(Edited 1/3/2016 to fix errors pointed out by Betty Anonymous in the comments. Thanks, Betty!)
This post kept getting longer and longer, so I divided it into two. Don't judge. I know there are some of you who are never going to read Betty Neels, but I needed more posts this week and it was already 1500 words and I wasn't even done yet. Eeesh.
I told you I've been reading Betty Neels, prolific author of cookie cutter British romance novels, for months now. I got my original stash when I needed to use up my credits at paperbackswap.com, but they're also available on kindle. There are well over a hundred of them, and I've "only" read about a third. Based on Goodreads reviews, I've read all the good ones, though, so it's probably time to stop.
Betty was amazing. She was born the year before my grandmother (1909), and she spent most of her life working as a nurse. She married a Dutchman when she was in her early 30s. Unlike her heroines, she went back to work after her daughter was born and was a Superintendent by the time she retired. She lived in London for a long time, and in the Netherlands for years. At age 60, she overheard a chance remark that there were no good romance novels anymore, so she started writing them. At age 60.
Here are ten things you can expect when you read a Betty Neels romance:
1. Gallons of tea and coffee will be consumed. Gallons.
2. The heroine will be hard working, practical, and have a heart of gold. She's in her twenties. She has a soft heart and loves children, dogs, cats, and her elderly relatives/patients. She's usually a nurse or somehow working in the medical field (she is never a doctor). She may or may not be beautiful, but she is almost always beautiful or plain, not in between. She is almost always a little on the plump side, splendidly built with magnificent proportions. Even if she lives in the sticks, she will have an inexplicably exact knowledge of luxury cars--she will immediately recognize that the hero is driving a Rolls Corniche or whatever.
3. The hero will be tall, "well over six feet," and also large/broad --Neels' most frequent adjective for her heroes is "vast." He is in his mid- to late-thirties and at the top of his field. He is always rich, but he acts in such an unassuming way that the heroine sometimes doesn't realize he is wealthy. He is usually a physician. If he's not a medical man, he is a professor (or sometimes he is both). He is almost always Dutch (can't fault her for not writing from her own experience). He owns several homes, one of them an enormous estate that's been in the family for generations.
4. The hero always has faithful servants who are described as his "right hand." He will without fail say "I don't know how I'd survive without him/her/them" when introducing them to the heroine. Usually they have been with his family since he was a boy. The heroine may also have a loyal housekeeper, but almost never any other servants.
5. There is usually a scheming, conniving female somewhere in the mix: an old girlfriend, a jealous stepsister, a cruel stepmother. Sometimes the hero is currently engaged to some woman who is definitely not right for him, but who has got him in her clutches by putting on an act whenever she's around him. In those cases, there is an odd custom which I've encountered in other British romances but never experienced here in the US--the man cannot break an engagement without being a cad, only the woman can. Must be some kind of British thing.
6. Glorious, amazing, fabulous spreads of food will be consumed when the heroine is with the hero, often in contrast to the plain or boring food she eats at work or on her restricted budget. Often he appears just as she gets off work--"famished," of course--and whisks her away to a fancy restaurant. In comparison to the conniving females, the heroine always has a healthy appetite and enjoys her food. There is always dessert, sometimes referred to as "afters," as in "a towering fruit tart with lashings of cream for afters."
7. Neels is obsessed with household furnishings and clothes. The description of the sitting room in the hero's ancestral home can go on for pages. There are lists of what clothes the heroine is packing for a trip, or detailed descriptions of what she buys while shopping (shopping, another frequent Neels theme). When I first started reading her books, I was fascinated by the period detail. Now I skim right over it--it is almost never relevant to the plot.
8. There will be some kind of disaster-- small in scope (a child falls in an icy pond, the heroine gets lost in a foreign city) or large (bombs go off, planes crash, buses roll over, flames are licking around the door of the surgery theater as the surgeon bravely finishes the lifesaving surgery! --not kidding, that really happens).
9. If you're interested in the medical profession, there is some pretty interesting stuff about how medicine was practiced in Great Britain at the time (Visiting Consultant is a good one for this). But sometimes she is wrong--even though she continued writing well into the 1990s, most of the doctors are men and most of the nurses are women, which certainly was not true in the US by the 90s, although I confess I didn't look up the comparable statistics for the UK. There are very occasionally female doctors, but they are cold, unpleasant, mannish types. There is at least one exception, though, where the heroine's younger sister is in medical school and the heroine confesses that if the family had enough money, she would have liked to go to medical school, too.
10. Neels has two basic plots. A wealthy older man realizes he is finally ready to settle down when he meets the hardworking, faithful heroine, and various complications ensue before he proposes in the last two pages. Or, a wealthy older man proposes a marriage of convenience to the hardworking, faithful heroine, and after they are married various complications happen before they realize on the last two pages they've both been in love all long. The amazing thing is how different many of the stories are from each other within that narrow frame.
to be continued..... (click here for part two of this post)