at...and can only imagine some horrible Dickensian boarding school and Henry a close runner-up to Wackford Squeers. Alas, the only thing we really know about Henry is that he is pompous, selfish, self-absorbed, doesn't care for his own children...which is where the redoubtable Mr. Squeers has him beat. Mr. Squeers at least likes his kids. Joyce is very busy with her own social life to have any time for her kids either. If ever there was a couple who shouldn't have had kids, it's these two.
Dr. Fitzroy shows up with a job offer! Poor Joyce and Henry aren't given any choice in the two weeks notice to find a new slave. Katherine is going to be trading her job of taking care of two ill-behaved children for a job taking care of a peppery old man and his wife. The new jobs pays 40 pounds a week, which is more money than Katherine has had in her pocket in maybe forever. One of the perks of the job is that Dr. Fitzroy drops by a couple of times a week to check up on Mr. Graingers dickey heart. A job that actually pays AND the chance to see her true love twice a week? You betcha. Henry turns puce when he finds out that she's taking the job...'You ungrateful sister! I've given you a home and food and clothes...' 'And look what you've gotten in return - unpaid housework, a nanny and you haven't even given me an allowance.' Good for her. I really like Katherine when she's in this mode...not so much when she wastes sympathy on Henry and Joyce (but no sympathy on the children...who deserve it more).
The Graingers are nice to work for - there's just one fly in the ointment. Granddaughter Dodie. The 600 pound gorilla. Dodie spends the book being rude, caustic, thoughtless, selfish, etc. She is, in a way, refreshingly forthright - she's not two-faced at all. The reason I don't care for her plot line is the inexplicableness of La Neels having Dr. Fitzroy spend soooo much time with The Dread Dodie. He also suggests to Katherine that The Dread Dodie could give her fashion advice. Umm. No thanks. Dr. Fitzroy is startled to see a look of such rage that he blinks. No way girlfriend is going to take fashion advice from the enemy...because that's just what The Dread Dodie is - the enemy. Both girls know it instinctively.
Dodie conspires with a relative to shift the Graingers to Cheltenham for a spell. Even though Mr. and Mrs. Grainger like Katherine a lot, they sashay off to Dodieland with nary a backward glance. This means that Katherine is out of a job. Dr. Fitzroy steps into the breach and gets her another job...nurses aide at the hospital. Yay! Bedbathing old men and emptying bedpans. She does make more money...enough to rent a room from Mrs. Potts. Her independence is growing by leaps and bounds...and now that she's working at the hospital, there's a chance every day to see Dr. Fitzroy. The best thing about the job change (besides seeing Dr. Fitzroy more often), is that Katherine finally gets to make friends with girls her own age - Miranda 'call me Andy', another nurses aide, and a girl at Mrs. Potts.

Dr. Fitzroy's younger cousin, Edward comes for a visit. He would be an ideal brother, says Katherine - over and over and over again. Seriously...Katherine loses no opportunity to let the good doctor know that she has no romantic feeling for the guy. Especially after Edward asks her out and Dr. Fitzroy goes strangely avuncular. Lots of fun to be had with Edward and Jason (yes, Jason). Hot cocoa around the fire after the midnight Christmas service, invitation to a New Year's Eve party at Jason's, teaching Katherine how to play poker and a day out walking through the snow at Stourhead, where once again Katherine tells Jason how sisterly she feels toward Edward. Maybe that's what tips the scales for Jason, but at any rate, he takes advantage of Edward's brief absence to propose. Yup. Right out of the blue. Since everyone has told Katherine that he's supposed to be marrying Dodie, she turns him down. And then kicks herself for it. The Dread Dodie would be an awful wife for Jason. Too bad Katherine blew her one and only chance. Did I say one and only chance? Jason is delightfully persistent - he brings up the subject of proposing with great regularity. If only he would stop going out with Dodie - which he does with great regularity. Oh, and if he would preface his proposal with an 'I love you', that would also help out a great deal.
Henry tracks down Katherine and persuades the Matron that Katherine is needed back at Casa Marsh to care for his ailing wife. Let's all join with Henry in shedding a few crocodile tears. Of course Joyce isn't sick, and Katherine is sure of it - especially when Henry smirks at her behind Matron's she leaves a message with Andy for 'anyone who asks' about her whereabouts. Who's going to ask? Jason sees her entering a car and tracks down Andy to see what's what. What's up is that Joyce has gone out for drinks at the pub and left Katherine with her offspring. Jason shows up after dinner and Katherine falls weeping on his lapels.
Her: Jason, oh Jason! Take me away!
Him: Sorry I couldn't come sooner, I had outpatient's.
He makes amends by taking her back to his place for a much needed dinner. Some cards are laid on the table...hers. He knows she loves him, and gets her to admit it...before proposing again. Her walls are crumbling, she's just about to tell him 'yes' the next day when she hears that The Dread Dodie is engaged to someone else!! Instead of being thrilled, she's now sure that it's a rebound proposal. Katherine refuses one last time...muddied waters are cleaned up...I've loved you since I first saw you in that old dressing gown. I've loved you since you told them to give me a good breakfast. Kiss kiss. The End.

Rating: There's loads to love about this book...unfortunately, there's a 600 pound gorilla named Dodie in the room. Dodie is remarkably straightforward in her hatred of Katherine - and I don't have a problem with that, it's the fact that Jason keeps going out with her and sort of throwing her in Katherine's face. Drives me crazy. Queen of Puddings...unfortunately garnished with a tin of Dodie soup.
Fashion: a wardrobe bought one item at a time each payday. Week 1 - undies. Week 2 - suitable grey dress. Week 3 - a raincoat bought at Woolworth's. Week 4 - A warm and pretty dressing gown and cozy slippers. Week 5 - Winter coat in an unassuming peat brown cloth. New Year's Eve party dress - grey taffeta with a square neck and elbow length sleeve that make her look like a nun at the circus.
Food: Hospital canteen Breakfast O' Love of cornflakes, eggs and bacon, toast, butter and marmalade. Minute steaks, trifle, cheese souffle, egg custard, prawn cocktails, steak and kidney pudding, apple tart AND apple pie, boiled beef and dumplings, boiled ham and parsley sauce (?).

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What's your fave Betty Christmas?

Christmas is coming...

So I thought it might be fun to nominate our favorite Christmas scenes from Betty’s oeuvre.   You know, like in Winter Wedding, when Emily sits around her miserable cottage and makes paper chains to ensure that the twins will have a proper holiday, and then gets the best Christmas surprise ever when sis and bro-in-law return to take back their babies and promise her a marvelous reward.  (Seriously, I would love to know what they shoved under the tree for Emily that year – fan fiction, anyone?)

If you’ll respond with a favorite or two in the comments section – perhaps the scene where Theodosia and Hugo go shopping at Fortnum’s with her great-aunt’s list of hams and cakes and cheeses required for Christmas dinner – I’ll take the top nominees and create a survey monkey or something.

Then we can vote for this year’s #1 favorite.  I wonder if it might be the van den Berg Eyffert’s Christmas of 1970, all balanced on Cornelius’s bed and hiding their preparations from Julius.

I realize it’s a bit early for this, but I’m going to offer you two weeks or so to sort about for your nominee scenes, such as Mary Jane’s nimble fingers constructing pincushions and toy mice from the old velvets and taffetas she drags from the attic, in hope of earning a few extra shillings at the festive season.

Lurkers, please do come forth in as much anonymity as you choose – this posting was inspired by an anonymous comment of a few weeks back, so you know you can make a difference.   And I shall look forward to hearing from all our regulars, too, as Christmas comes closer.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, November 19th.
When Two Paths Meet
Abandoned baby, horrible brother, new wardrobe in weekly installments

Monday, November 12, 2012

Three for a Wedding - Reprise

The entire story line for Three for a Wedding is either fabulous or a hot mess...depending on your point of view.  I subscribe to the fabulousness of it...while kicking my conscience into a dark corner where it cowers under a lovely Regency table, snatching up crumbs of the story that I have to overlook in order for the book to work for me. Here's  a list of a few of the crumbs:
  • Little sister Sybil. Pretty much everything about her...except for the fact that it's through her immaturity that Phoebe meets the good doctor.
  • The lack of resolution re: Maureen the evil nanny. I'm not implying that I would have liked to see her drown in a canal or get struck by a speeding lorry...
  • Having  (nay, being practically forced) to immediately go listen to an apology from Paul when anyone could see Phoebe needed some 'me' time.
What I do enjoy is watching two mature adults (with totally acceptable age difference) fall in love.  I sort of dig the absentminded professor...especially when he turns out to be not so absentminded after all.  Maureen the evil nanny is a pleasure to despise (she gives Miss Murch (A Girl to Love) a run for the money as far as evilness goes) and finally, I like the fact that we get to see a fairly decent story arc for Paul. 

Lots to discuss in this book--many delightful bits but plenty to take issue with.

Gold Medals seem to run in the family. Phoebe Brook, 27, Medical Night Sister, was the leading light of her year and little sister Sybil has just garnered the top honors as well.
Even though the title of the book references Sybil's wedding and it is that same wedding that gets the ball rolling, Sybil is practically a cardboard figure--a hodgepodge of enthusiasms and tantrums ('I can't spend two whole months in Holland! I want to get married! Revolve around me!') and never really gets fleshed out.
Sybil wants to get married and a nurse-training scheme in Holland is getting in her way. So, instead of accepting responsibility for her own actions and telling the hospital authorities that Nick (we're supposed to believe that marriage with a 'Nick' will turn out well?) has proposed, she asks Phoebe to take her place and pretend to be her. Phoebe brings her considerable logic to bear on the situation but Sybil demonstrates her preparedness for marriage thus: 'Oh dear,' she wailed through her sobs, 'now I don't know what I'll do--at least, I do. I shall run away and hide until Nick goes to Southampton and we'll get married in one of those pokey register offices and n-no one will come to the w-wedding!'
Have I mentioned that she's 23?--not 12. And one must assume she won her Gold Medal with hard work and diligence--Well, that or her class was peopled with the criminally moronic, deaf-mutes and dope fiends...Hmm, there's a thought.
So Phoebe agrees.
Phoebe is told only that the doctor in charge is one of those catatonic fellows--sleepy and uninterested. He couldn't possibly remember Sybil from the one time he met her. But he does--at least enough to know that for him she was just another nurse. Phoebe (masquerading as Sybil) however, is, as he scribbles in his ubiquitous notebook, 'A darling English girl. I shall marry her.' Maybe it was the good deal of leg she was showing as she leaned out the window...
Editorial Note:
Mind you, he knows right away that she's not who she says she is and still falls headlong into love. I adore that he's nerdy enough to need a reminder.
But Dr. Lucius (I'm thinking of a chubby Southern boy circa 1952 with horn-rimmed glasses and an overbearing mother) van Someren, 34, is supposed to be married so despite finding him very attractive, Phoebe resigns herself to aesthetic appreciation and philosophical detachment. (Sybil's Nick (who probably, with a name like that, has a criminal record of some sort) told her he had a son so naturally...)
They settle down to a wonderful working relationship. She's a good deal more experienced than a recently-graduated student nurse has any right to be but he is unobservant, right?
The moment he gets her across the Channel and onto Dutch soil (where, conveniently it would be difficult for her to beat a hasty withdrawal) he calls her Phoebe.
Right. About that...
No harm, no foul. He's happy to have her anyway and will even arrange for her to go back to the wedding when her sister ties the knot.
That's a sticky plot morass cleared with almost unseemly haste. We may proceed.
On one of her solitary rambles about Delft she is roughed up by a group of 8-year-olds. Before you go calling her a pansy keep in mind that she was very likely in high heels and they were swinging book bags. (My daughter's could probably take an arm off if swung just so.) One of the young vandals, she was sure, was able to understand her English shouting. Curious.
Lucius, inviting her and another nurse, to coffee at his home (after some fibrocystitis-themed sight-seeing) where she is introduced to (Dum, dum, DUM) Paul--8-year-old hooligan by day, adopted son of Lucius by night! Phoebe offered a hand and smiled. Little boys were, after all, little boys and what was a rude gesture between friends? (Don't you just want to wrap her up and keep her in your pocket?)
She also meets Maureen Felman, a dishy and smug-faced governess. Their dislike is mutual, thorough and instantaneous. (Think Godzilla vs. Mothra) Of a later meeting it is said, 'Here was the enemy, although she wasn't quite sure why (no Dawning Realization yet)--and declaring war too.
But the doctor isn't married. That's the other disclosure of the day. Phoebe is thrilled--she isn't in love with him (well, she is but doesn't know it) but there's a rose-colored intermediary state where she admits to liking him an awful, awful lot.
She goes on night duty and her one compensation is that Lucius picks her up in the morning and they go swimming together in the North Sea. This is Betty Neels code for 'Delightful Post-Work Pick-Me-Up' and Betty Keira code for 'Are You Insane and Trying to Kill Me?' Paul and Maureen come sometimes which is just as fun as it gets with Paul staring at her with dead eyes and Maureen using her as a scratching post. Are there dueling dishy swimsuits? Heck yes.
Phoebe goes back to England for the wedding which I thought we already agreed was a next-to-useless detour. Oh, she gets to wear a pretty hat, find herself uninterested in an old boyfriend and then (finally, at last) unmuddle her way into a dawning realization.
Back in Holland she runs into Paul, unusually verbose and wanting to show her around the town. What's that expression? Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. Paul bolts her into an abandoned warehouse.
Let's just sit right there for a spell.
Paul. Locked. Her. In. A. Warehouse.
By the sheerest good luck, Lucius remembers a Squirrel-y Paul from lunchtime and manages to wring her location from him (but only after witnessing his governess lazing about with glossies and booze--not for the first time, mind you). Phoebe, meanwhile, has been amusing herself with morbid scenarios including tramps and hippies (yes, hippies and not the fun kind) and, when he arrives, bursts into tears on Lucius' waistcoat.
'Paul is at home, he will want to apologize to you.' 'Some other time--it surely doesn't matter....' 'Am I to infer that you have some reason for not wishing to meet Paul?' 'Of course not.'
Yeah, it's not like he locked her away and hoped she would starve to death or anything...Oh. Wait.
So she has to go (after such an ordeal) and smooth everyone's ruffled feelings which reminds me of those times when my toddlers have, through sheer carelessness, caused me bodily injury (usually by banging a toy into my head or something) and I've cried out only to find them so stricken by my reaction that they fall to pieces and I have to comfort them. Being a grown-up stinks.
Lucius is making steady progress though. He's kissing our sweet-in-the-face-of-uncertain-odds heroine and dating her often. During one meeting he asks what he should get Paul for his birthday. (See, he's trying to involve her in parenting decisions.) Some mice, she answers, or a dog. (Or boarding school or detention or a cruise around the world...)
Paul thaws considerably when presented with a new (new to him) puppy but Maureen isn't going to take that kind of broadside lying down. (She's been poisoning his mind all along against Phoebe and making threats.) Phoebe walks in on her beating the poor thing to death a few days later. He doesn't die and Maureen concocts some cock-and-bull story for Lucius about a door left ajar and an auto run-in. Phoebe does not contradict or correct her. She doesn't even put her finger on that bony chest and tell her where to get off.
The final act in this little melodrama is when Paul comes to Phoebe a few days later when his father is out of the country. Maureen has locked the dog...oh, heck. She's just evil.
The conspirators break the little dog out of Puppy Prison, flee to Lucius' old nanny's house in Amsterdam (yes, she takes a child away from his home and travels to another city without telling his father) and await The Great and Terrible Day of Judgment.
Maureen has poisoned the well. Lucius thinks Phoebe is a kidnapper. Impolitic words are exchanged. But then we get a swimmy denouement in front of the kitchenware display of De Bijenkorf department store.
I lost my temper--I don't often do that, Phoebe, but you see while I had been in England I had dreamed--oh, a great many dreams.
The End

Rating: I don't re-read this book very often and I thought it was because I didn't like it very much but I find that that's not entirely true. I love the meeting between the principles and accept the absurdity that a 27-year-old woman would let herself be talked into a plot device more worthy of a Disney film. I love the professor, whose working life we get to see more of than is normal--he cares deeply about his patients and is driven to cure them--and he's not as absent-minded as he lets Phoebe believe he is.
Phoebe comes off as a darling but way too closed-mouthed when it comes to the Assorted Evils of Maureen. What/who does she think she's helping by not ratting her out?
Also, I have a problem with Lucius' failure to connect the dots on Maureen--or maybe, I'm annoyed that The Great Betty brings up such weighty issues such as beating a dog to death, trapping a grown woman in an abandoned warehouse and the years long brain-washing and neglect of an innocent child without truly adequate wrap-up. I can't enjoy hating Maureen because I'm worried about all the fall-out.
On those grounds I give this a Madiera Cake.
That said, I adore how gradual and obvious Pheobe's love is for Lucius without her being aware of it and I love all those trips to the beach.

Food: Really not much to discuss. Oranges, ice cream, herring balls (gah!), oyster soup, duckling stuffed with apples, and Gateau St. Honore'.

Fashion: Again, there isn't as much here as in some Neels but The Great Betty uses it to contrast Phoebe and Maureen with a deft hand. Phoebe wears an uncrushable cotton dress and takes 2 swim suits to Holland, wears a delicious-sounding strawberry pink silk number, and she packs a 'pastel patterned party dress which could be rolled into a ball if necessary and still look perfection itself'--as 'a concession to a kindly fate'. She also buys a French silk scarf and laments that she could be wearing 'hot pants and a see-through top' for all the notice he's taking of her. Maureen wears a scarlet and white beach outfit, false eyelashes, and an artlessly simple white dress with gold sandals.