Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Day 10: Betty Neels, part one

(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)


Betty Anonymous said...

Thank you, I enjoyed reading your post.
One itty bitty correction. ;o)
Betty Neels did NOT marry a Dutch doctor. Her husband’s name was Johannes Meijer.
He was a seaman aboard a minesweeper, which was bombed. He survived and was sent to the south of Holland to guard the sluices. However, when they had to abandon their post, they were told to escape if they could, and along with a small number of other men, he marched into Belgium. They stole a ship and managed to get it across the Channel to Dover before being transferred to the Atlantic run on the convoys. Sadly he became ill, and that was when he was transferred to hospital in Northern Ireland, where he met Betty. ¹

When they lived in the Netherlands Johannes worked as a clerk in the Dutch Admiralty. Later, when they lived in England, "Johannes, quite fed up with being a clerk with no prospects, trained as a nurse too." ² In his nursing career he held posts as Charge Nurse, Senior Charge Nurse.
¹ http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/n/betty-neels/

² The Author’s Own Story by Betty Neels
Betty Neels 1973
The Magazine of Harlequin romance Vol 1 No 3, August 1973

Betty Anonymous said...

1. Gallons of tea and coffee will be consumed. Gallons

Love it! So true! :o)

Betty Anonymous said...

No, wait, one more thing. All the nurses are women you said? Not quite. Knew that wasn't right. Found eleven mentions of male nurses without trying hard, so I’m not sure if there might be even more. No matter.
11 out of 135 stories, Betty Neels‘ complete Ĺ“uvre, equals 8 %.
11 out of 79 stories where the heroine is a nurse equals 14%.
That’s not so bad, right?

1. The Awakened Heart
Usually there was a comparatively quiet night from time to time, but each night seemed busier than the last, and at the weekend, always worse than the weekdays, there was no respite, and even with the addition of a young male nurse to take over when one of the student nurses had nights off it was still back-breaking work.

2. The Edge of Winter
'It's time for those two to go, anyway—Nurse Carter's on at six, isn't she? and Male Nurse Pratt—he's good; they both are.

3. Fate Takes a Hand – Page 22
There was no sign of any doctor, only a male nurse and a student nurse busy with bowls of water and plaster bandages.

4. The Hasty Marriage
She was as good as her word, and leaving the night staff nurse and her junior as well as a third-year male student nurse to sit with the concussion case, she went down the ward once more, murmuring her goodnights to the patients as she went.

5. Heaven Is Gentle
'We should have tried for a male nurse,' he mused out loud, 'but from a psychological point of view that would not have been satisfactory.

6. Making Sure of Sarah
Her mother wished to be put to bed immediately, and cosseted with a light meal, the male nurse who had been engaged to attend to Mr Holt hadn't arrived, [...]

7. Not Once But Twice
I have asked for male nurses—Zuster Keizer and Zuster Felman are young and pretty, so they can go to one of the wards.

8. Uncertain Summer
The night staff nurse and her companion, a male nurse, because sometimes things got a bit rough at night, had come on punctually [...]

9. Victory for Victoria
'You need a male nurse,' said Johnny. 'Any chance of getting one—this character might cut up rough.'
Victoria considered. 'No—there'll be two or three on for night duty, but Mr Cox and Mr Williams are both off. I saw them at tea.'

10. Wedding Bells for Beatrice – Page 41
Two ward sisters, a male nurse and a physiotherapist will also be going.

11. A Winter Love Story – Page 162
A male nurse will be along at eight o'clock.

BarbN said...

Hi, Betty Anonymous! Are you the same Betty Anonymous from the Uncrushable Jersey Dress? Love that site. I've been slowly working my way through the blog there and reading the reviews, which are often hilariously funny. It sounds like I made you a bit defensive, and I didn't mean to be critical of Betty. At least, only in a gently affectionate way. I'm utterly addicted to reading her books.

Thank you for the correction on her husband. You're absolutely right. I thought I got that straight out of wikipedia, but I went back just now and read more closely and it just says she married "a Dutchman." (And believe me, I just spent three years in grad school, so I know better than to rely on Wikipedia)(but I did it anyway). I did read another article about her somewhere else that also gave that impression, but I can't remember where, it was several months ago when I first started reading Betty.

Thank you also for the correction on male nurses. I haven't read about half of the ones you listed, and two of them I've read since I wrote this, so that is part of my excuse. (for the record, I also read another one since I wrote this post in which there was a woman in training to be a doctor). But I still maintain that none of the nurses who are actual characters in the books --i.e., who have personalities and take part in the action of the plot-- are male. Of course, I haven't read them all yet, so maybe I just haven't read those ones.

Thanks for writing such a detailed response. It's funny to me what intense loyalty Betty Neels inspires in some of us-- I had to cut about a third of what I had written in these two posts, and I've had to keep myself from writing several more. Not to mention that here I am writing this reply while I should be getting ready for about a dozen people to come over for New Year's Eve.

The Uncrushable Jersey Dress is proof how differently the books strike different readers. Two of the books that are in their top four I didn't like at all. I re-read them last week after reading that page on UJD just because I was so astonished that anyone would pick them as their all-time favorites. And still, no. Just no, especially Caroline's Waterloo. And one of the ones I love (Not Once But Twice, other than the squick factor with the brothers), is on the bottom of their list. Just goes to show you how wildly creative Betty was, all while working within her strict setup.

Thanks for stopping by, I hope in spite of my errors you'll come again.

Betty Anonymous said...

Yes, I am the same Betty Anonymous. A bit defensive? No, really? Do you think so? ;o)

I knew you had read only about a quarter of the Canon, and the male nurses have no real roles anyway, so one may be forgiven for not even remembering them, but they do exist.

Caroline's Waterloo is one of my top favourites.
Not Once But Twice is a great favourite too! I ♥ Duert & Christina's story. I am glad to see there are a few others who like this novel.

BarbN said...

Happy New Year, Betty A! I didn't have time to re-edit this and fix the errors until today. Thanks again for pointing them out.

Betty Anonymous said...

Hi there, Barb!
The other day, when I was reading A Valentine for Daisy, I was reminded of your post. MORE male nurses. :o) Never to be seen or heard of thereafter...

A Valentine for Daisy
There was no gainsaying that voice; she turned and flew up the staircase and tore along the corridor until she reached the men’s medical ward.
The charge nurse at the other end of the long ward looked up as she raced down its length.
'Mr Soames—there's a mob of hooligans in the hall; Dr Seymour's there, he needs help, and I'm to ring the police.'
Mr Soames was already walking up the ward, beckoning two male nurses to follow as he went.

Wedding Bells for Beatrice
The rest of the party would meet them at Heathrow, driving there in the charge nurse William Pearson's car.