Thursday, February 4, 2010

Happiness is a Great New Blog

I have lots of things to be happy about, but the best is my new favorite blog, The Uncrushable Jersey Dress.  It seems to be co-written by several members of an extended family in the Pacific Northwest, and it's all about the books of Betty Neels.

Friesland (one of the states in the Netherlands, north of Holland)
Lots of Betty Neels' heroes have ties to Friesland

Now, wait.  Don't run away yet.  I will admit that there are a lot of reasons why -- though this may be MY new favorite blog -- this may not be a blog you even want to try, particularly if you don't know or even hate Betty Neels' romances.  But trust me -- these women are laugh-out-loud funny, and that is never a bad thing.

Take these descriptions of the protagonists from the Uncrushable review of Nurse Harriet Goes to Holland:
The principals:

St. Nick's Men's Surgical Night Sister Harriet "Haughty Harry" Slocombe (yes that is the best nickname ever!) a gorgeous dainty blond who eats like a horse, crushes the pretensions of overly-familiar housemen (hence the name), carries a pocket knife with her at all times and has two older sisters (who get names and babies) and three younger brothers (only one of whom is named--the others presumably live in foster care as we see neither hide nor hair of them). She travels to Friesland with her best friend Sieske who becomes engaged to her boyfriend Wierd--which qualifies as loopiest Dutch/Fries name in the entire Betty Neels canon.

Dr. Friso (which I always want to read as "Crisco") Eijsinck does not have a harassed expression, a permanent stoop nor a soup stained waistcoat (like she'd been imagining he had). Instead, he's 34, sardonic, a great one for the ladies and the owner of a dark blue Bentley, a sturdy Land Rover and...wait for AC 428 Fastback--which she's already seen [him in] and fallen in love with him [from that glimpse] so that we are presented with the most wonderfully ridiculous sentence in the whole book: "Every now and then she thought about the man in the AC 428 Fastback." From this we must conclude that Betty possibly had an endorsement deal with the AC 428 Fastback guys and was raking in the dough from product placement. Otherwise she would have said, "...about the man in the blue sports car..." Kudos Betty.

If nothing in that made you laugh, then, sadly, this will not be your favorite new blog.  Which is a shame, because it's a hoot and I'm convinced it would be just as hoot-worthy even if you hated Betty Neels books.

For anyone who doesn't know, Betty Neels wrote over 130 category romances -- the sexless kind -- that all had a nice English woman (the sort still referred to as a "girl" despite being a nurse and in her mid- to late-20s) marrying a tall, handsome, rich (but never ever "billionaire" rich) Dutch doctor or English something else.  She had three basic heroine types and only one hero.  Yup, 130+ books and really it's the same guy getting married over and over and over again.

Which sounds dreadful but -- for me, at least -- isn't.  I started reading Betty Neels almost from the first (over 40 years ago), and I love all her books, even the bad ones.  They reflect a time and place that was not at all consistent with the eras in which she wrote them; they actually make more sense if all her heroines were in their mid-20s around the time that Betty herself was in her mid-20s: the decade before WWII.  Back then, a single woman nurse making her own way and even possibly supporting her family would have been on the cutting edge of feminism.  By the time she wrote her books in the 70s through 90s, such females were as unrealistic as the most demon-slaying heroine from your favorite paranormal.

What I get from Betty Neels books is that she was having a great time on her own terms.  She was pushing 60 when she first got published; you can tell when she started to earn enough money to travel more lavishly because her characters start going to places like Portugal and Trondheim.  Her characters get to eat what she ate -- the Uncrushable women have rated the books based on an ascending scale of Betty-food, with "tinned soup" at the bottom, and "lashings of whipped cream" at the top -- and see the bits of England and the Netherlands that she knew best.

She didn't write about sex (although as couples materialize in later books with children, conjugal relations -- as the Uncrushable women have noted -- can be inferred) and only a few books have that emotional frisson of a HEA that had to overcome some real problem.  All of which makes them seem horrible, but -- they're not.  What they are is different.  Not to everyone's taste, but not bad.  (Barbara Cartland is, almost without exception, rancid-bad.  Betty Neels is just a different flavor.)

The Uncrushable blog won't convince anyone to read her books.  I can't know for sure that non-Betty fans will enjoy the blog beyond the reviews, which have the funniest bits, but the blog is beautifully put together with lots of fun pictures and smart observations.

These days, a blog that makes me laugh and think and smile is all good.


  1. I'm there!

    In fact, I was there after you recced it earlier this week.

    I've only read 3 or 4 Neels books so far, but I enjoyed them.

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! We love you too. Did you notice that we have mentioned you twice in our posts? "Peeking Through the Blinds" and "Wedding Party Bettys".

  3. Victoria -- Aren't they lovely? I know I'd already tweeted about them, but sometimes 140 characters just isn't enough. :-)

    Betty Debbie -- I finally got all caught up. Pretty much the only posts I haven't commented on are the ones with your "fan fiction" excerpts, and that's because I'm playing the "inscrutable" card like a Neels hero and not letting you know that I'm plotting to write the best faux-Neels first page evah. mwahahah

  4. It's contagiously funny. I was skeptical of an "All Neels All the Time" but you have to read a few (hopefully good ones) Neel's books to really get her.


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